Roller coasters with inversions, with +90 degrees drops, with spinning cars – either horizontal or vertical – ,… Nothing seems impossible when it comes to designing and constructing roller coasters with steel. The use of steel for roller coasters brought new and exciting opportunities, new opportunities which couldn’t be done with wood. But still theme parks keep investing in wooden roller coasters and many roller coasters enthusiasts call themselves fans of woodies, the shorter term for a wooden roller coaster. Why do we love those woodies so much?
Maybe it’s just nostalgia. The very first roller coasters were made of wood, it’s no surprise the oldest operational roller coaster in the world is a wooden roller coaster (Scenic Railway at Luna Park Melbourne, Australia. It opened in 1912). Not that steel roller coasters weren’t invented very late, the first steel roller coaster already opened in 1885, yeah that is right, there already was a steel roller coaster in the 19th century (Royal Scooter at Lake Chautauqua Park, New York, USA). But only in the fifties the sales of steel roller coasters started to increase rapidly. Though the old woodies from before were still there. Fathers took their children to parks to ride that old woodie they rode when they were young. And when their children became parents, they took their children on the woodie they once rode with their father. And so the nostalgia feel of wooden roller coasters is passed on each generation. Especially in the USA where woodies are far more common than in Europe.
Another reason why we love woodies is their appearance. With their extended supports they look more impressive than any steel roller coaster of the same size! The smell of the wood and the oiled chain is unique. They have a unique sound, they rumble. When you hear a train raging from the first drop it sounds like a lion roaring. And yes, woodies can be rough but somehow we can deal with that more than on steel roller coasters. We expect woodies to be wild and throw us in every possible direction.
For the European and not-American roller coaster enthusiast in general, woodies are still something rare and something to preserve. Where the Americans always knew the woodie from the start, parks outside of the USA contain less woodies. But they are catching up! The wooden roller coaster is back for yet another golden age and delivered us the crazy twisty woodies from GCI, airtime monsters like Six Flags Great Adventure’s El Toro or Heide Park’s Colossos. And then Rocky Mountain Construction appeared on stage who gave us modern inversions on wooden (hybrid) roller coasters alongside crazy lay-outs never seemed possible.
Wooden roller coasters are pure beauty. And as we love them so much, we hope that their new golden era is only just beginning!