Best Ever?: The Wooden Roller Coaster at the PNE

With the PNE in town, it might be a good time to revive the age-old debate: Could the Wooden Roller Coaster at Playland be the best coaster ever?

Upon initial consideration, this claim might seem a bit over the top.   The Wooden Roller Coaster, after all, was built all the back in 1958.  Its maximum height is a mere 75 feet and its top speed is a sluggish 90 kilometers per hour (Modern steel coasters, by comparison, can reach heights of nearly 500 feet and speeds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour).  The Wooden Roller Coaster doesn’t go upside down or backward.  And the ride lasts a mere 90 seconds.

But the old coaster’s got one big thing going for it: The ride feels really, really unsafe.  It’s not, of course.  No one to my knowledge has ever been seriously hurt.  But talk to anyone who’s survived a ride, and you’ll hear the same refrain:  Oh my god, I thought I was gonna get thrown right out of the @#!$ car.

And it’s this element – terror; the sensation that your body is in immediate physical peril – that sets Playland’s coaster apart from all of its competitors.  Get on a gleaming new steel coaster, and they strap you in snug as a bug.  You may race along at blistering G-forces and corkscrew until you’re dizzy, but you never feel in any real danger.


Not so on the Wooden Roller Coaster.  It starts off innocently enough.   The rickety cars are slowly towed to the top of the first hill.  Been there.  Done that.  Nothing to write home about.  But then comes that first, horrifying drop.  It’s not the speed so much as the fact that you’re literally lifted out of your seat, held in place only by the skinny steel bar stretched across your lap.  That’s when the adrenalin kicks in:  the feeling that something’s gone terribly wrong with the ride and you might not make it through.

And it gets worse.  After that initial plunge there’s a sharp turn.  Because you’re not strapped into a seat, momentum sends you crashing into the side of the car.  Then the tracks veer in the opposite direction and you’re tossed about again – neck and back whipping with enough force to make your chiropractor cringe.

And just when you’ve steadied yourself and got your bearings comes another plunge – worse than the first, shorter but steeper, so that it feels for a second like you’re floating above the car rather than riding in it.  It’s at this exact point in the ride that the coaster’s automatic camera snaps your picture.   Take a look at your photo on the screens on the way out – Unless you’ve got nerves of steel or were concentrating real hard on flipping the bird to the camera, the look on your face will be one of sheer terror.   Not delight or excitement, but real “I’m-not-gonna-make-it” fear.

That’s what makes the Wooden Roller Coaster special.  As many times as I’ve been on it and as many times as I’ve told myself “It’s just a ride,” there’s always a point where doubt creeps in and my fingers dig into the metal safety bar and I just know I’m about to end up splattered on the Playland pavement.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Any other fans of the Wooden Roller Coaster out there?  What makes it special?  Could it be the best ever?

Remy Scalza

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18 Responses to Best Ever?: The Wooden Roller Coaster at the PNE

  1. john carreiro

    the best time to ride the roller coaster was when the pne was open late and right after watching the lions play at the old empire stadium we go and ride it…usually around 11pm or so…it was cold and the tracks were more slippery cause of the dew on them…would make the cars leave the track when going round the curves…more so if you ride the last car it’d whip you all over the place…absolute fantastic ride…had so much fun we’d ride and ride it till they’d kick us off cause we’d stand up while going around it…ha..ha…yep…fond memories of the old coaster…nothing new could ever duplicate the simultaneous feelings of sheer joy and terror …

  2. Sherri

    It’s worth the trip to the chiropractor! lol
    My first ride was at 11 years old, the last time I was 55. I’ll be the old lady at 90 hooting and hollering at the top of the first hill.

    • aandj345

      OK, don’t say that, go on any other woodies, this is probably the smoothest and least painful

  3. Bonnie

    I turn 55 this year (born in 55) … I thought I’d see if I’d gotten any braver, as it’s been about 25 years since I rode the beast – so today I tried it again. AND IT SCARED ME JUST AS MUCH THIS TIME AS IT DID THEN! Last year I discovered I had kidney cancer, had a kidney removed … I’m just hoping all that slamming back and forth didn’t do any damage to my insides! I would recommend NOT riding it by yourself … way too much room to slam back and forth across the seat. Oh, and don’t take a backpack, it’s hard to hang onto that too while you’re trying to hold onto that little rail to keep yourself from flipping right out of the flipping cart! Yikes …

    • Bonnie – Agreed – I don’t think it would be my first post-surgery option either. Good tip on not riding alone!

