By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
BRANSON, Mo. —
Duane Marden has a working knowledge of 5,746 roller coasters worldwide.
But on Thursday at Silver Dollar City, he said he witnessed something entirely new: the marriage of a traditional wooden track and modern technology in a $10 million roller coaster that’s in a category all its own.
“What’s most interesting about it is something I didn’t think I’d ever see,” said Marden, the creator of the online Roller Coaster Database and a roller coaster enthusiast since childhood.
The Milwaukee, Wis., resident traveled to Silver Dollar City to see the unveiling of Outlaw Run, a one-of-a-kind ride that will open in April 2013.
With the name and features kept under wraps until Thursday, the attraction is unique in several ways. At more than 16 stories high, it will feature the world’s steepest drop on a wooden coaster at 81 degrees, which is nearly vertical.
It also will be the world’s only wooden coaster to twist upside down, with a record-breaking three inversions and a 720-degree, double-barrel roll.
Builders say it will reach a top speed of 68 mph, making it the world’s fastest wooden coaster on steel wheels. Riders can expect nine instances in which they experience weightlessness.
“But the topper track system, that’s historic,” Marden said.
The top layers of the track — normally subject to wear and tear and weather — are being built with a customized system of steel overlay.
“Normally, a wooden track gets bumpier season after season,” Marden said. “It expands, it contracts, etc. You have to account for that, so you have to limit what you can do in terms of features.”
With that all-steel top, he said, Outlaw Run “will last, will allow you to do things you couldn’t do before.”
Marden plans to be in line on opening day.
Gary Slade, publisher and editor of Amusement Today, also will be there on opening day. He traveled from Arlington, Texas, for Thursday’s unveiling. He, too, called it a historic moment in the roller coaster world.
“It is significant in the fact that everybody loves the good, old-fashioned wood roller coasters,” said Slade, 53, who began riding roller coasters at age 6. “They are nostalgic. They date back to Coney Island days. But now they have invented a new technology to adapt a steel rail for the first time on a full-blown coaster circuit.
“This is our history right here. You’re seeing our amusement center history being built, but with modern technology added to it. I think that’s exciting; it’s outstanding.”
The coaster is a collaboration with Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction. Brad Thomas, Silver Dollar City’s senior vice president of attractions, described the company as an innovator in engineering, design and construction in the roller coaster industry.
Outlaw Run’s features and name have been kept under wraps from park visitors since January. Large vinyl tarps have blocked any view from the park. The tarps were dropped Thursday, and the last beam of the double-barrel roll was put into place during the news conference.
The coaster will feature a theme reminiscent of the popular television shows “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza,” according to Lisa Rau, a Silver Dollar City spokeswoman.
Passengers, imagining themselves to be brave pioneers looking to head west, will board one of two custom-designed “stagecoach” trains at a replica stagecoach depot. They are in search of a better way of life, according to Anthony Esparza, who runs the creative development group tasked with coming up with new rides and attractions at Silver Dollar City.
Those passengers will face peril, however, as a rumored outlaw and his gang lurk ready to ambush the stagecoaches, Esparza said. Fearless stagecoach drivers, experienced lawmen and the brave passengers themselves will outsmart the outlaws, of course — all in one minute and 27 seconds.
“All generations will enjoy this bold and daring ride where the good guys always win, leaving the bad guys in the dust,” Thomas said.
Outlaw Run takes advantage of the natural mountain terrain, twisting and turning and dropping on a 2,937-foot ride through the wooded landscape. It was designed, Rau said, to utilize and preserve the natural environment, with two or more trees planted for every one removed during construction.
It is Silver Dollar City’s biggest investment in the past decade and the sixth roller coaster to be built at the park, joining Fire in the Hole, built in 1968, and the subsequent Thunderation, Buzz Saw Falls (now Powder Keg), Wildfire and a children’s coaster in the Grand Expo.
SILVER DOLLAR CITY, which attracts 2 million visitors annually, was built by the Herschend family after founders Hugo and Mary Herschend acquired a lease to Marvel Cave in 1950. A decade later, as the popularity of the cave grew, the family opened an 1880s-themed village on the cave’s grounds. Today, the Herschend family operates and manages 26 entertainment properties in 10 states.