The skeletal structures of roller coasters have dotted the American landscape for decades, but the number of wooden trestles has diminished over the years. However, wooden coasters may be making a comeback with new industry innovations, such as using prefabricated wood trusses and laminate beams which allow the rides to feature inversions and loops.
According to American Coaster Enthusiasts, in the early 1920s there were about 2,000 wooden roller coasters in the United States. Today there are fewer than 125. But some of these structures are magnificent.
Wooden coasters incorporate massive wooden trestle-style structures to support the track above the ground. Once made primarily from oak due to its strength, the lumber used today is generally a construction grade such as Douglas fir or southern yellow pine and is painted or otherwise treated to prevent deterioration. The wooden components are supported on concrete foundations and are joined with bolts and nails. Steel plates are used to reinforce critical joints. The tracks are typically made of multiple layers of lumber, with the thickness depending on the designer's specification.
Wooden Roller Coaster Designs
Wooden roller coaster structures include a wooden track with steel rails, according to madehow.com. The amount of lumber necessary for the construction of the coasters varies wildly, depending on the size of the ride. The attraction is traditionally built on site. The wooden planks are nailed layer-by-layer to the support structure, then smoothed to the proper shape. Steel "running plates" are mounted on top.
Wooden roller coasters are designed to sway with the force of the cars, lending to a psychological thrill of uncertainty, that the structure, which is quite sound, could give way at any moment. Wooden roller coasters often lack corkscrews, loops, over banked turns, but that is changing with prefabricated wood and new technologies.
Prefabricated tracks are made in a factory. The strips of wood are glued together and then laser cut for precision. The prefabricated tracks are designed to snap together like the track for a child’s toy. Prefabricated tracks provide for a smoother ride than a traditional wooden coaster.
Goliath & Other Notable Wooden Roller Coasters
In June Goliath, the world's fastest wooden roller coaster, opened at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL. Goliath, the world's fastest wooden roller coaster, opened at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL, in June. The roller coaster reaches a height of 165 feet, consists of approximately 300,000 board feet of laminated southern yellow pine and is held together by 70,000 bolts. According to Six Flags, Goliath breaks at least three world records for wooden roller coasters: largest drop at 180 feet, fastest speed of 72 mph, and a steep 85-degree angle of descent. Also, adding to the thrill of the ride are two upside down turns on two separate maneuvers.
Great America is also home to another large wooden coaster, American Eagle, which debuted in 1981. During that decade and into the 1990s the ride had the longest drop and fastest speed among wooden roller coasters. American Eagle was built with approximately 1,360,000 feet of lumber, 129,720 bolts, and 30,600 pounds of nails.
In 2013 the wooden coaster Hades, located at Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park in Wisconsin Dells, WI, received an upgrade with a 360-degree roll, a rarity with wooden roller coasters. Hades, which opened in 2005, has a lift height of 160 feet and a rack length of 4,726 feet. The ride, now called Hades 360, also features the world’s longest underground track measuring 1,400 feet underground.
Outlaw Run, located at the Silver Dollar Amusement Park in Branson, MO, is a 2,937-foot-long ride featuring three inversions and a top speed of 68 miles per hour. The track includes 450,000 board feet of lumber, 89,000 bolts, 59,000 screws and 4.4 million pounds of concrete. The track is primarily made of six layers of laminated wood. A steel plate, called a topper track, is located in the upper layers of the track, the first of its kind for wooden roller coasters. The wood used in the track has been treated so that it will not expand nor contract with the weather, providing a consistent ride, according to a theme park fact sheet.
Other famous wooden coasters include Son of Beast in Ohio, The Texas Giant in Texas, Colossus in Germany and Canada’s Le Monstre.
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