Friday, March 19, 2010

Strange But True

There is a saying that truth is sometimes stranger then fiction. That's true also with the history of Worlds of Fun. From the very beginning there have been urban legends, some true some not. So which are true? Was Detonator originally designed with more then two towers? Was the park sued over the name Orient Express? Was the park originally considered for hosting a Worlds Fair? Well there is no time like the present to discover the answers to these questions and more...

Four decades ago, when the park had first opened the world was quite a different place, in more ways then one. Mini skirts, plaid pants, and yes, jumping donkeys... (mules)

Is this really happening? And is this really at Worlds of Fun? Yes and yes. In 1975, Worlds of Fun guests delighted in watching "The Diving Mules". Mules would trot 48 feet up a narrow ramp, and dive head first, 30 feet down, into six feet of water. Strange.... yes. Would this happen today? Not a chance.

You have to wonder what people were thinking, this couldn't possibly be entertainment! Then we have to remember that crowds gathered for another exhibition, in this case TWICE in park history. Last year, 2009, Nik Wallenda crossed a tight rope strung between Detonator and a crane. What most don't know is that twenty two years earlier, Arthur Duchek (otherwise known as King Arthur The Lion), accomplished the same feat. In this case he crossed the Sky Hi/Ski Heis cable on Memorial Day weekend 1977. By the way, he did this dressed in a Lion costume, in 25 MPH winds, with no safety net. Yikes! For those that don't believe me though..

Not exactly fitting into the STRANGE category, but definitely boasting a strange name, Worlds of Fun over the years, hosted several balloon races at its designated, Phileas Fogg Memorial Balloon field. (named after the main character in Around the World in 80 Days). The first annual Balloon Race was in 1973, and several other balloon flights occurred over the following years. I figured I would share a few photos from the 1970's...

and the 1980's

To make a quick 180 to the semi-serious realm.... in the same year, 1977 Worlds of Fun was considered for another honor. For over a century World Fair's were the way for the countries around the world to not only demonstrate upcoming products, but also promote their own country through usually a large and ornate pavilion.

The last major Worlds Fair was hosted in New Orleans, LA in 1984. However, before the concept was pretty much completely scrapped, Kansas City was also considered for the honor of hosting this prestigious event. Jack Steadman (president of Worlds of Fun, and chairman on the Worlds Fair Task Force), suggested Worlds of Fun as a possible site. Several other sites were under consideration as well, including Kemper Arena, the Kansas City Riverfront area, and the Kansas City Municipal Airport (Wheeler Airport).

Think about that for a second... there was certainly enough spare land, and one doesn't have to think to long to realize the impact that the event would have had on Kansas City and possibly Worlds of Fun as a whole.

Maybe that's why this little beauty was built in 1980?

Orient Express... the great steel terror (which will be singled out for its own blog entry in a few weeks stay tuned), made its way into strange but true history book as well. Not for what you might think either.

Some may be aware of another Orient Express? This one, atleast in the 90's, was operated by a French company The Societe Nationale De Chemins De Fer Francais that ran the Orient Express train from Paris to Istanbul. In 1991-1992 they contended that the Orient Express (roller coaster) name created an "erroneous impression on the consuming public" (KC Star Jan 19, 1992). Though I am not aware how anyone could confuse an European/Asia train, with a roller coaster in Kansas City... The objection was dismissed soon after, and Orient Express, stayed the Orient Express.

So last, lets see, Detonator how many towers does it have? Two. The big question though is how many towers was it DESIGNED with? Actually you may be suprised, for the answer is not one, not two, not four, but... THREE. This last-minute design change never changed in that years' map as immortalized in the infamous 1996 map shown here.

For those that think three towers on Detonator is interesting, I thought I would throw another quirky map "mistake" out for you. This one occurred the VERY next year! 1997, the park's 25th anniversary saw several changes, but one that some of us remember was the "renaming" or "addition" (depending on how you look at it), of a specific wooden coaster. Forget about Timber Wolf, nope Timber Wolf no more. In 1997 we had THUNDER WOLF!

