For the past two days, I have watched the final blows of destruction to the Thunderbolt.Steve Urbanowicz died on Friday at the age of 46. Right out of the blue: walking down the street with a friend, collapses, medics unable to revive him on the scene. Gone. Pffft. Taken from this world waaaaay too early.
Since the city inspector and all others involved seemed to think the ride was in immediate danger of collapsing, they probably thought it would be quite easy to remove. Of course, documentation of how difficult it was to even knock down the lift hill has been made clear on this ng. It wouldn't budge. It was slammed, would lean, and swing back to upright. Again and again. Finally, when it did fall over, it landed on its side in ONE PIECE, not even slightly buckled.
The final destruction and removal phase began today. The lift hill structure was torn apart and removed. But it wouldn't go easily. Torches had to be used to break it into small pieces.
The house was refusing to budge, as well. At one point, the crane grabbed a support beam. It shifted the house on its foundation, but sprang back to normal position, actually LIFTING the tracter off its treads. This went on for about 15 minutes, until finally a new tactic caused the roof to cave in.
The crew left the lift hill area smoldering when they quit for the day, and soon a fire was burning anything that was left of the wood track and structure. The fire department arrived and knocked down fences to put the fire out. Scavengers were all over the "private" property soon after, and the huge entrance Thunderbolt sign was being picked clean of it enormous letters.
At nightfall, the fire starts again. While the impotent parachute tower blinks with light in the background, bright orange flames shoot up 40 feet against the black sky, emerging from the center, the heart, of what was once a great, classic piece of Coney Island history, now reduced to but a few small piles of rubble..
If there is anything in these past 5 days that is completely clear, it is that the Thunderbolt did not leave its home of 74 years without a great struggle.
It wanted to live.
I had the good fortune to hang out with Steve several times, once at the Cyclone Celebration of 1999, and a few other times at Great Adventure during various media days or ACE events. He was a big guy, approachable and hangoutable-withable, full of fun and humor. He just loved to ride, that much was evident: he loved his Coney Island Cyclone so much he became PR manager of Astroland for a time. Unlike other PR flacks who say enough good words about a park so they can ride in the front seat, Steve exemplified what a "coaster enthusiast" should be. Enthusiastic. Not entitled. You can sense the heartbreak in his account of the Thunderbolt's demise. He rode cause he cared about the damn things.
And he will be missed.