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The Beast: The first 40 years

John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

The Beast has had a rich history throughout its 40 years of operation at Kings Island. Along the way there’s been some changes and improvements made to the legendary ride from season to season. Let’s take a look back and recall some unique facts about the ride as well as some changes made since The Beast first opened.

The Beast was originally designed to operate with four trains and fewer cars on each. However, after testing began, it was deemed that three trains with more cars were more effective and improved cycle times. The design of the trains were meant to resemble mining cars complete with a front headlamp, but this was changed when the park decided upon the calling the coaster The Beast. 

When The Beast opened to the general public, it originally ran with four-bench cars designed and built by The Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Early on during its inaugural season, it was decided the longer cars were not allowing the trains to navigate the track appropriately. So the park’s wooden coaster team re-built the trains during the off season reducing each car down to three rows each. This is why when you are waiting to board the coaster in the station, not all of the queue gates match up to the row ahead of them.

The front cars of each train were originally painted red and each subsequent car faded to the rear car being yellow. It was meant to resemble a “fireball” as suggested in The Beasts commercial. The trains were overhauled and painted a solid red after the trains were cut down to three-bench cars. As a part of the 40th anniversary season, the trains have been returned to the color scheme reminiscent of the first year.

Originally, each row in each car was a single-bench seat with a “buzz bar” that flipped down over the legs of both riders. Over time, however, seat dividers and headrests as well as individual lap restraints and seat belts were added for safety. Improved standards to thwart rider misconduct and a better ride experience led to many of these necessary security enhancements.

There were four queue houses used to hold the crowds of people waiting to ride. The ride now only has three. Also, during its first year of operation the final helix was not covered and tunnels No. 2 and No. 3 were not connected.

The station, lift and part of the queue were originally situated over a man-made lake. The lake was a hold-over from the Shawnee Landing canoe attraction that was removed in order to build “The Beast.” If you don’t recall the canoe attraction, then it can be seen in the infamous “Brady Bunch” episode filmed at Kings Island in 1973. The missing blueprints were found by Marcia and Jan in a boat located approximately where the line entrance to The Beast’s is today.

The lake remained, along with a working water mill attached to the station through 1986. It was removed for several reasons. The exit from the station was re-routed to reduce congestion on the midway, to give better access to accessible patrons and to route people past the (then) new on-ride photo booth. The water was also prone to becoming “trashy” with guests tossing things – including lots and lots of coins - into it. The park’s landscaping team had a rowboat stored under the station that they would use after hours to recover trash and dropped articles. The coins were collected after the end of the season and donated to seasonal employee scholarship funds!

Originally, you exited UNDER the station past a large logo of The Beast where riders could have their picture taken by a park associate. It was called The Beast Tamer Photo.

Contrary to popular demand, The Beast has ALWAYS operated with trim brakes – since Day 1. Initially the ride had much shorter brake runs located on the first drop, the mid-course brake shed and the drop into the final helix. However they were lengthened over the years. From the start, the coaster was designed to operate with these “trims” so that they could regulate speeds of the ride – which was only controlled by inertia in the days before coasters began using computer controlled brakes.

Until 2003, The Beast operated with “skid brakes.” These were long wooden panels with brake plates that, when engaged, would press against the underside of the train to slow or stop it. The skid brakes in the final brake run and station were completely controlled by the “driver” in the operator’s booth. Moving trains in, and out, of the station was done by hydraulically raising and lowering the skids and eyeballing the trains in order to stop them in the proper place. There was an “art” to hitting the exact stopping marks in the station – and it took practice.

The original “skid brakes” were all covered with roofs. Why? Because if they got wet, then the trains would sometimes slide through them and not slow. Because of this, the brakes would be raised during rainstorms and humid or icy days of operation. The skid brakes along the course were literally controlled by adding rocks, nuts and bolts etc. to coffee cans suspended by wire from underneath the spring-loaded brake panels. As the speed of the trains increased/decreased throughout the day, the maintenance team would simply drive out to the brake areas and add/remove items from the cans in order to adjust them!

In those instances when The Beast ran in very cold temperatures, the maintenance team would place heat lamps and pipe warmers under the station to keep the hydraulic fluid from freezing and the skid brakes from “sticking.” Occasionally, however, the brakes would still freeze and trains would “overshoot” the station!

