Design of a Decade
I joined Ultimate Rollercoaster in 1999. It was a memorable year for me, as I finally got to visit Skegness, Fantasy Island, Blackpool, Southport and Alton Towers. As such, I had a number of photographs and opinions I wanted to share, which this site proved to be ideal for. I spent a few days reading it, and joined in response to Eric asking for more contributions.
The new decade began and, although it was quiet for new roller coasters, I took the opportunity to finally visit Oakwood and ride Megafobia, which I had wanted to do since it was built in 1996. The ride did not disappoint, and although I do not know how it has aged since, I still think it’s one of the few rides that was perfectly envisioned – a pure, wholesome mess of drops and airtime. To me, this is what roller coasters were always about.
This year also marked a comeback for Pleasurewood Hills. I was watching the local news one night, when I saw they had added a Crazy Mouse. Although my feelings about these coasters have since muddied, the ride was great fun at the time and marked a five-year period of health for the park.
The biggest ride, though, was Geoffrey Thompson’s outrageous Valhalla, which caused great hilarity on this forum, as I showed vociferous opposition to ever riding it. All the same, I admired the vision and bombast.
2001 was another quiet year, but it scarcely mattered. We lived in an era where we were always waiting for, and could reasonably expect, the next big thing. Geoffrey Thompson was always planning something staggering at Blackpool and whenever Alton Towers built anything, it was sure to be a B&M. Fantasy Island was owned by the wealthy and ambitious John Woodward and fan-favourite “Paddy” McNamara was always sure to build that 2nd woodie eventually (at least in our minds). Furthermore, Tussauds had bought Thorpe Park, and the sky was the limit (to about 200ft, anyway). I visited Blackpool again this year, and was sure that any construction I may see on the beach would be for the new world’s tallest and fastest coaster.
Websites like ThrillRide and Screamscape flourished, and I was proud to go on their forums and describe how good the UK rides like Nemesis and Megafobia were. We may have height limits but, as we all know, digging 30ft down magically turns anything into a supercoaster. Not to be underestimated is the prevalence of RollerCoaster Tycoon, which kept us swapping tracks on this site and personally.
More importantly than that, URC was a hotbed of discussion. Everything and anything was debated. Fun and games filled in the few days there wasn’t anything “coaster” to talk about. Personally, I will always cherish those MSN Messenger conversations I had with the likes of Dave (Skydave), talking about engineering, design and whatever the great park owners were definitely up to. It may have been secret, but we knew. Oh yes, we knew. It’s funny how 3AM can creep up on you, isn’t it?
2002 was a spectacular year. After incredible speculation on sites like Rideas, we got to ride Air and it was very good. Colossus at Thorpe was initially good (albeit slightly disappointing that Tussauds hadn’t used their financial muscle to get us a B&M). Meanwhile, after even more years of speculation than the other two, Fantasy Island finally built the terrifying Jubilee Odyssey, which was nothing if not bombastic.
The world’s tallest coaster didn’t appear at Blackpool, but Geoffrey had obviously just pushed it back to 2006. Oh yes!
I mentioned Rideas and, sincerely, what a site that was. Every Tussauds fan and insider would contribute, making it a very magical place. Back then, Alton Towers in particular held a great intrigue for people. This Tussauds appreciation led to the last great coaster of the era – 2003’s Nemesis Inferno. Although a tad underwhelming, Inferno was at least another seriously major coaster to ride, not least because it was a B&M. Using the Single Rider Queue, I rode it almost 15 times! Not to be recommended, but I enjoyed it…
On a personal note, I travelled to Lincolnshire and finally rode a Huss Frisbee at Pleasure Island – what an intense ride. This trip also produced my favourite of my TRs - “Storm in Skegness”. Funnily enough, I remember being quite fat this year, my then 36” waist bouncing on the rides (TMI, I know!)
A few months later saw Alton Towers submit an application for what looked like the most ambitious and inspired coaster the world had ever seen – the Valley Woodie. Unfortunately, the locals objected and more pitchforks came out than you would use to chase a Were-Rabbit, resulting in crushing disappointment.
I think of the next few years as a different era. Andy Hine, the leader of the RCCGB, began to contribute a great deal to the enthusiast communities. I’ve always been a fan of the 1994 VHS tape “White Knuckle” (still the best coaster video I’ve seen), and although I don’t think we shared the same viewpoint on the big B&Ms, I’ve always agreed with Andy’s viewpoint on coasters – that “Wood is Good” and, above all, coasters should be fun. It seemed to me that Andy took a lot of flak from the various forums out there, which is a shame, as he genuinely reached out with his enthusiasm and gave us hope.
In 2004, Tussauds gave us the twin offering of Spinball Whizzer and Dragon’s Fury – not necessarily bad coasters, but it was somewhat alarming for Alton Towers at least (which has always suffered from long queues) to install a coaster with that capacity. My favourite ride of the year was Fireball, the 24-seat KMG Afterburner at Pleasurewood Hills.
