Sunday, December 21, 2008

Worlds of Fun Construction

Construction of Worlds of Fun has always been an interest to me. Several years ago (1999) I even wrote an brief editorial outlining the parks construction. It is still online here. The Beginning... Construction of Worlds of Fun

However, talking about something and actually seeing something have always been two very different things. Of course for years I had to be content with bad double copies from Kansas City Star & Times (remember that!) articles. I was happily surprised a few months ago when Brandon Stanley at Worlds of Fun allowed us to borrow several of the photos from Worlds of Fun construction. About two months ago we took a look at some of the conception art.

Now its time to actually look at the actual heavy lifting.

First though a little history. The era of the 1970's saw an unprecedented growth in the number of amusement parks and theme parks. Six Flags St. Louis in nearby Eureka, MO opened in 1972. A few years earlier, June 1969 in fact, across the state in Kansas City designs were unveiled for another park, and international themed park, in wooded and hilly Clay County. Just like today though the dragging economy slowed progress down, and it wasn't until 1971 that clear progress began to be visible.

The design of the park was left to Hollywood (MGM Studios) Art Director turned theme park designer Randall Duell who at the time had already done design work for Six Flags over Texas, Astroworld and Magic Mountain. With a 20.5 million budget, the name Worlds of Fun was chosen to convey the excitement found in a international themed environment, one in which even in 1971 the five themed worlds of American, European, Scandinavian and Oriental were already in place.

Worlds of Fun was to be but Phase-1 of a larger entertainment complex that would span the entire 500 original acres. As time would show the later plans Hunt Midwest had for planned motels, restaurants and commercial facilities (for visitors) never made it off the drawing table. A story line that would play out at other parks conceived during the same time frame.

Many things would change from original design to actual park, but one aspect hasn't changed through the years, and that is the natural beauty of the site chosen, even Jack Steadman commented that "Worlds of Fun will be designed to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the heavily wooded park site"

Site Preparation began in early 1971 with grading, drainage and electrical work being completed by Amino Brothers Construction with engineering done by Burnes & McDonnell. Vertical construction began slightly over a year later in May 1972 with the signing of JE Dunn for general construction of the 140 acre park. The first buildings that rose though were not in the park proper but instead were the two olive colored administrative buildings still in use today.

In less the a years time, over 60 different buildings, 20 rides, encomposing 22 box cars of lumber, 3 miles of plumbing, 2 1/2 acres of roofing materials, and 35 miles of electric wiring would be combined to open the park on May 26, 1973, slightly behind its original scheduled opening in April.

By Nov 1972, three parking lots, capable of holding 5,000 cars were complete, Henrietta's foundation was poured, and Westport Landing, the lake that would hold the Cotton Blossom, and today's Ripcord attraction was just being completed. Market Square, in 1973 home to Yum Yum tree, Front Street Dry Goods and Electric Company, a hat shop and Vittle Griddle were all taking shape. The Six wooden trestles, specifically designed for their rustic and authentic appearance were also in place.

With the prototype Flying Dutchman on the literal boat from Switzerland, the cold winter was blowing in, and would eventually cause the opening day delay. Curbs, sidewalks and rides aside, the landscaping always an important aspect from the very beginning was beginning to see its own problems. In February 1972 the park was a quagmire of mud, creating by the record ice storm that hit in the preceding January, and that penetrated the ground up to 21 inches deep. The crews of landscaper Kenneth Burrow persevered with jack hammers, to plant the trees we see today.

Weather certainly wasn't pristine in February and things didn't look any better on Worlds of Fun's grand opening on May 26th, rain and mist filled the air throughout the day. The opening ceremonies started at 9:30AM, and was marked by a grand opening parade led by Worlds of Fun Ambassadors, Taxi Cars and Safari Cars carrying dignitaries, as well as an official christening of the SS Henrietta at the park's entrance, a balloon release and airplane flyover. Exactly 11,072 were there that day to experience the festivities, attractions and rides for the very first time. Over the preceding years history would be made, possibly not the kind that Lamar Hunt and Jack Steadman had envisioned (after all it was estimated 1.9 million in attendance by the 10th year, something that never happened), but history that is still remembered with fond memories by those that lived it. This was only the beginning.

The perfect place to start, a park painter puts the finishing touches on Worlds of Fun's original logo. The single line "Worlds of Fun" logo would remain exactly the same until 1997.

Don't you recognize the park entrance? This IS the main gate, or what will become the main gate atleast. to the left is the keel for the Henrietta. This photo was most likely taken around Nov, 1972.

A bridge, but which one? Near our newest ride for 2009 Prowler, this is the Congo Clearing bridge, today we would be looking at the Congo Clearing restaurant on the other side. Zulu would be just behind us.

Often overlooked for Worlds of Fun's more heralded 1st coaster, Zambezi Zinger, Schussboomer also opened with the park in 1973. Though there are rumors that Schussboomer was bought used (they have never been substantiated) it is a fact that it came from the same place as its big brother, West Germany from the then popular roller coaster designer Anton Schwartzkopf.

