New wooden rollercoaster opening in Conn.
The sawdust had barely settled when Eric Anderson called for his seat.
Set five rows back, behind life-sized Ken doll lookalike dummies, he clapped his gloves together before pulling the safety bar around his body. A cold drizzle was falling, but the moment had arrived: Anderson could taste the adrenaline as he prepared for his maiden voyage on Quassy Amusement Park's new wooden roller coaster.
"Let's go, let's go," Anderson, the park's president said.
Two workers and George Frantzis II, a park co-owner, seated themselves around him. Then it began: the slow hiss of pressure releasing from a hydraulic valve and the clanking of chains. Moments later, the Wooden Warrior roared.
It gushed uphill through the crank, dropped more than 40 feet downhill into a 50-degree curve through the incomplete tunnel and four grown men shouted with their arms raised in the air.
Anderson was excited, but George Frantzis couldn't hide his childlike emotion.
"That is great," he shouted, pumping his fists into the air. "It's exhilarating. That's what a ride should be like."
After the ride, which has been billed as a child's first roller coaster, Anderson had a slightly different impression.
"This is more of a brave child's first coaster," Anderson said. "The traditional wooden coaster is such a classic that in today's day and age, these folks have brought it to a new level."
Michael Graham watched as Anderson and Frantzis kept their arms raised in the air, and grinned widely.
Graham is part of a team with the Cincinnati-based Gravity Group, a firm that specializes in engineering wooden roller coasters -- including the Wooden Warrior.
Watching arms fly up is the goal of every coaster designer, he said.
"We call it the high-five effect," Graham said. "That's when you know it works."
Graham has been tinkering with roller coaster designs since he was a kid. He started with Legos, but when the curves and flips he wanted became impossible, he went to his local hardware store, purchasing plastic moldings and other parts.
"There were a lot of incarnations, but you eventually find things that work well together," he said.
Part of the ride's magic is working in what Graham calls "air time," that feeling of a free fall before catching the track. The 12-seat, six-car train, which Graham designed, lifts slightly on the biggest dips before pulling into a turn.
Older wooden coasters are more predictable: a large drop, followed by a slow turn, spinning back again before another drop, he said.
The challenge for the company in designing the Wooden Warrior was to package the most thrills into a small ride.
Some of the signature moves include a 50-degree turn at the ride's top speed of 35 mph and coaster cars that steer along the track for a less rickety experience.
"When you ride a wood coaster, it has that feel, and just everything about it is just a different experience. That experience can never be duplicated outside of using wood," Graham said.
The Wooden Warrior was built from pressure- treated Southern pine -- lots of it. About 140,000 feet of wood went into its construction.
"It may be a little more rickety, but a little less refined as far as predictability. We like the surprises and some of it just has to do with the G-forces and whatnot, but we design the out-of-control into it so it doesn't feel like you know exactly what's coming next."
The Wooden Warrior is the first coaster to operate in the area in more than 70 years. In 1930, Waterbury's Lakewood Park built a coaster that was dismantled a few years later and transferred to Canobie Lake Park in Salem, N.H.
Now, after two years of debate and legal hurdles to building the ride, the park will model its future around the coaster. Rides may not be bigger, but Anderson said more focus may turn to Quassy's water park for expansion.
"In this business, you can't stop trying to improve things," Anderson said. "That's the hope of this ride, so we can enhance the experience. It's only 1,200 feet, but still brings a tremendous amount of activity. The detail is what makes the big difference."
Quassy Amusement Park is set to debut its new 1,200-foot-long roller coaster this weekend when it opens for the season.
The ride is at the center of the park's metamorphosis from what representatives called "a kiddie park" to a family-centered destination, and they hope it will be a gamechanger in the competitive amusement park business.
Construction on the ride began in the fall as the park removed the steel Mad Mouse roller coaster, a much smaller ride known for its sharp dips and sudden turns.
Last week, crews still worked at completing last-minute touches on the coaster before the grand opening, including building a walkway for ticket holders up to the ride and finishing a cover over a planned tunnel on the ride.
The first ride's 12 seats have been auctioned off to benefit Connecticut Public Television, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut and the Connecticut Food Bank.
Allen Beavers Jr., 81, of West Hartford, will sit in the front row as a guest of the Connecticut Campground Owners Association, a group Beavers worked with for more than 25 years. The CCOA bid $600 for a seat.
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