Tuesday, September 10, 2019 9:37 AM

As I previously alluded to with my wealth of predisposed knowledge about Cedar Point and its rides, I participated in a niche hobby called roller coaster enthusiasm.

My interest in roller coasters began young. It was probably around that year the Magnum was constructed when a glossy hardcover about the machines appeared under my Christmas tree. Many more books would follow over the years. I memorized every picture of every ride put in front of me. Until the spines of these volumes went weak. Loose pages mottled with greasy fingerprints. Disappointingly, I raced daily out and back to the mailbox. Looking in vain for the latest issue of Inside Track. An enthusiast fanzine newsletter that never found its press deadline.

Then came dial-up internet and the early incarnations of message boards. Rec.roller-coaster. It let loose a floodgate of material. Long hours patiently waiting for rasterized images to materialize on the curfed computer monitor. Blocky horizontal chucks horizontal downloading over a 24k phone line. More information than possible was now available to absorb. I pulled down the lap bar and ramped up my studies.

Although I was now aware of the marquee rides across the country and happenings within the ‘Cedar Points’ of the world; My physical experience of visiting amusement parks and actually riding roller coasters was limited. Very limited. I had been to only a few parks all in the northeast.

To my parent’s credit, I was taken on the rare scattered trip across my childhood. After months of nagging. In the good times, when was family was a functioning unit, there was the occasional stop at Playland. A ramshackle seaside park on the Long Island Sound. Once the holy grail of Great Adventure at the end of the rainbow in New Jersey. The Scream Machine rising up from the swamps. It was mythical.

While on a trip to see my grandmother, we had tried to stopover at Hershey. A freak storm and subsequent flooding closed the amusements before I could ride nary a roller coaster. That was about it.

Still those trips had me studying the oversized maps procured from souvenir gift shops for years to follow. The beginning of my interest in urban planning could be traced to my fingers over those midways.

It was before sunset two days later that I first found myself in line for the Magnum XL-200. Javier was my riding companion again.

I was attentive of the roller coaster enthusiast scene. But I was not on the same level as him. I learned in the queue of that first ride and many other queues to follow: Javier was a walking encyclopedia of roller coaster knowledge.

Javier grew up in a small town deep on the south Texas frontier. “Somewhere between San Antonio and the Mexican border. Our town had five thousand people. No Starbucks.” he emphasized the scale with that context.

“It was an hour to closest Whataburger. Which we traveled to often, by the way. And three hours on the nose to Astroworld.”

Javier came from a broken family too. I learned while we approached the Magnum. His mother was from that desert outpost. He journeyed farther south to college. Business school in Corpus Christie.

“A beach town with some waterslides but no coasters.” He explained leaning on the queue rail.

Javier wore a skeleton t-shirt subtly referencing a Tim Burton movie. “Really into campy horror. Too bad we’re not going to still be here for Halloween.”

The summers of Javier’s youth were spent in the south suburbs of Houston living with his father who worked at a nearby Coca-Cola distribution plant. The plant was located across the street from the aforementioned Astroworld. Instead of child care or day camp enrollment, Javier would be dropped off every morning with his younger sister to bide their day within the theme park. Until the end of his father’s shift.

Six Flags Astroworld did not grow organically over a 100 years like Cedar Point. In the zeitgeist age of air conditioning, Houston had built a mega theme park from scratch. Masterplanned 1960’s futurism dropped on an undeveloped plot adjacent to the new beltloop freeway. I had never been to Texas, but this much I knew (the aerials).

Javier vividly filled in the blanks with a descriptive narrative through Astroworld. Factoids and strong opinions on all their campy rides. The park was located next to the structurally significant avant-garde Astrodome. The world’s first indoor professional sports stadium replete with its invented no-sun-required fake grass. In an architectural lecture course somewhere, there was a test question on that.

Javier’s relationship with his father became more estranged. Finishing his freshmen year, instead of seeking employment at the home park of his youth, he too set for new horizons and wound up in Sandusky.