For those younger readers, its a great example of how history is one large interconnected web in that articles referring to Anton Schwartzkopf and his factory list its location at West Germany. At that time, and until the early 1990's Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall into East Socialist Germany and West Capitalist Germany. The end of the Cold War between the Eastern USSR powers (now Russia) and the western world saw the downfall of the Berlin Wall and saw the end of West Germany and East Germany.

September 1972, track is unloaded for the Schussboomer roller coaster. Schussboomer would later become Worlds of Fun's first operating ride.

Schussboomer is taking shape in the Scandinavian section of the park. Schussboomer was a Wildcat model coaster, very similar to Galaxi and Zyklon coasters. Schussboomer was removed at the end of the 1985 season and scapped for steel. Today the Festaus Picnic pavilion is located were Schussboomer was located.

A gathering in Scandinavia. In the front you can see Jack Steadman. In the background is the Copenhagen shop (Girls Only or otherwise the shop that changes names every year). In the far background you can see the Scandinavian station for the Ski Heis cable car ride. Today that same station is the picnic area known as Tivoli East.

Lots of things happening here! The barn on the left side is the red barn in Americana today, it was the Sky Hi station when the park opened. In the middle, with the straight line of concrete, is the train depot under construction, just to the north of that, the structure that looks almost like a coaster? Its not, thats Cotton Blossom going up!

The Aquatic Arena, home to Fins and Flippers Dolphin show until 1996. Today the pool is the Spinning Dragons fountain.

Last Photo, the Scandi/Orient (SO) Bridge. To the left you can see Viking Voyager (view really hasn't changed much!). If you blow the photo up in the background you can see the Orient section with the original Bradford Pears (they were removed with Orient Express), and Oriental Octopus station (now Bamboozler). In the far background the wheel house of the Cotton Blossom is visible peaking out from the trees.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Prowler Construction 11/13/2008

So Jeff and I made plans today to go out and see what's up with Prowler construction, and much progress has been made since last time we visited. On a previous episode you might remember that the helix and return run had just begun, as well as track had just barely began appearing. Well now we not only have footers for the the main drop, we have a main drop going up as we speak. These guys are quick!

So to start us off, lets take a look at the bent ready to go up.

Only a few minutes later the bent is hooked to the crane and begins going up. We were estimating this is about 30-40 feet high at this point in time.

The bent is lifted in place.

A close up as the bent is put into final position. The wind was blowing pretty good while we were there so this could not have been an easy job!

Going down hill into the mud a bit, you can see the elevation change looking up at the first drop. Also as mentioned previously with Prowler, GCI is using a somewhat altered version of its slab footers. You can see here just how deep the footers will be for the transfer track, brake area and drop (They will cross in this area).

Doing a 180, here is where all those holes will connect to, the rest of the outbound run.

With wood structure of the drop now in the picture, the layout of the station and drop makes a little bit more sense. Here is the retaining wall we saw under construction a few weeks ago. To the right (at the top of the wall) will be the station, lift and first drop. There will be a bridge crossing the creek with the queue line and Prowler Plaza on the left.

Here are the footers waiting on the return run, you can see the creek off to the right.

A little farther out on the return run, you can see the structure is making its way back. This shot also shows the elevation change fairly well too.

A reverse of the same thing.

This is what we all want, Wood! Here is the return run making some definite progress from previous weeks. Notice how close to the ground the structure is in this shot.

A great shot of some banking and twisting action on the return run. Looks like nothing boring there!

A beautiful shot of one of the crossovers, in this case into the helix. On the bottom is the inbound run, on the top is the beginning of the outbound (return) run. You can also see the track bed being built here too. Next we will take a closer look.

We are going to take the fast track back to the very beginning as we finish up this tour. When we first arrived at the site this bent was just beginning to be laid out. Here the bent is almost finished. Pretty quick if you ask me.

Waiting for the end of the day the sun finally decided to peak out behind the trees. Allowing some beautiful final sunset shots. Here is a shot of the first drop again, in the background is Boomerang and Mamba.

A beautiful silhouette of the construction workers still hard at work, even this close to dusk. You can also see the 2nd hill of Mamba in the background.

One final shot, showing them detaching the crane from the bent.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Times Two!

The 35th Anniversary Worlds of Fun season has ended, yet 2008 won't end without a 2nd anniversary. The beginning of November marks 11th anniversary online. The internet and the world was quite a different place back then. The Orient Express would still operate for six more seasons, Film still dominated photography as the digital camera was still in its infancy. Amazing to me at the time was that older rides were being forgotten, The Sky Hi, The Schussboomer, The Extremeroller were becoming dusty memories, long forgotten it seemed. Instead of letting those rides and their memories die off I started researching through old copies of The Star, and what little I could get from the park itself. In November 1997 on a rainy day I started a free personal website on Tripod to put some of the information I had found online. A repository so to speak. Little did I know what that little website "26 Years! The History of Worlds of Fun" would become and who I would meet along the way.

