The great leap backwards

Park Hoppin’ with Paul Ruben 

Pictured here on the Cosmic Coaster, a Zamperla powered family coaster at Valleyfair, Shakopee, Minnesota, I was thinking – what is the most reproduced roller coaster?

Same design, same structure, different park? Maybe Zierer’s Flitzer? Pinfari’s Zyklon? SDC’s Galaxi? Herschell’s Little Dipper, a favourite for years in US parks? I’m thinking it must be the ubiquitous Vekoma Boomerang. First opened in 1984 at Belgium’s Bellewaerde Park, there are now 50 units operating around the world. I’ve been on more than a dozen of them. There are also six Giant Inverted Boomerangs. I’ve been on three of those.

For anyone not familiar with the Boomerang, it consists of a single train with seven cars, capable of carrying 28 passengers. The ride begins when the train is pulled backwards from the station and up the first lift hill. After being released, it passes through the station, enters the boomerang roll element, and then travels through a vertical loop. After being pulled up a second lift hill, the train is released and rolls backwards through each inversion once more, turning riders upside-down a total of six times.

I remember standing in line to ride one of the first Boomerangs, the Sea Serpent at Morey’s Piers in New Jersey. The youngster next to me complained about the long wait, so I suggested to him that Morey’s could speed things up by adding a second train. One could load while the other one was rolling. He thought it was a good idea. I don’t think the light ever came on. If your light has not yet come on, let me explain. You can’t run two trains in opposite directions on a single track without colliding. Right?

Wrong. Maybe not today, but our creative forefathers did just that over a century ago. It was built to meet an absurd challenge once posed by Mark Twain. “The only thing Yankee ingenuity had not accomplished…the successful passing of two carloads on a single line of tracks.” From 1904 to 1911 there was a ride at Coney Island called Stern’s Leap Frog Railway, where one rail car would ride over the top of the other car, on roof mounted tracks. You can see in the picture what it looked like.

Operating at Coney Island’s legendary Dreamland Park, the Leap Frog Railroad was built out on a special 500 foot (152 m) long pier jutting into the sea. It was a one track railroad that went nowhere. Each of the Leap Frog cars were equipped with a pair of bent rails on their roofs that allowed the approaching cars to glide over or underneath each other. The two cars were intended to rush towards each other from opposite ends. The 32 frightened passengers braced for a collision but were relieved when the other car safely passed overhead. On the return trip the cars changed positions so that passengers on both cars got to experience the sensation.

Dreamland Park burned down in 1911, and the Leap Frog Railway was never rebuilt. Probably just as well. It looks like a mechanical nightmare, likely a noisy, flat, slow ride. But the thought of a head-on collision has a certain twisted appeal that has me once again longing for the good old days.

 

Posted in: Park Hoppin'