Thinking About Roller Coasters

A few years ago I visited my friend Gregg in Port Clinton, about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. The main thing to remember about Gregg, is his obsession with roller coasters. This is understandable, because he spent his entire boyhood only a few miles away from the nation’s second oldest operating amusement park.

Gregg is a walking encyclopedia of roller coaster history, trivia, and everything a person could know about Cedar Point Amusement Park. He spends a large portion of his disposable income at that park.

Until I ever met Gregg, my attitude about roller coasters varied between neutral and slightly negative. The only coasters I had experienced were at the Minnesota State Fair and at the Nebraska State Fair–small fry compared to the permanent coasters at theme parks. You can imagine my feelings of trepidation when Gregg announced that we would be spending an entire day at Cedar Point.

We left early for the short drive from Port Clinton to Sandusky. The massive parking area was already half full of early bird tourists. Gregg already had a season pass, so I purchased a one day ticket to get in.

While we waited in the first queue, Gregg gave me a mini-lecture about his hero, La Marcus Thompson. Thompson was a very successful inventor, entrepreneur, and the father of the American roller coaster.

In 1878, Thompson patented, but never built, a ride similar to the early “Russian Slides”, that is two parallel artificial hills that accommodate people on benches. Thompson later came up with a commercial success based on his earlier idea. The “Switchback Railway” was opened for riders at Coney Island, New York, in early 1884.

His monopoly only lasted a few months, because later that year Charles Alcoke opened a ride that completed a circuit. Then the next year Philip Hinkle introduced a ride that incorporated a cable to pull cars uphill to the “lift hill”. These innovations began the tradition of parks designing ever more thrilling rail layouts.

With my roller coaster education out of the way, Gregg and I took advantage of the lesser numbers of tourists and rode several “smaller” coasters of various themes and designs. Gregg pointed out his ultimate destination for our visit. It was a huge monstrosity called the Magnum XL 200. Gregg said the Magnum is the first “hyper-coaster” in the world. It’s the first coaster to be taller than 200 feet and runs cars faster than 70 mph. He said I could think about riding it with him if I wanted to, but he wouldn’t pressure me.

All day long we waited in short queues and rode so many coasters that I lost track of the numbers. In the middle of the afternoon we rode a double coaster called “The Gemini”. This was the most memorable ride of that afternoon. This particular attraction is a double coaster built on a¬†traditional wooden framework. The idea is to have one train of cars race the other at about 60 mph, the train with the heaviest passengers wins. I don’t remember who won when Gregg and I rode “The Gemini”; all I know is that it is my favorite coaster at Cedar Point.

There were only a few more coasters to go before it was time to decide to ride the Magnum. The remaining rides were fun, but forgettable, because I worried about whether or not to risk riding the hyper-coaster.

Then Gregg mentioned that he didn’t see a queue for the Magnum. He suggested that we go over and investigate. He chatted briefly with a park employee and found out that the Magnum was closed for the afternoon. The closure was due to strong winds aloft coming in from the lake. Gregg laughed at my expression of relief. Then he suggested we ride his favorite old fashioned merry-go-round.

Thankfully, that first day spent at a proper roller coaster park was a very memorable, fun one. My lingering prejudices about coasters disappeared completely that day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes legendary car builder Enzo Ferrari. “…each time I seemed to be climbing into a roller coaster and finding myself coming through the downhill run with that sort of dazed feeling that we all know.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, Entertainment, Friendship, History, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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