Cover Story - Spin Cycle - June 2018

1806_cover_story_intro

How ‘Time Traveler,’ the new record-breaking spinning coaster, turned heads, and old convictions, upside down at  Silver Dollar City

Story and photos by Scott Fais

GO BACK IN TIME FOUR YEARS AGO, and you’ll find Silver Dollar City (SDC) founders—and IAAPA Hall of Fame members—Pete and Jack Herschend about to approbate a revolution.

“We literally started with a blank sheet of paper,” recalls Pete Herschend, when coming up with goals for a new attraction. “The criteria was it had to be unique—ideally not found anywhere else in the United States, and preferably in the world.”

Simultaneously, if the Herschend brothers had a time machine and set a destination for southwest Germany, they would find Mack Rides CEO Christian von Elverfeldt shaking his head in disbelief.

“One of our young engineers had this idea: ‘Why not combine a spinning coaster with a launch coaster?’” von Elverfeldt remembers. “And I have to say, at the beginning I said, ‘This is a crazy idea.’”

1806_cover_story_herschend

“Part of our objective was not only to be the first of something, but be really, really good at what we do.”

—Pete Herschend, Co-Founder of Silver Dollar City

That potentially loony notion brought the two family-owned companies together. Through their collaboration, a new genre of roller coaster was born: what Mack Rides named the Xtreme Spinning Coaster, with “Time Traveler” as proof of concept. The new attraction at SDC in Branson, Missouri, is the world’s fastest, steepest, and tallest spinning roller coaster; icing on the cake includes three inversions and two speedy launches using linear synchronous motors (LSM). With a steampunk theme, a science fiction-inspired style incorporating technology and 19th-century industrial designs, the creative alchemy sends riders head over heels, while turning the heads of an industry.

Funworld was granted an exclusive look at how the latest concept in roller coaster design evolved, directly from the people who created it. 

The Sands of Time

It’s not surprising a family theme park based in the 1880s time period would partner with a family-owned ride maker with roots stretching back to the 1780s.

“We are a very old company. These partnerships are our tradition,” explains von Elverfeldt. 

Mack Rides—the 238-year-old manufacturer with a legacy for crafting circular rides—first brought the spinning concept to a roller coaster in 1989. With rotating vehicles, “Euro-Mir,” at the company’s showcase Europa-Park in Rust, Germany, became a curiosity when its track and trains started meandering around mirrored towers standing several stories tall. Yet, Mack Rides says the similarities between the new “Time Traveler,” nestled in North America’s Ozark Mountains, end in Germany’s Black Forest.

“At first, I thought this wouldn’t be a big thing to create,” explains von Elverfeldt of early designs. “Our final design is totally different.”

Case in point, it was actually Mack Rides’ “Blue Fire” launch coaster that provided the inspiration SDC was looking for.

1806_cover_story_coaster_1

Slip into the Future

Jane Cooper—president and chief operating officer of Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), parent company of SDC—remembers the first time she heard of an upside-down spinning coaster: “I’m sitting in an office in Atlanta, and I’m thinking, ‘You’re spinning—it sounds cool, it’s never been done before—but what if it turns out to be either not exciting, or everybody gets sick?’”

While Cooper had seen renderings of the prototype vehicle that von Elverfeldt commissioned in Waldkirch, Germany, she felt a test ride was necessary.

“Before we really do this, we need to prove it ourselves,” Cooper recalls telling SDC Attractions President Brad Thomas. 

The two packed their bags in January 2016 and headed to Europa-Park, where Mack Rides was quietly testing a prototype spinning car connected to the tail end of a “Blue Fire” train. 

“We tried it often—always at night when the park was closed,” explains von Elverfeldt. He admits after several laps, his perception on the concept began to change: “Actually, I was beginning to like it!” He hoped for the same when it came time for both Cooper and Thomas to—under the cloak of darkness—take their first test ride.

“The first prototype experience we had was really like a teacup on ‘Blue Fire,’” Thomas remembers. “We knew there was all kinds of promise. What we did not know is, could they get enough control in that car? That’s why the second trip was so critically important.”

Traveling to Germany became a pilgrimage Thomas and Cooper made three times to discuss benchmarking and logistics, and to take test rides before HFE was sold on the Xtreme Spinning Coaster.

“What you experience today is a result of that collaboration, and all those experiments,” Thomas says. “The prototype car that spun uncontrollably on ‘Blue Fire’ is vastly different than ‘Time Traveler’ of today.”

