Monday, September 14, 2009

Scott And Carol Present - A Look Back At The Beast, Pt 1

Editor's Note: This post is the first of a two-part series. Don't miss Part 2!

The world's longest wooden roller coaster has 30 years of history to be told and in order to tell the tale of the Beast, we present you with our longest NPN post. Its epic portions deserve the honor of our first ever multi part post. Without further adieu we present our NPN readers with part one of A Look Back at the Beast!

First of many logos

On Friday April 13, 1979 the world’s longest, tallest, fastest wooden roller coaster opened, in spite of a downpour. The "Unchaining of the Beast" kicked off with welcoming remarks delivered by William C Price, then Vice President and General Manager of Kings Island. Members of the United Stated States Marine Corp also participated in the opening ceremony. Although the rain was still coming down when the first official train rolled out of the station at approx10:30AM, the park VIPs attempted to tame The Beast as its first riders. Media members then rode the coaster, with the order determined by random drawing. Reporters continued their attempt to tame the "unchained" Beast until 3:00 PM. Despite the weather, glowing reports abounded – could it have been the combination of an awesome coaster and the free beer? Or maybe it just seemed better when they were out of the rain.

A couple of Publicity shots from the late 1970s

Coaster enthusiasts, Chuck Nungester, a, lucky radio contest winner from Cincinnati attended the Preview Night for The Beast. We asked Chuck to share his memories of that day and here, his tale. "Taft Broadcasting, the owners of Kings Island, also owned Q-102 and it was one of the many radio stations that offered a Sneak Peek Beast Party ticket. Much to my surprise I won one of the call-ins. You know one of those 'be the seventh caller' (or something like that) deals. And, my prize was two tickets to the Beast Sneak Peek Preview Party."

This photo shows how back then the logo was more 3 dimensional

"I remember going to school that day but thinking of nothing else other than being pumped about the event. School was finally over, and soon it would be time to head to Kings Island. My brother Rob and I were ready to go right then, but the event didn’t start until 5PM. It was raining hard and it was cold, and neither of us was old enough to drive, so Dad was going to have to take us and Dad didn’t really want to. I wasn’t thinking of his sitting in the car waiting for us all that time. I was just thinking of getting to ride The Beast. Not soon enough, it was time to leave and after much begging and pleading, Dad finally said “Okay, let’s go, but you’ll probably catch pneumonia.” We got to the park, and Dad was going to wait in the car, or so we thought. As we were walking down past the fountains, I heard Dad yelling at us, he was inside thanks to someone who had an extra ticket. It was raining so hard and steadily that I was .surprised I could hear his yelling. Nonetheless, Dad and his guy would be our waiting and riding partners for the night."

"The event was supposed to have live music and several rides opened, but the bad weather had caused the park to cancel most of the festivities, and the only rides open were The Beast itself and the Trabant the park had at that time. I had read about The Beast in the local papers but had little idea what the ride was going to be like. All I knew was The Beast was supposed to run four trains and Kings Island had billed its biggest, baddest, longest and fastest roller coaster on the planet...

The entrance was to the right, where the pop machines are in the queue now – more specifically where one of The Beast crew sits to check the height of the riders. So, there we were in line, standing and freezing, waiting and freezing. Every five minutes or so, a train of cheering maniacs would leave the station in a beautiful multi-colored train with four bench seats per car. The front car was painted red, changing into many colors through the middle and toward the end, and the last car was green."

"While standing in line, freezing and wet, we learned a few things from some of the other riders, such as they added a car to each train and reduced the trains to three. They had only one train running due to the pouring rain, and the auto release for the buzz bars was not working, therefore causing longer dispatch times. The wait from the entrance through the lower queue and up the ramp took a full two hours back then. After all that time, we still waited in the station queues for 45 minutes. At least we had a chance to dry off a bit during that time."

