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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Figure Eight Roller Coaster

Not only was the Figure Eight Roller Coaster the first coaster constructed in Rock Springs Park, it was the first one built in the Tri-State Region and possibly the United States. (Courtesy of Dick Bowker)

One of the main attractions when Rock Springs Park opened on Memorial Day, 1897, was the area’s first roller coaster – The Figure Eight, located on the main path from the original entrance to the park. (See photograph in Images of America: Rock Spring Park, p. 18)

Kennywood, described by author Charles J. Jacques, Jr. as "The Roller Coaster Capital of the World," debuted its first coaster, a Figure Eight, in 1902.

The L.F. Ingersoll Attraction Company, mentioned on the postcard image above refers to the company which built not only all the figure eight toboggan slides in the area, but also a total of 44 amusement parks known collectively as Luna Parks. Ingersoll fueled the popularity of trolley parks in the first third of the Twentieth Century. His eulogy included the lines, "We owe all the success of the amusement park to Fred Ingersoll." and "Ingersoll was the tree from which the amusement limbs branched forth.”

An article featured in The Daily Tribune, Beaver, PA, on July 21, 1904 entitled, “Coaster Started,” tells of a figure eight exactly like the one in Rock Springs. From it, we learn about the construction and specifications of these earliest of thrill rides.

Trial Trips On Roller Coaster at Junction Park Made Last Evening

The new three-turn figure eight roller coaster was opened last evening at 7:30 o'clock. The first car to make the circuit was unoccupied; the second was occupied by Messrs. T.M. Harton of Pittsburg [sic], the owner; James Dool, park superintendent, and Arthur Beer of Stratford, Conn., the builder. After the formal opening the pavilion from which cars start was crowded with people desirous of making the trip.

The coaster is built on the same plan as those at Avon Park, Youngstown, and Rock Springs Park, and is equipped with ten cars, all finely upholstered. A series of thirty safety brakes are provided, together with three stoppage brakes, one of which is always held in reserve. The cars are propelled up the incline by power furnished by a dynamo located under the structure, which is brilliantly lighted by electricity from the same source.

It had been hoped that Junction Park’s figure eight would be ready for a July 4th debut in an earlier article which projected, “The lumber for the slide has been shipped from Buffalo and immediately upon its arrival a large force of men will be put to work and the structure rushed to completion. The slide is expected to be ready for use on the Fourth of July.” This article also included some insights to how these early coasters operated. “The contract has been let for the erection of a three-turn figure eight toboggan slide at the Junction. The slide will be one of the largest ever erected and will cost when completed $15,000. It will be located between the merry-go-round and dancing pavilion and to the west of the cinder path. Electric motors will take the cars to the top of the incline and the descent will be controlled by gravity. Cars can be sent out every minute with no danger to passengers.”

The Figure eight in Junction Park opened a little later than hoped for, but I’m sure all was forgiven and forgotten by the people of Beaver when they took thier first of many thrilling rides on their very on Figure Eight Coaster.

The figure eight in Rock Springs was altered in 1906 and renamed “Leap the Dips.”

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