2000's monstrous medley of furious scream machines is guaranteed to be remembered as one of the greatest ever in the annals of thrill ride history. And of the many gigantic coasters that opened that year, Paramount's Kings Island's Son of Beast, the world's first hyperwoodie, proved to be one of the most spectacular.

In honor of the Son's debut, ThrillRide! presents a look at the rollercoaster that "inspired" this new ride and qualifies as the most significant wooden coaster built to date.

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On July 10th of 1978, Kings Island's William C. Price, then the park's General Manager, made an announcement that got disco-era Ride Warriors dancing in the streets: construction had begun on a single-track coaster "that would break all existing records as the longest and fastest, with the two longest vertical drops."

"Not only are the statistics of the ride awesome," he continued, "but its use of the rugged natural terrain ensures that no other roller coaster tops these thrills, weaving along steep cliffs, down ravines, into four spectacular tunnels, through nine sharply banked turns, among a forest of trees and often at tree-top height."

When the coaster's statistics were revealed, "awesome" was a most appropriate way to describe them. The first drop, angled at 45 degrees, would dive 135 feet right into an underground tunnel. The last major descent would stretch 141 feet, sloping at 18 degrees and pouring us right into a 540-degree, banked helix. Finally, the ride would be the longest rollercoaster ever conceived, covering a 35-acre plot of land with a track length of 7,400 feet. That's nearly a mile and a half long.

This yet-to-be-named monster had been designed by Charles Dinn, at that time the park's Director of Construction, Maintenance and Engineering (and who also, by the way, once worked in a nuclear propulsion lab). He presided over an in-house team that included Jim Nickell, Al Collins, and William Reed, with outside consultation provided by renowned Philadelphia Toboggan Coaster designer John Allen. Dinn stated, "We studied every major coaster in the country and incorporated the best features of each one into our new ride... This project has been a labor of love for us all and our final product will be the dream of every coaster designer."

Early in '79, the park had come up with a name and went so far as to poll die-hard coaster riders to see what they thought of the potential moniker. The reactions they got were just what they hoped to elicit:

"Something that's out in the woods and kind of sitting there and terrifying."

"...That name would really...make me want to get on it."

"It says, 'This isn't going to be...cotton candy and snow cones; this is going to be SOMETHING.'"

With that supportive feedback, they made it official. This record-demolishing woody would be known as The Beast.

It took more than three years of planning and construction to bring The Beast to life. Built entirely by the park's own staff, the effort consumed $3.8 million, 4,300 hours of precision study to limit design tolerances to less than 1/16th of an inch, 87,000 hours of construction work, 650,000 board feet of redwood lumber, 37,500 pounds of nails, 82,480 bolts, 5,180 washers and 2,432 square yards of poured concrete, enough to lay down about three and a half miles of two-lane highway.

On a rainy morning in early April of 1979, The Beast's first 2,700-pound, fire-engine red car was threaded onto the rails. Under the watchful eyes of six engineers, 17 technicians, 53 construction workers, four managers and assorted guests, a train slid around the first turn, rose up the first chain lift and dived into destiny. And on Saturday, April 14th, 1979, The Beast was officially released.

I vividly recall attending the American Coaster Enthusiast's second annual Coaster Con, held that summer at Kings Island. Granted, I was a lot greener back then, but the first time I approached The Beast's boarding station, I felt a sudden trepidation. Remember, over twenty years ago, nobody had seen anything like it. Yet once I'd survived my first circuit, I was hooked for life. Even as the years have passed and coasters have been built taller and faster, few have matched The Beast's phenomenal impact. It is epic in every sense of the word.

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Lurking within a dense forest at the far end of the park in the Rivertown section, The Beast is impossible to spot until you've just about reached the point of no return (It's barely visible even from the top of the park's Eiffel Tower, partially concealed by the warped steel of PKI's Vortex, seen at right).

Finding your way back is as simple as following the creature's "footprints" painted on the asphalt past the Eiffel Tower. The queue is housed in a dilapidated, abandoned mine shack and all that can be seen is the first lift hill, stretching far and away into the unknown. If you want to learn more about where The Beast runs riot, you've got to do it the hard way.

With lap bars secured, we chug around a wide turn and start to climb. The trip to the top is a sensual feast: the sun-bathed view of the earth dropping further and further away, the spine-tingling anticipation of waiting to curl over the pinnacle, the clankity-clank of the chain lift, the sweet fragrance of creosote... these sensations, my friends, are what woodies are all about.

Moments before we hit the summit, the chain lift slows. If sitting in the front row, you get to soak up the pleasures to come before we dive. There it is, The Beast's coup de grace: a long, shallow descent into a massive, partially covered spiral. And what's that directly below? A perilously small hole in the ground. Oh, Mama...

We charge down the first 135-foot hill directly into that appallingly narrow subterranean tunnel. Watch as riders who'd raised their arms high tuck them right back down, fearing the loss of a digit or two as we plow into the rocky maw. Shuddering to the left in the tunnel's darkness, the ear-piercing screech of metal wheels grinding against the rails is deliciously echoed and amplified by the cavern's walls. And we're "only" doing about 50 miles per hour at this point, with still more vertical distance to fall.

Bolting out of the first tunnel and back up into daylight, we crest a second hill, flying over the top and floating out of our cushy seats. Back down into a valley, the train bucks and quivers, only to rise again and thrash to the right onto a long, covered brake run. We glide down this slope, the brakes scrubbing off a little speed, but get right back into business by twisting to the right and beginning The Beast's ground-hugging second act.

