Skip to Main Content

Kings Island

Kings Island announces important updates regarding the rest of the 2020 Season. Learn More.

Skip to Next Section

One of the men behind the making of The Beast

Natalie Belfiglio

Social Media Coordinator - Kings Island 

The Beast is celebrating its 40th anniversary at Kings Island this year. This coaster, when it first opened April 14, 1979 was the longest and fastest roller coaster in the world. It still holds the title as the longest wooden roller coaster in the world at 7,359 feet. We’ve all heard about The Beast; now it’s time to meet one of its makers. Jeff Gramke started out as a surveyor before he embarked on the ride of his life.

Sitting across from Jeff in his office, with one of the original Beast train fronts framed behind him, he reminds me of Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, except instead of being fascinated with chaos theory, this Jeff is all about The Beast. As the interview began, his eyes lit up when I started asking him about it, and he talked about the coaster as though he were talking about his favorite grandchild.

Jeff, what was your first reaction when John Allen handed Al Collins the menu with formulas on it and said, “You guys can design the ride yourself.”?

“Our first reaction was we thought he was kidding, so we didn’t think much of it that night. We just thought it was the wine and beer at dinner talking. After we looked at the plans and all the formulas written on the back of the menu, we realized that dissimilar from what we were doing as surveyors. We talked about it the next day, the company talked about it, senior management at the time talked it over, we talked to John and he gave us a whole bunch more information, I have a book that he sent us and it had everything that he had ever learned about roller coasters. He shared it with us because he was retiring, so we had that. The company decided to go ahead and let us design it with John’s oversight. As soon as we got started, we sent John some information, and John said “You guys got it, you don’t need me.” So he got out of it and stepped aside.”

What was one of your favorite memories during construction?

“Oh my gosh, I have a ton of them. One of the bad memories I had was there was a huge tree that was near the first drop and we actually redesigned the ride because of that tree. When we dug the first tunnel, we piled a bunch of dirt up in the woods, near that tree. The excavator that we had doing the job was just finishing up back filling the tunnel, As he getting ready to load his big dozer onto the back of a truck to take it out of here, he spun around hit that tree with his push bumper and barked it up about 30 feet, just ripped the bark right off the tree. So we went to the landscapers that were here and asked them if they could save the tree and they said “nope”. That was one of the bad memories, but the good one was after we got it built, after we ran it, and it went around the first time, you know we knew it would because we were calculating that it would, but always in the back of your mind you’re wondering, “will it work?” Especially when it was coming up out of the helix and make it back and it did, so that was pretty exciting to see that happen.”

If you could go back and change an element of the Beast or even redesign it completely, would you?

“Yeah, I probably would. I would probably make the helix bigger, make it wider, to have more room inside the helix, that’s about the only thing. We had the luxury of having a lot of space, so we were able to straighten the train out. John recommended making sure you were on straight track for at least half the length of the train. So if a train is 55 feet, you want it to be half of that, but we had the luxury of straightening out the whole train, so I think that’s what’s made The Beast so good and lasting over the years. We were just very lucky to have John Allen. We called him a genius, I used to tell everyone that we felt he had forgotten more about roller coasters than most people ever learn. He just knew everything.”

What was your first ride on The Beast like? Did it exceed your expectations?

“Uh yeah, it was a little wild because we didn’t have it done yet. When I first rode it, it wasn’t 100% complete, we hadn’t put all of the bracing on it yet. We don’t do that anymore, we don’t test them until they’ve been run through accelerometer testing done on them over and over again, but back then people did. Most coaster designers did it by the seat of their pants. They just tried it. So it was pretty exciting the first time, because the first time we ran it, it didn’t have any brakes.”

Settle the argument: is The Beast better during the day or at night?

“I’d say night, because you can’t see what’s coming, it’s good during the day too. Fortunately you can ride it with your eyes closed because we’re straightening you out, we aren’t racking you around back and forth, back and forth. So you can ride it in the dark and your body will make the adjustments it needs to make from having your head bang around too much.”

Is the front of the train or the back of the train a better ride?