The beginning though I believe didn't start in November 1997 though, it didn't start in 1983 when I first went to Worlds of Fun as a child, it started in 1969, when Lamar Hunt and Hunt Midwest Enterprises first began planning a fun world in northern Kansas City. That is where I would like to start. The true Beginning.

History tells us the idea of Worlds of Fun began taking shape in 1969, but physical progress first began in November 1971. The official ground breaking ceremony.

There it is.... Worlds of Fun all 500 acres of it. No Zinger, No ELI, No Voyager. Just the folks that were going to make it possible. In the center is Lamar Hunt, to his right, the tallest in the picture is Jack Steadman. Present at the balloon release were Mayor Charles B Wheeler Jr (yes the downtown airport was named after him), George W Lehr (Jackson County Court Judge), Edward J Bauman (Clay County Court Judge), Richard K Degenhardt (Kansas City Chamber of Commerce), Stan McIlvaine (General Manager of Mid-America), Al Lambino (Project Architect for Randall Duell & Associates), and Charles Pafford (Construction Director Mid-America).

3,000 total balloons were released that day (along with a dynamite detonator in the background), each with a certificate attached redeemable for two passports (tickets), for free admission to Worlds of Fun during its 1st year of operation.

Concept artwork showing the Scandinavian gate. Originally the Scandinavian gate was the backgate, as the Americana gate located were the Grand Prix is today was the main gate until 1995 when the trams were discontinued.

More concept artwork, in this case for the Ski Heis in Scandinavia (now Tivoli East). The Scandinavian section was originally designed to pay homage to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ski Heis was the Scandinavia stop for the Sky Hi in Americana. It was a Von Roll sky ride that was incredibly popular for parks during that time. Von Roll sky rides still operate at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, the two Busch Gardens parks in Tampa, FL and Williamsburg, VA and Great America in Santa Clara, CA to name a few. The Sky Heis was removed at the end of the 1987 season.

One of my favorites, it shows the oldest artistic renderings of Worlds of Fun from the park's designer Randall Duell & Associates. First for orientation the main Americana gate is in the upper right hand corner, with the Cotton Blossom and the Henrietta already there. Notice the Sky Hi/Ski Heis is shown but appear with Balloon-shaped cars, as well as the Tivoli Theater makes an appearance, but in this case an open-air theater.

Overall the park appears more ornate in some places then it actually ended up being, especially with the two "dreams" that never actually appeared. First being the ornate carousel that appears in the upper center section (I have a feeling that Worlds of Fun's carousel idea was recycled at the Great America parks) as well as the overally ornate Tivoli Gardens in Scandinavia.

Tune in next week as we take a look as progress is made on the construction of Worlds of Fun!

Special thanks to Brandon Stanley at Worlds of Fun for letting us borrow some of these wonderful photos that you see today and in the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Prowler Construction 10/26/2008

Welcome back folks to blog post numero dos. Jeff and I were out again today to the Prowler construction site for more photos. Even with the rain there has been some significant progress with the structure, footers and even the beginning of the track itself.

So without further ado lets see the photos.

Bents waiting for construction in K lot.

The first look at the new work, the entrance to the helix is on the right, the return run on the left.

If you remember from last post the structure was just being built. This go around you can see the track bed starting to take shape. The track of a wooden coaster is made up of multiple layers of wood laminated on top of each other. Only the first layer has been laid in this photo.

The entire helix, showing work starting on the track crossover. It is at this juncture that the inbound and outbound run will cross each other.

A closer look at the outbound section, you can see the nice track banking that's being set up here.

The beginning of the return run is taking shape here.

A close up showing the banking the track will have as it exits the helix.

An alternate view of the same thing.

The footers leading away from the track, when Prowler is complete the train would be headed towards us. The black material surrounding the footers is set down by landscaping for weed control.

The return run will be heading back to the station here. The footers on the far right are for the outbound run.

The reverse view showing return run on the right and outbound on the left.

Last week this was just a bunch of big holes!

More excavation continues for the retaining wall! The grey gravel pathway will be the edging for the retaining wall itself. The creek is to the left, and the station itself would be out of the photo to the left.

Here is the retaining wall! Or what will be the retaining wall I should say.

Support trenches are being dug for the lift and first drop. This overall photo shows how close this area is to the train tracks themselves.

There's the train! Everybody remember to wave to the engineer now.

Trench footers are being prepped for the main drop. You can see Boomerang in the background. Mamba is also visible from the vantage but its directly to the left out of the photo.

Off to the side sits rebar for the footers themselves.

You know I usually don't like photos of me, and this is truly the first time (I think) that I have ever published any photo of myself except on my personal website. (with the also notable exception of me showing up as a red dot in one of our issues of Theme Parks Magazine). But this one isn't too bad, plus it gives a good sense of scale. Plus, you get to see once and only once the lunatic (oh did I say that?) who gets the chance to be behind this keyboard. Now be honest... does this photo make me look fat? :)

I haven't had a lot of time to post comments over the last few months due to my ambassadorship at Worlds of Fun but I am pretty excited about next year. Only problem is it seems we will be waiting a little longer then usual, it looks like that rumored April 25th opening day is pretty darn correct.