Astroworld stayed the same, to the point it was now dilapidated. The tired park had not added an attraction of excitement in any recent year to remember. Futurism did not age well into the future. The park lost its cutting-edge appeal without escaping the 1980’s.

However, perpetually stuck in the 1980’s is not always a bad thing. That I learned from the Magnum.

The Magnum XL-200 is what you think of when seeing the quintessential stock photo image of everything a roller coaster should be. Its hills jackknifed through the sunset. Blood on the tracks. A threaded red edging the delicate wiry box truss. It towered over the waterpark below. The horizon only a massive expanse of lake water beyond. That e(E)rie shoreline a negative precipice beyond the second drop.

According to Dick Kinzel, the current CEO of Cedar Point, both now and when he pulled the trigger on the Magnum’s construction: It was “the shot fired that started the coaster wars.” This Arrow Dynamics designed monster when it opened in 1989, was the first in the world to break the 200-foot height barrier of any roller coaster. More significantly, it did so while eschewing the need to invert. The world had never seen anything like the Magnum before.

Traveling upside down as many times as possible was a well-worn device associated with steel coasters built throughout the headbanging 1980’s. Cedar Point’s own contribution to the fad was the Corkscrew. The world’s first triple looping roller coaster. Three inversions on a meager 2,000 feet of rail efficiently topped out at 85 feet. It arrived at the Bicentennial, early in the era. Cedar Point was always on the leading edge. The Corkscrew, also Arrow designed sat a mere thirteen year walk down the midway from the XL.

“My first major coaster was the Arrow Shuttle Loop at Great Adventure.” I told Javier in the Magnum queue. Within the quiet and shady switchback, you were unable to see the forthcoming ride.

“Dude, I have never ridden one of those.” But he knew exactly what I was talking about.

“Lightnin’ Loops.” I reflected.

On an Arrow Shuttle Loop, the earliest prototype of looping coasters, there was no lift hill. The human line wound a seven-story staircase to the elevated ride station at which the track began. The coaster train would drop off the raised platform, travel through a single vertical loop then stop finding a dead end at a second similar tower. The ride would then reverse direction returning to the original station. Transversing the same course backwards. Completely linear and straight. Not a bank existed on the circuit. This was the forefront of technology a quarter of a century ago.

“The last time I rode it. This is over a decade ago mind you, I remember the dread of waiting on that line. Every time the coaster came back, it slammed hard into the station breaks. The whole tower rocked back and forth. Tightly bunched up on those stairs. The metal vibrated. Creaking and visibly swaying. It was the most terrifying experience.” I added. “Well until I was in the front seat of the Dragster.”

We ratcheted through the turnstile into Magnum’s station. With three trains running the full mile course, the line hauled. Our fifteen minute reminisce down roller coaster memory hill was over.

“That was quick queuing” I noted.

“Good because we’re going to want to ride this again.” Javier grinned. “There’s a little bit of science to Magnum. Various seats offer extremely different rides.” He explained.

I had heard as much. Javier waved his hand toward the line split to the individual train row selection.

“Let’s start at the top.” I suggested, again moving for the front.

“Ah, an excellent idea while daylight’s with us. The visual choice. 1.1 ” I remembered the nomenclature lingo from the Mantis. We headed for the front car, front row.

The ride dipped out of the station and made a hard right toward the lift. While Magnum was no longer the tallest in the park. It was still the tallest that provided the traditional slow chain pull experience. Which meant the long climb to the top was as excruciatingly dramatic as you could get, want or need at the entire park. Being towed skyward over a water park that has closed for the day and therefore was completely silent, heightened the experience of detachment from the functioning planet.

The Magnum was an out and back coaster. It started in the corner of the park. Ran over the teeny Soak City and barreled toward the water. Looking out from the front seat, I saw that infamous crest of the second hill and nothing but the lake and purple sky beyond. The train crept over the summit of the lift and hung. Dramatically stalled in space. Pitching for the ground. The hang time was exceptional as the front of the train was momentarily counterweighted by the still chain attached rear. Then that remainder toppled over the apex. All hell broke loose.