During this period, I had three very enjoyable visits to Great Yarmouth, producing “Grapplers, Geezers and Great Yarmouth”, “Pants & Piers” and “Greece Yarmouth”. How I loved those sand sculptures.
Although I don’t wish to dwell on it, various events – sometimes tragic – began to affect some of the biggest UK parks. For different reasons, Oakwood, Blackpool and Fantasy Island all changed hands and would thus never be the same again. All hope and aspiration was lost from them. This hobby can be psychological, and I believe these events meant that we could no longer view these parks in the same way – no longer hope for inspired rides.
We then began an era of decent, if unremarkable rides. In 2005, Flamingo Land built Velocity, Alton Towers asked us to ride Rita and Drayton Manor, after years of speculation, settled for the rather modest G Force. 2006 was a bountiful year and gave us Thorpe Park’s Stealth, Flamingo Land’s Kumali, Speed at Oakwood and my personal favourite, Cobra at Paultons, which is as much fun as you can get out of 55ft of coaster.
The end of 2006, though, held a new blow for enthusiasts, when Amanda Thompson suddenly closed Pleasureland and destroyed the Cyclone (possibly because it was smooth and great fun). This was too much. It wasn’t just a coaster - it was one of the few remnants of the old style. It was a symbol of how things used to be - the very style and ethos that attracted a certain type of enthusiast.
2007 saw Adventure Island build the UK’s 2nd Euro Fighter, Rage, and we had a brief visit from BMRX, which landed at Camelot as Knightmare. 2008 was another quiet year, but 2009 brought us Saw at Thorpe Park – disappointing because of the ride technology, and a new low because of its disgusting theme. As the decade closes, Merlin looks set to continue the formula of “cheap coaster, scary theming”, with Thirteen at Alton Towers.
And so, I end the decade on a low note. The last coaster I enjoyed was built in 2006, and it gets to the point where I have to ask myself “Is it me?”, and the answer is “Yes, it must be”. That said, the industry’s changed as well”. Out for a “Christmas Lights” walk the other day, I reflected how far we’d come from the time when we were all looking forward to the next B&M. How we were always filled with hope (perhaps deluded) that someone (Alton, Thorpe, Oakwood, Pleasureland, Fantasy Island, anyone…) would build a woodie. It really has changed too much, and if the likes of Saw and Thirteen are all we have to look forward to, count me out.
URC was my online home this decade, so thank you to anyone who’s made it enjoyable. Literally today, after watching Merlin, I've only just "got" d_n_s_u's pun "Day of the Knights". Brilliant, but wasted on me! Most of all, thank you to Eric Gieszl, who is one of the truly great internet philanthropists, generous to the end.
Well written Graeme, seriously, top notch effort was put into this. You know you and me are knight and day (sorry) when it comes to coasters, we always have been, but I think years of chats, emails, and (august and) everything between has changed my way of thinking. I was never bigger is better, but the one thing you'll never change my mind about is the goodness of double downs and double ups...I'm hooked. lol
As for URC, if it wasn't for Eric I don't know where I could have gone (although it seems like I go elsewhere, and like home, I always come back). I don't even know if I would still be interested in coasters, or would I even have to stay in the proverbial coaster closet waiting for it to be cool again so I don't seem like a nerd...which I could care less now.
More importantly, as you have mentioned are the friends I have made on here. I think out of everyone that I have met on here, you have been the closest and dearest. For starters, you have ALWAYS been a good sport to my antics, and how you've been my running punchline. But like the good sport you are, you have been able to knock me down a few pegs too, which makes it that much more fun.
Thank you sir, I tip my hat to you...well I'm not wearing one, but when I go outside today, I'll tip my toque to you.
Thanks Eric, for everything.
* This Post Has Been Modified *
> More importantly, as you have mentioned are the friends I
> have made on here. I think out of everyone that I have met
> on here, you have been the closest and dearest. For
> starters, you have ALWAYS been a good sport to my antics,
> and how you've been my running punchline. But like the good
> sport you are, you have been able to knock me down a few
> pegs too, which makes it that much more fun.
> Thank you sir, I tip my hat to you...well I'm not wearing
> one, but when I go outside today, I'll tip my toque to you.
Aw, bless you, Tim. You know I don't even need to mention my Big Bro. :)
It's a shame it's after Christmas, as I can't compose a new "Timble Bells" in response to your latest jibe (don't think I didn't see it!)
Ah well, let's hope the coaster scene improves. In the meantime... To Friendship!
Yeah well, I was trying to be clever! ;) Cheers to you little bro, and here's hoping that I invade English (and Welsh) soil in the next few years to come.
You know, i'd like to see the Timble Bells regardless...consider it a late gift. lol
Cheers to you too.