The Roller Coaster Models of Cincinnati
Back in Spring of 2014, I took a trip to Cincinnati to attend “Scream for a Kid Again” at Kings Island. Basically, if you raised a certain amount of money, you got to ride Banshee the Friday evening before it opened to the public the next day. I of course jumped at the opportunity to raised money for the children’s charity like the Make a Wish Foundation and be among the first to ride B & M’s latest inverted coaster. I made a mini vacation and went from Thursday through the following Monday. I also got to spend two full days at Kings Island, one of my favorite parks and do some sightseeing in the area.
I was flying in late morning and would have almost 6 free hours until the event. But of course, I had something planned that was coaster related. Better, it was to get to see a working wooden model of the famed “Shooting Star” https://rcdb.com/2040.htm up close and personal.
Entertrainment Junction opened in August of 2008 just north of Cincinnati in West Chester, Ohio. It’s about 6 miles and 15 minutes west of Kinds Island. And if you have the time, it is well worth a visit.
You could easily spend several hours here. As the name implies the focus is trains. The main attraction is the “World’s Longest Train Journey”, a 25,000-square foot model train display featuring over two miles of track and 90 G Scale (1/24 scale) trains. G scale vehicles are about the size of a loaf of bread to give you an idea of how big they are. The train journey features 3 time periods, the early railroad days starting in 1865, the middle period (focusing on the 1940’s and 1950’s) and the modern period from about 1970 to the present. It is absolutely the best layout I have ever seen in the United States. The display cycles between day and night every 20 minutes; 15 minutes of day time and 5 minutes of night time. The night lighting is spectacular.
Another area I had a blast in was the A-Maze-N Funhouse. I got several startles and surprises and managed to get completely lost in the curtain maze for quite a while. There are four different adventures from a mirror maze, and outer spaced themed maze/funhouse and several optical illusions.
There is also the Imagination Junction, a large children’s play area. A large play structure, wooden trains, an HO scale Thomas the Train model and interactive buttons that do a variety of things including running some of the train displays.
Seasonally they offer several different train rides for children – The Kids Express a 300-foot hand-cranked locomotive where the little ones can be their own engineer. The Narrow-Gauge Kid’s Train is a 1,000-foot-long train that adults can ride too with their kids. Both are outdoors. And in February, a small-scale ride-on electric train is set up inside for our Thomas the Train month.
The American Railroad Museum is exactly that and has many displays that are all about railroading in the United States.
There is also the Great Train Expo area that features seasonal displays including additional train layouts in different scales, various train displays and events.
And finally, what made the visit extra special for me. The Coney Island Display. Dating back to the 1860’s Coney Island, which is not an island at all, but located on the banks of the Ohio River, was the premier amusement park for decades in Cincinnati. And yes, it was named after New York’s famed Coney Island. In 1971 it was announced that the park was moving north in 1972 to an all new theme park – King’s Island. This was mainly due to the tendency of the Ohio River to almost annually flood the entire park. Many of the rides were moved there such as the log flume, and which still operates to this day, and the now closed Sky Ride. However, Coney Island was sold as its famous Sunlite pool would continue to operate. Slowly rides have been added back to the park and today it features several rides and one smaller roller coaster. It’s also worth a visit when you are in the Cincinnati area.
The display is the same size as the Train Journey, 1:24 scale (G gauge). It recreates the look and feel of the park in 1965. In addition to the model, there is a small display with historic pictures and information about the park. The entire display is scratch built from hand and just about everything works with interactive buttons that start all the rides. The miniature train, the car turnpike ride, the Sky Ride (Ariel Tramway), Tumble Bug and Haunted House are a few of the rides recreated here. Along with the sights, the sounds and when the day cycles into night here as well, the lights make the exhibit to come to life. And there are two working roller coaster models; The Wild Mouse and The Shooting Star.
The Wild Mouse is a version of the B. A. Schiff & Associates Large Version. It works, starting with the push of a button hauling the small car up the lift and sending it zig-zagging through its course.
