Discover more from Arthur's About Theme Parks
Getting up to speed on coaster news
Let’s examine two recent ride developments
Paid subscribers (if you are not a part of this wonderful group, whatchya waitin’ for?), join the conversation tomorrow, Friday, September 29, for our monthly, exclusive What’s the Attraction? discussion thread. With the spooky season upon us, let’s share the most terrifying experience(s) we have had at Halloween theme park events through the years. What haunted house(s) really got you unnerved and why? Gather your thoughts and get in on the discussion tomorrow.
Also, paid subscribers can listen to my audio narration of this article. ART Talks audio: Getting up to speed on coaster news
There is a new wooden coaster coming to one of Six Flags’ smaller parks next year. And Dollywood’s most popular coaster has been a lightning rod for problems, but the park has a fix in the works. Let’s catch up on these developments, park fans.
Arthur's About Theme Parks is a reader-supported, ad-free publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free, or better yet, paid subscriber. Paid subscriptions are my only source of income here.
Six Flags Great Escape, the comparatively small theme park near Lake George in New York, will welcome The Bobcat, a wooden family coaster, next season. With a height of 55 feet, it will hit a top speed of 40 mph. The modest stats may be deceiving, however. Wooden Warrior at Quassy in Connecticut, an even smaller coaster from The Bobcat’s designer and ride manufacturer, The Gravity Group, is surprisingly potent.
Like that ride, the new coaster will feature the company’s Timberliner Trains, which have steerable wheel systems that can navigate through turns and mitigate some of the rough and tumble that can often be excessive on woodies. Other much-admired coasters from The Gravity Group with similar stats as The Bobcat include Kentucky Flyer at Kentucky Kingdom and Oscar's Wacky Taxi at Sesame Place in Pennsylvania. The new ride will mark the first major, new coaster at Six Flags Great Escape since 2003, and the first built specifically for the park since 1997.
It’s the best coaster at Dollywood–and one of the best coasters anywhere, for that matter. Unfortunately, however, disappointed visitors at Dollywood have often found Lightning Rod not operating. The innovative ride, which opened in 2016 (after being delayed), was the world’s first and only launched wooden coaster. Its unique launch system has apparently been the primary source of its downtime, because the park recently announced that it will shutter the ride on October 30 to remove its electro-magnetic motors. When it reopens next spring, Lightning Rod will instead use a more traditional chain lift to get its trains up the lift hill.
Will that take the ride experience down a notch or two? Perhaps, and that would be disappointing. Regardless, it’s a reasonable trade-off if it means a significant improvement in reliability. Dollywood is describing the new launch system as a high-speed, variable frequency chain lift. I’m not sure what that means, but no matter how high the speed, it’s unlikely it will match the giddy jolt of acceleration now delivered by the coaster’s linear synchronous motor launch system. The park is saying that once the trains crest the lift hill, the ride will remain identical to the Lightning Rod we know and love. (And, man, do I love its quadruple down element, among many other attributes.) Speaking of trains, the coaster will get all-new trains when it reopens next spring as well.
This won’t be the first time the trouble-plagued coaster has gone under the knife. Before it opened for the 2021 season, the ride’s manufacturer, RMC, replaced many–but not all–sections of its wooden Topper Track with the company’s steel I-Box track. That effectively makes Lightning Rod a hybrid wooden-steel coaster. RMC no longer includes Topper Track coasters among its capabilities, so it would appear the Dollywood ride could be among the last to feature the unique track (in which a thick band of steel completely covers wooden stacks of track as opposed to the thin steel runner that typically sits atop the stacks of a traditional woodie).
I wouldn’t be surprised if sister park, Silver Dollar City, replaces some sections of Outlaw Run, which was the first coaster to feature Topper Track. When I visited a few weeks back, the ten-year-old ride had a few rough patches.
Have you ever been to Six Flags Great Escape? (If you have, you have likely had the pleasure of riding its other wooden coaster, the wonderful, underrated Comet.) What do you think about the new ride coming to its midway? What are your thoughts about Lightning Rod’s launch makeover? Were you able to experience its magnetic launch? Will you miss that feature?