Waldameer classic is reborn
For years it has been a dream of Waldameer Park CEO Paul Nelson to replace the original Ravine Flyer rollercoaster by Miller and Baker, which operated from 1922 to 1938, with a new version. But, says Paul Ruben, the process wasn’t easy. After 10 years of planning, the park in Erie, Pennsylvania, has succeeded, creating a unique ride poised to deliver a double digit attendance increase.
For years it has been a dream of Waldameer Park CEO Paul Nelson to replace the original Ravine Flyer rollercoaster by Miller and Baker, which operated from 1922 to 1938, with a new version. But, says Paul Ruben, the process wasn’t easy. After 10 years of planning, the park in Erie, Pennsylvania, has succeeded, creating a unique ride poised to deliver a double digit attendance increase
According to Nelson, “99% of the people in the community wanted the ride to come about, and then there are always the others, but the 99% finally won out. ”
A decade of planning and development included a land-swap with the State of Pennsylvania, but now the Ravine Flyer II is a reality. As a result, Nelson has established Waldameer as a must-see stop for thrill seekers.
The new coaster occupies much of the same location as the original Ravine Flyer. Of historical note, the park’s current Lakeview picnic shelter next to the new station was the original Ravine Flyer station.
Ravine Flyer II is a world-class wooden rollercoaster, one of the most unique wood coasters ever built and one that is sure to attract the most ardent thrill-seekers. It is also an engineering marvel that plunges down an embankment overlooking Lake Erie and across a four-lane state highway.
In addition to the massive concrete footings required as the foundations for many coasters, steel girders were pile-driven down to bedrock to support a huge retaining wall and a 165ft-long arched steel bridge erected over the highway. In the process, the cost to build what normally would be $3 to $3.5 million roller coaster soared to nearly twice that.
But the introduction of Ravine Flyer II is a very prudent gamble. With the recent closings of nearby Geauga Lake, Erieview Park and the apparent demise of Conneaut Lake Park, many of those parks’ guests should now visit Waldameer Park. With decent weather, expect a double-digit percentage increase in Waldameer’s attendance by the end of the season.
Go With Gravity
Ravine Flyer II is a classic out-and-back rollercoaster with a contorted double turnaround finale. It was designed and engineered by the Gravity Group, with Jeff Mason as the construction supervisor. Entech Systems provided the controls and Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters (PTC) the trains.
“We first chose Charlie Dinn to build the coaster,” recalls Nelson, “but Charlie went out of business. Then it was CCI, and they also went away. Then the Gravity Group was born. They’d done work for parks that we have a close relationship with, such as Holiday World, Indiana Beach and Cliff’s. The Gravity Group was great to work with and delivered more than expected.”
Two sets of six-car, 24-passenger PTC trains carry riders through an amazing journey that begins with a climb up an 83ft lift hill, from which riders can briefly enjoy a spectacular view of the Lake Erie shoreline. On a clear day you can even see Canada.
Then comes the moment of truth, a 118ft plunge down the hillside towards the lake that reaches speeds of nearly 60 mph, a twisting 90-degree right-hand turn into a 75ft-long covered tunnel, and a flight over the 165ft-long arched steel bridge to the elevated turn-around.
Returning over the same bridge after a second major drop of 86ft, guests encounter a double-down through a 171ft tunnel before rampaging through 630 degrees of undulating track that contains super-elevated banking of up to 90 degrees and a 56ft tunnel, before finally returning to the loading station.
From start to finish, it feels like controlled chaos as riders are lifted off their seats up to 10 times, including several moments when the train changes direction and tries to pull the seat out from under you.
There are good coasters, very good coasters, and great coasters. Ravine Flyer II is a great coaster, and this is why. Like the venerable Coney Island Cyclone or the Hersheypark Wildcat, it is unlike most coasters that start hot and then slow down. Because the track continues to drop lower and lower as the ride progresses, Ravine Flyer II picks up speed, momentum and ferocity as you go through the ride. Time in the thrill zone, from the moment you drop off the lift hill until the final brake, is just under 50 seconds. It only seems longer. This is a major-league thrill ride.
According to Nelson, “The Gravity Group says Ravine Flyer II is the most unique coaster they have designed. Not because of the length or its drop of 132ft, but because of its unique location. The whole design of the ride was built to the terrain. People will enjoy the speed, the view, the twists and turns, the tunnels, and a really great ride.”
But for Paul Nelson, the best part of finally realising his dream, “is listening to the people hoot and holler as they get off the ride with a big smile.” For other park operators, Nelson offers this advice. “If you are planning to add a similar coaster, plan to spend a lot of time on the details, make your coaster unique for your park, and build the coaster to last.”
Keep it in the family
“Waldameer is a real family park and Ravine Flyer II will be a great addition for the teenagers and parents,” notes CEO Paul Nelson. “Over half our business is organised picnics and we have already seen a growth in school, church, youth and industrial picnics. How much, only time will tell.”
Founded in 1896, Waldameer is the tenth oldest amusement park in the United States. Paul Nelson, his wife Lane, his son-in-law Steve Gorman, who is president and general manager, and his daughter Nancy Gorman head up a group of three generations of the family working there. Nelson’s goal is to continue growing with ownership remaining in the hands of the family.