Steampunk’s Popularity Rises

1806_cover_story_sidebar_steam_punk_guyThe textures of a society rooted in the mid-1800s—where iron and steel collaborate with fashion and the spirit of possibility—have increasingly become the foundation of new attractions.

“Steampunk is about going back to the Victorian era and imagining that the technology from that period had continued on, instead of being replaced by modern technology in the 20th century,” says Jonathan Kuntz, a lecturer with the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television in the shadow of Hollywood, California.

Kuntz believes steampunk is a design philosophy, first highlighted by 19th-century author Jules Verne, best known for writing “Around the World in Eighty Days” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”

“It’s a style, a look, where costumes and machinery allow for idiosyncratic creativity,” Kuntz says of the use of brass, copper, and giant rivets to tell a story. “It allows designers to take pieces of the past and re-create modern versions.”  

In Europe, Walt Disney Imagineering used elements found in a steampunk society when designing “Space Mountain” at Disneyland Paris. Instead of fitting into a world of tomorrow, the iconic French roller coaster went retro with the use of brick and iron reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution.

In Asia, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” at Tokyo DisneySea is a steampunk adventure set in Captain Nemo’s underground laboratories. Riders step aboard steam-powered mining vehicles and venture deep into the Earth.

The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk uses the steampunk subculture as the basis of its industrial-vibe design, while the Screampunk District at Six Flags Magic Mountain north of Los Angeles traces its motif to steampunk fundamentals.

“Voyage to the Iron Reef” at Knott’s Berry Farm also uses steampunk theming to transport guests under the park, where a metallic kraken awaits in a subterranean sea.

“Steampunk derives on manipulating leather and wood, and practical materials of the 19th century. It’s the opposite of a computer—an enclosed machine that we know nothing about,” Kuntz says.

Exposing working parts can be seen on “Time Traveler’s” brass-colored trains, where some of the bearings and mechanics have been left on display, according to Mack Rides’ Maximilian Roeser: “It is the first time we really showed the mechanics behind a ride—we didn’t have to hide it!”

“Time Traveler’s” deep olive-colored track is supported by 200 mocha-tinted supports—not bright by design, according to Brad Thomas with Silver Dollar City (SDC)—to sync with a steampunk palette devoid of flashy tones. The style is also incorporated in employee (what SDC calls “citizen”) uniforms, where a style guide helped the wardrobe team design costumes using earth tones, only accented by a touch of turquoise.

Twist and  Shout

The spin on “Time Traveler” is controlled by a variable magnet under riders’ feet. The magnet is adjustable, allowing SDC to set the spin speed. 

“It’s not overly spinning, but a gentle spin,” explains Maximilian Roeser, head of marketing for Mack Rides. Roeser says designers had to take into consideration SDC’s vast operating season (the park traditionally opens before spring begins and closes at the end of New Year’s Day).

“In summer, we will see more spinning,” Roeser predicts, explaining warmer temperatures will affect the vehicles’ hydraulics.

Therefore, using the patented controls under each car, maintenance technicians at SDC can continue to adjust the spin, per the weather. 

Also new: individual lap bar restraints that automatically lower, gently coming to a rest on a seated rider’s lap; von Elverfeldt calls this feature a “world’s first.” Ride attendants on the platform ensure four guests per car are seated before pushing a button on the train to lower the restraints. 

Ride operators initiate a restraint check by pushing a green button on each individual car. The system then applies upward pressure to each lap bar. During this time, operators observe the test to ensure that it is successful, before pushing the green button again, effectively locking the restraints. 

The ride operators then move to designated positions safely away from the train, where they use a combination of hand signals and eye contact, before pushing separate dispatch buttons, initiating the train to leave the station.

1806_cover_story_cooper

“We do so much that digs a little deeper, and has charm, and creates emotion; it resonates with people.””

—Jane Cooper, President and COO of Herschend Family Entertainment

Naming Rights

While the engineers at Mack Rides were developing “Time Traveler’s” spinning control device, HFE’s creative and marketing teams began working on names for a new attraction.

Cooper recalls a third trip to Germany with Thomas in June 2016 when she received an e-mail on her smartphone with suggestions of 10 possible ride names. 

“It’s after Europa-Park closed, and we’re standing on the platform of ‘Blue Fire’ looking at these [prospective] names. We both just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘None of this really works,’” Cooper says. 

Mesmerized by the prototype vehicle, Thomas had a new idea: “We saw the bones—the skeleton of that car—and we believed it looked like this weird time-travel machine.”

