Channel 13 Invades Hershey Park
The CB group I hung out with on Channel 13 in the late 70's, was one of my all-time favorites. Not only did we talk and clown around over the CB on a daily basis, and had similar tastes in activities and humor, but we often did things together off of the radio as well. We had frequent impromptu "Coffee Breaks" at local eating establishments, which usually resulted in laughter and behavior which bordered on disruptive. One time we went midnight bowling and got so caught up in the fun, that we ended up bowling until the sun started coming up the next morning. We made frequent treks to the movies as well, back when you could see a first run movie for $3.00. We saw Animal House at least twice when it first hit the big screen. Other movies included Star Wars, Star Trek I, Porky's, Halloween, Friday the 13'th, and many others. We would also meet up on almost every Sunday during football season to watch the afternoon games. We also went on impromptu road trips, just for the spontaneous fun of it, as well as playing cat and mouse with our mobiles. Cat and mouse was a game where one guy would hide in a secluded spot and transmit, while the rest would try find him by tracking down his signal. But by far, one of the most memorable outings that we did together as a group, was our 1979 trip to Hershey Park, one of the larger amusement parks in the Pa. area. Like most of our trips and outings, this trip started off initially as the by-product of a typical CB conversation one night, where we all were relating our experiences with the most thrilling roller coasters that we'd ever ridden on. Not that we were that serious about coaster riding or anything. Most of us had not been to the really "wild" coasters at places like King's Island, which had one of the best coasters at the time. Instead we mostly talked of our experiences with the coasters found at the local parks, like the now defunct Willow Grove Park, and West Point Park, or at the three "major" parks which still operated; Great Adventure, Dorney Park, as well as Hershey Park. It was pretty clear that most of us shared a common love for roller coasters. So as conversations tended to do back then we all naturally tended to embellish a little in our ability to stand up to the thrill, and challenge the others with a little trash talking. Well, one thing led to another and the next thing you know we had put together a plan to make the nearly 1.5 hour run west to Hershey Park, in Hershey Pa. (Home of the famous chocolate), to take on the large wooden coaster named the "Comet", and also the "Trailblazer", as well as one of the first roller coasters on the east coast with a then "newfangled" loop , the "SooperDooperLooper". The object of the trip, of course, was to make us all "put our money where our mouths were" so to speak, about who could really handle the thrills the most and, more importantly, poke fun at those who didn't live up to their hyped claims. So here we go again, another challenge. I could never say no to a challenge, at least not back then. I've grown a lot more pragmatic (as well as a lot older) since then, but I digress...... Anyway, while we were deciding who would be the new Channel 13 "King of the Coasters", in between riding those rolling thrill rides, we'd also check out some of the other stuff as well, and maybe buy a souvenir or two.
When the big day finally came (and it seemed like forever in teenaged time), the weather couldn't have been better, with cool morning temperatures and plenty of sun. We had enough people that we put together a 3 car "convoy". Leading the pack was Jimmy in his '77 silver Camaro. Riding with Jimmy were Joe, Roxanne and Richie. Next in line was Albert, who elected to leave his own 1963 Buick convertible home, and instead took his parent's land yacht, a larger and slightly newer (1966?) Buick. I rode shotgun with Albert, along with Don, who had the cavernous back seat all to himself. Bringing up the rear (at least initially), due to the distances he had to cover to pick up people, was John in his black '77 Z-28 Camaro. With him was his current girlfriend Maryanne up front, with Kenny and Donna taking up the back seat. We all had our CB radios with us (of course), and we decided that instead of using our home channel of 13, we would select one of the R.C. channels ("7A") to run on. Since none of us ran any extra power in the mobile at the time, we probably did this due to the initial distance between Jimmy and Albert's cars from John's, and we wanted a "quiet" channel to minimize interference and maximize usable range. As we all eventually converged, it probably wouldn't have mattered which channel we used.
Once we all met up and headed out, Jimmy and Albert's cars hit the Pa. Turnpike at exit 24 and headed west. John was already in route west, on the back roads, to the town of Phoenixville to pick up the girls, and his signal was "in the grass" at that point. But his signal would slowly get stronger as we were all headed roughly in the same general direction. His trip out to pick up Maryanne and Donna forced him to pick up the turnpike at the next exit (23) at Downingtown. As we passed under the bridge, where RT 113 crosses over the turnpike, we actually saw John's car as he passed over (Talk about good timing!). We would manage to put a few miles behind us however, before John finally entered the turnpike. In order to rapidly close the gap between us, John tacked his speed up to over 100 MPH, and he was able to catch up to us in less than 10 minutes. John commented that his engine was running a little hot after that high speed run, and that triggered some concern ourselves. Earlier before we left, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, Albert casually mentioned to me that his parent's car had this annoying habit of overheating (likely due to a clogged radiator). Warning bells went off in my head, and I wondered if we might've been better off taking his car. But since the day had started out relatively cool, and Albert had taken the precaution of bringing a couple of gallons of extra water with us, along with the fact that he had already installed the CB in his parent's car, he wasn't too concerned or keen on changing cars at this late stage of the game. Besides, we had two other cars along with us, so it's not like we would be left stranded on the side of the road for very long. But being the pessimistic disciple of Murphy that I am, I was not so confident. As we continued on our journey, I nervously watched the temperature gauge creep ever so slowly up the scale. The last thing I wanted was to have our day ruined by car troubles. We were finally forced to back off our speed to under 60 MPH to keep the temperature from creeping above the redline. But thankfully, by that time, we were just about at our exit, and I was able to relax a little.
