Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dorney Park History: Laser 1986-2008

It is not especially fun to be writing a history piece for the Laser roller coaster at Dorney Park, but with the ride's removal imminent at this point it is a good time to take a look back at the attraction's history.

Let's begin back in November of 1985...

The park's logo during the 1980s

Harris Weinstein was still the park's chairman, and in the typical flashy approach to things the park took during this time, a press conference was held at the ABE Airport to announce the park's latest expansion.

A new "entertainment center" was planned for the park, which would include formula race cars for kids, a mini-golf course, expanded picnic groves, and most importantly the Colossus, a double loop roller coaster. The conference was held at the airport because park officials had just returned from purchasing the ride and other amusements.

A snip from the park's 1986 brochure

Now, as I've said before and is general history at this point, few new attractions at Dorney Park have been added without some form of planning drama. In Laser's case, the location for the new coaster quickly came into question.

The Colossus was part of a $2.5 million expansion that would replace the park's former petting zoo and whale boat ride, but was located on 3.6 acres in a 100 year old flood plain, something the local planning commissioners did not like.

A fact sheet for the ride from the mid '90s

Well, needless to say, Mr. Weinstein had some colorful remarks about the board's problems, and the issue raged on. At this point, the ride was being dismantled in Brazil, and was expected to be shipped by boat and then trucked on 27 trailers to the park in mid March. The park was hoping for an April 19th opening for Colossus.

Note Laser's original trains had headlights

Finally in early March of '86 the park received approval from the Township to build the ride, but the approval was based on a list of conditions the park had to meet. The conditions included meeting adequate parking lot space figures and having proper fire precautions in place. The fire precautions were an especially hot topic at this point because Castle Gardens had just burned down several months prior.

Laser on Dorney's map in the early 90s

Things continued to not go quite as planned - the ride was only being shipped to the park from Brazil near the end of March, instead of being under construction. The "supercoaster" was designed by Anton Schwarzkopf and was one of only two rides of its kind in the U.S. Other interesting statistics that came out around this time included:

• The ride was designed to have a lifespan of 30 years
• The lift is 90 ft high, taken at a 35 degree angle
• The loops are each 62 ft high
• When operating 3 trains, the coaster could hit 1,700 pph
• The park traveled to San Paulo, Brazil to ride the coaster
• German technicians from Schwarzkopf came to Dorney to work on assembling the ride

A view of the ride not long after it opened at Dorney

Due to the host of delays, the ride did not open for the park's 102nd season on April 19th 1986. The park did offer visitors to Dorney free passes to come back once Colossus opened, though. The ride's construction started April 9th and according to reports needed a lot of cleaning to remove sea salt that gathered during the trip over on the S.S. Allison.

The park also featured The Playport, a children's play area, the Grand Prix go carts, and the Pepsi Pavilion Spectacular as new in 1986, and Wildwater Kingdom saw the addition of the Auto Kid Wash attraction.

The vertical loops were a huge draw for Colossus

The much anticipated opening of Colossus came in May 4th, 1986. Guests flocked to the park to be one of the first riders on the new coaster. Being able to say they were on a double looping roller coaster was still noteworthy for riders during Colossus' first days.

The ride ran smoothly its first year, aside from a ride attendant having their foot crushed when a train entered the station and their foot was caught by the passing cars. The ride had a formal grand opening ceremony in late June at which Mr. Weinstein proclaimed that "Colossus will launch a new era of high-tech rides at Dorney Park. It's like the fountain of youth."

Colossus becomes Lazer

Colossus' name did not last long, as after the first operating season the ride was renamed Lazer. I can't necessarily call it fact, but it's said that Six Flags Magic Mountain was not a fan of Dorney Park using the name Colossus, after they had opened a large wooden coaster by the same name in 1978.

The ride's new name, Lazer, was tied into a prominent radio station in the Lehigh Valley at the time, Laser 104. I cannot find anywhere that the radio station spelled it's name with a 'z', so for the life of me I cannot tell you why the park spelled it Lazer. There is a disconnect here, but I cannot tell you how or why it happened.

... and Lazer becomes Laser

As the popularity of that radio station name dwindled and its name changed, the ride also followed suite, at least to a degree. Whether it was the park taking notice that they had misspelled the ride's name in publications for years, or some other motivation, the ride started being referred to as Laser around 1991.

The radio station's logo, it was Laser!

The ride actually had the entrance and exit switched from the way it was designed to run on the fair circuit. This change made the station waiting side very small and narrow, as it was designed to only be an exit. This led the park to have assigned seating on the ride, as guests were not allowed to wait for whichever seat they wanted.

The ride when it still had a sign on the 2nd loop

Laser operated nicely for the park for many years, and saw some major work for the 1999 season. The park contracted with Schwarzkopf to build two new trains for the ride, which was a major investment financially. The ride saw other upgrades that year as well, such as a new computer system, and it's new paint job consisting of deep purple track and lime green supports.

No three train op. for Dorney

The ride was designed for three trains, but I am not aware of it ever running three while at Dorney. The park had a red and blue one operating previously, however, you can see the storage track for the 3rd train in the above photo. This track was later removed (see this photo and compare to above), probably during the renovations for the 1999 season.

Also take note of the Sky Ride

Since Laser was designed to be portable ride, it did not have foundations poured into the earth. Instead, the ride had many large containers built into the supports that were filled with water. The weight of these design items supported the ride. You can see many of those containers in the above photo.

Original fair style lighting was on the ride until the '99 renovations

Rumors of the ride's removal have been around for several years now, so to a degree many of us have expected each of the last few seasons to be Laser's last at the park. The ride was discovered to be for sale earlier this year, and before long its listing was changed to sold.

The park acknowledged that the ride would be leaving during the summer of 2008, and even hosted a good bye event for the coaster on the last day of the season.

Many rides have had an impact on the success of Dorney Park over the years, and Laser was no exception. It's highly marketable double loops were a great draw for the park, and gathered much attention after its debut.

Although sad, nothing lasts forever and it is with that thought that we keep our fond memories of the ride. Here is the video I took of the ride on its last night a few hours before it closed forever.


Sabrina said...

a-HA!!! So my Lazer vs. Laser question remains unanswered (at least officially speaking) after all...

Seriously though, this post is FANTASTIC. Now that I have all this info at my fingertips, I don't know how I ever lived without it!

dwitos079 said...

fantastic report...laser will be sorely missed. I just hope this land is someday used for something worthwhile.

It's sad to think that one day (even just 10 years ago) dorney was a world class priority.

NewsPlusNotes said...

And for the record, if anyone ever reads this and has something to correct or add, please, let me know! I'd rather be as accurate as possible.

Nagevmai said...


Great Job! Will you be attending EastCoaster on Saturday? I'm hoping to see you there.

Unknown said...

I rode the Laser a few years ago in Frankfurt, Germany! It's now called Teststrecky, and is now back in its homeland.

LL73 said...

your video of the last ride isnt visible

Unknown said...

Sad part is that part is still empty. Nothing good has come.