The drop was visceral. A gravitational pull with all the grit of a machine that was designed in a pre-computer world. It bottomed out with a heavy tug. All mass shoved forward. A rush through the valley. A brief chlorination.

Then immediately the second hill and it’s slight of hand. The run up was a straight pull. A continuation in this linear plane would have set you well into Erie.

Fortunately, since their shuttle loop, Arrow perfected banking. The top of the second hill. Floating air overtook to force reconciliation between the conflicting sensations of zero gravity and heavy laterals. The track below pitched hard to the left. Avoiding the lake and introducing a third axis into the momentum. Magnum yanked us back to terra. Away from the sand into the darkness of the first tunnel.

Past this hinge, it was extreme floating airtime over a shallower camelback crested with speed. A runout along the shore to the remote corner of the peninsula. Home of the Sandcastle. I saw a glimpse of my hotel from an angle I had not previously crossed. Looking down upon its bright pink metal roofs. Positive forces took over again in the double spiral. A pretzel loop, the turnaround was marketed. The set of trim breaks did nothing to tame the train. Were they even on? What would the ride feel like if they were not?

Then the vicious return run where the ride seriously cut loose. A series of small bunny hills on the ‘and back’ portion of the coaster did not visually compare to the profile of the initial run. These hills did not burn off then recollect speed though. The train barreled throughout them.

This is where the Magnum got serious and won me over. Hill after hill of extreme airtime. Two more tunnels. Replete with their own turbulent dips and dives hidden in the darkness. Movement deafeningly amplified by the corrugated enclosures. Each protuberance of the bunny hops, more thrilling than the previous. Zero-gravity rekindled at each crest. Every time pronounced sharper.

Then as my body and mind could not sustain the limits. Out of the third and final tunnel, it stopped.

The train slowly rolled back around to the station with a full panorama of the course taken burned against the last vestiges of a fiery Lake Erie sunset. Perfectly timed zen contemplation at the holding break.

The lap bars popped up and I glided dazed to the exit ramp. Staring at the dramatic profile running the horizon.

“This is my new favorite roller coaster.” I avowed.

We climbed back onto the load side of the station platform shortly thereafter. “This ride has many different faces, depending where you sit.” Javier explained. “1.3 is by far the most extreme airtime. It is known as the ejector seat.”

We headed for the first car, third row gate.

“The air is more violent and extreme in the front because you get the sustained lag from the weight of the train.”

This was true. I noticed the second ride was significantly more intense in the best way.

“The middle of the train is a happy medium. A slightly smoother and gentler ride.” Javier spoke like he was pairing a scotch tasting. “Except for 1.3, I usually avoid the third row of each car. Because you are over the wheels and the train tends to kick a little. It can get a little stuck, have some bite. Especially if it’s an older wheel with a flat spot. Middle of the train is a value priced ride. And less bruising. Shortest line and great for marathoning.”

Marathoning in coaster enthusiasm context refers to riding the same roller coaster over and over numerous times in a row. Something I suspected this night was evolving into.

On our fifth ride an hour later, Nina joined us. She had come directly off her shift and thrown on a green Michigan State long sleeve pullover to hide her uniform. The plaid collar peaked out.

“Have you ridden every seat yet?” She shook her head.

“The rear of the train is a most complete ride. A balanced sensation and the drops are better. Because you are pulled over the top of every hill. Especially the first one.” Javier continued his lesson instruction.

“6.2 is the best. The farthest back without being over the wheels, cause those seats suck” Nina added.

“We covered that. See Nina can hang!” Javier exclaimed.

“I thought you boys were coming to visit and ride the Mean Streak” she reminded.

“We were… but then we got distracted” I answered.

“And EVERY seat on the Mean Streak sucks” Javier addended.

“Mantis sucks” Nina returned the school yard insult about the ride on which Javier worked.

I had not been on the Mean Streak yet, but after Dragster and Magnum, I was revising my early review of Mantis. And kind of agreed with Nina.

“I heard a rumor they are going to convert the Mantis into a sit-down roller coaster by replacing the trains.” Nina continued her taunt.

