by Danny Miller
Over the course of the past six or seven years, I have gone from someone who simply played Roller Coaster Tycoon to a full-blown roller coaster enthusiast. I have become a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts as well as the Theme Park Coaster Club. I recently started writing blogs and news articles here, and have had discussions with a few roller coaster design companies, hoping to pursue an engineering job in the industry. Needless to say, theme parks and roller coasters have become more of an obsession than a simple hobby.
Most roller coaster enthusiasts, myself included, keep some sort of record of the rides they have been on and some sort of ranking system, whether it be in a notebook, in a spreadsheet on a computer, or through a website. By doing this, many of us know when we ride a milestone roller coaster, such as a 100th different roller coaster in their count. Some choose to celebrate by riding with special friends or family, and some simply hold a sign showing the milestone.
I however, have chosen to celebrate big milestones by ordering custom t-shirts that are airbrushed by park employees. Anyone who has been to some of the corporate parks has come across these stands where guests can either get simple designs painted on shirts, or they may submit custom artwork to appear on the shirt. Anyone who is a listener of the Coasterradio.com podcast may at this point identify me as “Dan the T-shirt Guy.”
My very first shirt that I bought was in July of 2008 at Kings Island. Firehawk, the Vekoma flying coaster was my 100th coaster. Not only did I get the shirts, but I also bought my on ride photo, where I made a number 100 with my hands and mouth. My sister recently did the same thing on Bizarro and Six Flags New England, her 100th coaster.
Back in September of 2011, I made my way to Canada’s Wonderland, where the B&M mega coaster Behemoth became my 200th different roller coaster. With a logo that is essentially stylized text, this shirt was a bit simpler, but still an awesome piece of clothing. This shirt was also slighter cheaper price wise than the $50 or so that the others have cost.
Back in May and June, I was in California for the first time as an enthusiast and visited an astounding eight parks in just six days. In the process, I leaped over the 250-coaster mark on my track record. This marked another time to get a shirt, this time featuring Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Tatsu, the giant B&M flying coaster. This was probably the most detailed logo along with the Firehawk one to do, and the artist, Gary, knocked it out of the park, making it well worth the money.
I will refrain from describing them in great detail, and will instead have you look and let you decide which you think is the best. Just a few weeks ago, my sister rode her 100th coaster, Bizarro at Six Flags New England, and has followed in my footsteps by getting a custom t-shirt. This is actually her second, because back in 2009 after riding Boulder Dash, her first big coaster, she wanted to celebrate the occasion with a shirt of her own.
Like I said, tons of enthusiasts celebrate milestone, and many do it in very different ways. I choose to spend a little extra cash to get a souvenir that I will always have and will always be able to wear. Which of them do you think is the best?
by Danny Miller
Earlier this year I wrote a blog talking about the incident at Darien Lake last season where a war veteran was killed after being thrown out of a ride vehicle on the Ride Of Steel coaster at the park. This season, there has already been a few incidents regarding the same situation, however these guests were denied entry to the rides. Our own Mike Strobel has provided us with a great read from mainly a guests perspective, so as a ride operator myself, I am going to attempt to explain such situations from an operator’s point of view.
Last season at Darien Lake, it was found that the operators were at fault for allowing the man, Sgt. James Hackemer, who had one leg completely amputated, and the other cut off at the knee, to ride. Most ride admission policies for roller coasters with lap bars like Ride Of Steel require that guests have at least three functioning extremities, which Hackemer did not. Also in this case, Hackemer’s center of gravity was significantly different than that of other guests, shifting it to the upper portion of his body, making it easy for him to fall out of the train with the lap bar not pinning him in properly.
This past June, a man in Texas was denied entry on to the New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas despite having been to the park several times in his life and never being denied entry. Mr. Michael Green lost both hands in a house fire when he was young, but has lived quite normally and is able to drive, type, and cook among other things. The park claims their ride admission policies are constantly reviewed and changed to meet safety requirements while still accommodating most, if not all guests. Six Flags however, told Green he would not be able to ride any rides, presumably because he would be unable to hold on to the restraints.
