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Dusting Off: The Wooden Roller Coaster


As connoisseurs of history, we sometimes find styles, habits and turns of phrase from the past that we wouldn’t mind bringing back to the present, Doc Brown-style. This time around, we’re dusting off the wooden roller coaster.

We’re suckers for a good amusement park. It’s not the most sophisticated variety of thrill, but there’s something about the rush of speed, the open air and the timelessly kitchy décor that brings us back to sunnier days.

But naturally, as the world’s amusement parks have doubled down on the twisting-steel-vertebrae school of coaster design, we find ourselves nostalgic for a more rickety kind of ride—the kind you only get from the wooden coaster.


First the bad news: it’s an endangered species. There are only 170 operating worldwide (compared with over 2500 steel coasters), and 121 of those are in North America. The best are either relics from the golden age of amusement in the 1920s or replicas of the same. (We’re looking at you, Cyclone.) And unless you’re a cocktail purist or a silent movie buff, it’s one of the few pleasures of that era that’s still selling tickets. Speed is speed, as it turns out, and the panic of feeling the track sway underneath you hasn’t dulled much since the Luna Park days.

Brooklyn Cyclone

Now the good news: they’re still being built, even if they’re not the flagship attraction they once were. And just as a victory lap, here’s what a ride looks like on El Toro, the fastest currently operating wooden coaster, boasting a 176-foot drop and a top speed of 70 miles-per-hour.