Quassy is a small, family-friendly (read: mostly rides for kids), park on a lakeshore in Connecticut. It's home to some nice, classic rides suitable for all ages and some kid-centric stuff as well, like this Herschell "Little Dipper" model, circa 1952:

They also used to have a gloriously twisted Herschell "Mad Mouse." It was actually a "Monster Mouse" version, regardless of what the lettering on the structure said, which means it was much more rare. I love those diabolical contraptions and they are becoming truly hard to find. I was sad to see this one retire.

But this article is about Wooden Warrior, the better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be coaster that appeared in 2011, the year after the Mouse retired. Quassy really thought outside the box on this one, in that the coaster is kid-sized, but [1] it's a woodie [2] they got The Gravity Group to design it [3] it introduced a brand new kind of wood coaster train and [4] it kicks all kinds of butt.

Yeah, I know. It's not the first time I've waxed poetic about a kid-sized coaster. I'll be the first to admit that I get genuine joy on some of these little rides, but on this one you don't have to take my word for it, because I've got statistics.

In the world of amusements and theme parks and such, there are two "best-of" polls that are taken seriously: The Golden Ticket Awards and the Mitch Hawker poll. The GTAs are given out by Amusement Today, an industry trade publication, and are generally thought of as the "Amusement Park Oscars." The Hawker poll is usually cited as the "best" poll for determining how good a coaster is, due to its method of tabulating results, the sheer number of ballots cast every year, and the algorithm it uses to insure that rides don't get ranked higher just because more people have ridden them. 
In BOTH of those polls, this so-called kiddie coaster has ranked among the top 40 wood coasters in the world. If you think that making the top 40 isn't THAT special, consider that it ranked seven places higher than Boardwalk Bullet on the 2014 Golden Ticket Awards. Still not convinced? On the latest Hawker poll, Wooden Warrior placed twenty-seven places higher than the Coney Island Cyclone. Read that again: 27 spots higher than the CONEY ISLAND FREAKING CYCLONE.

Update: Since 2013 was the last time Mitch Hawker ran his poll, ElloCoaster launched its own poll with a similar tabulation formula. In the 2017 rankings, Wooden Warrior placed in the top 30.... still 26 places higher than the Cyclone. It's really that good

Have a look at those 'Timberliner' trains! Not only are they freakishly beautiful, but they are the most advanced wood coaster trains ever built. Wooden Warrior was the first coaster to get these and the track layout was designed from scratch knowing that these puppies were going to be running on it, so it took full advantage of their strengths: they can take tight corners at high speeds, the seats are heavily padded and have shock absorbers for a smooth ride, and the restraint system holds the little ones just as securely and comfortably as it holds the parents. In other words, there was simply no need to 'dumb down' the track to accommodate boxy, inflexible trains. It makes all the difference in the world, trust me. 

photo credit: Quassy Amusement Park

The looks on their faces say it all: "holy crap, I thought this was a kiddie coaster!"

photo credit: Quassy Amusement Park

There's a tunnel over the turnaround. There is crazy airtime all over the layout. There is speed that shouldn't even be possible, considering the small size of the ride.

photo credit: Quassy Amusement Park

There are quick turns, hidden hills, and a breathless pacing that ensures a lot of cheering and "wow"-ing when you hit the brakes at the end. It's a fantastic, rollicking, beautiful ride and it's absolutely perfect for this park. I could easily do a play-by-play, talking about this or that turn, the darkness of the tunnel, the fact that for someone my size and weight, the middle of the train gave an even crazier ride than the front or back (no, really!), or any number of other things that I love about this ride... but I'm going to talk about something else instead.

I had limited time to spend at Quassy the day I went in 2013 and I made sure to be there right at opening, to score as many rides as I could before the crowds picked up. As it turned out, crowds were very light that day, so this was going to be doubly-good. The gates opened and I went straight for the coaster, as did a handful of other folks - we hopped on board, had a blast, pulled into the station cheering, then were told that if nobody was in line for our particular seat, we could ride again. WOO HOO! Since most folks were hitting smaller rides first, almost all of us got to re-ride. After a few rides, we saw a father and son making their way up the ramp into the station. The kid was moving really slow because both his legs were in metal braces and it took considerable effort and balance for him to make it up into the elevated station house. When the train came back in, they were in line for the back seat. The kid's a trouper, I thought, heading for the back of the car for the craziest ride. Good for him!

The ride came back into the station with cheering passengers and since nobody was in the queue line, we all got a re-ride. I looked behind me at the kid and his dad in the back seat as we went up the lift hill to see if the kid was OK with another round. The huge smile on his face said that he was.

Round the course, into the station, and there were were a few folks in line, including a couple in line for the back seat. The kid with the leg braces was helped out of the seat and began to make his way for the exit, when someone on the train who was staying put for a re-ride called out to him and said, "hey, you can ride here if you want to go again." The kid was clearly grateful, and the dad thanked them, saying that it saved his son the long, difficult walk down the exit and back up through the queue. They sat down in the train and off they went.

I should mention that this went on for two hours. That's as long as I was there, due to my limited available time, and after twenty or more rides, I took a couple of minutes to snap some pictures before leaving. The kid and his dad were still riding when I finally left the park and they hadn't missed a single train since they got there, because if someone was in line for their seats, someone else on the train would offer theirs instead. I'm sure that they likely kept riding long after I left, as the excitement and joy on the kid's face hadn't diminished a bit - nor had the same look on his dad's face.

That's them in the back row.

It was more than just the fantastic design of the coaster that put the looks on their faces, though. In every aspect of his young life, the braces on the kid's legs made him different. Slower. Less stable. Awkward. That's a rough deal for anyone, always feeling set aside, lesser-than... but for a kid, it's just brutal. But here on the coaster, his legs don't matter. Here, he is just as fast as everyone else. Here, he can keep up. Here, on the airtime hills, he can fly. Here, he can fit in, he can enjoy himself, he can be a kid. The coaster for him isn't just a fun ride, it's an escape vehicle from the suckage that life dealt him. For his dad, it's a chance to see genuine, unabated joy on his son's face, joy that he might not be able to experience any other way.

I thought about that kid a lot that day, even as I left Quassy and made my way to the next park for more coasters. I had a long talk with myself about not taking life for granted, about appreciating experiences to the fullest, about treating every day as a treasured gift... and about the fact that no matter how much I love riding coasters, I will never, ever, ever enjoy one as much as that kid enjoyed Wooden Warrior that day.

Ride on, kid. Ride on.