One of the most iconic features of theme parks is a roller coaster. The elaborate structures are engineering marvels, and seeing the construction of one of these amazing scream machines is always an interesting prospect.
|When Six Flags acquired Great Adventure
in 1977 they saw great growth potential in the park. Serving one of the
world's largest markets meant they could go big. While the original
dream of Great Adventure was spectacular, a lack of practical experience
in building and operating a successful theme park impacted the plans for
Six Flags brought a wealth of experience to Great Adventure and immediately began investing and improving the park. One of the biggest opportunities they saw was the lack of major roller coasters. In the mid-1970's looping roller coasters became a staple of theme parks and Six Flags wanted to address this immediately and luckily the park's previous owner already had the ball rolling. During the 1977 season, Great Adventure's owner signed a contract with Arrow for the addition of the "Double Header Loop Ride" with construction underway by October of that year. Renamed to "Lightnin' Loops" by Six Flags, the ride would open during the 1978 season. Several parks had installed Arrow Shuttle Loop coasters, but only as single units. Six Flags Great Adventure was set to go bigger with two!
|For the 1978 season, Busch Gardens The Old Country (now Busch Gardens Williamsburg) was adding the Arrow designed Loch Ness Monster coaster which featured an interlocking loop design along a full circuit roller coaster. Great Adventure got a similar visual impact with a lower price tag and a much smaller footprint. Even so, while the Loch Ness Monster had approximately two thousand extra feet of track, Lightnin' Loops could do one thing Nessie couldn't - it traversed the loops both forward and backwards.|
|The plot of land selected for
Lightnin' Loops was a heavily wooded four acre site next to the Fun Fair
section of the park. Located not far from the Dream Street Skyride
station, placing the coaster here would allow for the theme park to have
two major roller coasters on opposite ends of Great Adventure.
The structure for Lightnin' Loops involved two separate construction processes each building identical rides at different heights. At the time roller coaster construction was a much more complicated process. The lack of computer aided design and the lack of precision manufacturing processes meant there was more fitting of parts on site and adjustments made as needed.
The high sets of station supports took shape first. These straight structural frames were relatively simple and were very similar to the structures for the park's two flume rides which were also built by Arrow.
|The upper most portion of the
structural supports would each accommodate a platform, four in all, that
had a series of graduated supports dropping down into a central pit
where the loops would be assembled. Track sections were then positioned
along these supports with the
lower loop's installation taking shape first while
supports for the upper loop stood all around it awaiting its turn to be
It's interesting to note the track sections were all designed to be welded together unlike today where new coasters are often bolted allowing for easier relocation if needed. When Lightnin' Loops was disassembled in late 1992 to make way for Batman The Ride, these sections had to be cut apart instead of being simply unbolted.
|The track was delivered with only
a coat of reddish brown primer which the park would
paint after everything was assembled. Unlike bolted track, welding
joints often discolor requiring touch up so painting the entire ride on
site made sense.
As all the track arrived for both loops with the same primer color, each track section was identified with stenciled letters marking each piece as either "LOW LOOP" or "HIGH LOOP."
The loop tracks were assembled without the support structure around the top of it. The loops could stand on their own and would only require the extra supports during operation of the trains. The supports would be added later in the construction process.
|The lower loop's track was nearly complete when they turned their attention to the upper loop. For the workers, assembly followed the same process with the only differences being this loop had taller supports and was higher off the ground.|
|Meanwhile, the platforms for the
stations and staircases to them took shape. Once in place, tracks
on the platforms were adjoined to the tracks installed for the loops.
The last of the lattice supports were added to the upper loop and with all the tracks and supports installed, the focus then switched to the ride's launch mechanisms and electrical components.
|The interlocking loops and their supports were very sculptural and made quite a visual impact. The ride's original scale model featured a series of meandering walkways which would have allowed guests to get up close to the bases of the loops for even more impressive views of the ride. This idea was shelved probably because of the ditch which needed to be excavated for the lower loop. Instead, the ride's switchback queue line was built near the loops to excite awaiting riders.|
|As the ride came together, the
crews worked to complete the coasters before the busy summer months.
The primary focus was on the lower loop
which opened May 23, 1978. The upper loop took longer, finally opening
July 18, 1978.
When complete, the whole structure glistened in shiny silver paint with blue rails and stairs for the lower loop and red rails and stairs for the upper loop. The ride would operate with a red train on the blue track and a blue train on the red track.
|Six Flags Great Adventure's
Lightnin' Loops was a huge hit with crowds. Most people had never ridden
a roller coaster with an inversion, so for so many guests it was a real
Given the anticipation of the loops, the excitement of the launch out of the station, and then the prospect of doing it all backwards, Lightnin' Loops really was the height of thrills at the time.
|Original Spotlight: October 3, 2022; Updated: October 26, 2022. GAH Reference#: RIDE-1978-001C|
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