Leap-The-Dips - Atlas Obscura


Behold the rickety wooden glory of the world's oldest operating roller coaster. 


Roller coasters are scary for any number of reasons. Whether it is the speed or the height or the perilous angles, they are machines made for the express purpose of creating thrills. But for many older coasters, the real fear comes from the age of the attraction, and this is never more true than at Altoona, Pennsylvania’s Leap-The-Dips coaster, the oldest working coaster in the world.

Originally built in 1902, the coaster has operated almost continuously since its opening, save for a little over a decade from 1985 to 1999 when it was closed for repairs. The coaster was built as an expansion to the Lakemont Park amusement park, which had opened in the late 1800s. The ride was built almost completely out of wood, with steel tracks running along its fairly gentle slopes. It is of a “side-friction” design, which means that there were no wheels gripping under the rim of the tracks to keep the cars from derailing, they just had to watch their speed.

In comparison to the gut-wrenching twists and turns of today’s gargantuan coasters, Leap-The-Dips is incredibly tame with a maximum height of around 40 feet, and an average cart speed of about 10 MPH. But it is also a century old, and the carts still aren’t held to the tracks like modern coasters. In fact it is the only side-friction coaster left in America.

Even with its gleaming descendants calling to thrill seekers around the country, Leap-The-Dips is still in operation today at Lakemont Park, and still sees riders looking for a gentle bit of old-timey excitement. It might not be the scariest roller coaster ever, but it holds more history than any of those other whipper snappers (The Whipper Snapper was a roller coaster featured in National Lampoon’s Vacation).

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