Wooden roller coaster

Mean Streak, a large former wooden roller coaster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio
Colossos, one of the world's largest wooden roller coasters at Heide Park, Germany
Thunderbird in the PowerPark amusement park
The lift hill on Hersheypark's Comet

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. The type of wood typically used in the construction of wooden coasters is Southern Yellow Pine, usually grown in the US and the rest of North America.

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, such as the original loop on Son of Beast at Kings Island; a corkscrew and 90-degree banked turn at Hades 360 at Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; a steel structure at The Voyage at Holiday World; and banked turns at Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer Park and Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City.

Golden EraEdit

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

The 1920s was the Golden Era of coaster design. 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 Lagoon. All of these rides were built during this time. The decade was also 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. Many wooden roller coasters of this time were demolished during the Great Depression, but a few still stand as American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) classics and landmarks.


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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.

Second Golden Age (1972-present)Edit


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.[citation needed] After their success with the Racer at Kings Island, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) constructed another 9 roller coasters over the next decade. About half were small family coasters, two were racing coasters[definition needed] similar to the Racer, and two were out and back coasters with custom designs. One of these, Screamin' Eagle at Six Flags St. Louis, was the last coaster designed by John Allen before his retirement. After these coasters, PTC stopped producing roller coasters, but continues to produce wooden roller coaster trains as Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters. Their distinctive rectangular cars are widely used on wooden coasters around the world.

A notable non-PTC coaster built during this time was The Beast at Kings Island. After John Allen refused to design the coaster in lieu of retirement, Kings Island built the coaster themselves, with the coaster designed by Al Collins and Jeff Gramke and construction overseen by Charlie Dinn. Rather than a typical out and back layout, the coaster sprawled over the woods at the back of the park, using the terrain to create an elevation change from lowest to highest point of 201 feet, even though the coaster was only 118 feet tall.[1] The coaster also had two lift hills which, while common for mine train coasters at the time, was uncommon for wooden coasters. Opening in 1979, the coaster was, and still is, the longest wooden roller coaster in the world at 7,359 feet. Another significant wooden coaster of this era was the racing American Eagle at (now) Six Flags Great America, built by Intamin in 1981, which still holds the records for racing wooden coasters of height (127 ft), length (4650 ft), speed (66 mph), and drop (147 ft).

After the surge in the 1970s, wooden coasters construction became stagnant due to the steel roller coaster being much more popular. Most original coasters during this time were designed by William Cobb, such as Monstre at La Ronde. Another trend during the 1980s was relocating old wooden coasters in danger of being destroyed. Charlie Dinn, who formed Dinn Corporation after leaving Kings Island in 1984, oversaw some of these relocations, including the relocation of The Rocket from Playland Park to Knoebels Amusement Resort in Pennsylvania. It now operates as the Phoenix and is ranked highly on wooden coaster polls.

In 1988, Charlie Dinn started a partnership with Curtis D. Summers to design and build new wooden coasters. Between 1988 and 1991, the pair designed and built 10 new wooden coasters. While most were of typical wooden coaster size, a few set coaster records. Hercules at Dorney Park, built in 1989, had the tallest wooden coaster drop at 150 feet. Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and Mean Streak at Cedar Point were large wooden coasters with similar layouts, with the later opening as the tallest wooden coaster in the world at 161 feet. After a dispute during construction of Pegasus at Efteling, Dinn Corporation closed down and the partnership ended.

Custom Coasters InternationalEdit

Custom Coasters International was formed in 1991 by Denise Dinn-Larrick (daughter of Charlie Dinn), her brother Jeff Dinn, and her husband Randy Larrick. After the closure of Dinn Corporation, several other designers joined CCI. The company's first coaster, Kingdom Coaster at Dutch Wonderland, was a small family coaster that stood only 55 feet high. As time went on, they began to design larger coasters. One of their earlier coasters that was well received was The Raven at Holiday World. Custom Coasters took on increasingly high numbers of wooden coaster projects, including 7 coasters in 2000 alone (The Boss at Six Flags St. Louis, which was the largest with a 153-foot drop and almost a mile of track; Medusa Steel Coaster at Six Flags Mexico; Mega Zeph at the defunct Six Flags New Orleans; Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce; Villain at the defunct Geauga Lake; Hurricane: Category 5 at the defunct Myrtle Beach Pavilion; and The Legend at Holiday World).

