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The story behind The Beast roller coaster

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The story behind The Beast

Don Helbig

Area Manager, Digital Marketing - Kings Island

It is still growling and prowling, after all these years. A legend in its own time, it is the holy grail of wooden roller coasters. 

When The Beast opened to the public April 14, 1979, it was acclaimed America’s ultimate roller coaster. It broke all existing records as the longest and fastest ride in the world. It is still listed in the prestigious “Guinness Book of World Records” as the longest wooden roller coaster in the world at 7,359 feet.

The idea for building The Beast actually began as a dream of re-creating one of the Midwest’s most popular old coasters.

When Kings Island construction and engineering personnel began planning to build a new coaster, their aim was to reconstruct the old Shooting Star, an immensely popular ride at Cincinnati’s Coney Island before the park closed in 1971. Charles Dinn, director of construction, maintenance and engineering at Kings Island at the time, had surveyed the Shooting Star before it was torn down, and had recorded each measurement of the ride. Dinn and his crew had even chosen a site, right next to the Racer roller coaster. 

But Kings Island officials decided that rebuilding an old coaster was not the answer. While agreeing that a new Shooting Star would be great for nostalgia buffs, they reasoned that a newer, better coaster would be even more popular, and have more of a universal appeal. But where would it be built, and what would it be like?

That’s when Kings Island’s management explored many options, and realized that a wooded area at the southeast corner of the park had terrain that could accommodate a very special coaster.

Everything began to fall into place. With 35 acres to work with, there were virtually no limitations on space or length of ride. And with the natural cliffs, ravines and gullies, a coaster could break all existing records for vertical drops, without having to build the complete structure from the ground up. In fact, it would be even more practical this way – instead of leveling a large plot of land, just take advantage of the uneven terrain and build the coaster to fit it. And think of the excitement of a roller coaster that would wind through a forest – sometimes above treetops, sometimes right through the middle of the trees. A ride that would hurtle its passengers to the very brink of a cliff, pull them back, then send them up and down the hills and gullies in the woods! Indeed, it would be a ride that no other park could duplicate.

With genuine excitement, Dinn and his associates began planning the roller coaster. They traveled the country, noting the best features of all of the major coasters. They surveyed the 35-acre Kings Island site, headed for the drawing board, and plotted out the ride on paper. Then it was back to the woods for another look, and more revisions that would make the rugged terrain a help, rather than a hindrance in planning. 

But, alas, one final problem: With a ride that lasted more than four minutes, and traveled one-and-three-quarter miles, it was difficult to plan a coaster with enough capacity that was both profitable for the park, and accessible to the guests. If it took forever to get on this coaster, potential riders would give up before ever getting the chance to try it out. Enter John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Allen came up with a special device for launching the coaster cars, so that more than 1,000 guests could enjoy the ride every hour. 

And with that obstacle out of the way, the project began.

The Beast was constructed in less than a year, after two years of research and design – all by Kings Island personnel.

The record-breaking features of The Beast included a 7,359-foot long track (1.4 miles) and ride time of four minutes. 10 seconds; vertical drops of 135 feet (at a 45-degree angle) and 141 feet (at an 18-degree angle); a 125-foot long underground tunnel at the bottom of the 135-foot drop; eight banked turns, some to 45 degrees; a massive, 540-degree helix tunnel near the end. and speeds up to 64.77 miles per hour.

By the time workmen had completed the massive Beast construction in March of 1979, they had used 650,000 board feet of southern pine lumber; 37,500 pounds of nails; 82,480 bolts and washers and 2,432 square yards of concrete.

The ride was officially, and quite appropriately, “unchained” in a steady downpour on Friday, April 13, 1979, for hundreds of media representatives from around the U.S. and Great Britain. The following individuals climbed aboard the gleaming red coaster cars for the first official ride:

- Charles S. Meachem, Jr., Chairman of the Board, Taft Broadcasting Company

- Dudley S. Taft, President, Taft Broadcasting Company

- Gary S. Wachs, Executive V.P., Amusement Park Group, Taft Broadcasting Company

- Charles Flatt, V.P. Construction & Engineering, Amusement Park Group, Taft Broadcasting Company

- William C. Price, Vice President & General Manager, Kings Island

- Frank Thompson, Operations Director, Kings Island

- Walt Davis, Director of Park Services, Kings Island

- Charles Dinn, Director of Construction, Maintenance & Engineering, Kings Island

- Bill Reed, Director of Rides, Kings Island

- David Palmer, Director of Marketing, Kings Island

- Dick Fussner, Director of Loss Prevention, Kings Island

- Chris Schaffer, Controller, Kings Island

- Al Collins, Resident Engineer, Kings Island

- Jeff Gramke, Assistant Engineer, Kings Island

- Jimmie Nickell, Assistant Director of Construction, Maintenance & Engineering, Kings Island

- Charles Swing, Maintenance Manager, Kings Island

- Charles Wright, Carpenter Foreman, Kings Island

Members of the media then spent the next four and one-half hours taking turns aboard The Beast, many attaching cameras to special mounts on the front cars to try and capture the sights and sounds of the unique thrill ride.

The Beast has accumulated the following statistics since it opened in 1979:

- Each of the trains has traveled a total of more than 898,000 miles. That’s the equivalent of 35 times around the world!

- More than 52 million rides have been taken by park visitors, the third-most in park history.

- 1980 was the record year for the most number of rides. There were 2,150,353!

- July 17, 1981 was the record day, with 20,885 riders.

- The record hour was 1,680 on June 15, 1980 (Normal capacity is 1,000).

In 2004, The Beast was given the Coaster Landmark Award by the American Coaster Enthusiasts club, an award designed to recognize coasters of historical significance. 

The Beast was the ultimate dream of every coaster designer and every park in the world. There has never been another one like it.

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Don Helbig

Area Manager, Digital Marketing - Kings Island

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