- John Allen, speaking on steel coasters
The years 1974-1980 saw the most roller coasters built in the United States since the 1920's. Two of the big players building steel coasters were Intamin AG, a Swiss firm that sold the rides of Anton Schwarzkopf, a German coaster designer, in the United States and Arrow Development, which had pioneered the first use of tubular steel track.
It is this author's opinion that Anton Schwarzkopf built some of the best steel coasters during this time and were unrivaled in quality until Bolliger & Mabillard, two former Intamin/Schwarzkopf designers, started their own company.
Schwarzkopf produced several types of coasters during this time, namely the Wildcat and Jumbo Jet, that were reflections of the portable steel coasters they had been making for German fairs. It is important to note that Anton Schwarzkopf was the one who designed these coasters and Intamin was simply the broker and U.S. representative for Schwarzkopf's rides.
In 1976 Schwarzkopf and Intamin opened the first 360-degree looping coaster of the new coaster era the Great American Revolution, now called the Revolution, opened at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The coaster was 125-feet tall, 3,457 feet long and sped along a hillside at 55 miles-per-hour. The large, white vertical loop became an icon for Magic Mountain and many visitors could be seen on the sidelines watching train after train speed through the loop.
Unfortunately, theme park mentality has gotten to the ride, the once uncontrollable feel has been taken away and one must be content with horribly retrofitted horsecollar (over-the-shoulder) restraints and repetitive brakes throughout the course. We can only hope that Revolution might one day be returned to its former glory.
Two years later, Six Flags Over Georgia opened another Schwarzkopf coaster called the Mind Bender. It featured two vertical loops (Six Flags still claims that the large banked curve is another inversion) and still operates with lapbars, as does another freeform thriller, Shockwave at Six Flags Over Texas, which opened the same year.
All three of these rides show the mastery Anton Schwarzkopf had over the medium of steel. Some have questioned his use of lap bars as the only restraint in a roller coaster that goes upside down. One anecdote reported in an article entitled Terror on Wheels-by Design in Popular Mechanics magazine, puts an interesting spin on this controversy.
"With his loop tested and proven in 1975, Schwarzkopf further developed cars, undercarriage, tracks and trusses now used everywhere to support inverted (coasters which go upside down) coasters. When some American insurance underwriters questioned whether his restraining bar design would be safe under emergency conditions, he flew them to Munsterhausen, put them on a coaster and had them braked to a stop at the top of a 70-foot loop-where they hung from the restraining bars until they got the point."
Another immensely popular style of coaster during this time was the shuttle-loop. Schwarzkopf had two types of shuttle loops, fly-wheel and counter weight drop versions. Greazed Lighting at Paramount's Great America is an example of the weight-dropped version, while Greezed Lighting at Six Flags Astroworld is an example of a beautifully maintained flywheel launch. Both of these coasters, along with the ever-popular Montezooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm, have a deceptively simple layout.
The train loads and is accelerated out of the station to 60 miles-per-hour. It then goes through a clothoid (standard vertical) loop, ascends then descends 148-foot hill, flies backwards through the station at full speed, ascends and descends a hill behind the loading station and then comes to a quick stop. All of these coasters were fast and gave a smooth and thrilling ride that packed a punch.
One contribution often overlooked are the compact, smaller, roller coasters that Schwarzkopf designed which proved to be affordable for small parks. His Wildcat roller coaster required only a small plot of land, but gave riders some nice G-forces and thrills for its size.
In the seventies, the speedracer was another popular ride that fit into many burgeoning park's budgets. It featured a spiral lift and three car-trains that held six passengers each. Some of the better ones were Cedar Point – The Jumbo Jet, Worlds of Fun – The Zambezi Zinger, and Six Flags Over Texas – The Big Bend. Most of these rides have been dismantled all over the U.S., but thankfully one still exists at Six Flags Great America outside of Chicago called the Whizzer. Schwarzkopf's mid-sized rides helped amusement parks affordably add roller coasters to spur their growth.
1975 was a revolutionary year for Arrow Dynamics and roller coasters in general. That year the Corkscrew roller coaster opened at Knott's Berry Farm (now operates at Silverwood in Athol, Idaho), Old Chicago (now operates at Canobie Lake), Magic Harbor (now operates at Salitre Magico) and Opryland in Nashville.
