The (old) Long Beach Pike, digitally re-created

A digital re-creation of the Nu-Pike is here. [via LA Observed] linked to it. You go to the Nu-Pike Page, and download the 3D model. If you have Roller Coaster Tycoon, you can use the 3D model and “ride” the coaster.

Atop the Cyclone --from digital model

3D Coaster screenshot from The Nu-Pike page

When I saw the images, memories came flooding back. I remember the Pike. Two things stand out from that day: How I got into the park. And riding the Cyclone—the largest and fastest roller coaster of its day.

It musta been 1968, cause that’s when they closed the Cyclone. My family went to ride the Cyclone one last time.

We stood near the admission turnstile to get into the Pike. Dad had two free admission tickets. For a child. They were personalized. One had Dave’s (oldest brother’s) name on it, and the other one was for Robert Kitchens (my next oldest brother).

Pike Racer postcard Robert was not with us, I guess. Maybe he was at a friend’s. I dunno. Memories are fuzzy. I’ll prolly look at some of these old pictures and reconstruct the fringes of this hazy memory from the wooden buildings and the strings of lights and flags decorating the rows of arcade buildings.

But here’s what I do remember. My dad pulled the tickets out of his pocket, and he gave one to Dave. Then he pulled out a pen and wrote an “a” on the other ticket—at the end of my brother Robert’s name.

“There,” he said, smiling at me, with a flourish of his pen and a bit of swagger. “All I had to do is add just one ‘a.’ Now your name is Roberta.” He handed the ticket to me.

The Pike midway. postcard from Long Beach Heritage Museum

Pike Midway, ~1960s
Long Beach Heritage Museum

Roberta? What a strange thing. (That might’ve been the first time I heard the name Roberta.) I weighed the name in my mind. Roberta. I guess it’s a girl’s name. I was puzzled. (Musta been the literal-minded-ness of an 8-year-old.) My brother is my brother; he is Robert. I am Susan. You cannot add an “a” to the name and turn me into Roberta, can you? Won’t the lady or man at the gate know that we’re faking it? Will we get caught?

I watched as we approached the turnstile. I handed the ticket over, expecting that there’d be a problem (but there wasn’t) and then with a ccccrrrrrr-ank!! the rotating gate-thing shoved me to the other side. I was in. Huh! What do you know? I guess not every grownup knows your name. I could be Susan, I could be Roberta; it didn’t matter to them. Still, I didn’t like the thought of being Roberta. That’s just weird.

The Pike Racer, from a postcard

Postcard of Cyclone Racer (more postcards)

They’d talked about riding a roller coaster. But this… this was huuuuge! An open air tangle of wooden beams and cross-braces, topped by a set of tracks that went up-up-up, and then down-down-down, curving back around, then up and down and curving again and again. I watched a set of cars inch up a steep incline, pulled by something that went clank-a clank-a clank-a clank-a, and once it reached the top, those inside let loose with squeals and whoops and shrieks as they plunged down and around and up and down, clattering from way up high down, then up, then around, up and down, down to the bottom.

Oh. my. gawd.

We’re going to go on that? That—that— monstrous structure is the reason we came here!?! My Dad, his friend Barry who came with us, and my brother Dave—their faces shone in anticipation. They rushed right toward it, as if the great wooden monster had one of those attraction beams like on that TV show. The thrill of it.

I swear, they’re all crazy.

First they give me some other name, and then they want to get on this great scaffolded monster. Like they enjoy it. Like it’s fun.
They chattered about riding it—can’t wait.

I can wait. I can wait a long, long time.

The entrance of the Cyclone

Postcard: Cyclone entrance. (more postcards)

The Cyclone didn’t pull me like it pulled them. I hung back and watched. I stood near the entrance, studied how people in line got closer and closer to the place where you get on the ride. I watched how the returning cars turned that last corner, and the people inside, breathless and laughing, chattered as the cars came to a stop. They got out and the people waiting got in. Then Dad, Barry, and Dave got to the front, and they got in. And the car swept them away, and they went clank-a clank-a clank-a up the long hill and then the Cylone let them go.

My Mom was there, too. Because the next thing I know, I finally summoned up the nerve to go, and she rode with me. We got in, and they put a big bar over our lap to to hold us in.

The first part wasn’t so bad, easing away from the loading area, down a bit, until the car got caught in that long chain, and we went clank-a clank-a clank-a up the track toward the sky. I could see a wooden platform beside the track. If the car stopped, we could get out and walk, maybe. When do people have to get out and walk? Would we do that? Clank-a clank-a clank-a; we were pulled closer and closer to the top.