The Beast now operates with computer controlled magnetic trims and “pinch” brakes. These required the addition of metal “fins” to the underside of the trains in winter 2002. It also required an overhaul of sections of the track. These areas of track use long “tie-rods” which incorporate “U-shaped” clamps in the middle so the fins on the underside of the trains can pass through.

The Beast was one of the first wooden coasters regulated by a computer system that used “photo-eye” sensors to detect where trains were located. The computer system has been overhauled and replaced a number of times through the years.

As with any other computer-controlled roller coaster, The Beast operates via a “blocking system.” A block is a section of track separated by the use of electronic sensors. Only one train can enter a block at a time or the ride shuts down. There are six blocks along The Beast’s course… Station to top of lift No.1, top of lift  No. 1 to 1/3 up lift No.2, 1/3 up lift No. 2 to the top of lift No. 2, top of lift No. 2 to final brake run, final brake to transfer track, and final brake run to 1/3 up the lift No. 1 (blocks 5 & 6 overlap.) If a train crosses into a block before another exits it, then the ride experiences a “set up” and the lifts stop and all brakes engage.

Occasionally, The Beast experiences “phantom/ghost trains.” This is where the track sensors detect movement within a block when a train is not navigating it. These set-ups cause the ride to stop until the safety system can be cleared by a maintenance tech. “Phantom trains” are, in some cases, caused by the many critters that live in the woods with The Beast. A curious squirrel or raccoon may wander onto the ride’s track and the sensors will detect movement alerting the operating panel.

The ride was originally stained redwood – but as the years passed the stain color was changed to brown. It was first completely re-stained in 1989 by a fledgling, independently owned local company. After successfully completing the job, Baynum Painting grew to become the most popular coaster and ride painting company in the country. They have subsequently re-painted most of the largest coasters in the U.S. including several of Kings Island’s steel coasters and Eiffel Tower!

The original “double opening” queue gates were replaced with singles in 1999. For the ride’s 20th anniversary, the trains received special anniversary logos as well as “scratches” to the lead cars. Also, theme music culminating with a recorded “growl” was added to the lift hills.

Most of the original themed signage inside and outside the station has been removed over the years. Although a few remain, many were lost to time and elements. Others are now located in hidden areas of the park – like the offices of the ride operations department!

Beloved Kings Island Public Relations Manager, Ruth Voss, retired from Kings Island in 1989.  Considered the “Woman behind the Beast” she was the person who named the ride. She loved taking rides on The Beast every day at the park. As a part of her retirement, and due to her love of the ride, the park staff presented her with her very own authentic lead car from The Beast. The car was a spare from 1979 when the park downsized the coaster from four trains to three during construction. The wooden coaster maintenance team refurbished it and hand delivered it to her home so that she could still be near her beloved Beast each day. They coined it “The Ruth Voss Special.” It’s the only time in the rides history that a significant part of it was gifted to someone.

The Beast’s construction has never been completed, nor will it ever be. Track sections are constantly being replaced, structure rebuilt and re-profiled. It requires a dedicated team of specialized wood coaster experts to maintain the ride to its exceptional quality. This team walks every inch of the track every single operating day, and inspects the trains on a nightly basis. During the off season, the maintenance team completely disassembles the trains and use an infra-red acid dip to check for any possible frame issues.  The trains are then completely re-assembled and placed on the track in early spring for a bevy of testing cycles. During winter months, extensive structure checks, track work and wood support replacement is completed.

For years, as the crew left The Beast each night, there was a tradition of walking a specific way through Rivertown - it was known among crew members as walking “Beast Way.”

Many of The Beast’s former crew members and operators remain good, close friends in the many years following. After spending such memorable times working together, crews become like family and several of The Beasts former operators hold crew reunions. Some original rides associates have even returned to The Beast crew years after their original tenure.

There is a piece of The Beast’s original track plate hanging on the wall in the driver’s box. It is engraved with the names of the original crew members to commemorate those who first operated The Beast in 1979.

Finally, Jeff Gramke, Kings Island’s manager of engineering and construction, still has the original International Restaurant menu on which prolific coaster designer John Allen gifted his equations for building a wooden coaster. These formulas were instrumental in allowing park engineers Al Collins and Jeff Gramke to design The Beast. It was the last coaster in which John Allen was involved. He passed away four months after The Beast opened. Gramke has worked at the park since the 1971 and often called “Father of the Beast.”

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John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

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