"Highballers!" Climb Outta That "Muzzle Loader,"
Shimmy Into Some "Tin Pants" And Get Ready To Ride!
This attraction is now closed, having made way for the park's
Powder Keg, an S&S Thrust
Branson, Missouri, nestled
into the heart of the "Show Me" state's Ozark Mountain
territory, is one unusual place. The area's scenic splendor, both
above and below ground, is reason enough to visit: grand forests
of oak and dogwood trees, the glistening waters of the Taneycomo
and Table Rock Lakes, subterranean caverns filled with resplendent
mineral formations. Most tourists, however, are drawn not by the
natural beauty but by the cornucopia of man-made entertainments
lining the stretch of Highway 76 that runs through "new"
Branson. Innumerable show theaters, wax museums, amusement attractions
and shopping villages bracket this asphalt ribbon for several
miles. Wayne Newton, Mickey Gilley, Jim Stafford, Moe Bandy, Bobby
Vinton, Andy Williams and The Osmonds are just a small sampling
of the name-brand performers that have built permanent venues
at Branson and made it a mecca for country music fans worldwide.
Some Ride Warriors will find these foot-stomping hoe-downs a fine way to spend
an evening, but none of us should make a stop in Branson without
galloping over to one of the country's most beautiful theme parks,
the Ozark's own Silver Dollar City, located just outside of town.
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City's heritage can be traced all the way back to the 1500's,
when Osage Native Americans discovered one of the region's stunning
underground caves directly beneath where the park now stands.
It wasn't until 1894, though, that William Henry Lynch, an amateur
archeologist from Canada, first purchased and began converting
what is now called Marvel Cave into a real tourist attraction.
By the late 1940's, after Lynch had laid down the beginnings of
Highway 76 (sparing visitors a rump-thumping mule ride to the
cavern's entrance), Marvel Cave was drawing over 5,000 visitors
a year. In 1949, Hugo and Mary Herschend bought Marvel Cave from
Lynch's surviving daughters and continued to promote it as a diversionary
lure, hosting square dances in the voluminous Cathedral Room and
adding a custom-designed train to carry neophyte spelunkers back
to the surface. Poor Hugo died of a heart attack in 1954, but
Mary Herschend and her sons Jack and Pete carried on, pondering
new ways to increase tourist traffic to the Cave. Thanks to an
87-year-old traveling salesman named Charlie Sullivan, the seeds
of Silver Dollar City were planted.
Stopping by the site in 1958, Mr. Sullivan spoke with the Herschends, claiming
to have been born in a town that once stood over Marvel Cave.
To corroborate his tale, Sullivan took Jack Herschend out near
the cave's entrance and unearthed the foundations of the forgotten
village's old hotel. His vivid recollections inspired Mary Herschend
to create an authentic replica of an 1880's Ozark Mountain municipality,
complete with restorations of a 110-year-old log church, a blacksmith
shop, a general store, an ice cream parlor and a stage coach ride.
And by 1960, Silver Dollar City was open for business. (By the
way, the park's name sprung from a keen promotional idea: after
making a purchase at the City, guests were given change in silver
dollars, so that when they went back home and spent the unusual
coins, folks would be prompted to ask where they came from. The
cost-free scheme worked; Silver Dollar City drew over 125,000
visitors its first season.)
In the years
that followed, the Herschends added more genuine craftspeople,
like woodcarvers, silversmiths and glassblowers, and attractions
like the Frisco-Silver Dollar City Line steam-engine locomotive,
in tune with Mary Herschend's desire that the park be an accurate
reproduction and preservation of Ozark culture. Better still,
most of the leafy flora was left standing, maintaining as much
of the glorious landscape as possible. All this attention to detail
has paid off; Silver Dollar City's annual attendance rate has
risen above two million and in 1999, the park received the amusement
industry's coveted Applause Award, an honor of excellence bestowed
upon just a handful of the world's funzones. Today, Silver Dollar
City is still primarily focused on its craft exhibits and Marvel
Cave remains a featured highlight. But this is, after all, a theme
park and Silver Dollar City comes complete with something every
theme park should boast: an enticing collection of thrill rides.
Though small in number, SDC's scream machines are almost all noteworthy. Thunderation,
the City's signature coaster, is one of Arrow Dynamics' largest
and fastest mine train installations, with a 3,022-foot-long course
and a top speed of 48 miles per hour. Making excellent use of
SDC's sloping terrain, trains hustle right out of the station
and thunder over several drops, through tunnels and around neck-straining
spirals long before climbing the sole lift hill. The park's Lost
River of the Ozarks is a choice whitewater raft excursion
(courtesy of Barr Engineering) that includes a jaunt through a
misty cave. And dark ride buffs universally adore Fire-In-The-Hole,
a nifty enclosed mini-coaster that takes riders past animated
scenes of a burning town, catching them off-guard with a couple
of hidden, punchy dips.
But the newest addition to this remote outpost is its most remarkable: BuzzSaw
Falls, a $7 million flume ride/rollercoaster prototype from
Premier Rides. This two-in-one, double-yer-pleasure "Liquid
Coaster" is a little bit Country and a little bit
Rock and Roll.
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Part of Silver
Dollar City's considerable appeal is its low-key personality.
