Sunday, April 10, 2016

Screamroller 40 Years

It’s a sunny afternoon in a living room somewhere in Kansas City, Missouri. The year is 1983, a young girl sits poised in front of the family television, watching a Saturday morning cartoon, it breaks to commercials, and all of a sudden a exciting adventure plays across the screen. It’s a commercial for the Kansas City theme park, Worlds of Fun, and its newest creation is just being announced with a flourish and a flash of light, it’s the EXT.  It doesn’t matter if she isn’t tall enough or brave enough to ride this amazing ride, it’s the adventure and excitement that it entails that becomes to the girl, and as of that moment, there is no place more exciting and enticing than that park.

Though this story is from 1983, and the ride, Extremeroller, it seems fitting to begin a discussion of Screamroller, the ride that would also be known as Extremeroller later in its life than with a very true story,  as its my own story, or history so to speak.

Both photos above are Corkscrews, but only one is Screamroller.  Believe it or not the brochure on the left for Worlds of Fun, is NOT Screamroller, it's actually Knott's Berry Farm's Corkscrew.  Though the rides are very similar its easy to tell them apart by the style of the corkscrew upper supports, which are quite different. (black and white photo provided by Debbie Reasoner)

But while my personal story with Screamroller might start in 1983, Screamroller’s real story started much earlier, earlier than even April 10, 1976.  It started instead on May 24, 1975, when the world’s first modern inverting coaster opened to the public, at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. A local paper, The Independent, called it a “70-second thriller”. The Corkscrew’s lines when it opened were only half jokingly referring to as ending in the next county.

Designed by Ron Toomer, at the time Engineering Manager of Arrow Development of Mountain View California, it was his job to engineer a successful looping coaster.  Looping coasters were first introduced in the 1890’s, known usually as either Loop the Loops or Flip Flaps, they failed primarily due to a lack of engineering knowledge, of those that built them. These earliest of looping coasters were built with a perfectly circular loop, causing extreme gravitational forces on their riders.  This engineering flaw spelled a short end to this first chapter of looping coasters. Enter Arrow Development in the 1970’s, Ron Toomer took a scientific approach to the looping coaster.  In a 1976 engineering conference covered by The Argus of Fremont, California, Ron Toomer stated “Before a coaster is offered to the public, it has been checked by computer, analyzed by mathematical experts and test-ridden over 2,000 times”.  That doesn’t stop the ride from experiencing kinks as Ron Toomer went on to explain, that the Corkscrew at Knott’s itself required chassis replacement after only 5,000 rides as the originals were considered inadequate.

 Construction of Screamroller including the "Toping Out" a tradition with almost every coaster, or large building.  Usually a christmas tree is hung from the highest point as in seen in this photo.

The clamoring of riders to the Arrow Plant in Mountain View, California should have been the siren’s song of warning when it came to the popularity of the Corkscrew.  Hoards were already showing up at the Mountain View plant, attempting the scale the fences and RIDE corkscrew, before it was even completed!  With its introduction, Corkscrew not only literally kindled the flame of the coaster wars, but packed Knott’s Berry Farm with future coaster fans to the gills.

Six months later, November 13, 1975, Worlds of Fun jumped on the bandwagon, and announced the addition of the new 3.5-acre addition, Bicentennial Square, and at its heart would be the brand new, blazing white, Screamroller.  Screamroller would be a very-near identical twin to the Corkscrew at Knott’s Berry Farm, but it wouldn’t be the 2nd version, or even the 3rd… Corkscrew coasters had become quite a phenomenon in just a span of six months, and like the beanie babies of the 1990’s, had become a hot commodity, everyone wanted one. Worlds of Fun would be the 5th version of the Corkscrew coaster, following the likes of the Chicago Loop at Old Chicago, the Wabash Cannonball at Opryland park, and the Corkscrew at Magic Harbor (Surfside Beach, SC).

However, as hot a commodity as the new Arrow Corkscrew was, it was still an amazing, gapping mouth open moment for those in the region, so much so that on April 10, 1976, two weeks before its announced grand opening, Screamroller gave 27,000 rides… 

Grand Opening day, April 24, 1976, for both Bicentennial Square and the Screamroller, wasn’t going to be your normal run of the mill day either, it brought out the finest festivities the park could offer, on behalf of our country’s 200th birthday.  A musket and cannon salute by the continental volunteers of Marceline, a replica of the liberty bell was on display, patriotic music was to be played by the Wentworth Military Academy, and in TRUE American fashion, there was a roller coaster and a 76 foot long hot dog…

Lee Derrough, General Manager of the park at the time went on to comment “We are extremely please how well the Screamroller and Bicentennial Square were received by our guests on our two preview weekends.  We feel our increased attendance is a good indication that the new ride and area will be immensely popular additions to Worlds of Fun”

Screamroller would reign supreme along with Worlds of Fun over the entire state of Missouri, as the state’s only looping coaster until Orient Express came into existence in 1980, and only then, in 1981 would Six Flags Mid-America (currently Six Flags St. Louis) finally compete, with Jet Scream.

