Silver Dollar City's Outlaw Run takes its first test runs
Written by James Rao
How about some theme park news that's not coming from Orlando or SoCal?
Silver Dollar City's new Outlaw Run made its first test runs this week, bringing roller coaster fans closer to being able to ride a wooden coaster with inversions since the infamous Son of Beast.
Built by the Rocky Mountain Construction Group, famous for their highly successful redo of the classic Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas, Outlaw Run promises to be a coaster lover's dream. It has exhilarating speed (the second fastest wooden coaster on the planet), gut-wrenching drops (the world's steepest drop on a wooden coaster), custom-designed stagecoach-inspired vehicles, and a record-breaking three inversions.
A test train rolls through the overbanked turn. All photos courtesy Silver Dollar City
It is those inversions that have grabbed the attention of theme park enthusiasts around the world. The only other wooden coaster to feature an inversion prior to Outlaw Run was Son of Beast at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. Most of us know something about the history of this beleaguered thriller, but I asked Derek Potter, a long-time contributor to TPI and a Kings Island regular, to give us his first-hand perspective:
"Some of the things I'll always remember about SOB were its imposing, magnificent structure, its first drop, and the first helix. One thing I would like to forget is the pain that the first version caused. In my case, most of the pain was attributed to those first trains, which had very little legroom and horrible rolling stock. I'm about 6'2", not terribly taller than most, and my knees had nowhere to go except lodged against a handrail with very little padding. To put it in terms that someone who didn't ride might understand, think of the most intense wooden coaster you ever rode. Now double (or maybe triple) that intensity and think about your knees being firmly lodged against a piece of cold hard steel during the ride as the train jerked and rumbled down the track. For a taller guy like me, riding it during the loop days was sort of like being packed in a tin can during an earthquake.
"From the drawing board, this coaster was destined to have problems, problems that were eventually made worse with bad construction and [cheap] materials. The force of a 100-foot vertical loop at 60mph (estimated 4.5 Gs) required trains that were much heavier than a standard wooden coaster train. Extra weight meant more force on the structure, the riders, and the trains themselves. The forces brought upon the structure were enormous, to the point where portions of the first helix would visibly sway after the train had passed over its track. In the end, the enormous forces brought on by the trains resulted in the 2006 structural failure that injured 27 people. It was then that SOB's loop was removed and lighter trains were installed."
And since 2006, no other theme park has dared to incorporate inversions into a wooden coaster – until now. I spoke with Brad Thomas, General Manager and Senior Vice President of Silver Dollar City Attractions / Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation and asked him to discuss what advances have been made in wooden coaster technology that will help Outlaw Run avoid the pitfalls of the world's first looping wood coaster.
"Rocky Mountain Coaster's innovative approach to the track combines current technology with the traditional wood coaster structure (steel track on top of traditional layers of wood). Their approach will quickly make Outlaw Run a must-ride wood coaster."
Rocky Mountain Construction refers to this technology as Topper Track, layers of laminated wood with a steel plate located in the upper layers of the track.
A close-up of Outlaw Run's track
Designed to reduce maintenance and provide a comfortable ride experience, RMC has installed Topper Track at various sites around the country in an attempt to rejuvenate some classic old coasters, but Outlaw Run is the first coaster the company has designed and built from the ground up -– and the first with loops… well, sort of. Thomas continues:
"Outlaw Run is not a looping coaster, but it does provide 3 energizing inversions: the first, a 153 degree angle over the steam train tracks and the next (2) are 360 degree inversions included in a double barrel roll, just before the train moves back into the load station."
Outlaw Run's barrel roll
But, why now? What makes 2013 such a great time for the rebirth of the inverted wooden coaster? And what makes Silver Dollar City the right park for such a unique ride?
"Wood coasters remain popular with guests of parks around the world," Thomas said. "Silver Dollar City conducts market research/customer testing on attraction, show, and ride concepts frequently. Typically, a wood coaster concept has tested strongly against other new products which we were researching. While Silver Dollar City has other coasters (classic indoor concept Fire in the Hole, Arrow mine train Thunderation, B&M 5-looped Wildfire, S&S launch coaster Powderkeg), Outlaw Run is actually Silver Dollar City's first wood coaster.
"We made the decision to add a wood coaster two years ago. We saw several great coaster concepts, but the innovation and unique elements of Outlaw Run make this ride a perfect complement to Silver Dollar City. The 81-degree drop, 3 inversions, and 68 mph speed quickly grabbed our attention. As we did additional customer testing, our guests -- and our potential guests -- said they would be highly motivated to visit Silver Dollar City with the addition of that type of ride.
"Rocky Mountain's innovative approach allowed us to add not just a wood coaster, but a wood coaster that would provide families a strong reason to visit Branson and Silver Dollar City. The majority of our visitors live 200+ miles away; this ride provides a strong reason for folks to make the trip to Branson."
Strong reason, indeed. Herschend is expecting quite a payoff for its $10 million investment.
"We are planning an increase of 85,000 in total attendance," Thomas said. "Helping us is the addition of Southwest Airlines' flights with daily nonstop service direct into Branson to/from Chicago, Dallas, and Houston."
Opening day for Silver Dollar City (and for Outlaw Run), March 15th, is fast approaching. And for this coaster fan, it can't get here soon enough! Even my cube wall at work is decorated appropriately:
See you in Branson!
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