"To be honest, I was miserable, it was very cold, and we were very wet. Finally, we reached the point where we had to make a choice. 'Front seat or bust' was our motto, so after waiting almost three hours, we added another 20 minutes to our wait to get the front seat. Rob and I hopped in the front, with Dad and his riding partner sitting in row two. The lap bar came down, locked and now we were the “cheering maniacs” leaving the station! Sometime between getting into the station and getting on the train, it had quit raining. Around the corner we went. I saw the lift hill and said to Rob, “Doesn’t look much bigger than the Rocket.” Up the lift hill we continued, on Friday the 13th, under a full moon. The Beast was wickedly fast, with no midcourse trim. The helix was not as steeply banked that first season, and it was open on the sides, but it already had a roof. We returned to the station cheering. Even Dad liked it, saying it was a hell of a lot better than sitting in the car for three hours!"

On that day in 1979, The Beast became Kings Island’s signature attraction and still remains so after 30 years of thrills. Wooden coasters would not be as popular today without this park’s influence. The Beast is arguably one of the most widely known roller coasters today, and its notoriety has almost single handily raised the public’s awareness level of Kings Island. Anyone with even a casual interest in amusement parks or coasters knows all about the legendary Beast. But, how did this legend get started.

On April 29th, 1972, Kings Island opened for the first time to rave reviews, many of them centering on the park’s sleek and elegant out-and-back wooden racing coaster, The Racer. Based on the popular Shooting Star woodie at the old Coney Island Amusement Park, once located on the Ohio River east of Cincinnati, it was the work of one of the greatest coaster designers of all time, Mr. John Allen. The Racer, with its classic style reminiscent of those grand old woodies of the 1920s, has been widely credited with jump-starting the "Second Golden Age" of wooden roller coasters. So, who then would Kings Island choose when they wanted to build another great coaster? It was no surprise that Kings Island’s management would again to look to John Allen.

That's John Allen, on the left, visiting Kings Island during the construction of the Racer.

Kings Island’s grand plan was to build the world’s biggest, fastest and longest wooden roller coaster. The rides location, based on where the most space was available (remember we’re talking about 35 acres) had the side benefit of very rugged terrain. A delegation of Kings Island employees headed to Lansdale Pennsylvania, to talk to John Allen about building this humongous wooden coaster. Having been in the business of designing coasters for nearly 30 years, Allen had been planning on retiring since 1968, the year the Shooting Star and Zingo opened. It seemed the demand for wooden coasters had dried up, and having taken over as president of PTC, succeeding Herb Schmeck, Allen had already achieved what he perceived as his life’s challenges.

But retirement was not to be, for park after park kept coaxing him back for "just one more ride." Allen’s last design, the Screaming Eagle, opened in 1976. He was almost 70 years old and semiretired when Kings Island approached him about designing The Beast. He declined, citing the scope of the project and his age. One has to remember that this was before the age of computers, and just doing all the required calculations would have required months of work. But, Kings Island didn’t give up on Allen's involvement just yet: the park again extended an invitation for him to stop in for a visit. And this time, he decided to trek to Ohio and talk.

In 1977, John Allen, Al Collins and Jeff Gramke sat down for lunch in the now closed International Restaurant above the entrance to the park. Al Collins was a 51 year old civil engineer who worked for the C. V. Messer Company, which had built Kings Island. Collins had surveyed most of the new park and, following the completion of the original, was subsequently hired by Kings Island as resident engineer to complete the "as built" survey. Jeff Gramke, Paramount Kings Island’s former Manager of Engineering, was at that time a young intern engineer who had worked for and with Al Collins in designing the park. The idea was to get John Allen to the park and talk him in to signing on for the project.

He declined once again, but then did something that left his stamp on the project. He offered to share the formulas that he had developed over the years so they could design the coaster themselves. He also offered his assistance in an advisory capacity, checking over some of their work to make sure the Kings Island crew was staying on the right track. All those at the table were completely amazed by this stunning offer. No one at Kings Island had ever discussed trying to design the coaster "in-house" or even considered that this option of gaining John’s expertise might be available. Allen wrote the equations on the back of a menu- which Jeff Gramke still has- and consulted with Collins and Gramke for two years to help develop the design of The Beast. Allen also designed the braking system and chain pickups. This project, as well as assisting Bill Cobb with the Judge Roy Scream, would be his last direct impute into any coaster project before his death in August 1979.

