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Jeff Gramke, one of the two men who designed the legendary Beast roller coaster at Kings Island, has retired after 48 years of service at the 364-acre amusement and water park.
Gramke, who graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in Civil Engineering, served as the park’s manager of facilities, engineering and construction. He began his career at Kings Island in 1971 as the park was being built in a mapping role. When Kings Island opened in 1972, he was invited to stay on as part of the surveying team working with the park’s chief engineer, Al Collins.
Gramke quickly moved into planning, development and project manager positions and was involved in every ride, building and pathway constructed at the park.
In 1976, Gramke and Collins were tasked by park ownership to design The Beast after John Allen from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, who had designed the park’s Racer roller coaster, turned down the job due to his plans to retire. Allen told Collins and other park executives they could design the ride themselves and provided formulas on the back of a park restaurant menu.
“Our first reaction was we thought he was kidding, so we didn’t think much of it that night,” recalled Gramke. “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 it wasn’t dissimilar from what we were doing as surveyors. We talked about it the next day, the company talked about it, and senior management at the time talked it over. We went back and 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.
“It was very labor-intensive. There were no scientific calculators, no computers. Everything had to be calculated by hand. It didn’t take long to see why John didn’t want to do it..”
While he’ll always be known as a chief designer of The Beast, his fingerprints are all over the park. Nobody knows Kings Island better. His passion for and knowledge of Kings Island will be greatly missed by everyone he came in contact with over the years, from co-workers and contractors to the literally thousands of students he spoke to at schools and roller coaster fans at enthusiast events such as Coasterstock. It’s much greater than The Beast the legacy Jeff Gramke leaves behind.
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