Wooden roller coaster

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The Mean Streak, a large wooden roller coaster at Cedar Point in Sandusky,OH
Colossos, one of the world's largest wooden roller coasters at Heide Park, Germany.
Thunderbird in the PowerPark amusement park

A wooden roller coaster is most often classified as a roller coaster with running rails made of flattened steel strips mounted on laminated wooden track. Occasionally, the support structure may be made out of a steel lattice or truss, but the ride remains classified as a wooden roller coaster due to the track design. Because of the limits of wood, wooden roller coasters in general do not have inversions (when the coaster goes upside down), steep drops, or extremely banked turns (overbanked turns). However, there are exceptions; the defunct Son of Beast at Kings Island had a 214-foot-high (65 m) drop and originally had a 90-foot-tall (27 m) loop until the end of the 2006 season, although the loop had metal supports. Other special cases are Hades 360 at Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, featuring a double-track tunnel, a Corkscrew, and a 90-degree banked turn, The Voyage at Holiday World (an example of a wooden roller coaster with a steel structure for supports) featuring three separate 90-degree banked turns, Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer Park which has a 90-degree banked turn, T Express at Everland in South Korea with a 77-degree drop, and Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City which has 3 inversions and 120-degree overbanked turn.

Decline and revival[edit]

Once a staple in virtually every amusement park in America, wooden roller coasters began a slow decline in popularity for a number of reasons. Steel roller coasters, while having larger up-front costs, cost much less in ongoing maintenance fees throughout the years of operation. Wooden roller coasters, on the other hand, require large amounts of devoted funds annually to keep the ride in operating condition through regular re-tracking, track lubrication, and support maintenance.

Wooden coasters are also becoming less marketable in today's media-driven advertising world. Superlative advertising in which the "biggest", "tallest", or "fastest" ride is what brings in crowds often cannot apply to new wooden roller coasters, especially since a large majority of record-holding rides are steel. Amusement parks are always looking to add attractions that can be presented in commercials and ads as incredibly tall, fast, or extreme, which eliminates many wooden roller coasters.

However, the arrival of several new wooden coasters has bucked the downward trend. In 2006, a trio of giant wooden coasters opened in the United States: The Kentucky Rumbler at Beech Bend Park, The Voyage at Holiday World, and El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure. Another wooden coaster, Renegade at Valleyfair, opened in 2007. In Sweden Balder opened in 2003 and has received much attention and appreciation. It remains to be seen whether or not these new coasters mark the beginning of a wooden coaster revival, but they do indicate that amusement parks continue to show interest in wooden roller coasters.

Golden Era[edit]

The Dragon Coaster at Playland Park in Rye, New York with a lift hill and a tunnel.

It is agreed upon by many[who?] that the Golden Era of coaster design was the 1920s. This was the decade when many of the world's most iconic coasters were built. Some of these include the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and its counterpart at Belmont Park, the Cyclone at Coney Island, the Big Dipper at Geauga Lake, The Thriller at Euclid Beach Park, and the Roller Coaster at the Lagoon. This decade was the design peak for some of the world's greatest coaster designers, including John A. Miller, Harry Traver, Herb Schmeck, and the partnership of Prior and Church.

Unfortunately, the Great Depression brought the destruction of many of these great classics, but a few still stand as American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) classics and landmarks.

The popularity may have come to a short closing, but that did not stop certain amusement parks from building scream machines again and again. Cedar Point built Blue Streak in 1964, a Philadelphia Toboggan Company-manufactured coaster designed by John C. Allen. This relatively quiet age of coaster design following the Great Depression was brought to an end by The Racer at Kings Island, which opened in 1972 and sparked a second "Golden Age" of wooden coaster design that continues today.


Wooden roller coasters slowly became larger over the course of time. By the end of the 1970s, Kings Island came back to the scene with The Beast, which currently holds the record for the longest wooden roller coaster in the United States (The Beast was also the longest roller coaster in the world overall until 1991, when The Ultimate at Lightwater Valley opened). Judge Roy Scream, a wooden roller coaster with a 71-foot-tall (22 m) drop, opened at Six Flags Over Texas in 1980, Grizzly, a wooden roller coaster patterned after the Cincinnati Coney Island Wildcat, opened in 1982 at Kings Dominion, and Raging Wolf Bobs (inspired by The Riverview Park Bobs) opened at Geauga Lake in 1988.

The 1980s would continue with The Beast leading the way for many new wooden coaster designs. In the 1990s, the popularity of large wooden twister roller coasters would come to the scene. With rides built by the Dinn Corporation such as Mean Streak at Cedar Point and Texas Giant at Six Flags over Texas, wooden coasters seemed to be getting bigger and bigger.

The popularity of traditional out-and-back designs also became popular throughout the 1990s, except they could be made bigger and better with new technology. Custom Coasters International (CCI) was responsible for creating a large number of out-and-back and twisting coasters, such as Shivering Timbers at Michigan's Adventure, GhostRider at Knott's Berry Farm, The Raven at Holiday World, and its sister coaster, The Legend. A company named Great Coasters International (GCI) came upon the scene in 1996 with Wildcat at Hersheypark and continued to create twisted track designs into the new millennium.

