Power Tower

Whether You Kowtow Or Cower, You Will Be Moved By These Towers Of Power.

It's the second-oldest amusement park in North America, boasting a history that began in 1870. Its three hand-crafted carousels are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its first rollercoaster, the Switchback Railway, was built way back in 1892 and today, its twelve coasters are just a fraction of the 60 rides in its arsenal. Dominating a 364-acre peninsula that juts into Lake Erie off the shores of Sandusky, Ohio, it takes its name from the cedar tree groves that once stood in its place. Finally, thanks to many of you, it was selected as "Best Amusement/Theme Park" in ThrillRide's 1997 Reader's Poll.

Of course, we're talkin' about "America's Roller Coast®," the one and only Cedar Point amusement park. Since 1976, when this spectacular resort installed the world's first triple-looping rollercoaster, the Arrow-designed Corkscrew, Cedar Point's commitment to building state-of-the-art scream machines has become legendary. Check out the list of coasters they've added over the last nine years:

1989 - Magnum XL-200, the world's tallest, fastest rollercoaster at that time.

1990 - Disaster Transport, a multi-million dollar enclosure and retheming of their Avalanche Run bobsled coaster.

1991 - Mean Streak, one of the world's tallest and longest wooden rollercoasters.

1994 - Raptor, the world's tallest, fastest and steepest inverted coaster at that time.

1996 - Mantis, the world's tallest, fastest and steepest stand-up coaster at that time.

Impressive, ain't it? But for the 1998 season, the park's planners decided to move in another direction, both literally and figuratively; it was time for a record-shattering freefall thriller. They contacted the folks at S & S Sports Power, Inc. of Logan, Utah, creators of the outrageous Space Shot and Turbo Drop attractions, and placed an order for something beyond the Beyond.

This is what they got: not one, not two, not three, but four 240-foot tall freefall towers, joined at their peaks by an interconnected set of arches. And they dubbed this 300-foot tall quadraphonic monstrosity the Power Tower.

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Driving towards the Point along its peninsula causeway, I always feel like a Thrillseeking Tin Man gazing across the waters at Oz's glittering Emerald City. The voluptuous hills of several coasters, the cirular arc of the Giant Wheel and - now - the soaring, four-columned edifice of the Power Tower beckon like an impossible dream. If ya got any Cowardly Lions in yer group, keep some smelling salts handy; this knee-weakening view of the gargantuan PT may trigger bouts of dizziness.

Talk about one attraction you don't need a map to locate... the Power Tower holds forth at the far end of the Midway, the park's very center. Look up from just about anywhere on the property (save beneath the shady groves of Frontier Town) and scan the blue yonder; you'll soon find this whitewashed monument to acrophobia piercing the skies.

As you approach the Power Tower, trotting down the Midway, a most unusual noise becomes evident: an intermittent, industrial-strength whoooooosh, as if some monstrous vacuum cleaner were sucking a Dodge Neon into its bowels. What you're hearing is the sound of compressed air, at 85 pounds per square inch, rushing from a 2,000 gallon storage tank into the "cable-powering cyclinders" of the PT's four drop machines. It's these tightly controlled blasts of wind that put the Pow! into the Power Tower.

The base of this evil complex is, dare I say it, pretty. A deep-pile carpet of green grass and carefully organized floral arrangements decorate the outer edges of the launch platform. I guess the attraction's landscapers figured a touch of Martha Stewart might help soothe our nerves while waiting to board, but this cheery little garden is as cruelly out of place as a Welcome mat before the gates of Hell. As you enter the queue, it's great fun to watch one of the Space Shot rigs go ballistic. First, the rectangular 12-seat meat rack floats up a few inches. Riders close their eyes, squeal and brace themselves for lift-off. But nuthin' happens right away so some folks start to relax a bit, maybe turn to their riding companions to say a few words:

"Man, I can't believe you talked me intYAAAAAAAaaaaa...."

Without even a split-second's warning, they're rocketing away from the ground, accelerating from zero to over 50 vertical miles per hour in about three seconds. Hoo-haa!

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A single queue leads to all four vehicles, so before you hit a fork in the trail, you'll have time to contemplate your preferred method of torture. Do ya want to get fired up to the tippy-top and freefall back down (on the red-accented Space Shot pair) or do ya want slide up nice and slow, only to get thrust back down at faster-than-freefall speeds (on the teal-accented Turbo Drop pair)? There's no wrong choice; either experience will leave you gasping for breath and happy to be alive. But they are horrifically unique. (It's worth noting here that Knott's Berry Farm's Supreme Scream, a 250-foot triangular three-fall ride, is all Turbo Drop and no Space Shot).

