April 18, 2019
After 40 years, The Beast, Kings Island’s world-famous roller coaster, is still insane. It just is. Today, only two coasters in the world are longer. There are of course many, many coasters that are taller and faster, but no one has quite figured out how to top The Beast as a complete package, though its distant cousin comes close. More on that later.
The Beast was first conceived in the late 1970s when Kings Island was just a few years old. One of the first modern theme parks, Kings Island was drawing visitors from all over the Midwest, and beyond, to enjoy the parks world-class attractions.
The park also helped rekindle interest in wooden roller coasters, which by the late 1960s were a dying breed. At one time, over 2,000 roller coasters dotted these United States. However, by the time Kings Island opened in 1972, only about 100 were still operating.
When it was announced in 1969 that the old Coney Island amusement park would close, many in the area were saddened. However, Coney’s new owners planned to build a newer and better park in Mason, even moving some rides and buildings to the new site. The popular Shooting Star roller coaster didn’t make the trip, but to satisfy its fans, legendary designer John Allen was brought in to create The Racer.
The Racer became one of the new park’s top attractions and around the U.S, interest in coasters began to increase. The next logical step for Kings Island was to build another full-sized coaster (the smaller Scooby Doo coaster, also designed by Allen, opened in 1972 along with the Racer).
At first, the park recruited Mr. Allen to help design the new coaster, but he was closing in on retirement and declined. He did, though, consult a little, laying out formulas and other thoughts on the back of a menu in the old International Restaurant while on a visit to the park. The job then fell to Kings Island’s own design and construction team who almost immediately envisioned something grand.
Up until that time, most coasters were what is known as out-and-backs. In other words, they went up a lift hill, then dropped down and followed a roughly oval path with turns and hills, usually on a fairly flat plot of land.
The Beast would use a 35-acre chunk of, uneven, wooded land in the back of Kings Island. The rough terrain would influence the design of The Beast, helping to provide drops and turns without making the coaster so tall that it could be seen from the rest of the park. It was the first coaster to do this.
Designers also wanted The Beast to be long and fast and started getting carried away, which is what ultimately led to it being the behemoth we know and love today. In 1998, Charlie Dinn, a member of The Beast design team, explained what happened in an interview with a Discovery Channel program called Wild Rides:
“The reason it got so high and so long is because we kept submitting these drawings to our general manager who probably couldn’t visualize what we were really submitting to him. And he would say ‘that looks good, that looks good,’ so we just kept getting bigger and bigger until it finally got to where it is today.”
Again, that program was broadcast in the late ’90s, but The Beast is no less impressive today, whereas other rides featured in that program are now antiquated and have been surpassed by modern coasters.
The Beast, however, remains a top coaster. It is still the longest all-wooden roller coaster in the world and the longest coaster in the U.S. Only Japan’s Steel Dragon 2000, an all-steel coaster, and Britain’s The Ultimate, a steel coaster on a wooden frame, surpass it in length. Oddly, a coaster that comes close to matching The Beast thrill for thrill sits just three hours away in Southern Indiana and is distantly related to KI’s famous woodie: Voyage.
To hear the full story on that lineage, check out The Cincy Shirts Podcast Episode 9 with The Gravity Group. Suffice to say, Voyage, a wooden coaster on a steel frame, is mighty impressive and uses a lot of the elements found on The Beast, including a track mostly secluded in the woods, and the use of surrounding terrain to influence many of its design elements. Indeed, many coasters since The Beast debuted have adopted this practice.
Other elements remain fairly unique to The Beast, though. It drops straight into a tunnel before thrusting riders out into the woods hurtling them through twists and turns before coming to rest, momentarily. This is where most coasters would end, but The Beast climbs a second lift hill and throws its passengers into a double helix on a track that is angled in such a manner that even the most experienced Beast rider fears the train go careening into the side of the tunnel at the top of the helix.
After 40 years, it’s still a top attraction not only at Kings Island, but in the entire country. And while you can find taller and faster coasters, arguably, no one has figured out a way to top The Beast.
May 10, 2019
Thanks for the Voyage shout out! The late Will Koch was one of the designers (along with The Gravity Group) – he was a great admirer of The Beast.
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