- John Allen
The sixties did not see a large jump in the number of coasters erected, but there were enough built to carry parks forward until the 1970's when the second coaster boom would hit. The man who helped to keep coasters alive during this time was designer John Allen of Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC). The classic rides he created were both architecturally striking and gave patrons stunning coaster rides.
Allen began working with PTC in 1929. At the time he was self-employed and placed loudspeakers in parks and replacing old carousel organs. He joined the company around 1930 and supervised the construction of PTC's many rides including carousels, fun houses, old mill rides and roller coasters. An influence Allen met during this time was Herbert (Herb) Schmeck, who forever changed the way Allen thought about the design and construction of roller coasters. Through Schmeck, Allen said he learned all of the intricacies that went into designing a noteworthy wooden roller coaster. John Allen became president of PTC in 1954 and went on to design some of the best coasters the United States had seen since the golden age.
The Sea Dragon at Wyandot Lake was Allen's first solo design. In 1960 he created his first major coaster, the Skyliner, at Roseland Park in New York.
The ride was relocated in 1987 to Lakemont Park and is still thrilling riders with its double out and back layout. The first and second drops had great airtime for a mid-sized coaster. This is one of the more unsung moves in coaster history, as the owners built upon the success of Knoebels Amusement Park's relocation of The Phoenix roller coaster two years earlier. Thankfully for us another classic PTC roller coaster was saved.
Some of the famous roller coasters Allen worked on during this time period were:
His best coaster during this decade, and arguably throughout his career, was Mister Twister at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. When it opened in 1964 the ride was considered a very boring experience. The coaster featured two 360-degree spirals that did little with the slow speed at which the cars traveled. The park called PTC towards the end of the summer and requested that John Allen come out and look at the ride. The first thing he did was to change the angle of the first hill, which was built at 42 degrees instead of the 45 degrees the designs called for. He also raised the height of the first drop to 98 feet. This experience with Mister Twister helped influence his future coaster designs.
"The Mister Twister in Denver, Colorado was originally designed as a figure eight with a lot of curves, however in the first year it turned out to be a dud. This is the one reason I say, that curves do not do anything for people. So, we added onto the original coaster, which was 72 feet high, we went up 98 foot 6, and added straight coaster, in other words a regular traditional coaster to it, and blended in with the curved ride," said John Allen.
Unfortunately, the original Mister Twister was torn down as Elitch Gardens moved back into the city. It was a noble move on Elitch's part, as the new park was the first in decades to be built in an urban environment. The park left both John Allen's Mister Twister and Schmeck's 1926 roller coaster, The Wildcat, behind. The coasters rotted for a few years before they were torn down, serving as a discredit to Elitch for leaving such valuable pieces of history for scrap. You know there is something wrong with a park when they take an Arrow shuttle loop, but leave behind two of the best traditional coasters west of the Mississippi River.
The Twister II opened with the new park in 1995 and was designed by John Pierce. It is an average ride, but it does not hold a candle to the coaster it was supposed to replace.
If you really want to experience what Mister Twister was like, you need to head over to Knoebels Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. For the 1999 season they premiered Twister, a close replica of the original that was slightly altered by John Fetterman and Dick Knoebel. The ride was changed so it could fit in a smaller footprint, which is one reason it features a split lift hill. The spirit of Mister Twister is still alive in Twister. This ride is one that will always be cared for by the staff at Knoebels and subsequently thrill its many passengers.
Another great ride which survives from the sixties is the Wildcat at Frontier City in Oklahoma. This coaster was designed as an out and back with a few twists by Aurel Vaszin and National Amusement Devices for the now-defunct Fairyland Park in Kansas City. In 1991 the owners of Frontier City bought the ride and had it re-constructed at their park. John Pierce, who has handled many coaster moves, also helped transport this coaster to a new home. He also added a double down at the end of the ride into a splash pool. Fortunately, we did not lose another National Amusement Devices coaster. For some reason many N.A.D. coasters have been lost to the wrecking ball and their fun designs and comfortable cars are sorely missed. This is one of the few National Amusement Devices coasters left, don't pass it by if you head down to Oklahoma City.
Roller Coaster History written by Adam Sandy. All rights reserved.
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