Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Blast From The Past - Magnum XL200 At Cedar Point

For the next few weeks we will be posting parts of a very special Blast From The Past featuring Cedar Point's Magnum XL200 which celebrated it's 20th season this year.

Editor's Note: Don't forget to check out Part 2 and Part 3!

When Richard “Dick” Kinzel was President of Cedar Point, he seemed to be always thinking ahead. “We had a great run with Gemini, our last big project,” he says, “We needed something to carry us forward because it had been ten years since Cedar Point had a major addition.” Even when he was in Florida with his wife in March of 1988, the next big thing was never far from his thoughts. “I saw a report on CNN Saturday morning about the opening of a new coaster in Japan called Bandit. We were in the middle of the inversion competition and this seemed different because it didn’t turn people upside down at all. They interviewed an ACE member and he raved about how fast and smooth the ride was, and said it was one of the best roller coasters he had ridden. I kept thinking about this for our whole trip because I didn’t like the over-the-shoulder restraints (OTSR,) required for inversions.
“When I got back home, I did some checking and found out the tallest coaster was in Six Flags Great America. It was 170 feet tall. Since it had inversions, it required over the shoulder restraints that I so dislike. I wanted a ride with only a lapbar, because that is how I feel coasters should be ridden.” So Cedar Point stepped away from counting how many times they could turn people over and led the way into a different type of ride. “I called Randy Geisler, then the President of ACE and his full-time job was in the Minneapolis Post Office. He said he was on that Japanese tour. I asked him if he thought the public would like a down and back coaster similar to wood coasters with lots of negative gs, only smoother. I wanted it high and fast with lots of thrills. Randy thought it would be well received by the public. I consider the guests in the park to be my library; I like to talk to them to find out what they are thinking.”

Kinzel continues, “At our next planning committee meeting we discussed the idea and formed a consensus that it was at least worth requesting proposals from manufacturers. We asked for proposals from four of them; TOGO, maker of Bandit, Dinn Corporation, who wanted to build a wooden coaster, Intamin, and Arrow. The dollar was relatively weak at the time, making the overseas producers a higher price, and we had already decided we wanted a steel coaster, so we were basically left with Arrow. We limited them so they couldn’t do helices or 360 degree turns to avoid the OTSRs. We specified a minimum capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 people per hour. The rest was left up to the manufacturers.”Arrow had returned a proposal for a coaster 187 feet tall. Kinzel talks about the board meeting, “As the board was considering the proposal, Dick Sheetz asked how much it would cost to break the 200 foot barrier. What a surprising question from a Board of Directors.” The answer to that question remains somewhat elusive. Ron Toomer mentioned “around $25,000” and Dick Kinzel said “$150,000 to $200,000. It was a 7.5 million coaster so that wasn’t much change in the price. You don’t get much from an engineer for only $25,000.” What ever the cost, it has to be one of the best decisions made in the history of the amusement park business. The publicity gained from being the first, and for a while only coaster above 200 feet, was immeasurable. It gave Cedar Point a lead in the coaster wars that has never been relinquished.

The contract was written for a coaster over 200 feet tall and the original press release distributed in December of 1988 touted a coaster 201 foot tall. When Magnum XL-200 was finished, it was 205 foot tall giving rise to the legend that a mistake had been made while pouring the footers. Dick Kinzel says, “We wanted a coaster over 200 feet, we didn’t care how much over 200 it was.” Ron also said the height wasn’t changed because of any problems; it just worked out that high with the curve of the hill. Ron said “I told Dick I thought we could also have the steepest drop by steepening it to 60 degrees.” Magnum opened as the tallest and fastest coaster built to date, with the longest drop ever of 190 feet. It was also the fastest, reaching seventy-two mph.

Lee Jewett, then Director of Planning and Development offers his remembrances, “Architects usually made their statements with buildings, which is why so many roller coasters have there stations along the midway. We had concerns about space, so we wanted to have the new coaster go above the midway, exit the park and then return inside. That location was selected because of the coastline was available and we thought that would be a plus for the ride. The forces involved would be relatively easy to control so basic floating footers were used to support the towers. R. E. Warner & Associates designed the 250 different footers that are thirty feet wide, fifteen feet long, and four feet deep.”

Lee also helped with the naming of ride. “I added the XL-200 for extra long and I wanted to make the height part of the ride. Kinzel says, “Everything back then was about Magnum. Magnum PI was popular on TV, Magnum Force in the movies. We wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the name. Lee added the little touch that made it special.” A legend was born and to this day, coaster enthusiasts over 48’ tall measure themselves against the Magnum XL-200 yardstick: you will either ride it or not. Steady streams of giddy first-time riders still lead their parents through the on-ride camera booth to get a souvenir of their first big coaster.

Well... this seems like a goodplace to stop for this week, stay tuned for the next part of our Magnum tribute.


Nicholas Tucker said...

Awesome article. I loved the insight from Dick Kinzel and Ron Toomer. I'm always dying to hear those little details that you normally don't get. Thank goodness they didn't go with TOGO and I find it interesting Intamin was a candidate as well. Great read.

dwitos079 said...

Wow that is amazing! Great story. I'd be curious to see the proposals by the other companies.