“The back. I think that’s true with just about any coaster because you get a little bit of everything. Since it’s an attached train, when you’re going up a hill, everything is gravity, so gravity is slowing the train down. As the front of the car crests over the top of the hill, its now going downhill, so theoretically it should be getting faster, so the people in the front car, because the people in the back cars are still going uphill and gravity is trying to slow them down, they aren’t going as fast as they should be. So when you’re in the front of a coaster car and go over the hill, it feels like someone is putting on the brakes, you actually slide forward in your seat because you are not attached to the car. When you’re in the back of the car, it feels like you’re accelerating all the time, because you’re going faster up the hill than you should normally be so you’re pushed back in your seat. We designed the ride to be perfect in the middle.”

Tell me one thing about The Beast that hardly anyone knows.

“Probably the biggest thing is that we re-banked the first curve coming out of the tunnel overnight to get the ride able to run. So we actually built the ride, tested it, realized there wasn’t enough bank in that turn and decided before we opened it up to the public that we needed to fix it. We actually rebuilt that whole first curve in one night, it was like an army out there. We had probably 50 people, we had people taking the stuff apart, we had people doing measurements, Al and I calculated where all the bends needed to go, so we told them how high to go, and where to drill the holes. We had other guys plugging the old holes, we had guys changing the handrails and then we had guys that were doing nothing but cutting wood. It was a huge joint effort.”

There you have it, friends! Make sure to ride The Beast during its 40th anniversary season. Use the comments section below to share some of your favorite Beast memories. 

Related Topics:

Share This

Natalie Belfiglio

Social Media Coordinator - Kings Island 

Post a Comment

Skip to Next Section

Kings Island at Night: The Grand Carousel

This Kings Island “At Night” video was captured at one of the park’s most delightful and beautiful rides, the Grand Carousel. It’s a magnificent visual at night as the park comes alive with an ambiance that just cannot be replicated during the day.
Read More

August 25, 1970: 50 years ago today Kings Island was named

Before Kings Island officially opened its turnstiles on April 29, 1972. Before the park’s Eiffel Tower construction had broken ground. Before the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera welcomed its first families. There’s one date that might just be the most important in Kings Island history. August 25, 1970.
Read More

Kings Island GM presents 13 more seasonal and part-time associates with the Over The Top award

Earlier this month, we shared with our Kings Island Blog readers a new initiative the park’s vice president and general manager, Mike Koontz, has introduced that recognizes seasonal and part-time associates who are going “Over The Top” to make our guests experience memorable and exceeding their expectations.
Read More

Check out this sunrise over Kings Island's Banshee roller coaster

Whether it’s watching the sun climb up and over the Banshee roller coaster or seeing the first rays of light frame International Street, check out Kings Island's sunrise views!
Read More

The Astro-Comet: Remembering King Cobra

In 1984, Kings Island was standing room only as King Cobra made its way into the spotlight of the Adventure Village area of the park. Designed by TOGO, it was the first roller coaster in the world to be designed from the ground up as a stand-up. Other stand-up roller coasters that preceded King Cobra were sit-down models later modified to accommodate stand-up trains, so this made it truly the world’s first.
Read More

Kings Island Foodie News: Chef's Plate pop-up style dining experience new at Wishbone Grill

We have some exciting news for our foodie fans! On Saturdays, Wishbone Grill located on International Street will feature Chef’s Plate, an exclusive dinner hand-crafted by Kings Island’s culinary team.
Read More

Kings Island releases fall calendar

Kings Island has released its fall operating calendar. The park will be open Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 1, and Monday, Sept. 7 on Labor Day.
Read More

This Date in 1973: Filming began at Kings Island for the "Cincinnati Kids" episode of The Brady Bunch

The filming of the episode, which featured stars Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Barry Williams, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, Eve Plumb, Mike Lookinland, Susan Olsen and Ann B. Davis, was filmed over a five-day period Aug. 20-24 at Kings Island, the second year the park was open.
Read More

Kings Island collectible pins now available through the Online Store 

Exciting news for Kings Island pin collectors! We have released a series of collectible pins normally exclusive to shops at Kings Island on the Kings Island Gear online store.
Read More

Check out this daybreak view from The Racer 

Good morning! To begin another week of content on the Kings Island Blog, we're sharing this daybreak view from behind the scenes of The Racer roller coaster.
Read More