Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Flyer is arguably the most famous of Hunt's Pier's storied collection of custom rides, but it was often the little details that contributed much to its allure.

Like most seaside amusement parks, space was at a premium and it made sense for the owners to make the most of each and every square foot of elevated land that extended east from Wildwood's famous Boardwalk.

And that they did!

Vintage postcard courtesy of the Wildwood Historical Society

Real estate that would have been a landscaping liability in most theme parks was instead utilized for additional rides, creating a delicious layer cake of amusements that always left me wanting one more slice. Truth be told, neither the Mini Hot Rods or Iron Horse train were truly custom rides, as PTC Panther Cars and countless varieties of trains could be found at amusement parks throughout the country.

But without having knowledge of each and every installation, I'm willing to bet serious money that no other versions of those rides were constructed beneath a roller coaster. On a concrete pier. Over the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Both are prime examples of how ordinary rides seemed extraordinary on Hunts Pier.

The Iron Horse didn't offer a lengthy trip by any stretch of the imagination. It completed encircled the Flyer, which itself was a ride of diminutive stature. But since that ride appeared absolutely huge in the eyes of a young boy, the train also appeared absolutely huge.

Photo courtesy of the Wildwood Historical Society

The Flyer must have extended for miles and miles, so it made perfect sense that the train tracks alongside the Flyer also extended for miles and miles. Next stop: London, England? It really did seem as though that thing was going to take us across thousands and thousands of miles of ocean.

Yet it didn't, only taking us past a small ghost town before entering a tunnel that magically transported us back to reality. I look at photos and I'm amazed by how the abandoned burg was wedged in between the Flyer's far turnaround and Jungleland.

Back then, it seemed so far removed from everything else on the pier. In the eyes of my brother and I, the Mini Hot Rods were something to really get excited about. My parents will always explain how it was an unnerving experience to put us in one of those cars and watch it disappear behind the Flyer's structure, as if there was the possibility we would never return.

Photo courtesy of the Wildwood Historical Society

They must have been pretty good at internalizing their fears because they never let on how concerned they were about our safety. All I remember is how much fun my brother and I had as we traversed a winding road into the heart of some incredible fantasy world populated with gigantic building blocks and Humpty Dumpty.

The Flyer that surrounded us was surely doing its best to make its riders scream at the top of their lungs, but I don't remember the screams.

All I remember is feeling like a grown-up for a fleeting moment. Behind the wheel of a car. The top down and the fresh air in my hair. A wide-open road ahead filled with endless possibilities.

My brother and I always ended up at the exact same place, but what a ride it was!

In addition to being a fan of all things amusement-related, Rob Ascough is a life-long Wildwood vacationer that considers it his second home. While he often laments some of the changes that have taken place throughout the years, he loves to look back on days gone by while looking forward to what the future holds.

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