From this point on, until we hit the bottom of the next lift, our cars rumble over the contours of The Beast's rugged, 35-acre turf. There no severe drops to speak of, but with the ever-increasing acceleration, it feels like we're unwitting passengers on a runaway freight train. Swooping up and down, twisting left and right, The Beast charges harder and faster, burrowing below the earth a second time and wailing through a counterclockwise curve inside this darkened shaft.

Exiting the second tunnel, The Beast howls on, still accelerating and nearing the finale of its award-winning performance. We tremble and flop like rag dolls as The Beast finally hits its top speed, over 64 miles per hour, and rockets around a bend towards Lift Hill No. 2. At this point, most other coasters would long since have run out of steam; not this one. Stop yer grinnin' and drop yer linen, 'cuz here comes the Helix.

Making this second deliberate climb, we have plenty of time to eyeball the massive, 540-degree vortex down at the end of the 141-foot-long, 18-degree ramp. Looming off the port bow, it gradually comes into view as we rise above the tree line. The train inches towards the final summit, edges over and makes a left-hand turn. Friends, get ready to experience what is perhaps the world's most exhilarating coaster finale.

Because the descent angle is relatively small, there's no immediate burst of speed. Instead, we start slow and gradually move faster and faster. 20, 30, 40 miles per hour, building steam... Finally, we lunge beneath the upper layer of the helix. The track begins to bank and the bedlam begins.

The train savagely quakes, certain to fly apart, as we pound into the spiral. We're traveling at about 51 miles per hour but with the wooden beams of the helix's shed whipping by just inches from our fragile skulls, it feels like twice that speed. Around and around we go, lateral G-forces smashing us against the right side of the car. The furious turbulence is relentless.

Exploding out of the semi-circular tunnel, we hurtle towards the elevated section of this massive revolution. Only halfway through the blistering assault, the train shudders onto the upper level of the helix and dives back down for more. Screaming back into the shed, we regain speed and slam through the last covered portion of the spiral, The Beast heaving and lurching with animalistic rage. "More, more, more!"

Regrettably, it all must end. The train slides down a final brake run alongside the first lift hill and comes to a stop. Ah, what a shame... But you've been fortunate enough to spend well over four minutes in the company of one of the greatest wooden roller coasters the world will ever know. Friends, thundering through that climactic maelstrom ranks as one of life's finest pleasures. Share it with someone you love.

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With The Beast behind him, Charles Dinn went on establish his own company and initially specialized in transplanting coasters from defunct parks to happier homes. Among several notable successes, The Dinn Corporation was part of the team that preserved the San Antonio, Texas Playland Rocket by moving it, board by board, to Knoebel's Amusement Resort in Pennsylvania. Today, it flies proudly as the Phoenix. And thanks to Dinn, the endangered Giant coaster, of Boston, Massachusett's old Paragon Park, lives on at Six Flags America as the Wild One.

Eventually, he teamed up with coaster designer Curtis Summers and together, they designed and built a number of all-new woodies: Geauga Lake's (now Six Flags Ohio's) Raging Wolf Bobs; Cedar Point's Mean Streak; World's of Fun's Timber Wolf; Michigan's Adventure's Wolverine Wildcat; and Dorney Park's Hercules. Their most impressive accomplishment is Six Flags Over Texas' Texas Giant, considered one of the finest coasters in operation. But Charles Dinn's name will always be most fondly associated with his very first effort.

Hard as it may be to believe, The Beast is still the world's longest wooden coaster, more than two decades after its debut. Only one rail-rider of any kind (as of this writing) has a greater course length and it just surpasses The Beast's measure: the steel-tracked, 7,542-foot-long Ultimate, at England's Lightwater Valley in North Yorkshire. In 1999, Kings Island heralded The Beast's 20th Anniversary by making note of its crowd-pleasin' performance record: its three trains have racked up a combined odometer total of over 494,362 feet, equivalent to circling the planet 20 times. And The Beast can boast of carrying more than 31,615,839 guests on its amazing journey. Impressive.

Over the years, this coaster has seen some minor changes. When it first opened, the helix' shed was not fully enclosed; winter weather conditions delayed that work for a year or so. In the early 1980's, the original four-row cars were cut and shortened to accommodate just three rows. Track has been replaced and beefed up in some areas to better withstand the ride's incredible forces. Otherwise, it runs pretty much like it did that first year. On very rare occasions, a few privileged Ride Warriors have experienced The Beast at its most untamed; without any braking, trains achieve a top speed of 70 miles per hour. What I'd give to know what that's like...

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Some folks insist that steel coasters will never equal the raucous, barnstorming satisfaction of a woody and if you're one of them, you have no cause for concern. Thanks to the efforts of Custom Coasters (led by Dinn's daughter, Denise Larrick), Great Coasters, the Roller Coaster Corporation of America, CoasterWorks! and many others, the wooden roller coaster continues to thrive in this age of predominantly metal monsters.

Of course, Kings Island's next major attraction will change the way we think about wooden coasters forever. But there will always be only one Beast.

  • TRACK LENGTH: 7,400 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 64.7 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. DROP: 135 feet
  • RIDE DURATION: Over 4 minutes
  • CARS: Three trains composed of six cars, three rows each.
  • MANUFACTURER: Kings Island In-House

 

 

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