Note: This is a trip report I wrote from earlier in the year, but I would like to post it because it has pictures of the Topple Tower at Dollywood, which I rode and loved very much! I live in Canada, and I took this trip down to the USA. I wrote this report for the smart car club I am a part of, so that's why it may sound like it is more geared toward the car than the rides. In fact the smart fortwo isn't available in the USA, so it's always causing quite a commotion whenever I drive South of the border in my tiny green German/French car!
Weeeell last weekend I pulled a fairly spontaneous road trip down to Tennessee. My dad drives big coach busses (either MCI's or Prevost's) and one of the trips he was doing needed to have a straight-through run to Florida, so their company got them to team-drive the group down, meaning my dad was marooned just north of Knoxville for 4 days over a weekend. Knoxville is only about 30 minutes from Pigeon Forge, which is home to Dollywood!
Now, I don't know anything about Dolly Parton other than she's a friendly chesty singer, but she's got one heck of an amusement park nestled in a beautiful wooded valley in the mountains. I'd never been; my folks visited 2 years ago when Thunderhead was built - that's a big wooden twister-type coaster built by GCI
I got the Monday off from work, packed my spare tire and a quick change of clothes, and after work on Friday night I hit the road!
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Horray for 400-series highways in Southwestern Ontario!
I made it to the border in good time; crossed at Sarnia/Port Huron because I-75 in and through Detroit was down to one lane and delays were expected. I booted it across I-696 and went down I-275 until it merges back in with I-75 just North of Toledo. I-696 is cool, I don't actually remember driving across it before, but I like it.
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Bits of I-696 switch from tunnel to channel, concrete everywhere you look!
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First stop? Well duh, I'm in the States, so it's a given it's going to be Steak 'n Shake!
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I don't know how I was doing it, but American Diesel was giving me incredible mileage results, the entire trip.
I stayed overnight at a Microtel in Dayton, and the next morning got into Knoxville at about 11am. This gave Dad and I a fair bit of time to go have a relaxed lunch and check out some of the other stuff in Pigeon Forge, before heading to Dollywood for their 3pm "next-day entry" program.
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Nosedive found a perfect sized parking spot!
That night, we visited Dollywood from 3pm to 7pm or so. Having never been, I didn't know what to expect, and because of the shoddy weather and some ride shut-downs, I was a little underwhelmed. It was ultra-humid and drizzling, and very warm; I was still dressed in Canadian-mode! The biggest dissapointment was the sign in front of the all-new HUSS Topple Tower "Timbe-r-r-r Tower" that it would be closed, and the attendant out front saying that due to a failed part that needed to be flown in from Germany, the ride wasn't going to be opening until next week.
Riding this incredible machine was one of the main reasons for the trip for me, so I was really, really bummed.
Mystery Mine, the North-American premiere of the Gerstlauer
EuroFighter, was also closed when we arrived - which meant that everyone was in line for Thunderhead. We braved it out; the ride is decent, but I still think I prefer Lightning Racer at Hersheypark (another GCI
), or Voyage at Holiday World (insanity).
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Thunderhead doesn't have a centimetre of straight track on it's entire circuit, save for the lift hill and station!
Being a big civil engineering fan and avid snowboarder, I'm naturally attracted to ropeway technology as well. In Gatlinburg, about 20 minutes South of Pigeon Forge, is NA's largest aerial tramway. We went for a ride; ascending through the fog in pure darkness is completetly surreal. The cabins that we were in were brand new - this was day one for their operation! They'd been down for 12 days replacing the aging 35-year old Von Roll cabins with all new CWA units.
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All-new CWA cabins on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram.
The roads between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are breathtaking. It's through the Smokey Mountains National Park. My dad drove the entire time while I was down there; he couldn't get enough of the smart.
He was laughing, thinking back to 2 years ago when I started talking about wanting a smart, and how dissapointed and concerned he was... until he took a ride with Ryan, and knew from then on it'd be okay. He said driving the smart is so similar to driving his bus; it's an automated manual transmission, and the torque is the same, and so is the scale of weight to power.
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World's most confusing road sign ever.
We returned to Dollywood on Sunday for most of the day. We went up to go ride Mystery Mine first; and to my shock, people were boarding the Timber-r-r Tower!! It's the closest I've ever been to fainting - I felt my knees go out and I kinda went "unnhhhh...", haha.
I'm a huge flat ride fan, and a huge mechanical-anything fan, so finally getting to see this incredible piece of engineering in operation was just awesome. MarineLand's is finally almost ready to open.
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Timber-r-r Tower and Thunderhead
Now, my dad doesn't do flat rides - but this one he was okay with and rode with me! It meant so much. Here are some shots of this incredible beast in action...
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One VERY happy Duck! That is some serious German weldmentage up there... starts out at the loading platform...
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Gondola begins to rise... revs up to 9 r/min... entire base of the ride rotating as well...
