ThrillRide! Special Features


1982 Interview with Randall Duell and Ira West of R. Duell and Associates

Robert Coker: How do you work with coaster designers when designing a theme park?

Ira West: The coaster designers we work with are primarily in-house personnel of the major ride manufacturers. Our role in working with them is to influence the ride layout known as the "ride alignment" and to place the ride within the park. We also develop theming concepts by providing the manufacturer with conceptual sketches of how the vehicle might look. We normally design the ride queue line and on occasion, design and engineer the support structure exclusive of the track, vehicle, and control systems which are solely the domain of the manufacturer.

RC: Could you give an example of a coaster in a park which you designed?

IW: The loop coaster [The Great American Revolution] at Magic Mountain is a good example. It was the first modern [vertical] loop coaster to be installed in this country. It was supplied by Intamin A.G. of Switzerland. It was designed to fit into the topography of a hillside. In planning it, we built a model of the hill and worked with heavy-gauge solder to show the alignment of the track. We intended to make it as much a part of the hillside as possible. Normally, we work our ideas out with pencil and paper, but this technique does not work with gravity rides due to the three-dimensional nature of the design. We turned the concept data over to Intamin who designed and engineered the ride. We then engineered the support structure based on data we received from the manufacturer on structural loading. The ride area was then completely landscaped.

Other examples of rides designed into the terrain include the loop coaster [Sooperdooperlooper] and flume rides at Hersheypark. The rides at Hershey work especially well having been planned to go between and around mature trees on the site. Unlike so many rides we have seen lately, they don't "sit" in a parking lot.

Designing a ride into the terrain can be more costly than a conventional placement, taking more effort and time to design and construct, but we feel the results justify the additional cost. A park then has something truly custom and not likely to be duplicated elsewhere.

RC: I do remember reading that the Intamin rides were absolutely mind-boggling in their complexity.

IW: Very much so. The Intamin loop at Hershey was especially complex both in its engineering and in designing the support system, due to the geology of the area. The ground was plagued with caverns, fissures, and granite outcroppings. Some of the holes uncovered were big enough to drive a truck into, necessitating filling the voids with concrete before placement of the foundations. Due to the geological conditions, nearly every footing of the support structure of the coaster had to be designed individually. There are no lakes at Hersheypark because they once experienced losing several million gallons of water from a lake overnight through a fissure into an underground cavern. They felt it was wise to avoid having this happen again.

RC: How do you go about theming a coaster?

IW: We feel that a coaster is pretty exciting with or without theming. Since budget is always a major consideration, we prefer to put money where it will do the most good by generating entertainment value. We prefer to put it into other rides that are slower and allow people more time to appreciate a themed approach. The theme could take the form of water effects, lighting, dark ride elements, etc. It is very subjective and we really don't have any rules on which rides should be themed and which rides shouldn't; rather, we prefer to make each ride as unique as the budget will allow. If we do theme a coaster, it is most likely to be in the design of the vehicle or in the queue line, or the selection of color.

More frequently we expend most of our effort trying to hide the coaster, rather than accenting it. Coasters make such a strong statement that they tend to overpower the rest of the park, and we are constantly striving for a balance within the park, not having any one element dominate. After all, it's for total family entertainment that people go to theme parks.



© Robert Coker
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