The executives felt they were on to something.

“We talked about it for a couple of minutes, and Brad and I got really excited, and we said, ‘Time Traveler!’ That could really work!” Cooper remembers.

Enthusiastically, Cooper immediately began texting colleagues back at HFE’s headquarters in Atlanta, sharing ideas along a Jules Verne overlay and steampunk theme (see steampunk sidebar on p. 47).

“What do you guys think?” she asked in a text message.

The return text was not what Cooper had hoped for.

“Most of them went, ‘Nahhh,’” she says disappointedly. 

However, Cooper says, after the steampunk idea set in, the gears began to turn.

“As our people thought about it, it resonated. After they did a little research, it grew,” she says.

Coaster with a Conscience

After settling on the name “Time Traveler,” HFE’s team crafted a comprehensive story around the ride.

Guests enter on the ground floor of a three-story structure that first appears to be a towering clock factory. The line navigates past props, such as punch cards accompanying an employment time clock and a sign encouraging riders to volunteer weekly and help others. 

“It so fits with who we are,” Cooper says. “The core value of our company is serving others.”

On the second floor, riders get the hint there are more than clocks being manufactured inside. Fictitious character Charles Henry—a clockmaker and inventor by trade—wants his daughter, Emmaline, to realize everyday people can do amazing things, like discover a way to jump through time aboard specially built “Time Traveler” vehicles. 

The steampunk treatment isn’t limited to the visual sense; audio also plays a larger role. SDC hired Branson-based music producer John Presley to create a score for the ride.

TIME TRAVELER HIGHLIGHTS

  • A 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop out of the boarding station 
  • Top speed of 50.3 mph
  • Only spinning coaster to feature three inversions: dive loop, vertical loop, and zero-gravity roll
  • Two launches: 0 to 47 mph in 3 seconds, 30 mph to 45 mph in 3.5 seconds
  • Mack Rides’ first roller coaster to introduce automatic lowering individual lap restraints 

“I started with specific percussion parts that helped emulate the tick-tock of the clock factory,” he says. Using acoustic guitars, a mandolin, fiddles, and a banjo, Presley brought together musicians at recording studios across the United States linked together by an internet connection. The 11 instrumental cover songs feature themes of flying, spinning, and, of course, time. Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” join “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, among others.

“Because these are fun, instrumental versions of songs people know, you can spot guests in line trying to guess every song,” Presley says. “You just haven’t lived until you’ve recorded a Pink Floyd song on a banjo.”

The last piece of audio Presley produced belongs to the character of Emmaline Henry. The inventor’s daughter instructs riders to “Dream big, do good,” which also serves as “Time Traveler’s” slogan.

You Say You Want a Revolution?

“Time Traveler” begins its journey around 3,020 feet of track without a lift hill or launch mechanism. Instead, trains exit the clock factory and dive 10 stories down a 90-degree vertical drop into a valley. The train holds 16 people in four vehicles with riders positioned two across in back-to-back rows. To start the spinning action immediately, a magnetic field placed alongside the track at the station exit ensures riders who left the station facing forward, now find themselves dropping backward at 50.3 mph.

“The drop is amazing,” Roeser says. “When you see the people in the last row plunging down, that’s when the adrenaline gets pumping.”

With vehicles spinning, they enter into a dive loop—the first of three inversions.

“You never know what comes next. You never know if it’s a sideways loop or a backward corkscrew,” Roeser explains of how a vehicle’s position can change the feel of an inversion. The vehicles’ orientation shifts throughout the ride, based on the magnetic guidance and weight distribution within each car, making each lap unique based on a variety of factors. On one trip, riders might enter an inversion forward, backward the next, and sideways a third time. 

A Twist  For the Tastebuds

Like the three inversions found on “Time Traveler,” Silver Dollar City put a fresh twist on French fries. Mimicking the spirals found on the ride’s track, Food and Beverage Director Sam  Hedrick worked with a vendor to create a thick French fry that when cut, appears to create pieces of inverted roller coaster track. The hearty portion of twisted potatoes is served near the exit to “Time Traveler,” beckoning disembarking riders and those content to just watch the ride. 

“We like to think of our guests as family,” Hedrick says. “Our kitchen is their kitchen.” 

The new and modified food venues located across from “Time Traveler” also serve a new pressure-fried chicken sandwich marinated in pickle juice. Hedrick says the pressurized process fits in perfectly with “Time Traveler’s” steampunk theme.

