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My Top 10 Favorite Wooden Roller Coasters
Roller Coasters Relieve Stress
Recently I saw an article on ways to relieve stress and I thought about the one thing that really makes me feel great and relieves my stress, riding roller coasters. I'm lucky enough to live 10 minutes and work only 20 minutes from an amusement park with a great roller coaster, so on a stressful day, I can leave work and be riding the Silver Comet at Martin's Fantasy Island before 5:30pm.
Riding roller coasters really can relieve stress. The excitement of a roller coaster releases serotonin in the brain, so you feel good when you get off the ride. You also feel energized and ready to ride again. Screaming also relieves stress and where can you scream without people thinking you're nuts, but on a roller coaster! The adrenalin rush of a good coaster is what attracts many people to ride over and over again. That's one reason there are so many roller coaster clubs and why roller coasters are big business for parks.
What type of coaster you ride to relieve stress is entirely up to you. Personally I prefer creaky wooden coasters because they are creaky and rumbly and clatter along the track.
Here are 10 of my favorite wooden roller coasters. I base my criteria for favorites on how much air time I get, how long I can marathon ride it, how it maintains its speed, and how much I laugh during the ride. Come along with me for a ride, throw your hands in the air and scream!
Air time is the feeling of rising out of your seat and/or floating on a roller coaster's hills.
Wood or Steel
Do you prefer wood or steel coasters and why?
Number 10: Cyclone, Lakeside Park, Denver, Colorado
The Cyclone was built by Edward Vettel in 1940. This venerable woodie features a tunnel out of the station, a curved first drop, and a beautiful art deco station. It is the main draw for family-owned Lakeside Park which began operation as White City in 1908.
The Cyclone is considered an out and back coaster, but it begins with a spaghetti bowl element following the first drop. After making two complete circles with drops, the track heads out toward Lake Rhoda where it turns then rushes back to the station.
The Cyclone makes my top ten list because those drops produce good air time which is much enjoyed in the roomy, cushy original Vettel open-front trains and I do laugh my head off. At 55mph its fairly fast, but seems to increase speed on those bunny hops back to the station. It is, of course, an illusion, but well done. Also, I adore that lovely art deco station. The Cyclone gets two screams up from me.
Roller Coaster History
Learn about the Cyclone and other roller coasters of its era.
I highly recommend this book. It details so much of the history of the roller coaster that few people know. Robert Cartmell has done an amazing job and the photos are awesome!
Looking to ride a classic roller coaster? You'll find all you need to know and how to get there right in this book.
An excellent photo compilation of those roller coasters I can only dream of riding.
Number 9: Racer, Kennywood, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Kennywood Park makes my Top 5 Best Pennsylvania Parks list and its wooden coasters are no slouches. John A. Miller designed the Racer and it debuted in 1927. It is the only true racing coaster in North America. The trains separate only once, upon leaving the station. After that they run side-by-side throughout the ride. In fact they are so close together, riders can reach out and slap hands.
A reverse curve above the station reverses the trains so that they end up on the opposite side of the station from where they started. For example, the green train leaves on the right and rides on the "inside" track until it reaches the reverse curve. It is then on the outside track returning to the station on the opposite side.
This true racing feature is the main reason the Racer makes my top ten wooden coaster list. It's uniquness and fun are unsurpassed. It does have some good air and an even paced speed at 51mph. Plus I can ride the Racer over and over again and never get tired of it.
Number 8: Thunderbolt, Kennywood, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Also at Kennywood is the Thunderbolt. It began life as the Pippin in 1924. A John A. Miller coaster, the Pippin became the Thunderbolt after Andy Vettel expanded the ravine section by adding the spaghetti bowl element on the midway level in 1968.
The Thunderbolt makes my list because the entire ride is pure adrenaline. Air time starts with a steep drop out of the station into a ravine and the air time keeps going throughout the ride. With its National Amusement Device trains, steep ravine drops , top speed of 55mph, and tight turns in the spaghetti bowl, the Thunderbolt keeps me screaming with joy.
Save money. If you live near one of your favorite coasters get a park season pass and ride all summer long on one low price!
Number 7: Silver Comet, Martin's Fantasy Island, Grand Island, New York
The Silver Comet is a tribute to The Comet formerly of defunct Crystal Beach Park, Ontario. Built at Martin's Fantasy Island by Custom Coasters International and opened in 1999, the Silver Comet is considered a wooden coaster because of its wooden track, although its structure is made of steel.
At the top of the 82 foot lift hill is a wonderful view of the surrounding area which includes Buffalo and Niagara Falls. However, unless you look quick you don't see much of the view as the train makes a fast plunge down the first drop . The Silver Comet tops out at 55mph and has a plenty of tight turns and fast drops.