This is the actual International Restaurant menu which John Allen used to write down his formulas.

One of the many, many sheets of calculations

According to Jeff Gramke, "John Allen was a master of the wooden roller coaster, his formulas were very similar to those used for railroad curves and highway work, and therefore relatively easy for AL and me to work with. Allen knew the properties of lubrication, the bearing properties, and the characteristics of the wood used to build the coasters. He had developed a lot of the formulas based on his experience. There are times roller coasters do not follow true physical laws. For example, there is no mass in a velocity calculation. But, everyone in the industry knows that a loaded train will go farther and faster than an empty train. Many of Allen’s formulas have a lot of fudge factors built into them to account for his experience on what coaster s really did after they were built."

Inside the ride's first tunnel

No one else knew the topography of the ground dedicated to The Beast like Al Collins did. He had been surveying the park since 1971 and knew that spot back in the woods very well. His grasp of trigonometry was masterful and Collins is generally considered the individual most responsible for the design of The Beast. For him, it was a real labor of love. John Allen was convinced that no roller coaster needed to exceed 120 feet in height; in fact, he had rejected many opportunities to design a mega-woodie, that would exceed his criteria. Therefore, his formulas were set up around that 120 foot limitation. In order to get the length they wanted Collins and Gramke had to find clever ways to gain the necessary speed for such a long ride. The overall difference in height from the first lift hill to the bottom of second lift is 201 feet, yet the structure there never rises over 110 feet above ground level. They used tunnels to provide the necessary height difference so the trains could complete the course. Despite the lifts relatively modest heights, the two drops off the lifts would be impressive at 135 feet and 141 feet.

Consulting with John Allen many times, Collins and Gramke were pleased that he did not have anything negative to say about the direction in which they were headed. They had an old and heavy Friedan’s mechanical calculator that they used in the earlier survey work, they used logarithmic tables and performed calculations by hand on Mylar with pencil, and the calculations were done on quadrille (engineering) pads. Gramke had decided to compute everything to one eighth of an inch, which Allen said was not necessary because "it only needed to be calculated within an inch." Allen felt that the wood would settle to its own level as the coaster broke in, but Gramke kept on doing it his way, deciding not to throw away the additional accuracy provided by the heavy mechanical calculator. He drew all the plans for the coaster and developed a different type of working diagram that wouldn’t require the field carpenters to do any calculating on site, helping to increase the smoothness of the construction process. Gramke also recalled that The Beast profile (the side elevation) used up an entire roll of vellum and was kept in one piece. To increase capacity and to let people enjoy the longer coaster, two lift chains were incorporated. Money was saved with a reduction of major wood structure required- the coaster is essentially a terrain coaster.

Kings Island had the luxury of the designers being full-time Taft employees, so there was no billing for the hours they invested in the project. They designed the coaster in addition to performing their normal duties. They would do a preliminary design on the ride, then go out and do a rough survey to see if the design fit. They had already done a topographical map of the whole property so they knew pretty much what the site looked like from the beginning. But, if they found a big tree that was in the way, they actually went back to the office and redesigned the coaster. One of the original guidelines from the Board of Directors was that as many trees be saved as possible. This required recalculating every part that came after the change in the ride. It was a very time consuming task, but luckily Taft was not in a great hurry to build the coaster. It was a labor of love from the beginning and a tremendous opportunity for the two engineers to learn how to design roller coasters and learn about how they work.

The Beast has certainly left it's mark in the history of Kings Island and the Amusement industry. And, while there is still much to share, this is a good place to stop for now. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.


Nicholas Tucker said...

Very awesome article! As a mechanical engineer I am very interested in the formulas they used. I haven't read anything about them on the internet before and would love to see more!

Scott and Carol said...

Sorry, but as non-mechancial engineers what's in the story is pretty much what Jeff Gramke told us and the limit of our knowledge on the subject.

S & C

Funky_Cold_Medina said...

I enjoyed sharing my first night story and and Glad the Holmes' published it in Rollercoaster and on NPN. Thank you.
Chuck Nungester