The first LSM launch accelerates riders from zero to 47 mph in three seconds. The height of an overbanked turn following the launch slows the train, allowing the proportional weight of riders to work in concert with the magnets under each car to create the gentle spin. A 95-foot-tall vertical loop follows and serves as the ride’s highest point in the valley.

1806_cover_story_thomas

“Our goal is to make a global statement with a ride like no other.”

—Brad Thomas, President of Silver Dollar City Attractions

“We worked with that terrain, so we maximize the tops of the hills to be the top of the ride experience, and the lower part of the hill to be the lowest part of the track,” Thomas says. 

In the valley, trains enter a zero-gravity roll before traveling at 30 mph when entering the second (rolling) LSM launch. The 45-mph boost is needed to propel trains back up a hillside to the unload platform.

“I think you can ride it a thousand times and each ride will be different,” promises von Elverfeldt.

Time Is Money

At $26 million, the investment in “Time Traveler” is the costliest in SDC history.

“Anybody with enough money can take exactly what we have here and build this. But what they wouldn’t have is that combination of men and women that make the rides happen,” explains Pete Herschend as he looks out to the horizon, gazing toward the shiny inversions of his new investment. When asked, the 84-year-old doesn’t hesitate to answer if he’s proud of SDC’s latest accomplishment: “Oh my… yeah,” Herschend quietly says, almost whispering, following loudly with, “Where else are you going find something like this? There is nothing like ‘Time Traveler’ anywhere in the world!”

The revolutionary goals placed on that blank sheet of paper four years ago are now met. Although Herschend concedes additional Xtreme Spinning Coasters will open in the future, not even a time machine can change the precedent his family set in the Ozark Mountains. On the same rocky landscape where his parents Hugo and Mary first developed Marvel Cave into an attraction in the 1950s, Herschend continues to offer a genuine experience with heart, rooted in family and faith.

“My brother and I—we’ve been so blessed to be at the right place, at the right … time.”


Science of the Spin

A 360-degree look at the  revolutionary new “Time Traveler” vehicle

INTRODUCING A NEW GENRE OF ROLLER COASTER took Mack Rides more than four years of research and development. While that may seem like a long time, for the family-owned manufacturer stretching back eight generations and 238 years, it was just a stitch in time. Through trials and testing, Mack invented a new breed of ride with the Xtreme Spinning Coaster. Through the process, the company also created several additional innovations. Here’s a look at what makes a time machine tick.
1806_sidebar_ride_vehicle_diagram

1. Lockstep   These hydraulic cylinders are used to lock the lap bars. The system features redundancies and includes a third locking mechanism, guaranteeing passengers are held in place.

2. Ride the Break   The eddy current brake system under each car uses this magnet to control spinning. When the metallic rotating disc (see Item 6) passes through the magnetic field, rotation is slowed. Technicians can adjust the magnet to allow for greater or reduced spinning.

3. The Third Rail   This power rail system is used to realign the upper part of each car while sitting in the final break run. The same system is used to charge the battery for the illuminated time scroll (see Item 7).

4. Power Up   Lap bar settings and other data are transferred to the ride control system through this bus bar system. 

5. Static Cling   Roller coaster cars can create static electricity. This brush acts like a dryer sheet in a clothes dryer, reducing the electrostatically charged environment near the train’s electronics.

6. Disc Drive   This metallic rotating disc acts as a conductive surface while moving past a stationary magnet. Positioned on the upper part of the vehicle, the disc aids in rotation of the passenger car.

7. Time Stamp   Blinking LED backlights inside the decorative railing illuminate dates in the past and future.

8. Green Thumb   This green button illuminates to indicate the status of the lap bars. A first press lowers the lap bars. A second press confirms the lap bars have been checked by operators. The white button can manually raise the lap bars.

 

The Prototype

Whether you think it looks reminiscent of medieval armor or the grille from a monster truck, the Xtreme Spinning Coaster started with a prototype. The vehicle designed in 2015 was first tested on Europa-Park’s “Blue Fire” roller coaster in winter 2016 while the park was closed for the season. That’s when Herschend Family Entertainment went for an initial test spin in Germany.

“The first prototype experience we had was really like a teacup on Blue Fire,” recalls Brad Thomas of Silver Dollar City. 

Mack’s engineers then headed back to the drawing board to introduce spin control achieved by adding an eddy current brake system.

1806_cover_story_TEST_VEHICLE

The Xtreme Spinning Coaster prototype vehicle sits in the “Blue Fire” station, awaiting a test run in January 2016. (Credit: Mack Rides)