The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 6, 2014

Goliath rises in Great America skyline

CHICAGO — Alan Schilke’s job is to make people scream.

As a hotshot roller-coaster designer, Schilke promised to build a massive, record-setting wooden coaster at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill. When he saw how small the construction site was, crammed between a railroad track and other rides, he knew he would have to do back flips to squeeze shrieks out of his customers.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said. “We had to make a crazy ride just to get it to fit on the site.”

The resulting attraction will set three records for wooden roller coasters. Goliath will be the fastest and steepest wooden coaster in the world, with the longest drop. It will hurtle riders at 72 mph down an 85-degree, 180-foot cliff before rocketing them into hairpin curves, two upside-down twists and a zero-gravity stall to make passengers feel momentarily weightless.

Goliath is the latest creation in a revolution in roller-coaster construction, aficionados say. Its patented new construction technique manipulates wooden tracks into shapes never before seen, with inversions, over-banked curves and whip-crack reversals of direction.

The rising coaster structure is still a few weeks from completion. The Goliath is due for its public opening May 31, with a preview for season ticket holders the day before. Roller-coaster lovers are already planning group outings.

“We are definitely excited to ride this thing,” said Scott Heck, a spokesman for American Coaster Enthusiasts. “I know a lot of people across the country want to come. I can’t wait.”

The coaster is being built by the upstart innovator in wooden coasters, Rocky Mountain Construction Group, out of Hayden, Idaho. Before launching the business with his wife, co-founder Fred Grubb was a carpenter and welder building coasters at Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho. Frequently working to repair old wooden coasters, which often wore out where the wheels made contact, he and his engineers decided there must be a better way.

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