Without the few road signs to point you in the right direction
or the tell-tale parking lot out front, you'd never know it was
there; the entire property is completely sheltered from view behind
a dense thicket of trees. Even after you've passed through the
main turnstiles, you'll be lost without a map. There are no vast,
open promenades here, just trails cut through the timberland.
Gorgeous in both form and function, the leafy green canopy overhead
guarantees you'll never want for shade anywhere, a tremendous
plus on a sweltering summer day. But if it is indeed sweltering,
head directly towards the City's northwest perimeter and get Buzzed.
Hiking up a small hill takes us to BuzzSaw Falls' lagoon where we can watch
the funky, rectangular hulled "john-boats" rise into
the sky, make a turn and drop out of a wooden shack at the top
of the climactic plunge. The boats race down steel rails, dive
beneath a jumbled pile of logs and skim across the lagoon's surface,
sending sheets of water blasting in all directions. Gimme, gimme,
To help pass the time waiting in the queue, we can bone up on logger jargon
by reading several instructional placards. Fer instance, did you
know that a "highballer" was a practiced lumberjack
whose work pace sped up a logging operation? Or that "tin
pants" were what loggers called their water-proofed, heavy
canvas legwear? Or that a "muzzle loader" described
a bunkhouse packed so tight that weary woodsmen had to clamber
into their bunks from the foot of the bed rather than the side?
Ya learn something new every day.
The last leg
of the wait affords a view of the john-boats sloshing through
the serpentine troughs and climbing up a conveyor belt beneath
a giant, whirling buzz saw. And once they pass through the "saw
mill," they drop out of sight.
have no doubt noticed by this point that the ten-person craft
are outfitted on either side with clear plastic vertical shields.
"Hey, what's that all about? I'm here to get wet."
Fear not, my friends.
As the boats glide through the loading dock, operators flip up those shields
so's we can board. You want serious wet? See if you can grab a
seat in the last row. Luck had it that the first time I rode,
I found myself in the stern and just before we left, a ride operator
leaned over and gleefully warned me, "You're gonna get soaked."
We make an immediate little drop right down into the water, and I mean into
the water, folks. H2O trickles over the port and starboard
sides, getting us damp before we've even gone ten feet. And in
the very back? Yikes! That ride op wasn't pulling my leg; a wave
splashes down from behind, drenching you all the way down yer
around the first turn and start to pick up speed. Splish-splash,
we lurch from side to side, floating towards another tiny dip.
Moving faster still, up to about 16 feet per second, the john-boat
makes another U-turn and aims for the saw mill. We tuck up onto
the conveyor belt and that saw-toothed circular blade slides by
overhead. I'd sorta hoped it would come a little closer to threatening
decapitation, but it's a quaint distraction from the fact that
our amphibious craft is threading onto coaster rails. With the
BuzzSaw behind us, it's time to hit the Falls.
We start to hasten down. But rather than make one straight, uninterrupted
fall, the metal rails curl over the contours of the undulating
hillside. We hop down over a dip and level off. And then drop
again and level off. And then drop again. And by the time
we've completed this nine-story, triple-dipping descent, we're
gettin' blow-dried at nearly 51 miles per hour, wailing around
a banked turn through the Ozark wilderness. Ain't no standard
flume ride on earth that hauls tail like this puppy. Woof!
our boat scrambles onto a chain lift. At first, we climb at a
shallow angle, but then the incline becomes steeper, tilting us
back 35 degrees, and we start inching over the treetops. Take
a look to your right: the entire Table Rock Lake valley is spread
out below, and it feels like we're several hundred feet off the
ground (see picture above right). Wow... We ease over the
top and start accelerating, with just a couple of seconds more
to enjoy the vista. The rails twist to the left and we zip around
to enter the little hutch. Wrapping it all up, this Liquid Coaster
is about to get very Liquid once more.
The bow tips over the edge of a 65-foot-tall, 50-degree hill and we plummet
down. Dashing beneath the log pile, our boat rams into the lagoon
and - FLOOOOSH! - walls of water explode upwards. As the rails
slope deeper beneath the surface and we continue to submerge,
more water erupts in front of us. For a second or two,
we're completely enveloped by the churning mist. Woo-Hoo!
the water's drag slows us to a gentle glide and we cruise back
beneath the exit bridge to the station, grinnin' all the way.
All I could
think after we disembarked was what a sodden mess we'd be without
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Even as the
weather cools down, there will still be plenty of reasons to visit
this exceptional park. Running through August 22nd is Silver Dollar
City's National Children's Festival, with shows like the performing
pigs of Uncle Grumpy's Pork Chop Revue, LEGO play areas
and dozens of hands-on activities for the young 'uns. From September
8th through October 30th, SDC will present its National Celebration
of American Craftsmanship, featuring demonstrations of treenware
carving, barrel making, quilting and much more. Finally, more
than two million lights will be strung through the trees for the
park's winter festival, An Old Time Christmas, running
from November 6th to December 30th.
This one is
a rare gem, my friends. Make a trip off the beaten path and you'll
be grandly rewarded.
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- TRACK LENGTH:
- TOP SPEED:
51 Miles Per Hour
- MAX. DROP:
- RIDE DURATION:
- CARS: 5-row,
Premier Rides, Millersville, Maryland
- THEME CONCEPT:
Silver Dollar City Corporate Design and Development