Coaster Kingdom > Anniversaries
This is a text-based version of Coaster Kingdom Anniversary features. By viewing this version, you miss out on photos, graphics, reader reviews and added functionality. To go to the standard version, click here
Big One (10 Years): Making a Molehill out of a Mountain
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.
Photo essay available only on the graphical version of this page, here [34KB]