The Silver Comet makes my top ten list partly because its close to home; I ride with my friends nearly every Saturday, and my husband and I had our wedding photos taken on the coaster. Mainly, it makes the list because of the speed, good drops and its bang up finish. When the train drops down into the final swoop turn it is careening in break neck speed toward the station. Awesome!
Roller Coaster Videos
I've seen this several times. The nuts and bolts are the most interesting part.
You'll be surprised by this video.
Next best thing to actually riding it.
Number 6: Ghost Rider, Knotts Berry Farm, Buena Park, California
Ghost Rider can be seen long before you pull into the parking lot at Knotts Berry Farm because this massive woodie crosses Grand Avenue four times. Built by Custom Coasters International and opened in 1998, Ghost Rider has some unique features, like a mid-ride turn and it weaves through the structure like a pretzel.
A first drop of 108 feet begins the wildest ride in the west and it doesn't let up. Steep drops; wide, breathless turns; and a top speed of 56mph keeps riders coming back for more.
All of those reasons puts Ghost Rider on my top ten list. Plus, it's a definate marathon ride. I took ten rides in a row before my husband begged me to stop. At one point we separated and I went back to Ghost Rider for many more rides. Like most ghosts, this one is super active at night.
Virtual Ride on Ghost Rider
Hold onto your hats, buckaroos, this is one wild ride!
Roller coasters are built with rider safety in mind. Safety restraints keep riders inside the cars. Riders should obey the rules of the ride such as remain seated, keep body parts inside the cars, and do not get out of the car until it comes to a complete stop. Accidents can be avoided if riders ride safely.
Number 5: Kentucky Rumbler, Beech Bend Park, Bowling Green, KY
Beech Bend Park has been operation since 1898 when it opened as a picnic grove. The first amusement rides weren't added until the 1940s. It took about 60 years after that for a wooden roller coaster to appear on the midway and this one is the most twisted coaster in the seven state area.
Kentucky Rumbler was built by Great Coasters International in the way of classic roller coaster designs of the past. Opened in 2006, the coaster's highest drop is 96 feet. The twisted design inlcudes 30 crossovers and 3 station flybys. However, it is the air time that puts Kentucky Rumbler on my top ten list. The drops produce prolonged air, but it's the first station flyby that has the longest moment of floating air time in the entire ride. Over all riders are weightless 124 times during the ride!
All that air, a speed of 50mph, the Millennium Flyer classic open-front trains, and the easy-to-ride marathon capability combine for a rating of four screams!
Number 4: Voyage, Holiday World, Santa Claus, Indiana
Holiday World and Splashin' Safari began as Santa Claus Land in 1946. Still owned and operated by the Koch family, Christmas and Santa Claus continue to be a major focus of the park, but Halloween and Fourth of July areas have been added over the years. In 2006, Thanksgiving, a new holiday section of the park, opened with the debut of Voyage, which was inspired by the fearsome voyage pilgrims made to America in 1620. Much of the input of the design of this behemoth came from the late Will Koch, then park president. He gleaned information and advice from roller coaster enthusiasts from all over the world.
The result is a wooden coaster with elements not seen since the 1920s, the golden days of roller coasters. This out and back wooden coaster has three major consecutive drops, the first of which plummets 154 feet to the ground. It has five underground tunnels and ninety degree banked turns that put riders parallel to the ground.
Air, air, air, all 24.3 seconds of it, as well as the consistent speed of 67mph, put Voyage on my top ten list. I also enjoy those crazy banked turns that bring me as close as I can get to riding those radical roller coasters of the 1920s. The best part is the triple down, three successive drops, in a completely dark tunnel. Oh, yeah. The Voyage is a coaster enthusiast's dream. Although it has been voted number one roller coaster on the planet, Voyage skips short of number one on my list because it is not marathon-friendly. I did last longer than many of my fellow enthusiasts on the last event I attended, but even I dropped out after my sixth ride in a row to catch my breath. It's that intense. Scream all you want on the Voyage because no one can hear you in the woods.
Picture by Holiday World. This picture is not altered. Seriously.
Don't Believe Me? Watch This video.
You have to be a hardy pilgrim to take this voyage.
Voyage won Travel Channel's Insane Coaster Wars: Splintering Speedsters episode! Folks voted online during the show. You guys know your ride!
Avoid the crowds. Ride your favorite coaster when the lines are shorter. You'll get more rides. Best time is usually in the morning when the park first opens and during dinner time.
Number 3: Boulder Dash, Lake Compounce, Bristol, Connecticut
Lake Compounce is a hidden park on a hidden lake, so visitors need to follow the signs to find it. The oldest continually operating amusement park in North America, which began as a picnic park in 1846 (that's 165 years old!), is home to the Wildcat, a 1927 wooden coaster, an antique carousel, an interactive haunted house, modern rides and Boulder Dash.
