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A global search by 'ride pickers' nabs vintage thrills for U.S. theme parks

A team of scavengers scouring the globe for vintage thrill rides to bring back to Cedar Fair amusement parks in the United States hit the mother lode in Europe and plans to continue the search in Japan.

The transcontinental trek took Monty Jasper and a small crew of Cedar Fair maintenance coordinators to Scotland, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and Germany where they collected seven classic flat rides — industry-speak for spinning thrill rides that travel near the ground and/or rise up into the air.

“To be honest, I was surprised at all we found,” said Jasper, a 42-year industry veteran and chief ride curator for Cedar Fair’s chain of 11 amusement parks.

In all, Jasper spent $7 million — about $1 million per ride — on a Mondial Top Scan, Mack Music Express, Zierer Wave Swinger, Huss Condor, Huss Breakdance and a pair of Huss Troikas.

After extensive rehabs, five of the rides are heading to Carowinds outside Charlotte, N.C., and the other two are on their way to Missouri’s Worlds of Fun in time for the summer season.

Jasper likes the rides from the 1950s, '60s and '70s because they tend to be more robust and mechanically sound than their modern brethren.

“If you take care of them, they will last a long time,” Jasper said.

Inspired by the “American Pickers” reality television show, Jasper’s team of collectors departed for Europe with the goal of filling out Cedar Fair’s portfolio of mid-range rides — those unheralded but essential workhorses that fall somewhere between the mega coasters and the kiddie rides. Jasper hoped to even pick up a sturdy old coaster if found one he liked.

At Scotland’s Loudoun Castle theme park, which closed in 2010, the Cedar Fair ride pickers passed on a portable Schwarzkopf looping coaster but picked up a Troika, which is similar to the familiar Scrambler except it's suspended from overhead arms that tilt during the ride.

“They stuck the key in the ignition and it started right up,” Jasper said. “Troikas are stout rides. They’re built like tanks.”

In Germany, the pickers decided against a Funtime Star Flyer tower swing at Holiday Park but grabbed a Breakdance, which features a sloped spinning platform with hubs of cars that spin in the opposite direction. California’s Great America, a Cedar Fair park in Santa Clara, has a Breakdance ride called Peanuts Pirates in its Planet Snoopy kiddie land.  

Switzerland and Italy proved scenic but fruitless, with the pickers deciding against a Huss Top Scan and a Mack bobsled roller coaster.

“Anything can run again if you throw enough money at it, but it might not be worth it,” Jasper said. “You don’t want to put some troublemaker into a park.”

Corroy Consulting, a ride-refurbishment factory in Holland that finds and resells classic flat rides, turned out to be a goldmine — with Jasper and the pickers snapping up five rides that will be stripped, repainted, repaired and updated with new electrical and lighting before being shipped to the United States.

Carowinds is expected to get the Scottish Troika, Breakdance, Music Express, Top Scan and Wave Swinger. The Music Express features a snake-like train traversing an undulating track, and the Top Scan spins riders in free-rotating gondolas. The Wave Swinger may replace the park’s Chance Yo Yo, a similar spinning ride with seats suspended from chains.

Worlds of Fun is expected to become home to the Dutch Troika as well as the Condor, a spinning tower ride with counter-spinning swinging gondola seats.

This month, Jasper plans to visit Japan on another scavenger hunt in hopes of discovering more rides like the ones he found in Europe while also looking for other classics like the Chance Trabant, Schwarzkopf Enterprise and Eli Bridge Scrambler.

“It may not be as good as that first trip,” Jasper said. “We will see.”

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