Dear Coaster Friends,
I am going to start this one out with some excuses, because this is late, and I skipped last year. Guess why? I ment for this to be an annual series with my first entry when my daughter was two on Fathers Day. So this season has started but I missed my self imposed Father’s Day deadline. But, if you are still with me let’s go.
This is my fifth season as a coaster dad and I have been racking up the kiddy credits! Just kidding, but my daughter has moved from the very tame kid rides into family style flat rides and coasters. This has been a really rewarding experience for me as well as her as I have been having an amazing time sharing these adventures with the whole family. My daughter has been to Adventureland (New York), Lake Compounce, Knoebels, Nickelodeon Universe, and most recently Six Flags New England. Her first intro to more thrilling rides have been familiar flat rides like the paratrooper, scrambler, the whip, wave swings, and others. These spinning rides gave her the sensation of speed and some quick changes in direction. When she has gone on something that is really only geared towards young kids she actually looks confused as to why it isn’t fun. The family style coasters that she wasn’t sure about at first are now an easy yes because she knows what fun feels like.
The current ride of choice? A wild mouse, she can ride it all day and giggle the whole time, then immediately say, “Let’s go again!” as soon as we get off. I know what you are thinking, but I like them too. True that at Six Flags New England they have two amazing coasters in Superman and Wicked Cyclone, but I had a great time on their wild mouse too. I’m not using the proper name on purpose, since I didn’t even try to tell her. I also had a chance to really appreciate how the wild mouse style coaster is a family coaster masterpiece, yes a masterpiece. These quirky rides have slight variations but are all generally similar enough to consider them all together. From a child’s perspective they are big rides that both simultaneously have no big drop, and the entire layout is visible. These qualities make it very accessible to kids and also parents who aren’t fans of roller coasters. The snappy turns are fun and provide solid laterals, while tossing you around in the car. The car’s front wheels are set back so it always looks like you are going off the tracks, something that added to the fun. The small drops and hills actually do provide airtime without being big enough to scare anyone. These incredibly ordinary coasters don’t get their proper respect and serve a valuable purpose, they are a stepping stone to the next ride. According to my daughter right now the best coaster in the world is not The Phoenix, a ride she has been on, it is a wild mouse. So she probably isn’t a future Golden Ticket Award voter, and I see her point.
The next time you roll up at a new park and look at their line up, don’t you dare say, ugh another wild mouse. You better say, well at least they have a wild mouse. You know it, it is fun, nostalgic, and let’s face it better than the boomerang or the SLC you are about to tourture yourself with anyway. If you stuck with me this long I’ll leave you with my proudest moment of the day. My five year old daughter told the ride op that opened the gate at Catwoman’s Whip that she was going to need to sit in the back seat. I honestly didn’t prompt her and I have no idea where she got it from, but she already knows.
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We have to go back, and I mean way back to August 1977 at Kings Island. That was when I rode my first roller coaster and the day I fell in love with them. Being an enthusiast in the '70s, '80s, and '90s was so different than it is now. Back then, my whole coaster world was Cedar Point, Kings Island, Six Flags Great America, Michigan's Adventure, and visiting family in Florida.
It was a complete 180 from the enthusiast world we have now. There was no social media. Heck, the internet was pure science fiction. Imagine not knowing about Steel Vengeance until TWO MONTHS!!! Before it opened. That is how I found out about Magnum. In a newspaper ad (ask your parents what those are) in March of 1989.
Then in the '90s, the Discovery Channel had the annual thrills and chills marathon on Memorial Day weekend. I truthfully had no idea how many other quality parks were out there. And my mind exploded at all the other wondrous world-class coasters I did not know existed. I desperately wanted to go to all of these parks and ride all those coasters.
However, at that time in my life, I had other passions I enjoyed as much. Snowmobiling, deer hunting, golf, and going to concerts. Just to name a few. Which takes up time and especially money; throw in meeting my wife and raising our son. Coaster trips outside my region had to go on the very back burner.
A couple of decades later, YouTube came along, and the coaster world once again blew up. POV's and off-ride footage of every roller coaster was available for all. In 2015 I watched my first Coaster-Net Uncut episode, and a whole new side of the enthusiast world opened up for me. Analysis and criticism really made me look at the industry from an entirely new perspective.
After a couple of years of watching various YouTube coaster channels, I still found myself watching Coaster-Net the most. They announced the Ride Warrior Discord in 2018, I joined soon afterward. Wow, has my coaster life changed. During the fall and winter of 2018/2019, I met fellow enthusiasts that have become some of my best friends.