Built by Custom Coasters International and opened in 2000, Boulder Dash climbs up the side of a mountain before dropping 115 feet back toward the ground. At 60mph it dashes along the mountainside past sun-dappled trees and giant boulders (hence the name Boulder Dash) that are very close to the track, takes a spiral turn downward and dashes back to the station, hitting a jazz track section along the way.
Boulder Dash makes my top ten list because it is very easy to marathon ride, but mostly because this ride gives me major air time along its scenic route. There are a total of 18 hills from start to finish and each one pops me out of my seat. From my first ride to my last I am laughing with delight and the adrenalin rush is intoxicating. Boulder Dash is four screams up!
Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Number 2: Phoenix, Knoebels, Elysburg, Pennsylvania
My number 2 favorite wooden coaster resides in my number 1 favorite park. Knoebels has been amusing people since 1926 and this family owned park appears to have many more years of amusing ahead. Knoebels is all about preservation. They rescue or rebuild many classic rides that would be lost without their intervention. The Phoenix is one of those rides.
The Phoenix began as The Rocket in 1947. Created by my favorite coaster designer, Herb Scmeck, the coaster operated at Playland Park, San Antonio, Texas from its inception until the park closed in 1980. Knoebels purchased it in 1984, dismantled it, hauled it to Pennsylvania, and rebuilt it in 1985. This was the first large scale wooden coaster relocation and it started the movement for restoration and relocation of other wooden coasters that are standing, but not operating.
Its new birth at Knoebels inspired a new name, The Phoenix, the mythical bird that rises reborn from its own ashes. The Phoneix has been phlying high ever since.
The Phoneix makes my top ten list for many reasons, not just because its a cousin to my number one. It's a fast ride with consistent speed, to the ground drops, plenty of air, a great double up-double down element and quick, air-filled bunny hops back to the station. Did I mention air? The Phoneix has lots of it. Middle seat of any car will keep you floating throughout the ride. Consistently ranked in the top ten of most enthusiast's lists, The Phoenix is a laughing screamer of a ride that deserves four screams up.
The Phoenix Phyls
Period of blackness in the video is the ride through the tunnel. See all the happy people phyling on the Phoenix at the end of the video.
Number 1: The Comet, The Great Escape, Lake George, NY
THIS IS THE COASTER BY WHICH I JUDGE ALL OTHERS. I may be slightly prejudiced because this is also the coaster I grew up on, but the secret to the Comet's success is that it delivers on each and every ride.
The Comet began life as the Cyclone in 1926 at the now defunct Crystal Beach Park in Ontario, Canada. Built by infamous coaster designer, Harry Traver, the Cyclone was an extreme coaster with a spiral first drop, sharply banked turns, a wicked figure-8 section and a zig-zag track called the Jazz Track. Considered the scariest coaster in the world, the Cyclone was so intense, a nurse remained on duty in the station during ride operation. By the time it was dismantled in 1946 more people were watching the Cyclone than riding it.
So how is the Comet connected to the Cyclone? The steel structure of the Cyclone was used to build the Comet, which technically makes it a hybrid; steel structure, wooden track.
Herb Schmeck designed the Comet and it is similar to Knoebels' Phoenix in layout. Rolling to-the-ground hills; tight, flat turns, a double down and a station flyby are some of the elements that keep the Comet on most enthusiasts' top ten list even to this day. With a lift hill of 95 feet, a consistent speed of 55mph, and plenty of air-time, the Comet is sheer perfection. The bonus when it was at Crystal Beach was its location right on the shore of Lake Erie. There was nothing more thrilling than looking down at the lake bottom as the train clattered up the lift hill above it.
The Comet now resides at The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom near Lake George, NY. When Crystal Beach closed in 1989, the Comet, along with the rest of the park's rides, was auctioned off to the highest bidder.The late, Charley Wood, who had founded and owned Great Escape at that time, bought it. Initially he placed it in storage at Fantasy Island, which he also owned at the time, while he got clearance from the town of Queensbury to rebuild it. Finally, in 1994, the Comet debuted at its new home. It also had a new station. The art deco station had been destroyed during break down, but the original Cyclone station had been found underneath the art deco facade. It was reused at Great Escape,
No longer the Queen of the Lake, the Comet is now the King of the Hills. Charley Wood sold Great Escape to Six Flags in 1997. The Comet is now under their care.
The Comet is number one on my top ten list because it is perfection. It has everything I want in a coaster including a portion of banked track. There is air time on each and every hill and the speed is consistent. On the Comet I am flying, soaring. I laugh, I scream, I am filled with joy on each and every ride. I get off feeling giddy, the adrenaline flowing, and I have to run around the entrance and get right back on. That's why its my number one.
The Comet Then and NowClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ride the Comet at The Great Escape
I wrote this book documenting all the amusement parks in Western NewYork. Of course I included a chapter on Crystal Beach which has rare photos. One of them is on the cover.
Postcards featuring photos from my book.
No one left Crystal Beach without a delicious sucker. Here's my favoirte, cinnamon. Yum!