Coaster technology has pushed the boundaries of what we expect these rides to do. Today's coasters can hit triple-digit speeds and reach heights taller than many skycrapers, flipping and spinning and twisting riders in every direction. It seems that parks are competing to see who has the biggest, fastest, wildest, whatever-est coaster and they're paying huge money to get just that.
...and then there's this.
"Coaster." That's what it's called, seriously. Occasionally, you'll see it referred to as "Wooden Roller Coaster." It's unashamedly old-school, not even bothering with a badass name or fancy theming. You want to ride a coaster? They have one. Here it is. It was built in 1958 and it hasn't changed much (if at all) since then. This is a good thing, by the way.
LOOK AT THESE TRAINS! Holy crap, this alone should be enough for you to book a plane ticket to Vancouver right now. Articulated masterpieces, these puppies are in fantastic shape and might be the most comfortable coaster trains on earth. No seat belts, no shin guards, no headrests, and that lap bar? Have a look at the train parked on the left. Those bars are all the way down. There is no chance that you're going to be 'stapled' uncomfortably into these things where your thighs ache and your bladder screams for mercy. These things aren't going to be anywhere near your lap. Have a look at the guy in the front seat on this next picture:
Of course, with the lack of over-restrictive restraints on those trains, you should expect that the ride itself would be more tame than today's speed monsters - and you'd be right. A modest 75ft height gives a top speed of just 45mph, practically a "family coaster" by today's standards. This doesn't mean that there's no thrill, though. To go 45mph in a sleek, new coaster train with tight-fitting restraints, seat belts, and such is something of a bore. To do it in a wide-open car with a lap bar that's hovering about a foot above your lap is thrilling, indeed. To a coaster enthusiast, this is akin to the feeling a car lover might get when someone tosses him the keys to a vintage '67 Mustang and says, "take 'er out for awhile." It lacks all of the bells and whistles of a modern vehicle, but damn is it cool.
And speaking of cool, check out the old-school system it uses to keep the tracks oiled. The silver box in the middle is an old aluminum gas tank that is filled with oil. The oil drips down through the pipes and out onto the rails in front of the flanged wheels.
FLANGED WHEELS! No perpendicular set of guide wheels here, just railroad car-like flanged wheels to navigate the turns.
Playland has been so good at preserving the original aspects of their Coaster that American Coaster Enthusiasts designated it as a "Roller Coaster Landmark" in 2009. All this old-school nostalgia and preservation is great and all, but is the ride itself any good? Let's find out...
The train rumbles out of the station after the ride op releases the brakes with a giant handle sticking up out of the station floor. A long, slow turn past some nice landscaping leads to the lift hill. The first drop is speedy, but not very steep. With the lap bar so high above your legs, though, you still get a bit of jitters as you head down the incline.
A very slow turn follows, giving you a chance to catch your breath. Coaster designs in the last several years seem intent on giving non-stop intensity, running full-speed the entire course. This one uses fast and slow parts to craft a story, letting the slow bits build anticipation for the next fast drop.
It seems to be a lost art of coaster design, this variation of speeds, and it's one that I'd love to see make a comeback. The anticipation serves to make the next good drop even better.
Oh, there's another benefit to having those lap bars up so high: airtime. That delicious moment when the seat you were sitting on simply isn't there any more. Back seat riders get several 'catapult' drops that launch them up off the cushions and front seat riders feel as if they'll blast off into space at the tops of a few of the hills. Check out the pic below of some guy in the front seat getting some air!
The rest of the ride is more of the same: drops and pops interspersed with slow turns. If you're riding alone, expect to slide back and forth across the seat as the turns become tighter and the laterals increase. It's a rollicking good time that's like stepping into a time machine to simpler days when the smell of popcorn and cotton candy mixed with the clickety-clack sound of the old wooden coaster and suddenly everything was right with the world.
Playland's Wooden Roller Coaster is an absolute treasure, an immaculately maintained piece of history that has thrilled generations of visitors and will hopefully remain for generations to come. They just don't make 'em like this any more.