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.

Photo: www.pne.ca

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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