Love of Coasters
by susskins

THE LIFT HILL - Stories of roller coaster love. Or, becoming gravity's bitch. Bi-monthly, by Keith Hopkins

Everyone has their thing that captures them. Some are captured by guitars. Some are captured by booze. Some by cars, some by women, some by exhibitionism.

I am captured by roller coasters.

It's not just the coasters. I'v always been drawn to carnivals and amusement parks. I get all caught up in the flashy machinery and the gaudy colors. If I'm outside in the Summer and I simultaneously smell diesel fumes and frying food, I get that goofy Labor Day feeling.

I was raised in rural South Dakota, near a small town called Winner. Every small town in the Northern Plains has a Summer festival. Ours was the Labor Day celebration. A parade, a rodeo, a demolition derby, and most importantly, a carnival. Every year, Bauman Shows would pull into our town on Saturday night, and after the bars would close, they'd set up on three blocks of Main Street. They'd get everything fired up on Sunday afternoon, and by Monday night, I'd be broke from riding every ride I could. It was all flat rides, spin-n-pukes. Scramblers and Tilt-A-Whirls. (Ever notice the evil clown on the back of the old Tilt-A-Whirl cars? Seriously evil. Pennywhistle evil.)

And then I got my first real roller coaster ride.

I'd ridden a kiddie coaster at one of the Labor Day celebrations. That was the closest I had come to a real one, until I was seventeen and my parents took us to Denver to visit an older sibling. A trip to Denver meant a trip to Elitch Gardens, home of two wooden coasters, and a wild mouse. My first ever ride on a full-sized coaster was on Mr. Twister.

Holy mother of God on a fucking pogo stick.

I'd always had this image of coasters being this smooth, gliding, soaring experience, kind of like a Waltz. The reality was a jarring, scary, I'm-going-to-die punch in the mouth from Lemmy. I was alone in the seat, and I learned all about laterals in the first few seconds. This thing was a screaming death machine, shaking the shit out of me. I have vague images of plunging down an impossible slope into the darkness of the structure, flying back up a hill, doing a quick turn-around, and plunging down again. The train threw itself into a jungle of wood. The tunnel was scary loud. I was getting bruises from being tossed back and forth.

It was absolutely furious and frightening and primal and I nearly had an orgasm from riding it.

I rode it several more times that night, and also rode Wildcat, the other woodie. Not as mind-blowing, but fun as well. And that did it for me. Cherry busted. Confirmed roller coaster person. A couple of nights later, we went to Lakeside and I rode the excellent Cyclone coaster and the Wild Chipmunk.

I've been obsessing about them since. coasters.jpg While I haven't ridden as many as some of my friends, I've managed to get rides on over fifty coasters.

Sadly, Mr. Twister is gone. Elitch Gardens moved out of its land-locked site in the nineties, into a slightly bigger land-locked site near downtown Denver. They build a drab imitation coaster called Twister 2, and then sold out to Six Flags. The original Mr. Twister was demolished shortly afterwards, as was its conjoined twin, the Wildcat.

But they still scream along in my brain from time to time.

Keith Hopkins writes at His favorite roller coaster is the Raven at Holiday World in Santa Claus, IN.


I'm a carnival junkie. There, I've said it. It's out in the open and now the world knows. The smell of funnel cake and carny's, the lights and the kids running with corndogs in one hand and cotton candy in the other.

Nothing get's me going, though, than the screams of people on coasters. I love the looks on their faces as they hit the first hill and the way they all cry out in unison.

Nice job, Keith....


Dude. I am used to fast things. But...on a rollercoaster, I stare at all of those little nuts and bolts and wonder when they were last tightened.

I think that's what makes me "afraid". That's a thrill.


I love carnivals, but I cannot stand most carnival rides. I cannot do roller coasters.

We went to Disney World earlier this year and I got on Space Mountain because my 7-year-old pretty much guilted me into it. I was shaking when I got off of it, but hid it from my daughter.

Nothing as bad as riding in a Chinook with the cargo door open, but things are a bit different when you don't have any choice in the matter.


Nice description of the wooden coasters, it's kind of like getting mugged.


they made a wooden roller coaster at some park near me. That thing beat the hell out of me.

i loved it


Every once in a while I walk outside my office for lunch, and a truck roars by me, and I smell the diesel and hear the roar and feel the heat and smell the pizza place next door all at once. It's like an instant time-warp into my childhood.

Man alive but I've got it bad for midways and amusement parks.

Turtle, any idea what park/coaster you're talking about? Knotts/Ghostrider, perhaps?


it was the grizzly in "great america"

i think it's six flags now

it was in santa clara, i think


I have a love/hate relationship with coasters. I love the idea of them, I love the thrill of going down the first slope, but I'm such a wuss about heights (and being flung off a coaster) that I hesitate to go on them. Especially wooden coasters. Just the sound they make gives me chills.

Turtle and I told coaster stories here.


Oh, and welcome to FTTW, Keith.

Great debut.


Thanks, Michele.

Great America was until recently a Paramount park. They just got bought out by Cedar Fair, the company that owns Knotts.

Grizzly is regarded to be a sad shell of its former self. Some coasters get reprofiled and reworked to the point that they are downright dull. Those high thrills come with high maintenance costs. I'm glad you got to ride it when it was running good.


Hi Keith - Great column!

It really brought me back to my first real love - The Great Canadian Mine Buster at (Paramount) Canada's Wonderland. It was my first wooden coaster, you never forget your first.

One of the best part of the ride was always standing in line, watching the boards rattle, listening to the screams of the patrons... I never scream, it's a continuous laugh of pure, bone jarring, joy.

The metals ones just don't feel the same.


If I remember right wasn't Mike on that coaster with you? and didn't he get sick?

The "older sibling"


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