The Shooting Star model dominates the back of the display, standing 4 feet tall and 40 feet long. The rides station looks exactly like the real thing and the profile is almost an exact replica. Most of the structure is wood. The track however is black Lexan plastic that is a quarter of an inch (6.35 mm) thick. The four-car train has the same exact wheel configuration of a real-life roller coaster with load, side friction and up stop wheels. The train is conveyed to the top of the lift by a chain which the train attached to via magnets. I was given the opportunity to go to an area not normally accessible to the public and get some great shots and video of the ride in action.
The model was built by a couple of volunteers and to say it is breath taking, especially for me, one who builds working models, would be an understatement. I have been impressed with other people’s working models, but this one takes the cake and is spectacular. Not only in its appearance, but also in its operation.
I watched it go around its circuit many times and I spent at least an hour at the exhibit after the behind the scenes tour just admiring the entire display and the Shooting Star model.
If you go to Cincinnati anytime of the year, a trip to Entertrainment Junction is well worth it. As it is located indoors, the weather doesn’t matter and I would highly recommend you do the “Do it All Ticket” which includes all of the displays and the A-Maze-N Funhouse. The train rides are extra when they are open. You can opt to just do the Train Journey, which includes everything except for the A-Maze-N Funhouse, but at the time I visited the Do It All Ticket was just $13.95 USD. If you’re really into it, I highly recommend the V.I.P Backstage Tour. With it, you’ll be able to go behind the scenes into areas not normally accessible to the public and learn all sorts of interesting information about the construction, operation and maintenance that goes into the entire place. They also have a gift shop, café and a model railroad shop. If you’re a casual visitor, I’d allow for at least 3 – 4 hours to be able to do everything. If you’re a railroad fan, and like to read and try out everything, you could spend 6 or more hours here doing everything they offer.
Video of the two Shooting Star models - I forgot to get some of the Wild Mouse. Note: there is no music on this video and a couple of the scenes have no sound.
After a fun filled weekend riding roller coasters and seeing some enthusiast friends whom I hadn’t see in many years, I had all day Monday before my flight home and decided to go check out the Cincinnati Museum Center. The building located in the former Cincinnati Union Terminal train station. may look familiar to some of you. It looks like the Hall of Justice from the 1970s, from the cartoon Super Friends featuring the Justice League. Well it’s more than a coincidence. Artist Al Gmuer drew and based the Hall on the façade of Union Terminal.
There are three main museums here, with a fourth one on the way and an OMNIMAX Large Screen Theater. In addition, there are special temporary traveling exhibits and a couple of other smaller museums/historical societies. Most the Cincinnati Museum Center is currently (as of January, 2017) closed while a major restoration project is taking place on the building. Some exhibits are open, but I would highly recommend checking with their website before heading over. Since I was flying out in the evening, I bought a do it all ticket. The museums are stunning with several exhibits that completely surprised me. One was a life size recreation of Cincinnati during the steam boat days including an almost full size steamboat along with street scenes. The sheer scale of this exhibit was mind boggling to me. There are several walk-through exhibits including wildlife and natural history displays. I was also impressed with the Cincinnati Natural History Museums HO scale model train displays that show several time periods throughout the history of the city. They are very large and there are several of them.
On one of the lower levels I delighted to stumble upon an HO working scale model of Coney Islands Shooting Star here as well. However, the model is only representative and does not resemble the actual coaster in anyway. But it was a nicely done model none the less. If you look at the pictures and video you can see that they modified a Faller Roller Coaster Model set or two and built their own supports out of bass wood and used the track, train and lift mechanism from the kit. Very ingenious if you ask me.
It is worth a visit if you are into model trains, most of which are in the Cincinnati History Museum. The Shooting Star model was located on the second level of this museum during my visit. You can buy a ticket for each museum separately or a do it all ticket for just the Cincinnati History Museum. Hopefully the model will return when they get the restoration of Union Terminal complete.
And if you have time, visit Coney Island too, which is open from the Spring until Fall. It's a great smaller park.
Here are links to the attractions in the article: