Roller Coaster of the Day: Leap the Dips – Lakemont Park

Name: Leap the Dips

Location: Lakemont Park, PA

Opening Year: 1902 (!)

Built By: Edward Joy Morris

Top Speed: 18 MPH

Height: 41 feet

Leap the Dips is currently the oldest roller coaster in the world, having opened in 1902 (over one hundred years ago!) and having run continuously ever since, save for a short hiatus from 1986-1998. Its biggest drop is just over 9 feet!

The story of Leap the Dips is a pretty interesting one. When it first opened, the “figure-8” design used with Leap the Dips was one of the most widely used track designs in roller coaster construction – several dozen roller coasters were built with this exact same design. However, as the years went by and the crowds began seeking to go higher, faster, longer, the figure-8 design fell out of style until, by the mid-1980’s, Leap the Dips was one of only a handful left in existence. By then, Lakemont Park had decided that they had had enough – the costs were simply getting too prohibitive to keep such an aging ride in operation.

So in 1986, they shuttered it – but kept the structure standing, just in case.

What the roller coaster looked like in 1996, prior to its eventual rebirth.

Enter ACE, otherwise known as American Coaster Enthusiasts. ACE is a national organization dedicated to spreading knowledge and their love of roller coasters. Once in a while, they help out with certain projects; they’re the leaders of the soon-to-be-established roller coaster museum, and have had their hand in several other major roller coaster reconstruction projects.

The revival of Leap the Dips wouldn’t have been possible without ACE.

The first task in their plan to revive the venerable machine was to keep it under federal protection. That happened in 1996 with the awarding of the National Historic Landmark status.


Finally, in 1999 amid much fanfare,  the first of the vintage rolling stock were lowered onto the track, filled with whooping passengers, and dispatched.

It was the miraculous rebirth of a roller coaster once thought to be extinct.



A new generation of riders.

Another interesting point about Leap the Dips is that it is the last remaining side-friction coaster in North America, and only one of 6 left in the entire world.

What is a side-friction coaster?

On modern roller coasters, the trains have three sets of wheels each. The running wheels, the side-friction wheels, and the upstop wheels.

They look kind of like this:


picture courtesy

This design is what keeps the train on the tracks. So, to debunk a long-held myth…No, the train won’t fall off the loop-de-loop.


Anyways…side-friction coasters were different. Before the invention of the upstop wheels (the lowest set of wheels in the above picture), the designers came up with another solution to keep the trains on the track, and that was the side-friction wheel. The track diagram looked a bit like this:


picture courtesy

Which performed its job pretty well – it kept the train on the track.

However, there were two substantial problems with this track design. First, notice the lack of upstop wheels – this meant that although the train would stay on the track, it didn’t mean that it wouldn’t lift off the tracks when there were moments of negative G. On early coasters, this was hardly a problem, since maximum speeds rarely reached a high enough point for it to become dangerous. However, as roller coasters steadily grew larger and faster, the limits of the side-friction design became more apparent.

Secondly, there was quite a large amount of space between the side-friction wheels and the side boards – since this was a time before computer-aided design. This meant that trains tended to “shuffle” quite a bit during the course, which inevitably resulted in an uncomfortable ride.

These drawbacks led to the invention of the upstop wheel, patented by John Miller in 1919 – barely a decade after Leap the Dips opened.

Here’s what the track design looks like on Leap the Dips:


picture courtesy

We’ve come a long way since the days of 41-foot-high coasters and 18 MPH, haven’t we?



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