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...and then the two massive hydraulic cylinders, with the help of a 120 ton counterweight, tip the whole thing back and forth 60 degrees!!!
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This is one serious, serious piece of engineering, folks. The precision control over the hydraulic cylinders that drive the tower back and forth is phenominal - servo hydraulic control, using proportional valves. Standard fare, I know, but it's the smoothness and transparency of all this machinery going on under you that is so impressive. It's tweaked just right
. The ride length is good and once it's over, the tower centres itself, and lowers the gondola right back down... to right where you started off.
Hats off to HUSS - great job!! MarineLand's gonna have great success with theirs.
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Mystery Mine was finally open, too - so we went up and had a go on that. This is the first coaster of it's kind in NA - incoroprates two steeper-than-vertical 95-degree drops, pretty impressive! I don't want to spoil the ride for anyone but it's a heavily-themed half-indoor, half-outdoor super-twisting ultra-compact coaster with the tightest maneouvers possible. Both lift hills are 90 degrees vertical - climbing straight up laying on your back is bizzaire!! The climax is the final 85-foot 95 degree drop that blasts you outside, and through 2 consecutive inversions - heartline rolls, before hanging you upside down, twisting back under and hitting the final brakes. Fantastique!! More German precision and engineering goodness.
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Mystery Mine is really impressive.
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One of the two 95-degree drops, and some of the compact track.
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The insane finale.
We rode Tennessee Tornado relentlessly; it won't mean much to you guys probably but the company that built it is notorious for cookie-cutter brutal head-banging rides, and TT was one of the last rides they did before going out of business - and it's the complete antithesis of everything they'd done up until then - it was glass smooth, the transitions were perfect, and it was fast as heck! They finally got it right, and went out of business. So sad!
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TT's loading station
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Massive first inversion on TT generates huge hang-time
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Arrow finally figured out compound curves! I can't beleive it!!
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Fast and intense, this is one superb ride.
Stopped for a Pogo - er, CORNDOG (silly US and A!), which was fantastic and much too huge. I opted for that over the other food selection choices...
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This park is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to - and I've been to a lot. It's right up there with Silver Dollar City (operated by the same company, IIRC), and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Perfect landscaping, no litter anywhere, and the location in the valley is fantastic. I can't imagine a better setting. The people in the park were super well-behaved, no rowdy teens pushing or cutting through line, just everyone friendly and quietly enjoying all the attractions and taking in the scenery. One thing that was really, really weird though, after growing up in Canada - it's so white there! I don't think I saw anyone of any other race the entire trip.
After we exhausted ourselves on more rides, we decided to take off late afternoon and head back along the mountain roads to Gatlinburg. We rode the tram 4 more times back and forth, did the alpine slide at the top of the mountain, and grabbed some dinner.
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Haha, Dad you know you love that cdi!!
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More tram goodness!!
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Two track ropes support the weight of the cabins; a third haul rope provides propulsion.
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Waaaaaaaay down there is Gatlinburg!
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My dream house in the mountains
So by the time we got back down it was late afternoon and I knew I had an early morning ahead of me to drive all the way home in one shot on Monday. But driving down the strip again, something caught my eye... could it be? Oh yeah, it is... a Gravity Works Skyscraper whirling about at 120 km/h... it's helpless occupants spining and screaming at the end of the arm! Reeled Nosedive in for a hard right, $15 bucks plus a $5 tip later, I'm strapped in...
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'Dive and the mountains
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Yup, that's me way up there!
The thing about it is so weird. It's such a simple ride - it's only one axis of powered rotation, the gondola can freely rotate... but it's absolute bliss. I just sat there for 10 mins with my arms relaxed, whilring forward and backward, pulling massive G
's. The operator was super friendly and I asked for a few certain maneouvers to be performed on my ride, which he obliged! The last one I rode was Katanga on International Drive in Florida, but that was a long time ago and it's since been removed. I forgot how much I love these things.
So, it goes without saying that everywhere we went, every time we stopped, we were swamped with people, yadda yadda yadda - you know the drill on how that goes in the states. The biggest chuckels for me were going up the tramway and each time we'd go over where I parked, we could see a different flock of people fawning all over my car.
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Random pic my dad took - he calls this one "Oh Deere" (tractor joke)
On the way home on I-75, blasting through Toledo in some heavy traffic I decided to show off... a Lambroghini caught up with me and followed... AND COULDN'T KEEP UP. It was incredible - when they did catch me about 2 minutes later, a hot chick LEANED completly out of the passenger window, smiling and waving, and started CLAPPING at me and shreiked "YAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and gave me a huge thumbs up, before they blasted off at 349218 miles an hour
I love this!!!
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More Steak 'n Shake on the way home, of course!
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One final thought...
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PS - If you want to see the rest of the photos, here's a direct link
to my maj.com account where you can folderbrowse.