The 1975 Corkscrew was the flame to the match that set off the Coaster Wars that were prevalent well into the 1990’s.  For the first eight years Worlds of Fun was not only a player but also well in the forefront. Orient Express, which came only four short years after Screamroller in 1980 allowed Arrow Dynamics to build exponentially on what they had accomplished with Screamroller.  Screamroller was revolutionary in 1976, towering at 75 feet tall, 1200 feet of tubular steel track featuring TWO upside down corkscrews, thrilling riders with one and half minutes of thrills.  Orient Express by comparison was light years ahead only four short years later towering 117 feet tall, with a track length almost triple that of Screamroller at 3,470 feet long, FOUR upside down elements including two massive loops and a boomerang, and an elapsed time of what felt like riders in the 1980’s as eternity, 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  Orient Express was a behemoth both to Kansas City as was as the overall coaster world.   However as mighty as Orient Express, and all the coasters that followed it would be, it simply would not have existed if Screamroller hadn’t come first.

And Worlds of Fun and roller coaster history wasn’t done with Screamroller either.

Arrow, the king of coaster builders of the 1980’s, had by this time built its first few great looping coasters with Orient Express and Loch Ness Monster; it had proven what needed to be proven.  What was left?  To do things never even tried before, so entered the era of the next decade of “trick” coasters, some stuck and became classics, and some did not.  The suspended Coaster, the six and seven inversion multi-loopers, AND the stand-up coaster.  The fight for the first stand-up coaster was fought directly between Worlds of Fun and Six Flags Mid-America in 1983.  Six Flags attempting to convert one side of the two track’s of the also Arrow-built River King Mine Train, while Worlds of Fun went for converting Screamroller, and it was a photo finish, with Worlds of Fun beating Six Flags and opening the newly re-named Extremeroller on May 24, 1983. 

Like the first Corkscrew in 1975 though, there was only so much the engineers could learn on a piece of paper, and much more to learn when the engineering was put to practice.  Extremeroller, and its St. Louis cousin Railblazer both were very short lived.  In the case of Worlds of Fun, about a year, the coasters, engineered for sit-down chassis, couldn’t handle the strain of the much taller, heavier, stand-up pods.  Though short lived, Screamroller or as it was later known, Extremeroller, had something very few coasters can say, a double shot at fame.

The 1979 Screamroller Crew posed with the train at the top of the lift.  From the 1979 Ambassador Yearbook.

As many know telling a story of Screamroller from an engineering, or even a guests point of view is really only telling you half the story.  Worlds of Fun from its very first season, had a secondary, but just as important culture, that of its Ambassadors.  For forty years every seasonal employee at the park wasn’t JUST an employee, or an associate, instead they were known as Ambassadors, an ambassador to the world of fun.  It gave an air of dignity to an otherwise rather hum-drum job.  In good seasons, Rides Ambassadors were loyal to their rides and to their fellow crew, and the best of seasons they were a family.  Screamroller’s crew was no less.  From 1983 until its last year, the crews of Screamroller played practical jokes, experimented with the equation of weight and motion of a 28-person multi-ton train to ketchup and mustard packets, and best yet they threw great parties.  Nicknamed, and then officially named, Scream Jam, these ever-not-so-park-sponsored events, were probably anything but dull, and properly enough had refreshments “sponsored” by the proceeds of the nearby Omegatron’s riders loose change.   And folks… this was just one ride, make no mistake the 1980’s were a good decade, and that’s just the parts those that lived it can remember.

Screamroller was the coaster of the 1970’s, Extremeroller of the 80’s, but as 1988 came edging up, so did the end of the decade, and the end of Screamroller.  Screamroller only operated twelve seasons at the park, a short life span for a memorable ride, and more important memorable experiences.  In its short time it saw Worlds of Fun grow from a small, young park with 60 brand new and exciting things to do, to a mature, beautiful park with over double the attractions, and a brand new water park to boot!   In the end Screamroller would be removed to make way for a coaster of the 1990’s, the Timberwolf, one of the first of a wooden coaster revolution.  Even Timberwolf though couldn’t make Screamroller go away for good, the loading gates still, almost thirty years later, don’t line up to the Timberwolf trains, because they were designed to line up to Screamroller instead.  Even many of Screamroller’s concrete footers can be found for those with a keen eye, and then of course is the entire entrance, queue-line and station which are nearly identical (there have been some minor changes) to the station Extremeroller left behind on its last day of operation, October 30, 1988.

