Friday, May 28, 2010

A Blast From The Past - Race World's Thunder Eagle The Finale'

As promise this week’s Blast is the series finale on Race World’s Thunder Eagle, unlike those many, many Lost fans, we hope you won’t be suffering from antisappointment after reading this. If so, just ponder this - we didn’t leave you hanging for 6 years!

We had heard Race World was struggling and 2002 the park and Thunder Eagle would cease operations in Pigeon Forge forever Labor Day weekend. We still had not managed to nab a ride this thing and figured it was now or never!

Instead of driving the long trek to Pigeon Forge and the chance the rides would still be operating, we decided to call the park and “double check.” We called on Tuesday August 27th, and the lady who answered the phone assured us the park would be open all weekend and closing the gates for the very last time on Monday Sept 3rd.

So, we altered our coaster trek plans to include a pilgrimage to Race World. And, we even convinced our friends from Georgia to meet up with us, it was only fitting, they had been with us through every disappointing visit so far.

Georgia is a bit closer geologically to Tennessee than Indiana, so our friends arrived at Race World before we did. As, we pulled into the parking lot, we could already tell something was wrong. Maybe it was the lack of a crowd, or no activity anywhere near Thunder Eagle. Or, the look on their friend’s faces.

I’ll skip the gory details, since this is a family site, but it seems that the Pigeon Forge area had suffered an earthquake on Wednesday August 28th. And, in order for the rides to reopen they would need to be inspected. The park was already doomed and those involved saw no need to spend any money for 5 days of operation. The most riders it ever had in one day, he said, was around 350. He did take us on a tour and here are our friends from Georgia sitting in the train.

So, here we were 4 coaster enthusiasts without a coaster to ride. The gift shop was open and Thunder Eagle t-shirts were selling dirt cheap, so we made a few purchases, took a couple of photos, cursed the Coaster Gods and decided to get a bite to eat, before heading home.

December 2003, we visited Race World for the last time, to take some deconstruction photos. There was a glimmer of hope, Thunder Eagle had been sold, and next stop was a water park north of Montreal, Quebec. The “T” that started Thunder Eagle proudly adorns the wall of our coaster room, a unique souvenir of a coaster we so desperately wanted to ride.

It sat up there until sometime in 2008. Planning permission was never given so not even a single footer was poured. It was then moved to Juarez, Mexico. By this time the structure of the ride had more miles that the train, a very unusual circumstance

The years passed and it was never reported to be opened. So we asked the Martin and & Vleminckx rep at IAAPA in Las Vegas, what had happened to that coaster He laughed and said, “The news is rather sketchy, but the last I heard some of the structure pieces were being used to build decks. The treated wood will last forever for that purpose.”

So, what was “wrong” with Thunder Eagle? It looks like it has at least some potential. According to George Laib, “We were trying to recreate an old classic design and already had the blueprints,” says Laib, “But after we started construction, the Planning Commission came in and told us that it couldn’t be over 70 feet tall, because that would block the view of the Great Smoky Mountains.”

The plans were modified and the result was a coaster with turns banked for higher speed than the available drop would generate. The original plans called for a 90 tall ride which operated at a reduced speed. It was describe as a “modern day scenic railway where you watched the mountains instead of painted scenes. Given the average age of visitors to pigeon Forge, maybe not a bad idea.

So, we traveled over 3,000 miles trying to ride Thunder Eagle, but never got it done. But not for lack if trying! Are we bitter? Nope… life is too short and there are lots of coasters to ride.


kinghowiep said...

Parts of Thunder Eagle, the trains and hardware, lives on now at Bay Beach in Wisconsin at the recently resurrected Zippin Pippin, another Tennessee lost coaster. So Thunder Eagle was saved in some ways.