Pennsylvania's Picnic Groves and Trolley Parks (PAGE 7 OF 8)
by Phil Gould
: Added February 2013
Dorney Park

The history of this park can be traced back to 1860 when Solomon Dorney opened his trout hatchery to the public. By 20 years later it boasted a small zoo, gardens and a number of rides. The Allentown park had a string of private owners until being sold to Cedar Fair in 1992. Although today it is a fully fledged theme park it has a number of vintage attractions among its ride line-up.

While it might seem initially strange that I included Dorney Park on my schedule as it hardly conforms with my intention of seeking out traditional amusement parks, I felt it was worth a look as, among its many hi tech thrillers, you can still find some vintage attractions and it is home to an increasingly rare first generation freefall ride.

Until 1980 the park was divided in half by a two lane highway. Once this was closed expansion could really start. While its history can be traced back to 1860 it wasn't until 24 years later that the roots of a traditional park were begun to be sown. In 1899 a trolley line was extended to bring customers to Dorney. Walking through the entrance today it is hard to imagine that the park's history stretches back nearly 140 years. The plaza has a 1950s retro theme although the buildings themselves are of much more recent origin.

Over the years many Carousels have greeted guests, the majority of these being lost through fire. Currently a 1921 Dentzel Carousel with 66 animals and two chariots welcomes guests. It only arrived at Dorney in 1995 having previously been situated at Cedar Point and Exposition Park in Aurora, Illinois. Further into the park is a Chance built Carousel where the horses rise and fall like they do on traditional gallopers but this only dates back to 1986.               

The park is home to seven full size roller coasters but only one of them is wooden. Thunderhawk dates back to 1923 which makes it one of the oldest operating coasters in the world. Designed by Herbert Schmeck and built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company it was originally an out and back ride but seven years later was reconfigured to have a figure eight twister section in the middle. It reaches a height of 80 feet with a first drop of sixty five feet and I thought it gave a relatively smooth ride. These days it is slightly overshadowed by its neighbour Steel Force.

Not far away from this ride is the station for the Zephyr train. Opened in 1935 it is a one of kind ride designed after the Burlington-Zephyr, the first streamline train. It travels around the lower portion of the park and owners maintain that this attraction helped the park to survive the Great Depression - a period of history that saw so many traditional parks closing their doors forever. I enjoyed a ride on it if only for nostalgic reasons even if it did feel a little cramped inside the cars. Just opposite is The Whip. Housed in a modernist styled building the Mangels manufactured ride dates back to 1920, making it the oldest ride still operating at Dorney.

Although there is nothing else of such vintage there are a number of rides that would be considered to be classics dotted around the park. These include a 1970 Scrambler Twist that is covered in fluroescent lights, a 1984 Huss manufactured Swingaround ride called Apollo, a Huss Enterprise from the same year and the Monster which only dates back to 1995 but is similar to the ride that for many years operated at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Before I leave Dorney Park I have to mention Demon Drop. An Intamin manufactured first generation freefall ride. Dating back to 1983 it has spent most of its life at Cedar Point but was transferred to Dorney Park in 2010. Although I had ridden other rides of this type at Six Flags Georgia in Atlanta and Magic Mountain near LA they are becoming increasingly rare.

Passengers board a four person car with over the shoulder restraints. Once secure the car moves backwards horizontally before being pulled up to the top of the tower. It then edges forward inch by inch before hanging in front of the tower. After holding for a few seconds it drops vertically before entering a curve and being  braked with riders flat on their backs. It is a good few years since I had last rode this type of ride but I have to say it still gives you a thrill when it drops down the front of the tower. Great fun. If you are in the Allentown area Dorney Park is well worth a visit to enjoy the latest thrills and also enjoy a slice of nostalgia.                           


Aerial view of Dorney Park. Picture: Phil Gould

The 1921 Dentzel Carousel. Picture: Phil Gould

The 1920 Whip, housed in a modernist building. Picture: Phil Gould


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