Disability Rights Texas has stated that safety can be a valid reason for denying a guest entry onto a ride, however, this is case that upon further examination may find that Six Flags is going a tad too far here in my opinion. Most, if not all parks I have been to, require that riders have three functioning extremities, which are defined as arms below the elbow or legs below the knee so that riders can brace the restraint or the seat. Green clearly would be able to brace either the seat with his two functioning legs, or any shoulder harnesses with his arms, which still function with the exception of hands. Also, Green’s center of gravity would not be drastically affected by the absence of hands. I don’t believe the park is trying to discriminate as Green claims, but I think it is more a matter of interpreting the rules differently and this is probably a case where the park isn’t quite right.
In another incident just this week, a worker told Mr. Torrence Bellamy that he could not ride Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia because he had a prosthetic leg. Bellamy says that the operator informed him of this as he was sitting in the front seat about to ride after waiting more than an hour, and also said that the worker was very insensitive. He also claims that just last season he visited the park and rode every roller coaster including Goliath without issues. The park has stated that in May, some ride admission policies were changed, and that prosthetic legs were no longer allowed on certain rides, including Goliath, and that riders must have both legs and feet to ride. Much like the Texas case, the park has also said that these policies are customized for each ride and also need to adhere to Federal American Disabilities Act guidelines.
This case to me seems fairly similar to the Darien Lake case. Some parks require that prosthetic limbs be taken off before riding because they may be considered loose articles if they are not secured. This is likely due to the recent incident at the Dragon Challenge coaster at Universal Orlando, where a man’s prosthetic leg fell off during the ride, striking a rider on the other train. Because of this policy, this would require the removal of Bellamy’s leg, which in turn may leave the operator with the decision as to whether or not Bellamy’s center of gravity is still in an acceptable position, and it would certainly violate to new rule of riders needing both legs.
In this case, it is certainly a difficult decision, however I do not quite understand that part that states riders must have feet, as riders feet are typically not in contact with the ground on this ride, and as long as the rider has at least one leg, they should be able to brace the seat with their knee. While the park may be best siding with safety on this one, it seems that park employee could have at the very least been a bit more tactful in their approach.
The last incident we will talk about is one that happened in 2010 and has now spurred a lawsuit. Mr. Angel Castelan and Mr. Martin Huezo are suing Universal Studios Hollywood for being denied entrance to the Revenge Of The Mummy roller coaster, a ride very similar to the Orlando ride of the same name. Castelan had both forearms amputated after a childhood electrical incident, while Huezo lost both legs in a car accident. They claim that they have been long time fans of the park and have ridden the ride several times in previous years, however the park says that recent changes to ride admission policies now require riders to have at least one hand and one leg in order to ride.
Again, most parks require three functioning extremities and a normal center of gravity in order to ride attractions such as these. In Castelan’s case, if both arms stop at the elbow joint, then he would not have three functioning limbs because he would not be able to bend an arm in order to brace a restraint, which would be an acceptable reason to deny him entry even if his center of gravity is in a reasonable position. For Huezo, the absence of significant portions of both legs would be very similar to the Darien Lake case, where his center of gravity would be shifted upwards significantly, which would not allow the lap bar to pin him in properly, risking the safety of him as well as others on the ride. Regardless of whether they were allowed to ride in previous years, if this is what their current policy states, it would seem that the park may be in the right in this particular case.