I know this might not sound like a big year to some, and it was still in my region. However, in 2019 I went to King's Island opening day and for haunt. My first coaster event Holiwood Nights at Holiday World. I had the privilege of meeting one of my fellow Ride Warrior Discord members Evan Honnert (Please read his blog on Coaster-Net.com), on his first trip to Cedar Point and took some coworkers on their first trip during haunt. The Coaster-Net Patreon meet up at Six Flags Great America (An absolute blast). And, of course, multiple trips to my home park Michigan's Adventure.
2019 was just an appetizer, however. Around Thanksgiving 2019, I was in a voice chat on the Ride Warrior Discord with one Brad Crowe (Please read his previous blogs on Coaster-Net.com), And we were talking about the holidays, of course, and our 2020 plans. Brad and I are both in our late forties and, strangely enough, have similar stories as to why we never could make a coaster road trip. Well, that conversation started our first itinerary. Little did we know at that time how many times it would change.
By February, we had our trip hammered out. We built it around Holiwood Nights. We were starting at Michigan's Adventure going through Ohio and Kentucky. Then Holiwood Nights into Missouri and finishing in Oklahoma and Texas. I was a little kid on Christmas morning excited. Especially for Holiwood Nights, we had a house rented. Brad and I were going to make breakfast for a slew of thoosies. Including a couple from a particular channel on YouTube, you may know. And our current Thrilling 32 champion and another YouTuber (South Coasters), Alex Baker, from the UK.
Most of our voice chats on discord were talking about the upcoming coaster season. And the various trips we were taking, the 2020 coaster season was going to be glorious. Then as you all know, COVID happened. At first, we were very naive, like millions of others. We thought that by Summer, COVID would be under control, and things would be back to normal.
After a few weeks, it became apparent that plans were going to have to change. At first, we just moved some dates around, still holding out hope that nothing would be canceled. Sadly by mid-May, we knew that the whole thing had to be scrapped. To say I was crushed is a massive understatement. After waiting for over thirty years, a lifelong ambition was going to pass me by another year.
Brad would not give up, and we kept watching to see when parks were going to open. Then Holiday World announced they were moving Holiwood Nights to August 28th & 29th. Between parks being on a limited operating schedule or closed altogether, it was a massive challenge to make a new trip work. By the time we finalized it, we had revised and restarted so many times I forgot where we were going. Here is our first coaster trip itinerary.
Aug 11th Flew to Witchita KS, went to the Doc B-29 Museum
Aug 12th Adventureland (Iowa)
Aug 13th Worlds of Fun 1/2 day. Silver Dollar City 1/2 day
Aug 14th Silver Dollar City
Aug 15th Alabama Adventure 1/2 day. Six Flags over Georgia 1/2 day
Aug 16th Six Flags over Georgia
Aug 17th Dollywood
Aug 18th Travel day meet a good friend in Richmond, VA, for dinner.
Aug 19th Six Flags Great Adventure
Aug 20th Dorney Park 1/2 day. Knoebels 1/2 day.
Aug 21st Kennywood 1/2 day. Cedar Point 1/2 day.
Aug 22nd Cedar Point.
Aug 23rd Kings Island
Aug 24th Waldameer
Aug 25th Hershey Park.
Aug 26th Travel day.
Aug 27th Day at Lake Michigan beach
Aug 28th Holiwood Nights Day
Aug 29th Holiwood Nights Day 2
Aug 30th Indiana Beach 1/2 day. Then home.
It was everything I hoped it would be and more. So many parks and coasters that I wanted to experience for decades were finally off the bucket list. My favorite new wood coaster on the trip was, surprisingly, Rampage at Alabama Adventure. My favorite new steel coaster from the trip was Skyrush at Hersheypark.
Brad and I were exhausted (We are older thoosies); however, we also felt fulfilled. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and he and I drove back to our homes. A few weeks later, our good friend, Evan Honnert, whom I mentioned earlier, talked to us. And expressed how lucky we were to go on that trip; he met us at Kings Island and had dinner with us at Montgomery Inn. (Highly recommended) Well, that conversation has turned into another trip, this time with him. I remember Brad saying, "Here we go again." We started the whole process all over again, and my wife told me I am crazy. This trip will be bigger and more ambitious, But that is a story yet to unfold.
Author: Michael Flynn
While wooden coasters defined their place as the classic coaster experience, the only constant to this experience has been change. They have gotten bigger, faster, with more forceful elements. Just like other industries once they got rolling the pace of change accelerated. The wooden coaster is constantly changing to push new boundaries, but the latest development seems to be steel. This has led to simpler maintenance, launches, and even inversions. Does this shift just make wooden coasters, steel coasters?