No Screamroller wasn’t going away easy, and in fact it could be said to have lived even a third life, not in Missouri, not even in the United States, but in South Korea, as the Spiral.  The Screamroller and Spiral finally met its end just a few years ago.

Many times it’s easy to focus on the past, something I greatly enjoy doing because as I always say it keeps the long lost attractions of the past alive.  However, I think Screamroller’s testament is not so much its past, but the future it helped create, it and the company that created it, Arrow Dynamics spurred the coaster race, and for that we had many great rides such as Orient Express and today even continue to have such great rides as Mamba and Patriot to enjoy, both of which are direct descendants of the great Corkscrew and Screamroller.  To those of us who remember Worlds of Fun of the 80’s, and for those of you who remember riding Screamroller remember we were all young once, like they said in 1976 though when Screamroller opened, lets be young again… Twice.

Screamroller Panel and Operation
An interesting addendum to the story is the inclusion of not only the Screamroller Panel photo, but also identification of what each button/control does.  Many of these steps and controls are no longer used in normal operation of more modern coasters, since much of the fine-detail in driving these older coasters has been mechanized with the more modern varieties.

1) Controls On/Off.  This key-operated switch must be in the ON Position to operate the ride.

2) Low Air Pressure.  This light indicates low air pressure in the system.  The ride cannot be started when this light is on.  If this light should come on during operation of the ride, immediately bring all trains to a stop and notify your ride manager.  Notify Rider Operates and Maintenance immediately.  (Interesting enough Viking Voyager, also an Arrow product, has this same light).

3) System Power.  This a pull-to-start/push-to-stop switch with an illuminated head.  it also serves as the Emergency Stop (E-Stop) button.  It must be activated (pulled) to turn on control power.  It's head will be lit when control power is on.

4)Clear Block Left & Right.  This is a three position, key-operated switch with a spring return to center.   Clear the blocks by turning the key first to th left and then to the right.

5)Ok-To-Move-Track Switch.  The light indicates when the track switch can be moved from its main line position.  The time delay function described prior to this controls this light.  

6)A pull-to-start/push-to-stop switch with an illuminated head controls the lift meter.  The lift will run only when there is track continuity at the switch and the "B" block is clear.  The switch head will be lit when the lift is running.

7)Block Lights.  Indicates the status of the safety blocks.  Two for left (7a and 7b) and Two for right (7c and 7d).  The "A" block extends from the station to just beyond the lift crown.  The "B" block extends from the lift crown to the station.  The left and ride status lights should always be in agreement.  When control power is turned on, the Red Set Up lights will light.  When the blocks are cleared, the Green Clear lights will light, and the Red Lights will go off.  The presence of a train in the block will be indicated by White Occupied lights.  (Orient Express had these as well, the quad-buttons presence are very indicative of an Arrow Coaster)

8) Discrepancy Reset.  A discrepancy in status between any two similar right and left block functions will be indicated by the sound of a buzzer and the illuminated head of the Discrepancy Reset push button which will light.  The buzzer can be stopped by pushing the button.  Any such warning should be reported to Ride Operations and Maintenance for their attention.

9)Dispatch. This is an illuminated push button to release the station brakes.  There are two interlocked functions involving this button.  One ensures that a train comes to a complete stop before it is released and the other ensures a safe interval between trains.  A train may be dispatched only when the button is lit.  However, the button may be pushed at any time to adjust the position of the train to facilitate loading.

10) Release Trim Brake.  This is an illuminated push button with a light indicating that the trim brake can be released.  The brake can only be released after a train has been in the brake for several seconds.  This prevents the release of the brake as a train approaches.

11) Set Safety Brakes. An illuminated push button allows the safety brakes to be set at any time.  This may be done to test the brakes or to over-ride the automatic system and stop an incoming train.  The button will be lit when power is applied to release the brakes. (add on: Safety brakes are the higher pressure version of trims, that will stop a train in an emergency)

12) Open/Close Gates (Not Original).  Both Screamroller and Orient Express opened without gates, these controls were added after the fact.  

13) Buzzer (Not original).  This is automatic on more modern coasters.  The loud buzz heard when the lift starts, used to notify anyone on the lift that it is about to re-start.

14)Zag Brake (Not original), a brake located at the base of the lift.  It is unknown what exactly this break was added for, whether to line the train up to the lift itself, stop the train at the base on the lift, or some other unknown purpose.  Orient Express did have this same control.

Special Thanks to Debbie Reasoner for providing a copy of the original Screamroller Operator's Manual as well as several of the photos seen above.

No comments: