Is there anything scarier than being on a roller coaster? Whipping along at a hundred miles an hour, dropping four hundred feet, flying backwards, and traveling upside down at warp speed. For the most part, amusement park thrill rides serve no other purpose than to scare riders with the possibility that they might not live through the experience.
Vancouver has a traditional wooden roller coaster sitting on the grounds of Canada’s oldest amusement park, Hastings Park. The roller coaster materializes from the ground like a ghostly appendage with aging boards that look like they were hastily slapped together. The construction looks so rickety it seems possible to take an axe to one of the lower beams, hack away, and watch the structure easily toppling over.
Don’t let appearances deceive you. The ride is regularly inspected and has an excellent safety rating. The wooden roller coaster was built in 1958 for $200,000.00 and is Playland’s star attraction. A true classic for many roller coaster enthusiasts.
Compared to modern roller coasters that are much taller, faster, and go upside down, backwards, and sideways, Vancouver’s old wooden roller coaster looks rather tame. It has a drop height of seventy-five feet and can reach a top speed of 47 miles per hour on its 2840 feet of track. Each coaster train has eight two-seater cars. At the docking station passengers slide in to their seats and are barely held in place with a small metal bar that drops across their laps. The roller coaster starts off innocently enough, slowly making its way to the first hill where a chain cable pulls the coaster to the top. There is a sign on the hill warning passengers not to stand up. Long gone is the sign near the top of the hill that cautioned passengers to hold on to their hats and encouraged excited passengers to yell out this warning to their fellow riders.
While the roller coaster creeps up the first hill the rider gets a feeling that something might not be quite right. There’s a lot of noise. The metal wheels grind and squeal on the track and the wooden structure groans and creaks from the weight of the train. Uncertainty creeps into the rider’s minds. Will the roller coaster stay on the track and bring them safely back to the platform? Lurching and groaning the train labors up the hill while riders accept their fate that what goes up must certainly come down. The train crests the top of the hill and the screams from the riders in the first car can be heard clearly at the back of the train that is suddenly jerked forward, yanked by the momentum of the first cars taking the downward plunge.
The drop is fast and steep jostling most of the riders slightly out of their seats. The brave lift their arms in the air. The terrified clutch the small metal bar stretched across their laps. Then there’s a sharp turn to the right and because the riders are sitting on slippery seats and not strapped in, they are thrown against their riding companion or slammed into the side of the car. Immediately there is another hill, steeper than the first plunge but not as tall.
The passengers probably never notice that the train is under its own speed and momentum for the rest of the journey. There are no other hills where it latches on to a cable system. The passengers are so focused on the ride that they don’t notice the ships and tankers on Burrard Inlet or the beautiful snow capped North Shore Mountains. Throughout the ninety second ride the train clacks and groans and jostles the passengers from side to side occasionally lifting them slightly out of their seats. The fear is there: “Am I going to slide out of this tiny lap bar and plunge to my death?”
A sigh of relief as the roller coaster slows down at ground level and cruises to the unloading platform. Safety! Sadness. The ride has ended all too soon.
Playland offers rides with more terrifying thrills including the Atmosfear and the Corkscrew roller coaster, but the old wooden roller coaster is much loved and an amusement park favorite. It often has longer line ups than any other ride.
Playland is located at 2901 East Hastings Street and the rides are open from May to September. Check the website http://www.pne.ca/playland/index.html for operating hours and rates.