a Molehill out of a Mountain
the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the world in one
of the most crammed amusement parks in the world is one
of the greatest engineering feats ever performed in the
Kingdom investigates how the Big One became reality with
a photo essay detailing the construction of this massive
So, how do
you go about building the tallest and fastest coaster in the
world? Well, first of all, you find yourself a nice big patch of
empty space, and… oh, hang on a second; maybe I should
rephrase the question. How do you go about building the tallest
and fastest coaster in the world at a park that is already
crammed to the limit with other coasters?
With great difficulty.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1993 must have thought the park were
playing some sort of elaborate practical joke. As they walked
around this most crowded of amusement parks, footers had
appeared over the winter, most with a notice saying “At this
point, the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster will
be” followed by a list of statistics for height and speed.
More observant visitors would have noticed that similar footers
were sprouting up all over the park, as far north as the Grand
National station, and as for south as, well, the entire southern
boundary of the park. As the season progressed, parts of the
structure began to appear, mainly in areas of the park
inaccessible by foot, such as the supports for the helix near
the end of the ride. Between the Avalanche and Steeplechase, the
foundations were visible for the station, although their long
thin shape suggested that the building would be something rather
start with the station. Designed by Fiona Gilje, daughter of
Pleasure Beach MD Geoffrey Thompson, it was designed to occupy
as little ground space as possible. Whereas to build a
conventional station on the site would have forced the Monorail
and Pleasure Beach express to be either closed or re-routed, the
building instead opens out from its narrow base so that the
queue passes over the two scenic rides. Another ingenious
space-saving device was the world’s first vertically-moving
transfer track, which allows unused trains to be stored directly
beneath the station track, rather than alongside the brake run.
Overall, the building fits the park’s long tradition of
stylish coaster stations, which dates back to era of Joseph
Emberton’s distinctive designs of the 1930s.
need to use as little ground space as possible is a theme that
runs through The Big One’s construction. Fortunately, the
designers at Arrow Dynamics had already come up with a way to
build their hyper-coasters without the need for side supports.
On previous rides, this had been done simply to make the ride
look more intimidating, whereas in Blackpool, the idea would be
put to practical use, squeezing the lift hill into a narrow
corridor between other rides, and then running the main part of
the ride in slender gaps between other rides and buildings.
Furthermore, the bottom of the support structure had to tailored
to the various oddities around the park, such as the need to let
the Monorail and Pleasure Beach Express run below the lift hill,
to cross the public road that runs through the park, and to
allow the continued use of the west car park, where visitors can
now park almost directly beneath the track.
As soon as
the park closed its gates for 1993, the race against time began.
The park had rented some ground at nearby Blackpool Airport,
where large sections of the structure were being pre-assembled,
ready to be transported to the Pleasure Beach and craned into
place. While most major coasters are constructed behind within a
strict veil of secrecy, The Big One almost became a tourist
attraction in its own right, as locals and winter holidaymakers
crowded around the southern end of the park and watched as the
ride stretched ever further into the air. Construction workers
became celebrities in their own right, and the press revelled in
stories about the workers who were happy to walk around on the
structure, but who claimed to be terrified at the prospect of
having to ride the finished product (Guardian, March 6, 1994),
or Bernard and Phyllis Buxton, an elderly couple who would spend
hours parked on the seafront, diligently watching the
construction work, despite having no intention of ever riding,
and who were always ready to contribute a sound bite to the many
reporters who covered the construction for the media.
section to take its shape was the lift hill. Despite all the
artist’s impressions and publicity pictures, it still came as
a surprise to see exactly how tall the ride was. Previous
hyper-coasters had all been built in open spaces, and so the
fact that this giant structure was towering over such an urban
area just served to make the ride seem even taller. When the
bright red track was laid onto the blue support structure, it
suddenly became apparent how boldly the ride would assert itself
onto the Blackpool skyline.
as the ride passes over and threads through several of
Blackpool’s classic roller coasters, the Big One is littered
with clues how such an unwieldy structure had to carefully
tip-toe around one of the most historical parks in the world.
to a substantial and much-appreciated photo contribution
from Shirley Milner-Smith, we are able to bring you a
photo essay of the engineering and logistical feat that
was the construction of the Pepsi Max Big One.
photos are strictly copyrighted.
to the complexity of the Big One's structure, sections
of the ride were constructed at Blackpool Airport before
being driven in to be craned into the Pleasure Beach.
is a section that will form the coaster's second hill
that had to pass over a car park behind the Bowlodrome.
lift hill was one of the first areas of construction. A
large section sits on the back of a lorry as a resident
watches construction rise above the Star pub.
this point, the lift only just breaches the 100ft mark.
The road passing down the back of the Pleasure Beach was
closed to necessitate the large sections of structure
and the heavy duty cranes used for construction.
the lift continues to climb skywards, work starts
elsewhere on the ride's mile-long course.
cream structure to the left in the foreground will
become the mid-course brake run, whilst for lower
sections tubular steel supports are used, in this case
for the helix.
gaps in the lift hill structure are filled in, the
curling structure of the first drop can be seen to the
left of this photo.
even before the lift hill structure is complete, track
can be seen crawling up the lift to the right of the
long way from the construction of the lift hill, this
photo shows how construction had to tip-toe over and
around other rides.
the Log Flume lake has been drained and is littered with
concrete footers which will support two stretches of
Star is now completely dwarfed by the deep blue
structure of the lift hill which has now etched itself
onto the Blackpool horizon.
work on the higher part of the lift structure continues,
lower parts of the structure are braced together whilst
construction begins in the foreground.
lift structure is all but complete. Where the structure
appears to be thicker towards the bottom on the left
hand side is where the structure has to widen to bridge
two of the parks' rides: the park Monorail and the
narrow gauge Pleasure Beach Express which run about a
third of the length of this lift hill.
that construction on the lift hill is nearing completion
with only about a third of the lift hill track awaiting
installation, the road behind the Pleasure Beach has now
lorry loaded with red Big One track is parked in the car
park outside the front of the Star.
a famous vantage point for the renowned first drop, the
curling spiral towers over Coasters Bar below on the promenade.
The first drop has yet to be tracked, although this
entire section was re-tracked at a latter stage with
additional structure cantilevered away from the main
Big One structure had to be painted with seven coats of
paint in order to protect it from the sea air.
the first drop nearing completion as it creeps up the structure,
the ride takes a more familiar form.
the lift hill, you can see red track climbing into what
will soon be the South Entrance arch which mimics a
similar feature on the Big Dipper.