Can you imagine Kings Island without its huge collection of world-class coasters? Can you imagine going to the park and there not being any “upside-down” rides? Well, for the first five seasons of operation from 1972-1976, that was the case.
Originally, Kings Island was limited to two smaller coasters (the “Scooby Doo” junior woodie and the “Bavarian Beetle” metal Galaxi coaster) and one “big” coaster (The “Racer”). By the mid-1970’s, new tubular-rail track technology was advancing roller coaster design so that possibilities were endless, including “looping” riders. Kings Island knew that parks were increasing their “scream ratio” so they sought to up-the-ante and expand the park’s coaster options.
Guided by legendary coaster designer Ron Toomer, prolific amusement manufacturing firm “Arrow Development” had recently introduced its first steel looping coaster in 1975 to tremendous success. Kings Island executives had previously worked with Arrow. For example, the park’s two flumes and Enchanted Voyage boat conveyance etc. were built by Arrow. So, in 1976, Kings Island signed the deal to have the firm install the park’s first modern steel roller coaster.
The park chose one of Arrow’s “launched shuttle loop” coasters, and its price tag was part of a $5 million park expansion program for 1977. It was one of the first three that Arrow built and the first of those to open to the public (that same year, the original prototype was installed in Florida, and another identical model in Massachusetts). The ride used an electric winch launch that propelled a five-car train filled with 20 passengers down a 50-foot drop, into a 52-foot high, 360-degree loop, up an identical 50-foot incline before pausing and repeating the entire process in reverse. The entire ride lasted one-minute, six-seconds and reached a speed up to 45 miles per hour.
Kings Island actually purchased the ride before they even knew where they were going to install it. Three years prior in 1974, the park had added the “Lion Country Safari” themed area to the park. Although the Safari Monorail was immensely popular, they found the lack of rides in the area left nothing for thrill-seekers to do. So they ultimately decided it would be the home of the new attraction. The problem was the park was concerned the ride would not “fit in” esthetically. The solution was to place it above the area’s lagoon which featured islands of exotic monkeys and birds. They then painted the ride brown with a gold faded tint on the track rails at the base of the drops and through the loop. It was then surrounded with color-matching tropical landscaping in an attempt to blend the steel with the surroundings.
The coaster which Kings Island named “The Screamin’ Demon”, opened April 16, 1977 and was an instant hit. The park heavily promoted it as their first “scary” coaster. Kings Island’s first venture into modern coaster technology was such a success that during its first seasons, the ride often had a wait time up to two hours! One of the drawbacks to the ride was that the loading platform was actually 50 feet in the air. So guests had to climb over 100 steps to reach it. The lines would stretch down the metal stairs and spill onto the midway. There was no elevator, so it meant for a slow, arduous climb on busy days.
The Screamin’ Demon (sometimes simply called “Demon”) operated at Kings Island for 10 years. In seasons following, high capacity looping coasters “King Cobra” and “Vortex” were installed at the park. So by 1987, the park felt it was no longer a viable attraction at the park. The decision was made to replace the ride with a brand-new attraction, and it was dismantled and sold. The pond on which its drops and loops existed became home to “Congo Falls” in 1988, a spill-water shoot-the-chutes flume that is still in operation today.
In its life after Kings Island, the “Screamin’ Demon” was sold to Camden Park in West Virginia where it operated for another 10 years with the name “Thunderbolt Express.” In 1999, Camden Park closed the ride for maintenance reasons and it sat idle for five years before being dismantled.
From 1977 until 1980, Arrow Development manufactured and installed a grand total of eight identical launched shuttle loop coasters. Sevenof those were eventually relocated and operated at more than one park and only three remain in operation today. Due to the success of “The Screamin’ Demon”, Kings Island would continue to work with Arrow to install bigger and badder steel coasters. These include the original ground-breaking “Bat”, record-breaking “Vortex” and the park’s current suspended coaster “The Bat” (originally called “Top Gun” and later, “Flight Deck”).