So here's to the future, looking forward to more, strange, odd, weird, and out of this world to add to this continuously changing story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

With a Wolf Howl...

I was sitting around thinking... what would be a good follow up after Prowler? Well what about its anti-thesis, the OTHER wooden coaster at the park, Timber Wolf? Its amazing how quickly it's been pushed out of the lime light.

Several coasters at the park have interesting stories, however I think Timber Wolf has one of the best. First though, I think we need to go back in time just to imagine how BIG Timber Wolf was at its time.

The year is 1989. NINE years have gone by since the park has added any new coaster. The last coaster was Orient Express (that's like going from Mamba to Prowler without anything in between). To really take us back one only has to look at the prizes for the winner of the "Name the Coaster" contest, Four round-trip tickets anywhere Brantiff flies (anyone remember the blow dryer add on at KCI?) and a 32-volume set of encyclopedias from Encyclopedia Brittanica, yeah encyclopedias anyone remember those?

Quite frankly back in the "olden days" of 1989 (laughter I hear laughter) there was NO internet, no google, no ebay, if you wanted to do research you went to the library, and used an encyclopedia. Home computers existed, but only 15% of the US population had one in their home. Forget about Gigabyte hard drives, CD Roms or Adobe Photoshop, no way jose. Monitors, mouses and HARD DRIVES were all "extras". It was quite a different world, and really highlights how much has changed in the world in the last 20 years.

So let's go back to coasters, Timber Wolf as I mentioned is known for many things, especially its advertising campaign. When I was a kid I would look forward to the new Worlds of Fun commercial every spring highlighting the park's newest attraction. Timber Wolf's amazing commercial still sticks in my mind.

Timber Wolf won several awards for marketing and advertising, and i'ts easy to see why!

Another important aspect of Timber Wolf's advertising was what everyone remembers about Timber Wolf. The wolf is unique in park history for being the old ride who's name was chosen as part of a "name the coaster" advertising campaign. Fans of all ages could register their favorite potential coaster name through the JcPenney Optical Department, registrations would need to be in by December 9, 1988. Back during the summer Brandon Stanley at the park allowed us to borrow the LONG list of potential names for Timber Wolf.

While the final six finalists including Timber Wolf, (actually Timberwolf in the list), Mad Dog, High Anxiety, Rattler (appropriate?), The Maniac, and IT. There were several quite off the wall names including The Chicken Flyer, Cruisin' for a Bruisin' The Big Mean Thrashing Machine, Around the World in 80 Screams, American Lightening Bug, Rollersaurus, Johnny Apple Speed, Hurls O Fun, Old Time Hair Raisin Hoopen Roller, Green Gobs of Green Gorilla Grunt, EXT Offspring, and my favorite... One Heck of a Toothpick.

There were also some colossal surprises, remembering these print offs are from 1988 (on the green and white stripped printer paper no less) some other options including The Boomerang, Big Bad John, Banshee, The Phoenix, Shivering Timbers, and some of my favorites Millennium Force, Phantom's Revenge, Apollo's Chariot, The Legend, Maverick and this one ALMOST got it, Magnum Force. Why is this so surprising? These are names of REAL coasters that opened after Timber Wolf. I think the park is missing out on a serious money maker. Lease The List out to parks looking at building new coasters. It has some great ideas!

While the advertising was running heavy, so was the construction of Timber Wolf. Timber Wolf was the 6th coaster built by Curtis Summers and Charlie Dinn and it was five years in the planning, with the original idea of a wooden coaster coming to a front in 1985. For five years the Hunt Midwest staff rode over fifty different coasters, picking and choosing the best parts of many to incorporate into Timber Wolf. Construction was visible already by November 1988, and by the time it was all done Timber Wolf featured 4,230 feet of track, 680,000 board feet of lumber, 15 tons of nails and 80,000 bolts. Here's a few looks at the Wolf under construction.

First some concept art. Amazing how big the lift hill looks for only being 100 feet tall.

The beginning of vertical construction. To the left is the bottom of the first drop.

The lift hill takes shape. Notice the lack of structure on the main lift? Wooden structure had to be added a few years after the fact.

