It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

A beautiful March morning. Bright blue sky. A perfect day for anything but a roller coaster demolition.

Six Flags made the announcement late last season that they'd be permanently closing the venerable Astroworld park in Houston. Much like Riverview Park's demise in the late 60s, it was determined that the land that Astroworld sat on was worth more as a parking lot than as an amusement park. Facing a decline in attendance and revenue chain-wide, Six Flags decided to make a cruel cut and sell the park out for the land. Four months after the October closing, the park is nearly all but gone. The last major vertical presence was that of the Texas Cyclone, a 1976 Bill Cobb creation, but now even that is gone. The demolition pictures above show the last few hours in the charmed life of a problem child.

The Texas Cyclone owed its existence to the New York Aquarium, so let's take a moment to travel from Houston to Brooklyn. The Aquarium is located on Surf Ave in Coney Island, right next door to the world-famous Coney Island Cyclone. Being educational yet fun, as aquariums often are, the establishment managed to eke out a decent existence in the late 1960s. I'm sure Robert Moses, NYC's dictatorial city planner, felt the Aquarium's cultural contributions were worth keeping. While he continued on his crusade to stamp out all he found distasteful (which included pretty much most of southern Brooklyn, including Coney Island and Rockaway Beach) Moses kept the aquarium's windmills safe from his tilting.

So thus was the scene set in 1972: Steeplechase Park, the last of Coney Island's three legendary amusement parks, had closed in 1964, taking with it the remnants of the once-great Nickel Empire. The Cyclone was owned by the city but had closed in 1969 and left to the elements. Coney Island grew seedy, abandoned, frightening. The Aquarium, meanwhile, had prospered enough to announce expansion plans, including building into the lot occupied by the Cyclone. The city had the Cyclone condemned and drew plans up for its destruction.

Now this is where two important things happen. The first was that Brooklyn residents decided they weren't going to let their beloved Cyclone go without a fight, and after heavy civic activism and a huge "Save The Cyclone" awareness and fundraising campaign, the city relented. It leased the Cyclone to Astroland Park next door, which refurbished the coaster and re-opened it in the summer of 1975. (Funny how it all comes back to an Astro sooner or later.) The old girl's been going strong ever since.

The second important thing came with Bill Cobb, a roller coaster designer who visited the Cyclone site between '72 and '75. He had been sent there by the owners of Astroworld to determine how feasible it would be to actually move the Cyclone to Houston. Cobb concluded that while it would be too expensive to actually move the aging structure halfway across the country, there was no reason why they couldn't reconstruct the ride in Astroworld...

The Texas Cyclone debuted with the new "Coney Island" section of Astroworld in 1976. It was a mirror image of the original 1926 design and built slightly taller in the spirit that "everything's bigger in Texas." It gained an immediate reputation as a wild ride. May very well have been the wildest ride around, for serious. The taller hills, combined with Bill Cobb's reputation for building intense rides, proved to be a maintenance nightmare and a lawyer's ulcer. Not that there's anything bad with giving lawyers ulcers, mind you, but they tend to make some extreme demands on coasters when their ulcers act up.

Seatbelts had to be added to the back seat almost immediately to ease the fears of any ejector airtime. The first turn was lowered in 1979 because the trains had a habit of valleying in heavy winds. Neck injury lawsuits in the 1980s prompted the DH Morgan company to build unique new trains for the ride, featuring the most extreme headrests around. The headrests on these "coffin cars" blocked the views from all but the front seat (and, shockingly, have not been replicated anywhere since.) The coaster's first drop was reprofiled in 1996, lowering it by six feet. By 2001 the park felt the ride had been tamed sufficiently enough to warrant the removal of the coffin car headrests, and the coaster lived out the last four years of its life entertaining happy riders who could actually see where they were going.

And now it's gone. The demolition crew arrived pre-dawn on the morning of March 9th. By 10:00 am, the ride was gone. They pulled it down with cables. I never got to ride it but being a fan of Bill Cobb's indigestion-inspired designs, I really wanted to.

It's never a good day when a roller coaster is demolished, especially one rich in history. But for one to be demolished when no attempts were made to save it (it wasn't even placed on the auction block along with Astroworld's other steel coasters), especially when the ride itself was borne from preservationism, that is a tragedy.

Adios, amigo.

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