While all of these situations are very different and each has different factors to take into consideration, they all come back to rider safety. The Darien Lake incident has caught the attention of parks around the country and some parks have seemed to revise their policies in order to put less responsibility on the operators, and create more black and white guidelines that let the operators operate rather than make possible life-changing decisions. Whether or not they are reasonable or too much is a matter of personal opinion, but the bottom line is that the parks are siding with safety first, guest happiness second, which would make sense, because if you are unsafe on a ride, I doubt you would be happy. What do you think?
by Danny Miller
On my way home from my annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard on Sunday, we had the time to stop by Six Flags New England, Lake Compounce, and Quassy Amusement Park. Normally on a trip like this, I would write about each park in the order we visited like I did with the California trip. In this case however, I feel the need to talk about Quassy due to me wanting to express my enthusiasm about the Wooden Warrior coaster that opened there last season.
The park closed at 8PM, and we arrived just before 7PM, giving us only a little bit of time to get in our rides. We did not spend much time at the park, but it seems to be doing okay. It reminds me very much of smaller parks like Lakemont in Altoona, PA and even a smaller Knoebel’s style park. The rides are pay-as-you-go and it has a classic carnival feel rather than a corporate permanent park.
Before I talk about the Wooden Warrior coaster, I’ll quickly mention the Herschell Little Dipper that sits next to the lake. It is a very old coaster that dates back to the mid 1950’s according to sources, and is still a neat ride with its gently undulating hills and turns. The operator was nice enough to treat my sister and me to two circuits for the price of one.
Now onto what you all want to hear. You might be wondering if Wooden Warrior is as good as its early reviews have said it is. Let me tell you that it is that good and better yet. This ride is the ultimate proving point that you don’t need big size or blazing speed to create an exceptional ride. Watching the ride for a cycle or two before we rode, I knew there was going to be airtime, but this ride delivers it in great abundance comparing to coasters three and four times its size.
No matter where you sit in the train, you are in for a special treat. The entire train is treated to a good dose as you plunge down the first drop. The back seat you obviously seem to go a bit faster down the drop, but the short six row trains give the entire train nearly the same experience. The speed bump at the bottom of the first drop delivers exceptional airtime, especially if you are able to have a little bit of room between you and the restraint. The Timberliner train performs exceptionally well and navigates the entire course quite smoothly as well.
After a left hand turn, you go flying over another hill and drop before a crossover hill leading to the tunneled turnaround at the halfway point. More scrumptious airtime is to be had before you get some great lateral forces as you barrel around the covered turn. Out of the dark you come over another airtime-laden hill before dropping again to the ground.
Next comes the exquisite triple-up that serves of loads of repeated airtime back-to-back-to-back. Very few coasters on Earth have an element like this. Another left hand turn by the station at the top of the triple-up leads to two more great airtime hills before a left turn with minimal banking that features a great lateral thrill to bring the ride to an end. The Gravity Group deserves two thumbs up for an exceptional ride that is a perfect fit for a park like Quassy and an absolute pleasure to ride and ride again.
At 1,200 feet long and only 35 feet tall with a 45 foot drop, the Wooden Warrior certainly does not set any size or speed records, but this ride deserves every bit of its praise and more yet. In Mitch Hawker’s Roller Coaster Poll for the 2011 season, Wooden Warrior came in at 18th out of 164 wooden coasters that qualified for ranking. For those of you who may not know of the poll or do not take part, it basically takes votes from anyone who submits a ballot rather than a select few on a committee like the Golden Ticket Awards, yielding what many feel is a much more “accurate” poll that shows what coasters are the best, rather than what rides are ridden the most like in other polls.
To put it in a different perspective, that 18th place finish places Wooden Warrior higher than Lightning Racer, Thunderbolt at Kennywood, Knoebel’s Twister, and the famous Coney Island Cyclone. I personally put the ride 6th on my personal list, behind Phoenix, Boulder Dash, El Toro, The Beast, and Ravine Flyer II (I have not been on the Voyage for those of you wondering). So all in all, Quassy has gone from a little park that many did not knew existed, to a park the enthusiasts will flock to, making a dual trip along with Lake Compounce in order to get some rides on this hidden gem in the Connecticut wilderness. Don’t miss out folks, this one, is a MUST ride.