CCI's coaster designs included both out and back layouts like Hoosier Hurricane at Indiana Beach as well as more twisted layouts like Megafobia at Oakwood Theme Park. Megafobia was also the company's first coaster outside the United States. CCI coasters were also unique at the time for sometimes featuring angle iron support structures rather than wooden beams (the track remains the same as other wooden coasters). Most CCI coasters ran Philadelphia Toboggan Company trains, although some, like The Boss at Six Flags St. Louis, run trains from the German manufacturer Gerstlauer.

In 2002, Custom Coasters declared bankruptcy while building the New Mexico Rattler at Cliff's Amusement Park. The company left a significant legacy on the coaster industry. The high number of wooden coasters they constructed, 34 over their decade of operation, helped to rekindle interest in the wooden roller coasters and allowed modern wooden coaster designers to thrive. Designers from CCI went on to form modern wooden coaster design firms, like Great Coasters International, The Gravity Group, and the wooden coaster department at S&S Worldwide. Many of their coasters rank highly in wooden coaster polls, including Shivering Timbers at Michigan's Adventure and Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce. In 2013, Boulder Dash was rated the number one wooden roller coaster in the world by Amusement Today.

Modern designersEdit

Great Coasters International (GCI) was formed in 1994 by Mike Boodley and Clair Hain, Jr, the former of whom was a designer at Custom Coasters prior to GCI. The first coaster was Wildcat at Hersheypark which opened in 1996. Since then, they have become one of the major wooden coaster designers in the industry, with award-winning coasters like Lightning Racer at Hersheypark and Thunderhead at Dollywood. GCI's coasters feature highly twisted layouts with lots of crossovers, and usually use GCI's own wooden coaster trains called Millennium Flyers. Their designs are inspired by coasters from the 1920s, specifically those by Fred Church and Harry Traver, and the company focuses on making the structures of their coasters aesthetically appealing and artistic.

In 2001, Swiss steel coaster designer Intamin began producing wooden roller coasters using prefabricated track. Their wooden coasters are known for large amounts of airtime (including ejector airtime), smooth ride experiences, and steep drops. T Express in Everland is currently the tallest wooden coaster in the world at 183 feet tall. While only having built 4 wooden coasters, all are praised by coaster enthusiasts, with all 4 being within the top 20 wooden coasters in the world on Mitch Hawkers poll. Since 2010, El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure, which opened in 2006, has been ranked the number one wooden coaster in the world on Mitch Hawkers poll.

Notable designers from the former Custom Coasters International formed The Gravity Group and in 2005 opened Hades (now Hades 360) at Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park. The coaster features highly unique elements, including an airtime filled pre-lift section, an 800-foot tunnel underneath a parking lot, and a 90 degree banked turn. In 2006, The Gravity Group built The Voyage at Holiday World, a large wooden coaster which stood 163 feet tall, has over a mile of track, 3 90 degree banked turns, and has been ranked the number one wooden coaster in the world by Amusement Today five times. Many of Gravity Groups coasters are highly unique and custom built for the park, such as Twister at Gröna Lund, which has a highly compact layout to fit in the parks small footprint. Their coasters have become very popular in China, with 6 coaster being built there between 2012 and 2015.

Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) has recently been revolutionizing the modern wooden coaster. In 2011, they renovated the Texas Giant, which had become very rough and hard to maintain, into a steel roller coaster. This treatment has been applied to eight other roller coasters (see Iron Rattler, Medusa Steel Coaster, Twisted Colossus, Wicked Cyclone, Storm Chaser, The Joker, Steel Vengeance, and Twisted Timbers) and is now considered by parks to be an option for dealing with old wooden coasters that are wearing down. In addition to this, RMC designs and builds their own original wooden coasters. These coasters use Topper Track technology developed by RMC which replaces some of the wood in the track with steel beams to smooth the ride and reduce maintenance costs. Their first coaster was Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City in 2012. With this new technology, RMC can make wooden coasters that have inversions, which are normally not possible due to wooden track construction, including barrel rolls and, as seen on Goliath at Six Flags Great America, dive loops. In 2016, the company opened the world's first launched wooden roller coaster, Lightning Rod which opened at Dollywood in 2016, and features a magnetic launch of 45 mph up a 200' hill, similar to the magnetic lift on Maverick.