While we were busy keeping tabs on the ever increasing engine temperature, and walking that fine line between running and breaking down, the rest of the gang was playing around like we were prone to do on the radio. There were the usual digs and dares, relating to the upcoming coaster encounter. Some of us had also brought along munchies to eat on the trip. Joe announced that he had a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and everyone immediately wanted him to share them with the rest of us (Good thing he bought the large economy size). But rather than stopping, we would simply pull our cars alongside close together (At 60+ MPH) and pass the bag between the cars. At one point Joe or Richie thought they were going to play a trick on us and as we lined up to take our turn with the delicious bag of Doritos, one of them tried to squirt us with a water gun. But they didn't consider the effects of that steady 60+ MPH wind just outside, and their water stream obligingly took an abrupt 90 degree turn to the rear just beyond the window. At one point, one of them "mooned" us and we got a laugh out of that. How someone can maneuver like that in the cramped back seat of a Camaro is still a mystery to me. Then again, those guys weren't as tall as I was. Our silly antics made the trip go by faster, and we were in an almost constant state of laughter as a result. But in retrospect, we were lucky we didn't get caught by a cop, or worse, acted a little too recklessly and gotten into an accident. But those are not the things that young people normally think about until it's too late.
We got off the turnpike and traveled the remaining distance up U.S. RT. 322 to the park. Once off of the turnpike and down to slower "country road" speeds, the engine temperature retreated from the red line a bit, and Albert and I breathed a sigh of relief, as we traveled the last few miles to the entrance of the park. Once we were at the park, we spent the rest of the day riding all of the coasters several times. It was my first time on a looping coaster, and being someone who is prone to motion sickness, I got a bit nauseous after the third time through. If it weren't for "the challenge", I'd have quit after the first time as I'm not a fan of loops or hanging upside-down. The Comet was another story. That big old wooden coaster was just what I liked, and I couldn't get enough of it. None of us backed down from this coaster. We probably would have ridden it a bunch more times, but we were eating up too much time waiting in line. We took a break from the coasters and went on the log flume and got a bit wet in the process, mostly from splashing each other. We slowed down only in order to have lunch. We all had a blast that day. After what seemed like only an hour, (Taking into consideration the time that we actually spent ON the rides, it probably was) it was time to call it a day and head home. One of the things that really turns me off about large amusement parks, is that you spend most of your day standing in lines. That's why I try to pick times when the crowds should be less when I go. But just about any given day in the summer is usually crowded.
The trip home started off much the same as the trip up in the morning. We clowned around on Channel 7A (From that point on we referred to it as "the Hershey channel"), recapping the highlights of the day, played pass the remaining munchies, and did a little drag racing, or at least John and Jimmy did. Unfortunately, the daytime air temperature had warmed up quite a bit from what it had been in the morning and, despite our attempts at running at a lower speed, Albert could no longer keep his car from overheating. Even when we backed off our speed even further (And Jimmy and John left us in the dust), the gauge finally went into the red zone. We relayed our condition over the radio and Jimmy and John pulled over up ahead and we caught up to them, and stopped the car. Steam and water gushed from the radiator pressure relief valve for what seemed like hours. Everyone took the opportunity to stretch and otherwise "relieve" themselves (At least the guys did). We let the car sit for a while, until the belching steam had stopped and Albert then poured in the water which he had brought along. That got us going once again, and we kept the speed down for the remainder of the turnpike trip. But we really felt like Grandpa driving so far under the speed limit. Maybe this is why old people who drive Buicks drive them so slowly. Despite the temperature constantly flirting with the red zone, we eventually made it home. A hairy end to an otherwise fun day to be sure. But I guess those little things are what make events like this stick out among the hundreds of other events in my memory. As for the challenge, none of us failed. We all rode the coasters the same amount of times, so no one could claim to be "The King". Conversely, no one could be called "wimp" either. I'm just glad that I don't have to face that challenge today. Today's coasters are much more wild and thrilling than they were 30 years ago. It gives me chills just watching my daughter ride some of them. I wonder how we would've faired in our challenge if we were facing these new coasters, with some of the wild twists and rolls. However, at age 50, I'm not about to find out now. I've long since lost that desire. Some thrills are best left to the young and crazy.....