“No way, they would never do that. First off, the Mantis is awesome. And that rumor has been around for years. Second the whole ride is designed around your heartline. A center point in the middle of your chest. By changing the configuration of the train it would totally screw up the physics of the ride.” Javier countered deposition.

The gates opened. Javier took the front row of the rear car while Nina and I boarded 6.2. By this point, I was convinced Javier had conveyed some signal to the operator who had shut off the mid-course trim breaks.

Waiting for the train to dispatch, I drew my finger along the edge of the exterior fiberglass car. The angular white and black panels were so transcendent of its era of construction.

“The eighties were an awesome age for roller coasters.” I reflected.

“and music” Nina agreed.

I laughed. The three of us hung out on the Magnum til the park closed. With only a brief break for ice cream at the stand adjacent, I wound up taking nine laps in all. It was the perfect end to a day.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019 11:35 AM

Kinzel retired in 2012.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019 12:53 PM

TL;DR

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019 10:33 PM

^I read it. Are you a writer K str 737? If not, you should be.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019 10:34 PM

There is something about that ride that can inspire this sort of prose. At the start I figured this was an early report, back when a ride would cost you a 75-minute wait. But that was long before Dragster and Mean Streak...

I do think it interesting that after building Corkscrew, Cedar Point did not build another coaster with any kind of inversion until Raptor in 1994. They built the first 3-inversion coaster, then as everybody else ordered up more loopers, Cedar Point built Gemini, Wildcat II, Avalanche Run, and Iron Dragon. Then Magnum.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 12:33 AM

I rode it first in the 2000s and then again ten years later. I didn’t care for it either time and it got quite a bit rougher in that time. At those speeds even the smallest bumps and dings can rattle the spine. By the way, what grade did you get for this creative writing project?

Last edited by bjames, Wednesday, September 11, 2019 12:38 AM
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 8:51 AM

Thanks. This is actually an early chapter of an 88k word (seriously TL;DR) manuscript that I’m polishing. It is fiction set during the Summer of 2003.

@ Dave A, Since you mention early TRs; As part of the research for this project, I was rereading my own from my 1st time at CP during the end of July 1999. Right after they announced Millennium.

Apparently, I ran into you and some of your friends on the midway and uninvitedly tagged along to ride Mean Streak with you guys, where you were “scoping out the purple track”. We may have subsequently rode Mine Ride too? (where I lost a hat) I don’t know if you remember this. I was an annoying punk-ass 15 year-old at the time. The only reason I remember is because I wrote in a trip report!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 9:20 AM

Kstr 737 said:

My interest in roller coasters began young. It was probably around that year the Magnum was constructed when a glossy hardcover about the machines appeared under my Christmas tree. Many more books would follow over the years. I memorized every picture of every ride put in front of me. Until the spines of these volumes went weak. Loose pages mottled with greasy fingerprints. Disappointingly, I raced daily out and back to the mailbox. Looking in vain for the latest issue of Inside Track. An enthusiast fanzine newsletter that never found its press deadline.

This resonated with me. I'd been a coaster nut since I was about 6, but it was 20 years later that I would be gifted a hardcover book titled White Knuckle Ride by Mark Wyatt that shifted my enthusiasm into overdrive where I started traveling to as many parks as I could. The book introduced me to Cedar Point (there was a 6-page spread featuring Magnum, Raptor, and Mean Streak), and that same year I made my first visit based on those pictures alone.

In the back pages of that same book was an ad to subscribe to Inside Track. I snail-mailed my request and months went by without a response. I assumed my money was gone and the magazine had gone belly-up, and it was only when I'd completely forgotten about it that I received my first issue. I sporadically got 2 or 3 more issues over the next year, and then radio silence.

What a sham.

Last edited by Vater, Wednesday, September 11, 2019 10:04 AM
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 10:23 AM

This reminds me a little bit of Magnum Dan's "Dear Penthouse" moment posted on the old UBB I had on Guide to The Point for a few months in '98, now lost to the sands of time.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 5:21 PM

Thanks for the read. I enjoy out of the box stuff like this to break up the usual conversation. Well done!

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