My Mom said that some people put their hands in the air, but I didn’t have to do that if I didnt’ want to. No, I was going to hold on to the rail. Tight. At the top of the hill, there were two little flagpoles with triangle flags… (tonight, as I look at pictures of the Cyclone Racer, I see—and vaguely recall—that there are twin racer cars. The flags signal the start of the race. I remember seeing the flagpoles, but the whole race significance was lost on me at the time).

the first drop

Lost Legends

We crested the long hill at the top, and plunged down. Everyone else screamed. Some people had their hands in the air; they shrieked with glee. The car clattered. I looked down. Down: the direction we were headed. Down we raced, rattle-clack-a clack-a… Down, down, down. In stomach-drop, petrifying fall. I wasn’t shrieking. If anything, I was moaning, positive that I was going to die, Oh no, oh no, let this be over. Let me get through this, let me just get through this.

I gripped the bar, fearing that this behemoth would pummel me. We hurtled down, gathering speed, reached bottom, and then raced uphill. And then we rounded a corner. Suddenly we banked into a curve. Clunk! My hip slammed the side of the car. Hard. Ow. Then another plunge, another violent banked curve. Even though I was holding on, my head smacked against the side of the car. The car, how it shook and rattled. It felt as though it would fall apart. And my clenched jaw would be the last thing to survive. If I survived. Down down again, and then up. Whipping into a turn. Slammed this way and that. Bony parts of my body whacking against the side of the car or the bar. All accompanied by the roar of protesting wheels on metal, jangling through the forbidden forest of pillars and cross-braces.

It was an endurance test. After a couple of circuits, the ride’s violence eased a bit. It subsided into smaller, gentler hills. Maybe, just maybe, I began to enjoy it. I unclenched my jaws. Maybe I smiled. Maybe I wheeeeeed. This way, and around that way. All of a sudden, with a last turn, it was over, and now we slowed and approached the loading area.

The bar lifted. I got out, glad to be freed from the car. My insides were jelly, my clenched jaw now slack. I was proud of myself for riding it, and glad that I got to see how maybe—just maybe—it could be a little fun. But did I want to go on it again? No way.

I have ridden on the Cyclone and lived to tell about it.

(I am sure that if I went on it older, larger, padded with more than skin and bones, I’d’ve enjoyed it more than I did when my small bony form was thrown this way and that in the car. But they tore it down, and it is no more.)

Thanks to the web, I know I wasn’t mentally exaggerating the noise. Here’s a sound recording of the ascent and then the over-the-top.

Other sites devoted to this instrument of fear (and fun, if you’re old enough for it to be fun):
Millikan High School (Long beach) Alumni site devoted to the Pike and the Cyclone.
Pictures of the Cyclone, taken on the last day of its operation.
Photo Gallery of the Pike, from a book by Stephen Brown
Photos of a physical model built of the Cyclone Racer.
The Cyclone Racer site. It’s in frames, so links are to individual frame-pages
Article: Larry Osterhoudt reverse engineered the Cyclone Racer.
Photos of a physical model (same as the other model? Don’t know)

. . . . . . . .

Post Script: I became Roberta one other time, a dozen years after that Pike visit. It was the end of May, 1980. I recalled the just-add-an-A-to Robert trick when I presented a worn-out airline ticket to fly a Robert Kitchens from San Francisco to Orange County airport.

The ticket was booked to fly on April 17th, 1980. I’d had a ticket for the same flight, and used it in April. But my brother did not use his ticket. Over a month later, when I was trying to get myself home after a college semester program based in San Francisco, I had enough money to bus my possessions south, but not to transport myself. I met with my brother where he was staying, and he pulled the creased ticket from his wallet and gave it to me. It broke my heart to take that ticket from him. Because that meant that he wouldn’t be going back, and I didn’t know if he’d ever go home. (I won’t say any more about that here) I’d’ve preferred that he use it, but at the same time, I needed a way to get home, and this ticket would do it for me.

That is, if I could get the airline to accept it.

The guy at the Air California counter wouldn’t take the ticket as is, because I was Ms Susan Kitchens, and not Mr. Robert Kitchens. I remembered the Pike incident, my Dad and his pen and the A, and I changed my tactic with the Air California dude. I said, “Okay, look, they made a mistake when they issued the ticket. My name is Roberta Kitchens. It should be Ms Roberta, not Mr. Robert A…” and the guy said the name with emphasis, “Okay, Roberta…” in a tone of voice that said to me, “I’ll let you get away with it this time, but I know you’re pulling a fast one.” Even so, he gave me the gate check slip, and I went through an invisible turnstile with a crrrrrrr-ank! and got on that plane to fly south.

8 responses to “The (old) Long Beach Pike, digitally re-created”

  1. Edward Padgett

    This article sure brings back memories of childhood. I think part of fun of visiting the Pike was just observing the the odd characters operating the rides. I was too young to ride the roller coaster, but always had the urge to try it, just once.