There are currently three active firms who design and build wooden coasters; Gravity Group, RMC & GCI, and they have all been expanding their reliance on steel. Gravity Group, the makers of the first inverting wooden coaster, have been using steel to build support structures for years. This adaptation provided a more stable structure, less maintenance concerns, and a frame that could be fabricated off site and easily assembled. This was typically referred to as a hybrid wood coaster, but that term made a lot less sense once RMC showed up.
RMC is best known for their hybrid designs where they take an existing wooden coaster and re-imagine the layout with a steel track called Iron Horse, we will come back to that later. They also have made four wooden coasters using their Topper Track, a product that combines a substantial steel top that provides a surface for the road, guide, and up-stop wheels and a stack of laminate wood underneath. This Topper Track was first used as a maintenance product to smooth out sections of older wooden coasters that had become rough. This manufacturing technique allowed RMC to jump into the ground up wooden coaster model, and even though they have only built four each has been a record breaker or fist for its type. However they are about to drop down to three and a half?
One of the RMC wooden coasters, Lightning Rod at Dollywood, is having about 60% of it’s wooden Topper Track replaced with the all steel Iron Horse Track after only a few seasons of operation. This leads us to believe that the wooden track that they have developed could not do the same job as the steel track. This makes sense because wood is a natural material and cannot match the uniform nature of steel. This suggests that RMC has found a limitation, and their cost effective solution is steel. Cost of all materials has been going up, however the cost of lumber has been increasing at a faster rate than steel according to the National Home Builders Association. The cost of steel framing is still more expensive than wood however in the past it would typically cost about 9 times more for materials in a steel framed building than a wooden frame. Now the costs are getting closer where steel framed buildings have about twice the material cost compared to wood.
The durability of steel could justify the added cost, but it can also be assembled easier and faster lowering installation costs. This is another factor closing the cost gap. When applied to a structure dealing with the dynamic load of a roller coaster it's not surprising that wooden coasters have been increasing their reliance on steel for the support structure. However the wooden track is also becoming a lot more magnetic too. RMC’s topper track uses substantially more steel than a traditional wooden track that would only use flat strips of steel for the wheels to roll on was the first step. Then we have the confusion of what to call Lightning Rod, but we also have a third design firm GCI.
GCI has already been using more and more steel for their support structures just like Gravity Group and others from the past. They both have examples that have all steel structures, but with wooden tracks. We have discussed GCI’s upcoming product now called Titan Track in the past. It is similar in look to RMC’s steel track, but is initially being used like the Topper Track as a maintenance product. They installed a few sections onto White Lightning down at Fun Spot Orlando as a proof of concept. The result is a wooden coaster that has a small section of steel track replacing the wood track that would be beat up in high stress areas. Unlike the topper tack from RMC the Titan Track contains no wood at all. White Lightning has a steel support structure, so if the entire track was replaced the only wooden parts would become the catwalk that maintenance workers use to inspect the ride. Would this still be a wooden coaster? Is it the material or the style that defines a wooden coaster?
When we first became aware of the steel track being produced by GCI we speculated how it could be used. We now know they plan on marketing it as an alternative to wooden tracks for new construction, and a replacement product for rough wooden tracks, they even said they would use it to add elements to pre-existing layouts. This sounds a lot like the space RMC has been occupying. We know they already have a customer, as the Predator at Darien Lake will be receiving Titian Track on an unknown amount of its layout according to GCI owner Clair Hain Jr.. This could just be a method for lowering maintenance costs going forward, or it could be a way for Six Flags to test the track out. They did use the Topper Track on The Texas Giant before they extensively renovated it with the Iron Horse Track, changing the layout, and becoming the New Texas Giant. Could we see Six Flags giving GCI the go ahead in a few years to totally renovate and re-imagine older coasters? The Predator would be a great place to start.
So the question becomes, has the time come where wooden coasters will become extinct? Is there a reason for parks to keep this knowledge base of how to run, maintain and repair wooden coaster tracks? GCI could build all steel frames with their Titan Track that would essentially be a steel coaster with a wooden aesthetic, and that may become a very desirable thing for parks. There is an undeniable fact that there is a fun factor to wooden coasters. They provide a tactile experience, a nostalgic connection to the past, and in some cases provide a character that is more difficult to produce with steel. Modern wooden coasters have provided a cost effective and exciting addition for parks, but the lower initial cost vs the increased maintenance cost could be changing this dynamic in the years to come. Once the people who do this type of work stop, and they don’t pass this knowledge along, the skills are lost forever.
