After nine months of sweat and toil, after more than 300 blueprints, 325,000 board-feet of yellow pine and fir lumber, after thousands of nails and more than 800 concrete footings - The Grizzly will be ready.
Then, thrill-seekers will wait in line under the hulking structure to experience three minutes of dizzying sensation on Idaho’s new - and only - wooden roller coaster.
“It’s not the biggest or the longest or the fastest,” Silverwood Theme Park president Daniel Aylward said Tuesday as workers raised another frame on the coaster’s peak hill. “But it will be a good-sized coaster with a lot of thrills and a lot of excitement.”
Today, the construction crew for the half-mile-long roller coaster is expected to raise the highest “bent,” or frame, on the lift hill.
The lift hill is the 90-foot summit that, this summer, will sling screaming passengers through a series of peaks and valleys and, ultimately, into a 360-degree spiral that will spit them back to the start.
As the coaster’s cars crest the 90-foot apex, passengers will have an excellent glimpse of Chilco Peak and traffic zooming below on U.S. Highway 95 - that is if their eyes aren’t squeezed shut in fear.
At their fastest, the cars will speed along at 55 mph.
The new coaster is 25 feet higher than Silverwood’s steel roller coaster, the Corkscrew. The Corkscrew was the first inverted roller coaster in the world when it was built in 1975 for Knott’s Berry Farm.
The Grizzly, like other wooden roller coasters, won’t take riders upside down, but it will have its own special nerve-wracking charm.
The next closest wooden roller coasters are in Puyallup, Wash., and in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the other direction, you’d have to travel to Colorado or Iowa to ride the wooden coasters.
“On a steel coaster, the ride’s always the same,” said Ray Ueberroth, immediate past president of American Coaster Enthusiasts, a national organization devoted to this particular form of amusement.
“Wood looks differently,” he said. “It creaks and groans. It smells differently. You get air time, when you feel like you’re floating out of your seat.
“It’s a wonderful feeling, if you like roller coasters.”
Rides on wooden roller coasters often feel faster than on a steel coaster because of the structural timbers rushing past. Steel rides are simpler and cleaner.
On a wooden coaster, the ride may change for different reasons.
“Wood gives,” Ueberroth said. “It’s affected by weather; wind, rain and how much grease they put on the track. These things look rickety, but they’re very safe.”
Fred Grubb, a Silverwood employee overseeing the construction, agreed. The wood of choice, yellow pine, is very strong softwood that should hold up well, he said.
“They thoroughly know their business,” Grubb said of the engineers from Custom Coasters Inc., the Ohio-based company that designed the roller coaster. “Every piece is planned out, and it’s very detailed.”
His biggest concern, he said Tuesday, is worker safety.
As they scaled the 4-by-6 and 4-by-12 timbers of the swaying frame, suspended by a crane, workers hooked themselves to a cross-beam with their nylon-webbed body harnesses whenever they stopped to hammer the framing timbers into place.
Workers uncomfortable with heights stay on the ground, Aylward said.
The project is unusual and challenging, Grubb said. He traveled the country, riding and examining wooden roller coasters in preparation for the project.
One coaster in the Midwest, The Raven, is similar in design to Silverwood’s. It also was engineered by Custom Coasters, Inc.
“The Raven is a great coaster,” Ueberroth said. “Custom Coasters is well-known for designing a lot of thrills into their wooden coasters.”
Although The Grizzly is good-sized, its size isn’t as important as its design, he added. “You can have a very high coaster and it’s kind of ho-hum.”
Ueberroth and other roller-coaster enthusiasts are looking forward to checking out The Grizzly this summer.
Only 92 wooden roller coasters are operating in the United States, he said. A total of 273 roller coasters are in operation in the country. That’s a significant drop from the 2,000 in operation during the roller coaster’s golden era of the 1920s.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER GREAT RIDES Here are a handful of great wooden roller coasters in America, according to the American Coaster Enthusiasts, an organization devoted to keeping statistics on roller coasters and preserving wooden roller coasters. The Coney Island Cyclone, built in 1927, is the most famous roller coaster in the world because of the many times it’s been in the movies. The Beast, built in 1979 near Cincinnati, is the longest wooden roller coaster in the world. It has two lift hills and is 7,400 feet long. The Giant Dipper in San Diego’s Belmont Park, built in 1925, was saved from destruction by a citizen’s group in the ‘80s. It’s been operating since 1990 as a stand-alone attraction. The Giant Dipper, built in 1924, is on the Santa Cruz, Calif., beach boardwalk, the last oceanside amusement park. The Cyclone in Denver’s Lakeside Park was built in 1940. Though only 80 feet at its tallest, it’s considered a classic ride among roller coaster enthusiasts. Leap the Dips, a figure 8 roller coaster in Altoona, Penn., is the oldest roller coaster in the country. Built in 1902, it only goes 6 to 8 mph.