  2. Susan A. Kitchens

    The carnie ride operators: I remember looking at those people at the Orange County Fair Midway and at the rides at the Costa Mesa Fish Fry…. but they didn’t make any impact on me from the Pike in that one visit (the other two places were repeat visits).

    I’m intrigued by the differences in what one remembers or another remembers from events long ago. Now that I’ve dredged this memory up from the deep, I’ll be talking with brothers, Mom, Dad about it. Yesterday, my Dad told me that he didn’t go on the Cyclone on that visit.

  3. Dirk Brandts

    Hi Susan,

    Long time no visit, but nice to recall memories of the Pike. My folks met as hi-school teenagers in Long Beach and my Dad was a lifeguard there during his college years. They and their friends had tons of good times down at the Pike. I only went there on occasion myself when we visited friends in LB, but I was lucky enough to ride the Cyclone Racer about 10 times on the last weekend that it was open. As I recall it was 50 cents a ride, and we ran out of energy before we ran out of quarters. Thanks for the reminder of those good times!

  4. Susan A. Kitchens

    Dirk, you musta been older than me–or else much more of a daredevil–to go on it TEN TIMES! I asked my Dad when we went, and he said the last week before it closed, and then he backtracked and said he didn’t know, but it was definitely not long before it was gonna close. Still hafta poll other family members for their memories. That’s cool about your folks, by the way.

  5. sebar

    Actually the RCT3 download is the entire Pike. You are very correct. It was as close as possible to the circa 1968 era. Though it isn’t as accurate as I would have liked this park to be. Basically because not all the rides of that era and park are available even though Roller Coaster Tycoon with all three expansion packs has hundreds of rides. But it seems with each new expansion this can change. And so the NuPike lives again in 3D. You can ride any of the rides too. The Skywheel, Skooters (My personal favorite), Laff In The Dark, The Wild Maus, Roll-O-Plane, Carousel (unfortunately not a Looff, but Atari’s working on it we hope???)

    Well, hope you all enjoy and as more becomes available it will be upgraded. Just giving back, so we can all visit the NuPike and Cyclone Racer whenever we want to.

  6. Larry Osterhoudt

    Hi Susan, I’m Larry the engineer who has re-created the ride. At least you can claim one feat that I can’t, you got to ride it and looking back, I wished I did too. Even though I was only 8 in the mid sixties, it was my one and only visit to the Pike. If I would of rode it, I would of remembered it today. As conciliation though, I rode the double-wheel Ferris wheel that day and can still remember how it scared the hell out of me. But getting back to the coaster, my dad asked me if I wanted to ride as I was standing along it’s eastside, a big mistake on his part. He should have asked me in front of the coaster where I could not see the whole thing; at least then once you’re on it’s too late. So I replied NO! I was too scared or chicken, however you want to look at it. You have to understand I had never been on a roller coaster of any kind prior to visiting the Pike, not even the Matterhorn at Disneyland. You know as a kid, you kind-a got to work your nerve up with the smaller rides first before one can challenge the advanced stuff.

    Today looking back at the coaster, it was the biggest, fastest and tallest coaster you could ride in the world and that is what made it so intimidating. By today’s standards of extreme rides, it would be considered rather tame, though a very excellent ride if I may say so. At the end of it’s life it was not being maintained too well and there were a lot of warps in the track which made it rougher that it should have been. I have had a lot of people tell me they were intimidated on their first ride like you. Those who had the nerve to go back loved it. In an analogy, I guess it is kind of like getting thrown from a horse… I’ve had girls tell me they rode it 50 times in a row and loved it and one guy told me he got to ride it 300 times in a one day as an extra on a movie they were filming that day.

    I assume you have not ridden GhostRider at Knott’s? This wooden coaster is probably the closest ride to the Cyclone Racer on the West Coast. However it is missing a few of the signature ingredients unique to the Cyclone Racer like the dual racing tracks and even though GhostRider’s track is banked, it does incorporate the twisty-turning dynamic bank scheme of the Cyclone Racer, which is what separated it from the rest. If you would went on the Cyclone Racer today, you would probably say to yourself, “what was I so scared of.�

  7. Susan A. Kitchens

    Larry, No, I don’t think I’ve ridden GhostRider at Knott’s. (I have something to look forward to!) I did ride a wooden coaster at MagicMountain, tho, which reminded me of the Cyclone. I think, too, that the extra padding and size I have now would make any ride on any coaster less, ahem, thrilling than it did when I was just the smaller set of skin and bones of a (smaller) 8 year old.

    (oh and sorry, by the way, for delay in posting this note of yours. For some reason, WordPress didn’t send me email saying, moderate this comment, so I missed it)

  8. Susan A. Kitchens

    p.s. kudos to you on your reverse-engineering of the pike, Larry