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Kiddieland classic coaster finds new life at Great America
By Lee Filas | Daily Herald Staff

The "Little Dipper," a classic wooden coaster from former Kiddieland Amusement Park, opens Thursday at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. Six Flags purchased the coaster in an auction last November.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

The Little Dipper, a classic wooden coaster from former Kiddieland Amusement Park, is opening Thursday at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. Six Flags purchased the coaster in an auction last November.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/27/2010 3:37 PM | Updated: 5/27/2010 3:39 PM

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There's nothing like the clicketyclack of a roller coaster car inching its way up a wooden hill.

But, that sound is even sweeter when the coaster is a classic that was saved from possible destruction.

The "Little Dipper" made its triumphant return to the Chicago area Thursday as members of the media and special guests of Six Flags Great America in Gurnee were able to try out the coaster that's future was up in the air when Kiddieland Amusement Park shut down last September.

"We are real excited to be able to bring this historic coaster here," said park General Manager Hank Salemi. "It's a real great addition to the roller coasters we have, and the nostalgia associated with this coaster is just amazing."

Kiddieland opened in 1929, and the "Little Dipper" was opened at the amusement park in 1950. Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co., it climbs to a height of 28 feet and has a 20-foot drop. It carries up to 16 passengers and can reach a speed of 25 mph.

The 60-year-old roller coaster was a mainstay at Kiddieland in Melrose Park before the park shut down in 2009.

Most of the rides and attractions went on the auction block when the park closed. Six Flags purchased the wooden "Little Dipper" roller coaster for $36,000.

The coaster was moved from Melrose Park in pieces, Salemi said, re-engineered and rebuilt.

"We really tried to keep the coaster in its original form when we reassembled it," Salemi said. "We did make a few upgrades, like we replaced the hand brake with an automatic brakes. But the track, train and most of the wood is from the original."

Most notably, he said, the marquee of the coaster - where "Little Dipper" lights up and blinks - is all original.

"Of course we repainted it, but we painted it to match the original colors," Salemi said. "We also intend to display the hand brake the roller coaster used to use, so everyone can see it."

Ron Rynes, former owner of Kiddieland with his sister and brother-in-law, said he was amazed at how incredible the coaster looked after seeing it restored Thursday.

"I think it's just remarkable," he said. "It's great that the coaster has been saved, but more importantly, it'll remain here in Chicago for people to enjoy."

Kiddieland closed in fall of 2009 after its lease in Melrose Park was up and the owners couldn't afford to move the attractions to another location, Rynes said.

While it was devastating to see the park shut down, Rynes said, he's happy that a piece of Kiddieland will remain in place forever.

"It's nice that the memory of Kiddieland will continue here, through this ride," he said. "It's important to let generations who loved Kiddieland come and see something like this."