By Ryan Shrout
Back in 1946, a couple of WWII vets, Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon, started a small machine shop in Mountain View, CA. They built small things for local amusement parks such as merry-go-rounds and other assorted rides. One of these merry-go-rounds was so well done that it caught the eye of one Walt Disney and in 1953, he hired the company to help in as he built the world’s first theme park.
When Disneyland opened 1955, it featured a number of, then, Arrow Development rides and many more would soon follow. Some of the more notable attractions include the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Dumbo, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. But there was one of Walt Disney’s ideas that would end up revolutionizing the coaster industry and changing the direction of Arrow forever.
Walt wanted something that would simulate a downhill bobsled run. The ideal medium was a roller coaster style ride but he didn’t want all of the noise that came from a wooden track. Arrow went about experimenting with different stuff and ended up creating the first tubular steel tracked coaster. The steel rails allowed for track to be bent in ways never before imaginable with wooden rides.
Arrow went on to expand their Matterhorn Bobsled concept into a series of Mine Train rides. Then in 1975, Arrow made what is arguable the biggest leap in roller coaster technology ever. They bent their tubular steel track into the world’s first corkscrew, on the fittingly names Corkscrew at Knott’s Berry Farm. And their rides only continued to get loopier from there, from 2 to 3 to eventually 7 inversion rides.
Arrow also helped to pioneer the suspended coaster with the ill-fated Bat in 1981 followed by the success of Big Bad Wolf in 1984. In 1989 Arrow introduced the world to a new type of steel coaster, the Hyper Coaster (over 200ft tall) with Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point. This ride began the height war which is still going on today between some of the world’s top theme parks.
Eventually though, Arrow fell into financial trouble. They couldn’t compete with the newer, computer aided design techniques of rising companies such as Intamin AG and Bolliger and Mabillard. In 2002 Arrow made its last ditch effort to regain their edge in the coaster industry. When X debuted at SFMM it broke all the rules of what a coaster should do.
But the 4-D coaster concept proved to have too many bugs in it and plagued with the repair costs, Arrow Dynamics was finally forced to file for bankruptcy in 2001. That year Arrow sold all of its assets to roller coaster and ride manufacture S&S Power. S&S now operates at Arrow’s old headquarters in Clearfield, Utah and has since improved upon Arrow’s 4-D coaster concept making it much more reliable.
It is true that much of once was Arrow Dynamics is dead and gone. But the legacy that they left and the radical changes they made within the industry will never be forgotten. They were the ultimate innovators of their time and many of their rides still exist today for the enjoyment of people around the globe.