  4. Richard

    The first time I went on the coaster at playland, I was about 9 or 10. It was with my older brother, much to his dismay (“Aw, Mom, he’s gonna cry”, I most certainly did). I have been on it at least 100 times, but it has been a number of years since I last rode on it. This year I decided to give it another shot. After asking my 8 year old son if he was “man enough for it”, I was sadly informed that there was no way I would ever see him go near that thing. My 6 1/2 year old daughter was more than adventures enough to try though. Now I know what you are probably thinking, “she is just a little girl”, but this is the same little girl who did the reverse bungy at 4, and has been climbing to the top of the climbing wall at the local Y for the past 2 years. So after waiting the prerequisite half hour line-up (beat that six flags), and passing the minimum height restriction (“Just smile, look cute, and don’t let them see you arch your feet sweetheart”), we were off on the Yellow Train. 8 second leisurely ride to the top, 2 second view of the beautiful north shore mountains, and 80 seconds of “pure, uncensored terror”. Was she scarred? Yes. Did she cry(like her dad, so many years before)? She didn’t stop for nearly 2 hours (and 2 bags of those little donuts and one K.C. Bear). Interestingly enough, the next day when I asked her if she would go again next year, she said “definitely”. Yes, the old coaster has got a new fan.

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  7. HoneyBearBadger

    I never had the guts to ride a rollercoaster and this was my first one, I road it when I was 11 and I was scared to death there was no seat belt, just me and my 2 friends my friend wanted to sit in the front but I was like “No way, you can but i’m not.” So she sat in the middle I started screaming the F word maybe a couple times and yelling at her I had to use my muscles to push myself up, but if you look bad it’s an amazing ride i’ve been on it more then 5 times and I am always scared to go on it again the first part is a real monster, but the fun always matters eh? Good ride, I would recommend it my 8 year old brother road on it and his hair went back like a mad scientist his face was priceless we bought 3 pictures of him for $15 because it was that funny. I wouldn’t recommend it to kids under 6 though since it’s pretty simple to fly out why? Because you have a huge bar and it’s very away from you. My hands were so small I couldn’t fit the bar so I planted my feet and hands a certain way to keep my up and I survived it took so much muscles so I would have pain in my arms and legs for 5 minutes.

    Defiantly a great ride =]

  8. PNEluver

    Ive rode this coaster 4 times. Every time im thinking up the lift hill “Im gonna die! Im Gonna DIE!!” Always fun to ride, especially when the tracks were just oiled and always gives a thrill. Best ride in the park.


  9. Carson

    The Wooden roller coaster is the best roller coaster. When I rode it, I literally was out of my seat when we rode the drops. I is scary and fun!!!

  10. Dave

    How tall do you have to be please?

  11. calvin

    Why would such an iconic landmark of the city not have a proper name? The Coaster is not a name, its what it is. It would be like calling the Canucks “the hockey team”

  12. Monique

    Last year I rode this beast with my 19 year old daughter. On one of the drops my left knee slammed hard into the edge. I had an X-ray done and it shows chipped bone. Wondering if anyone else has gotten hurt?

  13. Paul

    I totally agree. The coaster at the PNE is one of the best in the world. I’ve ridden it with my dad every year since I was 8 and I’m now 28. The first time I rode I thought I would bloody die. I also love the park because they have great staff, an impeccable safety record, and bar none the best customer service there.


  14. Andre

    From all the coasters that I have been on, This has beat all of them. I was launched from 0 to 200, Spun upside down, Dropped, All that on steel coasters, yet just a whee and slight enjoyment. But this, I still get terrified riding, even at the station I get cold feet.

    This was my first ever roller coaster, and what a great choice. I cried by the end of it, yet wanted to go again. I went on it 3 times that day, And terrified by this, I really didn’t want to try the Corkscrew. Next year, convinced by my dad, I ended up going on the corkscrew, And I found it okay, but I realized that the wooden coaster was much scarier. I even had a phobia of it for 2 years after being in the back once, not going on it until forced by my dad yet again. I love this coaster, and I believe it reaches the top of the list. I will always understand why it is a national landmark and preserved by the government.

  15. Debbie

    I was ten years old in 1970 when I first rode a rollercoaster, and it was this very rollercoaster at Playland.

    My dad was stationed at NAS Whidbey. We made a day with another family to go to Playland.

    I wanted to ride the wooden rollercoaster. I heard that it was fun. I sat in the car with my dad. I remember the car going up the first hill just excited to be on this ride… then the unexpected happened. The drop in my stomach I think was left there below that track. I screamed for my dad to take me off.

    I read here that its 90 seconds long. I remember how long it took was what seemed to be the longest time in my life and I wanted off.

    I wouldn’t ride it any longer, however, when we moved to the southern US, I had to overcome my fears of rollercoasters and the rides didn’t ever compare to this ride. Now that I am 55 and if I ever go up to the PNW, I would have to ride it again. My dad is no longer with me, but that memory will always stay with me.

    Thank you for the blog! You described it very well! However I don’t think they had that camera when I rode it in 1970. You will probably see me sliding on my seat begging my dad to take me off.

  16. Timmy

    My mother use to ride the old beast when she was young , I’ve been on it twice once with my gf and to other with my 16 year old son. Both almost cryed , they didn’t realize it was gunna scare the crap out of them. They still to this day won’t go on it again . So my daughter is old enough now , she’d gunna try it with me , cant wait to see her in terror .