Earlier this week a patent was uncovered that showed a new restraint system for B&M stand up style roller coasters by Coaster101.com, good find guys (link). This patent shows an updated version of the stand up restraints from top to bottom. We have long heard rumors that B&M was designing a new type of Stand Up roller coaster that would change the ride dynamics and offer more comfort. Some people were speculating that the surf coaster could be a wing stand up, or that the standing position could be turned to more mimic the stance of a surfer. It doesn’t reveal if either of these rumors could be true since the illustration in the patent application is of a single restraint system and it is not depicted on a chassis, however I think that both are highly unlikely as this looks to be a redesign for the existing chassis.
The newly designed restraint system has some similarities with the stand up models we know, but they do have a few distinct differences that could make them more viable. The most visible is the vest style restraints for the rider’s upper body. This replaces the hard over the shoulder restraints that would often knock you around and provided an unforgiving surface to bounce your head off of. The last time I rode Green Lantern at Great Adventure I felt like the ride was trying to knock some sense into me for giving it another ride, lesson learned. Another change is in the column itself. On a standard stand up restraint it felt like the height adjustment was controlled by a pinion gear that could lock in the height. If you were not ready for the restraints to unlock it could drop you unforgivingly on your most sensitive bits. This is a real danger at the end of a ride, but also during the loading process as guests would often not follow instructions and need to be adjusted before dispatch. The new design is an articulating linkage, somewhat similar to a scissor lift that can distort a rhombus shaped connection to raise or lower the height. The least visible change is the addition of a hydraulic accumulator. This is basically a shock absorber on the linkage, and may be the biggest quality of life improvement for your more sensitive parts. If I am reading the drawing correctly, and I’d like to believe I am, the locking function should allow for the hydraulic fluid in the accumulator to still provide some give even in the locked position during the ride cycle.
So how is this patent going to be applied? That is the biggest question remaining. Ideally these new restraints could be an upgrade product just like the floorless trains to per-existing stand up rides. This would provide a second potentially less expensive option for parks to upgrade their stand up coasters. I know that B&M is nostalgic on these ride types, as they were the first designs they sold as their own company. My issue with this new style restraint is that it still has the saddle in between the riders legs. Guests are still going to need to follow directions to correctly load and dispatch the trains and those were two big issues, one for comfort and the other for general operation. My other concern is that I don’t feel the standing aspect enhances the ride. While it may have been an interesting idea I don’t feel like it provides a great experience like their other coasters do. My biggest fear is that this is the restraint system for the yet to be revealed Surf Coaster. I was looking forward to seeing B&M make their version of a launch or multi launch coaster, but making it a stand up it removes my excitement and replaces it with fear. However not that good sort of fear that roller coasters often provide in a satisfying way. B&M’s strength has always been the innovation with seating position and chassis design, and how the interplay of these dynamics enhance the ride experience. So if this new patent is for a new roller coaster type, or an attempt to revive sales of the stand up coasters I just have one question. B&M, why you wanna break my balls?
I know it is Monday, but here you go. Space Mountain with a swirling wormhole wallpaper formatted for your mobile device.
Happy Independence Day from you friends at COASTER-net! We hope everyone has a happy and safe fourth of July.
What began as the Rocket in San Antonio, rose and lived again as the Phoenix at Knoebels Amusement Resort. This truly classic ride has been recognized as the best wooden roller coaster in the world, not bad for a ride that was designed in 1948. For the past 35 years Knoebels has been lovingly caring for this ride and preserving its classic thrills and excitement, not an easy task when competing with newer modern creations. If you have never been this is a must ride, and has the best finale of unrelenting airtime anywhere. If you miss airtime, and are waiting for your park to open, drop this wallpaper onto your desktop, as a reminder just like the Phoenix we will ride again.
In about a month it looks like we could have a new B&M Hyper and Giga. In anticipation I thought we would take a dive on Leviathan from Canada's Wonderland. Leviathan was the kick off that let everyone know, yes B&M will go bigger. They followed it up with crowd favorites Mako at SWO & Fury 325 at Carowinds. This year they will do it again with Orion at Kings Island and Candymonium at Hersheypark. While we patently or impatiently wait enjoy this Leviathan Wallpaper, it is summer so wipe the condensation off to get a better view.
Here is a look back to a couple of seasons ago when I went down to kick off the season at Kings Dominion. What do you think your first ride of the season will be? Will you ride this season? Either way enjoy this phone lockscreen of Twisted Timbers at Kings Dominion.