The Space Shot pair flanks the Magnum half of the park; the Turbo Drop duo stand opposite (I chose to get the ball rolling with a Space Shot trip, moving to the left). After making the fateful choice, you'll be herded by ride operators into a final pre-flight position, based on the size of your party. Each vehicle is designed to carry its cargo like so: rows facing the front and back ends of the Point seat four; perpendicular rows seat two.

After settling in to the cushy rump-scoop, you pull down an over-the-shoulder harness and buckle it to the base of the chair. Then, you wait. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock... absolutely brutal, those last few seconds... up you float... and then... and then... and then...

The rig surges upwards explosively, pushing against your backside with a force that approaches 5 Gs. 50 feet - 100 feet - 150 feet - 200 feet... "omigodomigodomigodomigod!" In just a few precious seconds, you're 240 feet above the rest of humanity, where you pause... and then fall. Halfway down a second torrent of air pushes you back up. Another freefall. And finally you float back for a feather-soft landing. With every extremity quivering, I stumbled away from the launch pad a changed man. C'est magnifique!

Then it was time for a Turbo Drop ride. Now, I had never ridden such a thing before and, given my extreme distaste for heights, I knew that this would be a real test of stamina (much like Las Vegas' Big Shot). Standing by the exit lanes, I tilted my head back for a long, hard look and had a moment of serious reservation - would this one be fun-scary, or scary-scary? Only one way to find out...

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Rather than climb at breakneck speed, the Turbo Drop vehicles start off with a mild jolt but immediately decelerate to a very... deliberate... crawl. And that crawl seems to get slower and slower the higher we go.

As our elevation changes, more and more of the park becomes visible. Facing the far end, you can see Mean Streak, Mantis, Iron Dragon, Magnum, all your favorites spread out below like scale models. "Um... we must be near the top, right?"

Go ahead and look... nope, not yet.

It's sorta like pulling a Band-Aid off a hairy patch of skin. If you yank hard, it'll hurt, but it'll be over with real quick - that's a Space Shot for ya. If you pull real slow, it'll still hurt and the suffering lasts longer - and that, my friends, is a Turbo Drop.

So here we are, slowly pulling away the Band-Aid, inching up and up and up... and the suffering is exquisite. If you're really made of stronger stuff, try looking down between your knees - without losing consciousness. Lemme tell ya, it's a ghastly panorama.

Finally, the vehicle stops. At 240 feet. And just parks there.

For what seems like an eternity. "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Death, I shall fear no evil..."

If I'd been sitting inside an airplane, with a cold beer in one hand and a bag of peanuts in the other, I might have really enjoyed the view, because it is spectacular. But, of course, I wasn't in an airplane. I was strapped into a tiny little seat with my legs dangling into thin air, screaming the taste buds off my tongue. And just when you think it can't get any worse, it does.

The rig plummets instantaneously, throwing us up against the shoulder restraints with incredible force - a full negative G - which means airtime out the wazoo, over 200 feet in the sky. Thankfully, the trip back down is over before your brain has a chance to gush out yer ears.

Friends, few thrill rides are unquestionably terrifying; this is one of 'em.

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So, was the Turbo Drop fun-scary or scary-scary? I guess I'd have to say fun-scary, cuz I got right back in line and did it again. But it takes you right to the edge of fun-scary and nearly throws you over.

And now to address the inevitable question: how much taller can these things get? According to S & S Sports Power engineers, the Space Shot towers are within shouting distance of their maximum height, about 300 feet.

But the Turbo Drop towers... well, those suckers are another story entirely. Turbo Drops - are you ready for this? - have no upper limit. If you've got the substantial financial resources to do so (and your local zoning laws don't forbid it) you can have S & S Sports Power deliver a custom-designed Turbo Drop that stands 400 feet, 500 feet, 1,000 feet... or taller.

The very idea of a 1,000-foot-tall Turbo Drop... I have to go lay down for a minute...

Power Tower

  • TOP SPEED: Approx. 50 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. G FORCE: 5 (moving upwards); Minus 1 (moving downwards)
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 240 feet (Total Tower Structure Height: 300 feet)
  • RIDE DURATION: 45 seconds
  • CAPACITY: 1,700 guests per hour
  • MANUFACTURER: S & S Sports Power, Inc.





© Robert Coker.
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