You Can Still Ride The World's Oldest Roller Coaster. Here's Where It Is

It's not every day you get to interact with history in a way that gets your heart racing. But in Altoona, Pennsylvania you can take a ride on a roller coaster built in 1902, a year before the Wright Brothers flew their plane at Kitty Hawk, and two years before work on the Panama Canal began, per the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. State Department.

The Leap-the-Dips, located at Lakemont Park, is the world's oldest roller coaster that's still operating. It beats the second oldest coaster, the Scenic Railway, located at Luna Park in Melbourne, Australia, by a decade, per the National Amusement Park Historical Association. Besides being the oldest, it's also the last example of a side-friction coaster. Back in 1902, this was a big advancement in technology since it used both regular wheels and side wheels that helped keep the car from flying off the track on hairpin turns, according to "Historic Pennsylvania: A Tour of the State's Top 100 National Landmarks."

A ploy for more business

The Leap-the-Dips also holds the distinction of being the last remaining coaster with a figure-eight track, which was once a popular style with more than 400 dotting the U.S. around the turn of the century, according to American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). E. Joy Morris, who was better known for building carousels, designed the coaster, which the Federal Construction Company built from wood and steel, per ACE and the Carousel News and Trader. It's 1,452 feet long and 41 feet high, and travels at around 10 miles an hour in individual cars, according to "Historic Pennsylvania" — a far cry from the massive centipede-like roller coasters of today that can reach speeds of 100 mph. A reporter for the Altoona Tribune remarked that the ride's "exhilarating pleasure" was "a real winner."

The Altoona and Logan Electric Railway Company built Lakewood Park in the 1890s as a way to squeeze out more money from its trolley line on Sundays when there were fewer commuters using it. They weren't alone. In the early 1900s, there were more than 1,000 such trolley parks around the country. The rise of the car helped kill them off.

Fell into disrepair

By 1985, the Leap-the-Dips had fallen into such a state of disrepair that Boyer Bros. Candy Company — which bought the park that year — closed the roller coaster down, and there was talk of demolishing it, per Pennsylvania Center for the Book. That could have been the end of the story like it was for so many other old coasters across the country, but for a group of dedicated volunteers who launched the Leap-the-Dips Preservation Foundation in 1994, dedicated to the coaster's restoration, according to the Centre Daily Times.

The foundation, which owns the roller coaster, poured the equivalent of $2 million today into the five-year-long restoration project. They persevered and reopened the historical ride in 1999. Today, you can ride the Leap-the-Dips — a National Historic Landmark — by heading to Altoona and visiting Lakemont Park anytime between April and September, per Lakemont Park. The ride will only set you back $3, a fair price for a ride on a piece of history.

[Featured image by Bhakta Dano.Oldano via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled]