Days of the Comet (Part I)

Why Lincoln Park’s storied Comet roller coaster captured the imagination of Southern New Englanders from 1947 to 1987. 

If you ever ventured to Lincoln Park in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts and rode the Comet coaster, you probably have your own story to tell.  If you never rode, read along and hopefully you’ll feel like you did!

The Comet owes its existence to Lincoln Park’s first coaster, the Giant Coaster, built in 1912.   No information has surfaced on who the designer/builder was, only that it was leased from a Fall RivSCM-TD 0026 - Lincoln Park 1921 - Dartmouth-leveleder Coaster Company. A notice on the archway to the coaster’s loading station stated, “The Union Street Railway has no interest in its operation and assumes no responsibility herewith”,  the before-mentioned railway company being the park’s owners at the time.

No specifications seem to be available on this coaster, but it was reported that it was suitable for children to ride.

In 1941, Lincoln Park was purchased by John Collins & Associates for $40,000. They invested $150,000 installing a fourteen lane bowling alley and updating an existing dance hall, and added a full complement of amusement park rides.  Two years into their ownership they closed the Giant Coaster and began a reconstruction process which came to a halt as World War II intensified.  The project restarted in earnest in 1946, when the park hired the firm of  Ackley Bradley & Day of Sewickly, PA  to erect a much bigger and more thrilling coaster.  The firm assigned its coaster engineer Vernon Keenan to design the ride which was to be named Cyclone.  Keenan designed the Coney Island Cyclone in 1927, and the Lincoln Park Cyclone was to be a smaller version of Brooklyn’s iconic thriller.  National Amusement Devices’  Ed Leis of East Providence, Rhode Island supervised construction of the new Cyclone. Total cost to erect the coaster was about $80,000.

Picture1

The Cyclone had an extensive breaking-in period with park employees, sometimes accompanied by sandbags, volunteering to ride until the track loosened up for gravity to  provide its thrust.

testers.png

The two trains bore the name Cyclone as seen below at left.

image5 Although it wasn’t too long until Train Number 2 was stripped of that title as seen in this 1947 photo. (More on this later)Comet3

IMG_2541

So way the name change to Comet?  No documentation has surfaced but it has been suggested that the owners of the Coney Island Cyclone were not happy with their coaster being cloned, and to avoid legal entanglement, the ownership of Lincoln Park agreed to drop Cyclone and simply call it Coaster.  The loading station reflected that name change when the ride opened to the public in 1947.

Comet-Coaster

Here’s the tale of the tape matching the Coney Island Cyclone with the Lincoln Park Coaster.

Coney Island Cyclone:

Length 2,850.3 ft
Height 85 ft
Inversions 0
Speed 60 mph
Duration 1:50
Vertical Angle 58.6°

thumb_cyclone112215a_0

Lincoln Park Comet/Coaster:

Length 3,000 ft
Height 65 ft
Speed 55 mph
Duration 2:10

1986

So you can see the similarities in the design from the photos.  I don’t know when the name change to Comet officially took place.  It wasn’t until the late 1960s that I recall spotting a directional sign baring the name Comet.

I first rode the Comet at age 10 in late August 1964.  I rode with my brother Joe (age 8) and my dad rode with my brother John (age 7).  Three years earlier I had ridden my first wood coaster, the Zephyr in its final year at Crescent Park in Riverside, Rhode Island.  But the Comet was a completely different animal – it was a twister coaster with a steep first drop whereas the Zephyr was a freeform coaster with airplane Zephyrhills.

I wasn’t nervous about riding the Comet. Afterall, I knew that Mr. Leis, a fellow East Providence Townie, had built the coaster.  How could it not be safe?

First thing I remember seeing  is all the wooden levers on the loading platform.  My two brothers were speculating out loud that they believed the levers controlled the entire ride and that our lives were dependent on the ride operators moving the levers properly throughout the circuit. I desperately to debunk this myth, but my efforts were in vain.  Too much noise on the platform to get my point across.

image2

With that, the ride op released the brake and off our train went.  We didn’t seem to be climbing very high, but I found this warning sign rather imposing.

image1

We were seated in the middle of the train, which, as it crested the hill, I heard the frantic screams of riders in front of me.

Comet2When it was our “turn” to take the plunge, I was thinking that this was the closest I’d ever get to dropping off my home’s roof aboard my Radio Flyer wagon.  It looked that steep!971829_622628124432038_1037794903_n

The coaster was a series of smaller steep drops and shifting lateral forces that got stronger on the lower tiers.  I recall my brother Joe constantly repeating the name “Clutch Cargo”, a popular carton series of the day.  Why he did, I don’t know. e0f065c4a6d4bc66d064b28760410ce2---tv-cargo

I took in the Comet on all my ensuing visits to Lincoln Park, including one in early June 1968 when I rode with my youngest brother Peter for the first time.

Color Comet

It was a memorable ride on the Comet; something Peter and I talked about for weeks to follow.

But in late July, our conversations shifted to something else.

Accident

To be continued…

 

Photo credits:

Spinner Publications

The members of Things That Aren’t There Anymore: Southeastern Massachusetts Edition

Swampfoxer

 

References:

Lincoln Park Remembered, 1894-1987 (Spinner Publications 1999)

Roller Coaster Database (https://rcdb.com/4693.htm)

Patrick Mckinney

Billboard (magazine)

 

 

 

 

To ride the Comet again, go here:

 

2 thoughts on “Days of the Comet (Part I)

  1. Wow thank you for great memories most of all no one can make clam cakes like they had. A great memore thank you. I went there by bus from fall river parents had no car. And when i married i took my childreen yill it was closed so sad…… ty. Deborah machado costa

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  2. Great article on what was my first “big” Coaster, after graduating from Comet Jr. I still remember waiting in the station as the train flew overhead not once but twice, shaking the structure and all those cables holding the ride together. It added to the excitement and thrills, especially after that accident in 1968. And the best thing about Lincoln Park and the Comet – you could ride everything all you wanted for $1.00, from 1:00 – 5:00pm, or after the ride ops came back from dinner break until closing. Imagine Six Flags closing the rides for supper!

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