The ride was quite simple: it featured a U-turn out of the station, a 70-foot lift, a U-turn, a drop, U-turn, two corkscrews and another 180-degree turn into the brake run. Although short, it helped to change the way people thought about roller coasters and what they could do.
Other Corkscrew coasters built by Arrow during this time were the Python at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Corkscrew at Cedar Point and the Ragin' Cajun' at Pontchartrain Beach, that is now at The Great Escape in New York and called the Steamin' Demon.
Bob O'Hanneson, Arrow's Marketing Director, said the following about the development of the company's corkscrew coaster:
"The corkscrew was conceived around 1969 or '70. At that time, Karl (Bacon) had models that used a pipe rail and a spiral effect. It got to that point and we stopped working on it for some reason. When we picked up the idea again, the first thing we did was to build a model on a tenth scale, and we did some testing with this actual working model. Later, we built a full-size model of the Corkscrew, which is now in operation at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California."
Much like Schwarzkopf, Arrow also came out with a shuttle-loop coaster. Arrow's version featured two raised platforms with two hills and a lowered loop between them. The first of these to open to the public was the Steamin' Demon at Kings Island, now located at Camden Park in West Virginia. Although these rides are low-tech by today's standards, they were important in the development of the roller coaster and helped to endear the roller coaster to the general public. The best-run version today is found at Elitch Gardens. The Sidewinder still runs full trains and gives good airtime on both drops.
Loch Ness Monster had interlocking loops, a wonderful first drop and a beautiful setting over the "Rhine River," at the gardens. Gemini was a racing steel-tracked coaster with wooden supports. It supplied Cedar Point with another photographic steel coaster, one that had high rider throughput (6 trains!) and was full of airtime. We have Robert Mungers to thank for the beginning of a coaster boom at Cedar Point. In the 1970's he realized the drawing power of roller coasters and is the man credited for making the park a major player in the coaster wars.
Wooden coasters did not leave the picture as the seventies progressed, but did experience some growing pains since parks felt steel was the wave of the future. Coney Island's Cyclone closed in 1969 and there were severe doubts as to whether the roller coaster would open again or be taken over by the nearby aquarium.
Bill Crandall, Astroworld's general manger, wanted to see if it was cost effective to move the Cyclone to the Lone Star State. He hired designer and engineer Bill Cobb to determine the rides structural soundness.
Cobb said that the cost of moving the ride, in large part due to the deeply sunken steel supports, would cost the park more to move than if it built a new one, but the classic was not left to rot. In 1975, Dewey Albert, the owner of Brooklyn's Astroland Park, bid $54,000 to lease the Cyclone and worked to have it restored to its former glory. On June 24, 1975 roller coaster historians and Cyclone fans the world over breathed a collective sigh of relief as the trains rolled again.
Since Astroworld could not have the original, they hired Bill Cobb to create a new terror machine. He designed a mirror-image version of the Cyclone, which opened at Astroworld in 1976. It was taller and longer than the New York version and the first drop was 53 instead of 56 degrees. Bill Cobb did the original coaster proud and created a new ride that was as thrilling, featured violent airtime and strong lateral forces.
The Beast was designed by Charlie Dinn and was large, even though most of the coaster was built at ground level. The coaster stood 141-feet tall, was 7,400 feet long and the ride lasted for four minutes, seven seconds from station to brake run. When it opened, it was the longest roller coaster in the world, and The Beast still holds that title today.
Charlie Dinn talked about the reason for The Beast's impressive size:
"The reason it got so long and so high is because we kept submitting these drawings to our general manager, who probably couldn't visualize what we were really submitting to him...and he would say that looks good, that looks good. So we just kept getting bigger and bigger and it finally got to where it is today."
After leaving the station the trains meander towards the lift hill. The Beast's first drop dives down into a tunnel and then the ride continues by speeding through the woods at 64 miles-per-hour. Unlike other terrain coasters, like Vettel's Thunderbolt at Kennywood or Miller's Cyclone at Puritas Springs, this ride offers very little, if any, airtime. However, it does offer an amazing ride, and especially at night.
The best part The Beast is a huge helix at the end of the ride that throws the riders into one another as the cars dive into tunnels that look like they are too small to fit. The Beast was a great end to a decade of coaster development.
Roller Coaster History written by Adam Sandy. All rights reserved.
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