Inversions in wooden roller coastersEdit

From 2000 to 2006, Son of Beast had a steel vertical loop (center)

In 2000, Kings Island opened Son of Beast. Designed by Werner Stengel and built by the Roller Coaster Corporation of America, the roller coaster broke many world records. With a height of 218 feet (66 m), it was the first wooden roller coaster to top 200 feet (61 m).[2] It was also the first modern wooden roller coaster to feature an inversion, a 90-foot (27 m) vertical loop, which was made of steel.[3] The ride was well-received, but was plagued by a number of incidents. In 2006, a stress fracture in the helix finale of the ride caused a train to come to an abrupt stop resulting in dozens of injuries.[4] The loop was removed and lighter trains were installed.[5] Three years later in 2009, a park guest reported a head injury that was suffered as a result of riding Son of Beast. The coaster was closed while the claim was investigated and never reopened.[6] It was eventually torn down in 2012.[7]

In the 2010s, several wooden roller coasters with inversions were opened, including some with multiple inversions.[8][9][10] RMC designed three multiple-inversion wooden roller coasters: Outlaw Run with inversions,[11] Wildfire at Kolmården Wildlife Park with three inversions,[12] and Goliath with two inversions.[13] The Gravity Group also designed five wooden coasters with a single inversion: these include coasters at each of three Oriental Heritage theme parks in China, all named Jungle Trailblazer,[14][15][16] as well as Mine Blower in Fun Spot Kissimmee[17] and the conversion of their existing Hades 360 in Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park.[18]

Prefabricated trackEdit

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, similar to a steel coaster. In contrast, traditional wooden coaster trains have bare steel/metal wheels.

This design results in a ride that is smoother than traditional wooden coasters. Prefabricated wooden coasters also benefit from faster construction and reduced maintenance.

Wooden versus steelEdit

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 (except for the chain lift hill), wooden coasters instead rely on an often rougher and more "wild" ride (depending on train speed and/or track layout), 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, since wooden roller coaster supports and track systems are designed to sway with the force produced by the coaster. 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 maximum force applied, 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 brake operator 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.

Examples of wooden roller coastersEdit

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

The following list is in alphabetical order.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Murtha, Lisa. "SCREEEEEEAM! An Oral history of The Beast", Cincinnati Magazine, May 29, 2014. Accessed April 7, 2019.
  2. ^ "Kings Island: A Leader in New Ideas for Years". COASTER-net.com. 29 December 2010.
  3. ^ "Extreme Rides and Wooden Roller Coasters Reviews". Zuko. 18 June 2007. Archived from the original on 20 June 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  4. ^ Niles, Robert (9 July 2006). "Son of Beast coaster accident sends dozens to hospitals". Theme Park Insider. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  5. ^ Schwartzberg, Eric (2 July 2009). "Son of Beast's history rough for park riders". The Oxford Press. Archived from the original on 5 July 2009.
  6. ^ "'Son Of Beast' To Remain Closed, Possibly For Good – Cincinnati News Story". WLWT Cincinnati. 10 August 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  7. ^ McClelland, Justin (4 October 2012). "Dismantling begins on Son of Beast". Dayton Daily News. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  8. ^ Murphy, Mekado (23 July 2014). "New Twists for Wooden Roller Coasters". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Get ready for the next wave of looping wooden coasters". Los Angeles Times. 1 October 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  10. ^ Marden, Duane. "Record Holders  (Inverting wooden roller coasters)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  11. ^ Marden, Duane. "Outlaw Run  (Silver Dollar City)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  12. ^ Marden, Duane. "Wildfire  (Kolmården Wildlife Park)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  13. ^ Marden, Duane. "Goliath  (Six Flags Great America)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  14. ^ Marden, Duane. "Jungle Trailblazer  (Oriental Heritage Jinan)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  15. ^ Marden, Duane. "Jungle Trailblazer  (Oriental Heritage Wuhu)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  16. ^ Marden, Duane. "Jungle Trailblazer  (Oriental Heritage Ningbo)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  17. ^ Marden, Duane. "Mine Blower  (Fun Spot America Kissimmee)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  18. ^ Marden, Duane. "Hades 360  (Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  19. ^ Hullámvasút
  20. ^ ACE Coaster Classic Awards
  21. ^ Le Monstre, La Ronde, Montreal

External linksEdit