• Chad Graber

    First Drop Inversions Fun Headbanging Harness

    My first major coaster, it scared me initially, but it founded my love for roller coasters. It was a truly beautiful coaster, with interlocking loops, built in a forested valley, painted a deep dark red - truly a sight to behold! The winding queue path was graced with Japanese ornamental plants and statuary and the station, built in a Japanese architectural style had a wonderful mural depicting a fearsome emperor. While awaiting your turn to ride, listening to the distinctive low roar of the train helped build anticipation and you kept a nervous eye on the Chicken Exit - provided for those who just couldn’t will themselves to get on the ride. Boarding the ride, you sink down into the deep, black plastic seats and pull down the foam covered horse collar restraint to prepare for the adventure ahead. In the front seat, you would notice the Orient Express dragon logo emblazoned over the hood of the car and the sculpted fire breathing beast resting above the intimidating dark void of the tunnel leading to the chain lift. His piercing eyes staring intently at you, warning that you shouldn’t dare enter his lair. The operators skillfully and quickly locked the harnesses manually by racing to the back of the train and stepping on the locking lever at each car along the way. Then, a quick pull on each harness as they returned to the front and a thumbs-up held high confirmed the train was ready for departure. With a hiss and clank of the brakes releasing, the train began to roll forward, down a short steep drop and into the darkness. A sudden ninety degree turn to the right revealed a light at the end of the fairly lengthy tunnel and the notoriously loud lift hill that would hoist you out of the pit. Into the daylight you roll, with the anti-rollback dogs barking so loudly you had to yell to be heard. The minute long ascent up the lift provided plenty of time to see the sights, well, whatever could be seen as you awkwardly peered around the harness. To your left, an undeveloped field and the former main entrance roadway, and further, Highway 435 and the Worlds of Fun water tower, painted in the iconic park logo colors. To your right, a unique perspective on the ride to come, the mid course brake run, the interlocking loops, and hidden in the trees, the Kamikaze Kurve which was the name given to the first ever batwing/boomerang type element. Approaching the summit, you notice the colorful flags waving in the wind at the top, sentinels marking the start of your harrowing or blissful journey (depending on your perspective). Then it begins. As the chain pulls you over the peak and down a short, momentum building hill, you suddenly have your first panoramic view of the monstrous first drop and the butterflies in your stomach feel like they are in a frenzy to escape! Slowly picking up speed, the train banks to the right, the steep precipice ever approaching. Relentlessly pursuing the edge, the banked turn levels out and you realize there is nothing you can do to stop it. Your eyes widen, pulse quickens and a guttural scream escapes your throat as you are hurled into the black abyss. Plunging to the deepest depths of the valley, nearly weightless, it feels as though it will never end. Then, you are forced back into your seat as you rocket up the opposing hill. When it was built, this drop was the steepest at 65 degrees and tallest at 120 feet, seemingly trivialized by today’s mega coasters, but so well executed, it’s glory never faded for me. The genius of the ride was its somewhat unimposing structure, as viewed from the parking lot, hid about half of that first drop in the depths of a dark forested valley. As you ascend the second hill the track banks left and undulates while turning you toward the first elliptical loop. With impressive speed, the train navigates a sharply banked upward climb and breathtakingly snappy transition to a steep plunge into the loop. The forces in the tight-radius loop firmly press you into the seat at its apex, and somewhat relaxes as you float down the backside. You exit the loop and climb into a banked right turn which quickly enters the mid course brakes, normally not slowing the train at all. A sudden banked right turn slams you into a gleefully steep drop and entering the second loop, you marvel at the mass of twisted steel surrounding you. A short straightaway upon exiting the loop gives you a moment to take a breath and ponder the impending element that looks like a giant bow tie. Flying up and rolling upside down to the left, you then steeply dive and are thrust into your seat as you enter the second loop rolling right while turning left, which confuses your senses and sends you on another short straightaway before banking into a left upward turn. Slowing slightly on a third short straight section, the final brake run in sight, the track falls and banks sharply right into an aggressive undulating helix before pulling up and snapping into the long brake run. As the brakes arrest your momentum and your journey will soon end, you begin to process your experience. Was it fun? Was it fearful? The positive and (few) negative Gs, the laterals, the speed. Do your ears or head hurt from being knocked against the harness? Was it a great ride despite the pain? You glance right and notice the transfer track, perhaps a spare train resting there. You see the track diving under the station to the workshop area and wonder what it’s like to work on the trains. As you enter the station you see the happy faces peering through the gates, watching your train approach with anticipation. The brakes catch, your ride is done and as you lift your harness to exit, you glance at the dragon guarding his den and you might swear that he winks, a sort of acknowledgment that you mastered his challenge. In your heart, you know you will return to take up the challenge again.