Modern Designs[edit]

After CCI went bankrupt in 2002, members of the design team came together again to found The Gravity Group coaster manufacturing company. Intamin, a company perhaps most well known for its steel coaster designs, came to the scene with their Prefabricated Wooden Roller Coaster (see below), though they have designed traditional wooden coasters in the past like American Eagle at Six Flags Great America and White Cyclone at Nagashima Spa Land. Great Coasters International has grown increasingly prolific in modern times, with at least a dozen new coasters opening between 2000 and 2012.

In 2000, Kings Island premiered the world's tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster, Son of Beast. Up through 2006, it was the only modern wooden roller coaster to feature an inversion. Following a structural failure accident that year, the loop was removed before the 2007 season in order to allow for lighter trains that would prevent the structural problem from occurring again. After another major incident in 2009, the entire coaster went into SBNO (Standing But Not Operating) status for 3 years and was demolished in November of 2012.

Newer wooden roller coasters often break the rules and restrictions traditionally associated with the type. Many new wooden roller coasters feature extremely steep drops (see El Toro (Six Flags Great Adventure)), 90-degree banked turns (see The Voyage), and normally feature trains other than Philadelphia Toboggan Company trains. Great Coasters International usually run their coasters with their signature Millennium Flyer trains. The Gravity Group has developed Timberliners to compete with Millennium Flyer trains. Timberliners are scheduled to be added to The Voyage in the future and have been added to Gravity Group's newest coasters, Wooden Warrior at Quassy Amusement Park and Twister at Grona Lund.

At Upper Clements Park in Nova Scotia, a wooden roller coaster was built in 1980 that today still wins awards for the terrain that was used in dictating its design and the terrain that it still covers. Built using a natural setting beside the sea, Roller Coaster (formerly called Tree Topper) curves its way over a river, through a marsh, up onto hills, and into a forest. The coaster is one of the premier attractions at this park.

Prefabricated track[edit]

One of the most significant recent developments in wooden coaster design is Intamin's use of prefabricated track. This design essentially applies the principles of steel coaster manufacturing to wood.

Traditional wooden coaster track is built on site. It is mounted layer-by-layer to the support structure, bent and smoothed to the proper shape, and mounted with steel running plates. Prefabricated track, on the other hand, is manufactured in a factory. It is made of many thin layers of wood that are glued together and then laser cut to the exact shape needed. The track is made in 25-foot (7.6 m) sections, which have special joints on the ends that allow them to snap together. This process allows for far higher precision than could ever be achieved by hand. In addition, the trains for a prefabricated wooden coaster have wheels with polyurethane treads, just like a steel coaster. In contrast, traditional wooden coaster trains have bare metal wheels.

This design results in a ride that is nearly as smooth as the smoothest of steel coasters, and much smoother than any traditional wooden coaster. However, some coaster enthusiasts may find this smoothness to detract from the experience, as it would not have the same character as a traditional wooden coaster.

Prefabricated wooden coasters also benefit from faster construction and reduced maintenance compared to a traditional wooden coaster. The track is simply bolted to the structure, which takes an insignificant amount of time compared to actually building the track. The track also stays smooth much longer than traditional track, which becomes rough rather quickly and eventually must be replaced.

Wooden versus steel[edit]

Wooden roller coasters provide a very different ride and experience from steel roller coasters. While they are traditionally less capable than a steel coaster when it comes to inversions and elements, wooden coasters instead rely on an often rougher and more "wild" ride, as well as a more psychological approach to inducing fear. Their structures and track, which usually move anywhere from a few inches to a few feet with a passing train, give a sense of unreliability and the "threat" of collapse or disregard for safety. Of course, this assumption is purely mental, and wooden roller coaster supports and track systems are designed to sway with the force. If the track and structure are too rigid, they will break under the strain of the passing train. The swaying of the track reduces the force applied per second (see impulse), like a shock absorber.

Like steel roller coasters, wooden roller coasters usually use the same three-wheel design, pioneered by John Miller. Each set of wheels includes a running wheel (on top of the track), a side friction (or "guide") wheel (to guide motion in the lateral plane and reduce excessive side-to-side movement known as "hunting") and an upstop wheel (beneath the track to prevent cars from flying off the track). Some wooden coasters, such as Leap-The-Dips, do not have upstop wheels and are known as side friction roller coasters. As a result, the turns and drops are more gentle than on modern wooden roller coasters. Scenic Railway roller coasters also lack upstop wheels but rely on a brakeman to control the speed so that upstop wheels are not necessary. A handful of wooden coasters use flanged wheels, similar to a rail car, eliminating the need for side friction wheels.

The debate rages as to which type of coaster is better: wood or steel. This is unlikely to ever be settled, however, because each category distinguishes itself from the other in a number of ways, in addition to also providing a substantially different and unique ride.

Examples of wooden roller coasters[edit]

American Eagle's lift hill and helix
Vuoristorata, built in 1951, dominates the Linnanmäki amusement park in Helsinki, Finland

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Le Monstre, La Ronde, Montreal
  2. ^ Hullámvasút
  3. ^ ACE Coaster Classic Awards

External links[edit]