ThrillRide! Special Features


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

Randall Duell: First we ask, "How many people do we have to entertain in the course of a year and how many on a peak day?" If there are 20,000 people in the park on a peak day, we know we need "X" number of ride units of capacity to entertain them. That breaks down to a certain number of required rides. We don't start out by saying, "We're going to put a coaster in, we're going to put a water ride in, or a 'what-not'," we say, "We're going to analyze the market and see what the demand is." Then we see how many units we are going to put in and what we can afford. We work from the economic figures to the rides and not vice-versa.

Parks that attract large crowds usually can afford a coaster, but initially, smaller parks or mini-parks, as they are called, may not be able to afford a coaster. We try not to put all our eggs in one basket because we have to entertain the whole family, not just a segment of the family. The location of the ride is critical when planning a park. For instance, if you enter a park at a given point and you put a coaster at that point, you're going to stop the public cold. We feel that the coaster or a major ride must be put at the back of the park. We know from experience that this will pull people all the way into the park and reduce bottlenecks.

RC: One of the most startling examples of the exception to that rule seems to be at Magic Mountain. They built their biggest rides very close to the front of the park. The Colossus wood coaster is the first thing you see and the loop coaster is not more than 1,000 feet from the entrance.

IW: Magic Mountain was originally conceived as a complete loop park, similar to Great America. A tunnel was planned to be cut through the mountain to complete that loop; budgetary problems arose as the park was nearing completion before this tunnel was dug, and the tunnel idea was abandoned. This turned the park literally into two cul-de-sacs. People were tending to pile up in the rear of the park and management felt that a big magnet was needed to pull them back to the front. The marketing department also had a great deal to say about it. They felt that a coaster would be visible from the highway generating more business from passing traffic. The loop has recently been completed making the park far more flexible.

RD: I prefer a major ride like a coaster to be placed at the back of the park someplace. Mainly because they're strong draws, but I also think they're ugly, but that is my personal point of view. Let me put it this way: they're hard to hang baskets of flowers on. If you have enough big trees, you can run around them. It's a lot more exciting and interesting for the public than if you just place it on a bare piece of land like so many parks do. We are concerned with the people who watch coasters and never ride them as much as those who actually get on them, and we think the surroundings should be as pleasant as any other area in a theme park.

IW: We are after an esthetic experience as well as a physical one. We take great pains to make a park as beautiful as we can. When you stick a structure up in the air that is 125 feet tall, all made of wood, it totally dominates everything around it. The scale is so big it draws all your attention away from the surroundings we work so hard to create. We view a theme park as an escape from reality. Disney understands that very well. They cover a coaster with a mountain, but then their method of operation gives them the budget to do this. They don't particularly appreciate a big structure in the air and we're glad to see their sensitivity to design. We also feel that ridership on a well-themed ride is more consistent over the years than a pure thrill ride since its appeal is so much broader.

RC: So a mine train, which would be considered a small family coaster, would have better longevity than a monster?

IW: I think so. You can change the theming on a ride but you can't really change the ride itself without a large expenditure. You can upgrade or re-costume an animated figure next year, but you're not likely to change the ride alignment. This animation gives someone a reason to go back on the ride to see what you've done to it. We constantly think in terms of balance. We shy away from extremes in parks. A coaster is a great ride; we don't deny that, but we prefer rides that will maintain their drawing power year after year.



© Robert Coker
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