On this day in 1979, on a rainy afternoon, six engineers, 17 technicians, 53 construction workers, four managers, one general manager and 33 assorted involved people, watched as The Beast roller coaster’s gleaming red 2,700-pound car was placed carefully on the untested tracks.
The first test of The Beast at Kings Island was beginning and the mission was to get the car to return.
About to be judged were three and one-half years of planning, 30 months of studying the world’s best roller coasters, 4,300 man-hours of precise design work to limit all tolerances down to less than 1/16 of an inch, 87,000 man-hours of construction work, a computerized safety system, the investment of $3.8 million and the anticipated thrills of literally millions of guests.
The Beast had already been acclaimed the world’s ultimate roller coaster by industry experts and roller coaster enthusiasts. But, despite all the engineering, planning and design, its record-breaking hills (the two longest vertical drops in the world at the time), its eight banked turns including a 540-degree helix, its length of 7,359 feet, three underground tunnels and its rugged natural terrain, everyone was anxiously waiting for The Beast car to return. It’s not hard to imagine what the mood on the station platform was like with all that was at stake for the park.
A little over four minutes later, The Beast car made a successful return, much to the delight (and relief) of everyone watching. Later in the day, a complete train of four cars was tested, loaded with sand bags to approximate the weight the car might have if loaded with 32 riders. After another successful test run, it was clear that whatever Al Collins and Jeff Gramke had done in their first foray into designing a wooden roller coaster, they did it right!
"One of the biggest pride factors for me when we first ran the ride was to see the reaction of Al Collins," recalled Gramke, who retired in January after a 48-year career at Kings Island. "Al Collins was a very dry, not real emotional kind of guy. For him to be the major designer of this mega roller coaster and not wanting any credit for having done that, he actually got excited and tears came to his eyes when that thing went around. To see that and having worked with that man for all those years (since 1971), that was a great excitement for me too."
After nine days of testing, The Beast was ready to be “unchained” for hundreds of media representatives from around the U.S. and Great Britain on April 13, 1979.
Watch footage of some of the initial test runs courtesy of KI Central.
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