How Many People Does It Take To Build A Roller Coaster?
Carowinds is building one of the tallest, fastest roller coasters in the world. The Fury will soar 325 feet in the air and reach speeds of 95 mph when it opens in the spring. Right now it’s just a bunch of steel parts, rebar and concrete scattered around the amusement park grounds. It will take more than one hundred people to turn it into a roller coaster.
Travis Mosley makes building a roller coaster sound simple. “We’ll carry it all in with these trucks, put it all together and, then, a big crane will set it. That’s basically how it is,” says Mosley, matter-of-factedly.
He’s talking about building that first stomach-dropping 325-foot hill. That’s a pretty modest way to put it. Mosley and his men will put together three pieces that weigh a total of 147,000 pounds. A crane will lift that big piece of roller coaster track in place and then a crew will come along and torque all the bolts up.
If you press Mosley, he’ll admit it’s not actually that easy. “It kind of makes you nervous sometimes. Some stuff’s big and heavy, but I guess it’s pretty cool. A lot of people can’t say they do that kind of work.” That’s the closest he gets to bragging. His 4-year-old daughter does it for him. His family’s erecting company based in nearby Chester County, South Carolina has put together more than 50 roller coasters across the country.
The crew is unloading one of the big pieces of track with forklifts. It’s green and bright blue and has a twist to it. It’s about 30 feet long. There are two others on the truck.
A steel company in Ohio made the rollercoaster. It comes in pieces like a really complicated, giant set of Legos. It takes 200 truck loads to bring the whole roller coaster down. And, yes, drivers like Jon Albright get a lot of questions.
“Had to haul it on a stretch trailer and they thought it was a bridge beam. And then when I say, ‘It’s a rollercoaster? Oh, I see it now,’” chuckles Albright.
The giant parts of teal track and white supporting beams are lined up all over the Carowinds parking lot. Fitting them together marks the end of a three-year process that started with a Swiss company, named after its founders Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard. They’re thought of as the rock stars of the roller coaster world, but they shy away from interviews.
Rob Decker, with Carowinds parent company Cedar Fair Entertainment, is the guy who hired them to design the $30 million Fury 325. They also designed the Vortex, Afterburn and The Intimidator for Carowinds.
“You’re going over the top of the hill and the ride just wants to continue out into space, but the track pulls it back down. And at that magical moment, we actually get float-time,” says Decker.
That moment of weightlessness is what roller coasters are built around. Usually, it’s a matter of making a hill high enough. The Fury will have a high hill. At 325 feet, it will be the fifth tallest in the world. The FAA had to weigh in on the height. But Decker says it’s not just about the hills.
“Fury 325 is a point of differentiation. It delivers raw speed, some low to the ground, some banking and then air time at a much flatter, parabolic curve.”
He says riders will feel up to four seconds of weightlessness at a time. But, of course, it requires a lot of bulk to deliver those moments. And that bulk needs more than 120 big anchors to hold it down.
“This is the biggest one on site and I think because it carries the most momentum when it finally reaches this point and starts its return back toward the platform,” says Rich McCoy. He oversees the team installing the big concrete pads that serve as foundations for the rollercoaster.
This one is a 30 by 30 foot square that goes down 4 feet. It takes fourteen trucks of concrete to fill it up. That pad will hold in place bolts that attach to the giant beams that hold up the track. Those bolts have to be in exactly the right place.
“When you’re out an eight of an inch down here, by the time you get 300 feet in the air, your error has grown exponentially. If you’re out a half inch, it may become three at the top,” explains McCoy.
You can make that work on your typical building. But that’s not going to cut it when you’re dealing with pre-fabricated parts for a rollercoaster.
Travis Mosley remembers the first rollercoaster he worked on. It was the Hurler, a wooden coaster just a short walk away.
“This is where we started and really since 1998 we’ve pretty much done every ride here. It’s right here local. I mean, you can be home every night and that means a lot,” says Mosley.
And more than 50 roller coasters later, he still likes riding them.
“Oh, yeah, I ride them. If I build them, I got to ride them one time.”
It’s not just the thrill he’s after. It’s the terrifying feeling of a job well done.