By Kelly Kraft
Travel with us to the South for what is being touted as the region's "most twisted" wooden roller coaster.
With the popularity of hybrid wooden coasters, those constructed with a steel structure instead of wood or the newest variation built with a pre-fabricated wood track, many roller coaster fans have been wondering if those constructed entirely of wood are going to be a thing of the past.
It's not that fans don't enjoy the new variations, some of which have recieved rave reviews and won awards like The Voyage at Holiday World or El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure. What concerns them is the possible loss of the past. Are we losing, some part of Americana? Is the true wood roller coaster fading away to be replaced by the newer variation?
Well "woodie fans" you need not worry, the designers of all wood roller coasters have not disappeared. Instead they've been hard at work in Sunbury, Pennsylvania designing a new thrilling attraction for Kentucky's Beech Bend Park.
Great Coasters International a growing roller coaster design firm is dedicated to preserving the old fashion fun a wooden coaster offers. They say they won't be swayed by new concepts that violate their tried and true principles.
When Clair Hain, president of Great Coasters International is asked to comment on today's steel roller coasters he simply says, "I don't ride steel coasters." Instead he prefers to talk passionately about the wooden twisters of the past and about bringing back rides of the past from legendary designers like Harry Traver. So it should come as no surprise that their latest roller coaster pays tribute to the rides of a bygone era.
For the owner and staff of Beech Bend Park located near Bowling Green, Kentucky, its been a busy off-season with over $6 million spent on park improvements. Beech Bend is a wonderful family amusement park. Arriving patrons travel down a country road, where suddenly out of what seem like no where an amusement park appears.
Beech Bend is a park that many roller coaster fans have likely skipped in the past, but with new picnic grounds, a new restaurant and most important a new wooden roller coaster, fans will now be likely be stop for a visit.
"This will be the single, largest ride expansion ever in the park's history," said Dallas Jones, owner of Beech Bend.
The improvements were apparent on the park's opening day and the highlight of the expansion is the Kentucky Rumbler wooden coaster that was custom designed and built for the park by Great Coasters International.
Now here are just the facts:
Kentucky Rumbler's very twisted wooden track spans over half a mile, features more than 30 crossovers (anywhere the track crosses over or under another track) and it is the first roller coaster in the world to feature three station fly-bys.
"You'll get plenty of up-close views of the high-speed trains as they whiz around the track," adds Jones.
Up to 24 passengers can ride at once, seated in a comfortable and stylish train called the Millennium Flyer. The train by Great Coasters International was designed to look like a roller coaster train from the early 1900's. Of course, it's also equipped with the latest safety features like individual locking lap bars and seat belts.
From the sidelines Kentucky Rumbler is as stunning to look at, as it is to ride. This wooden coaster dominates the park's skyline.
"The "sculpted" ride structure will be one-of-a-kind and will be immediately recognizable in any photograph," says Jones.
While the theme is nothing more than red sign that beckons guests from the midway, the lack of themeing is more than made up for in the ride experience.
Don't be surprised if you find all of the exiting riders getting back in line for another ride. For Kentucky Rumbler the emphasis was put on the quality of the ride and that's what roller coaster fans will surely notice.
Past efforts of coaster design firm Great Coasters International include the world-class and #1 ranked wooden coaster Thunderhead at Dollywood and the popular Lightning Racer, a dueling racing wooden coaster at Hersheypark.
Ride designer Jeff Pike was assigned this project as his first solo effort since senior designer Mike Boodley retired from Great Coasters international. With Boodley's many accomplishments, Pike had some big shoes to fill.
For this project, Pike proved his ability and the result is an exceptional piece of engineering. Kentucky Rumbler manages to appeal to not only hardcore thrill-seekers, but also to the park's younger and old patrons as well. The coaster's mass appeal was quite evident opening day as riders from all generations enjoyed the attraction.
You cannot help to notice that it's rare for a ride that offers such thrills to appeal to such a wide audience without sacrificing the "wow" factor. But once again, the experts at Great Coasters International did it again.
As the train disembarks from the station it curves to the right and then takes a slight dip down where the chain lift engages.
The lift hill interestingly enough goes back over the top of the station house. As the trains rise, Kenutcky Rumbler affords riders a great view of the surrounding area. To the left is a green pasture and beside that is Beech Bend's racing strip. To the right are Beech Bend's other amusement park rides.
Drawing inspiration from classic designs of the past, Kentucky Rumbler begins with a turn to the right where it executes an aero plane style drop. The first drop gives a nice little tug on the body and some may feel their stomach rise into their throat, thanks to the negative G-forces.
The train then ascends up from the bottom of the first drop to perform the first of three station fly-bys. It is at this moment that Kentucky Rumbler delivers the best and longest moment of floating airtime.
As for the remaining fly-bys, the second runs the train past and along side the exiting side of the loading platform. The final one takes the train across and over the very front part of the station, much to the excitement of those waiting in line.
Kentucky Rumbler is also impressive for the amount of airtime offered and for how many and well placed the moments were. According to Beech Bend, in total there are 12 times riders will feel weightless. In comparison to Great Coasters' past designs the airtime on this ride felt stronger and more accentuated, which is one of Kentucky Rumbler's best qualities.
Great Coasters International's twisted wooden coasters are known in part for their ability to disorient even veteran riders and Kentucky Rumbler is no exception. With 30 crossovers in half-a-mile it's hard to follow, but the coaster transitions well through a myriad of elements. The ride is smooth and the pacing superb as speed is maintained through the 2,827-foot course. Kentucky Rumbler seems to never let up on the accelerator.
The nature of the design keeps riders guessing as to what is coming next and the final quarter of the roller coaster holds an unexpected treat. With the end near Kentucky Rumbler unexpectedly surges forward like a thoroughbred nearing the finish line.
While most roller coasters tend to slow near the end, Kentucky Rumbler does not. The final leg of track on a slightly downward slope allows for this unexpected finale.
With this addition, the park now offers a lineup of four roller coasters and Kentucky Rumbler alone makes Beech Bend a destination for roller coaster enthusiasts. And for wooden coaster purists, Kentucky Rumbler well represents the past, but of course with a few of its own surprises.
Now with a marquee attraction at Beech Bend Park, it's safe to say we'll see you in line.
Height: 96 feet
Top speed: 47.7 mph
Length: 2,827 feet
30 Crossovers; 12 Moments of Airtime
Number of Vehicles:
1 - 24 passenger trains
May 8, 2006
Great Coasters International
Beech Bend Park
Bowling Green, KY
Review written by Kelly Kraft and edited by Eric Gieszl.
Photography by Joel Styer/RideZone. Copyright © 2006, All Rights Reserved.