Looks like Santa showed up to help with construction too!

Timber Wolf, as far as I am aware, is the earliest opening coaster in park history, having an official opening day for April 1, 1989. However, the "unofficial" opening was the day before and from my limited knowledge was part of a radio promotion. (Someone please correct me if I a wrong!)

Lets take a trip back then to March 31, 1989.

I REALLY like this photo. Not only can you FEEL the excitement, (it reminds me in some ways of May 1, 2009)

As familiar as it seems there are so many things in this photo that are different from the way they are now too. First off we have three of the themed characters, Sam Panda, Daniel Coon and PJ Panda leading the procession. Up front is also a park ambassador. Now this is somewhat personal, but I love the fact that he is wearing the same uniform that I wore when I first worked at the park a few years later. Red shirt, blue shorts (or pants) and red handkerchief around the throat.

Behind is the crowd headed for a ride on the Timber Wolf, and behind that is the Scandinavian section, complete with Gypsy wagon :) If you look in the VERY back you can even see Tot's Yachts (Boat Tank then) in the very very background. Fjord Fjarlene wasn't there then, it was the River City Rampage in Americana.

You have to wonder what prompted the General Manager at the time, John Hudacek to wear a sky blue suit. John Hudacek was the last GM of the Hunt Midwest run, he was replaced by Daniel Keller in 1995.

There's Jack Steadman, helping cut the ribbon of his newest baby.

The VERY same year Timber Wolf went on to further Worlds of Fun history, it was rated #2 in the world! Timber Wolf would rank #2 in 1990 too. At the time the park considered that they had reached the pinnacle, especially with another Curtis Summers/Dinn opening the next year (1991), Mean Streak. Timber Wolf would exceed everyone's expectations and hit this landmark...

#1 in the world!!!! I personally loved this sign, it stood at the corner of Worlds of Fun Ave and Parvin Rd for many years.

So GM John Hudacek goes from a blue leisure suit to wolf ears? Seriously if you see a pair of these babies on Ebay snatch them up. Also, has anyone noticed a trend in GM's with mustaches and Worlds of Fun coasters?

I have no idea who these people are (probably ACER's) I am including it as it shows the original restraints. A single lap bar, a single seat belt. Quite different then what we have today.

Look ma! No trim brakes!

I figured I would end with another commercial break. This one from 1990! I think there are a few people around here that may have been in this commercial. If you were let me know!

Friday, March 5, 2010

March comes in like a Lamb and goes out like a ... Prowler?

There is an old saying you can never wait to long for a good thing. Plus what better time to look at photos of a coaster when we are edging closer and closer to the day when we can ride said coaster once again. 42 Days, but who's counting?

Its safe to say that the 2009 season, if not the entire first decade of the new Millennium could be highlighted by Prowler's introduction. It was the first coaster in a LONG time to break the top ten list of coasters in the world. Cedar Fair has always played it safe with their coaster design firms, only companies that have a proven track record. B&M and GCI (Intamin of course could be questioned!) have sprung up across the country. So it was heartening when for once, in a long time, Worlds of Fun wouldn't just end up with ANOTHER of the same type of ride that was already everywhere else it seemed.

Prowler was unique, in the way that the park's greats had been in their own time. When Prowler was announced I believed that once people got past comparing it to Timber Wolf, that Prowler would instead become a steller hit, and it was, and I am beyond thrilled.

So even though its March, I figured we could atleast invite everyone on a virtual Prowler ride, and I am looking forward to when April comes and March goes out... like a Prowler.

Here comes the first drop!

Man thats some great airtime right there! 42 days, only 42 days....

A great shot from the turn around.

Anyone care to write a caption for this photo?

My take, boy the drop looks so much larger using telescopic vision!

I want to be that kid! Looks like he is having just the right amount of fun.

Who says the third car doesn't rock obviously never talked to this lady.

This photo was brought to you by NIKE and the group for those who still believe there is no such thing as an age requirement for coaster riding.

Okay here is another try without Prowler interferring in the photo. Plus, I happen to agree with this guy, its a great ride!

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