The Big Bad Wolf won't howl no more. Busch Gardens Williamsburg
, the Virginia amusement park with a friendly Western European theme, announced on July 24 that it was officially retiring The Big Bad Wolf
, its iconic suspended roller coaster. The Wolf, which opened in 1984, was primarily built by Arrow Dynamics
, the firm which also designed the world's first corkscrew inversion
and the first coaster to top 200 feet in height
. While not the world's first suspended roller coaster
, the Big Bad Wolf could proudly lay claim to the fact that it was the first successful suspended coaster. Charmed though it is, the circumstances around its sudden September 7th closure date may make the ride the newest entry in the Williamsburg park's strange history.
Busch Gardens opened its Williamsburg park in 1975 and colorfully themed it to some of the more iconic aspects of European countries. Named The Old Country
, the park featured historical aspects of England and France (with Quebec included as well for a "frontier" feel) and Germany across the river. It was the Busch brewery's fourth park historically: along with its African-themed Busch Gardens Tampa park, which opened in 1959 as The Dark Continent
, the brewery also at one time had smaller, more sedate parks in Houston
and Van Nuys
In 1978, the park opened the Loch Ness Monster
, a thrilling ride by Arrow Dynamics whose centerpiece was its pair of interlocking loops, situated in such a way that it couldn't help but make for great postcard shots
. The coaster's popularity prompted Busch to add another thrill ride in the early 80s, and they approached legendary German designer Anton Schwarzkopf
to provide them with a new kind of coaster thrill. Schwarzkopf obliged and designed the Flugbahn
, the "Flying Coaster" with cars suspended below the track. The cars would freely swing out as the train rounded the curves. Schwarzkopf's team started work on the ride but declared bankruptcy after they'd poured the concrete footers and started work on the supports. Busch then turned to Arrow, who stepped in and completed the work.
Busch opened The Big Bad Wolf in 1984 and it was an immediate hit. The freely-swinging cars could fly out up to 110 degrees (as this Arrow promotional video
will breathlessly tell you) and charged around a twisty, turny course, narrowly dodging barrels and Barvarian houses and other scenic hazards. The ride ended in a quick 80-foot drop over the park's river, and zig-zagged over the water before finally reaching the station brakes. This fine POV video here
shows off the entire ride from the front seat. (It may induce queasiness among some of you, so do watch with caution.)
Busch next tapped the Swiss firm Bolliger & Mabillard
to design a coaster for both the Williamsburg and Tampa parks. This time the ride would feature more of a looping style like the Loch Ness Monster, but with more loops. A lot more loops. B&M decided it had too much on its plate and announced it had to back out of one of its projects. They left Williamsburg but stayed on the Tampa one. (One of the other projects that B&M was finishing at the time was Batman: The Ride
at Six Flags Great America, the world's first inverted looping coaster.)
Once again Busch turned to Arrow, who came in to finish the job like they had before. They took B&M's concept and tried their best to adapt it to their standards. The result was Drachen Fire
, which opened in 1992. The ride quickly earned a reputation for being way too rough (as seen in this potentially quease-inducing promotional footage
) and started racking up the guest complaints. Among the many design problems was the fact that B&M designed their inversions with the rider's heart as the center of gravity; Arrow's track was designed with the center of the cars as the center of gravity and not all the modification they could do to the design would help.
To help combat the complaints of roughness Busch removed a corkscrew right after the midcourse brakes, replacing it instead with a flat slope of track. It didn't help, and the park mysteriously closed Drachen Fire without warning in late July 1998. The ride then sat dormant on the site until 2002, and the park embarked on an odd bit of revisionism, removing the clearly visible coaster from park maps, literature, and even the recorded spiel of the park's miniature train which went right past the structure.
At this point B&M signed a multi-coaster contract with Busch, and came back in 1997 with an inverted roller coaster called Alpengeist
and then a 200-foot hypercoaster called Apollo's Chariot
. It made its grand debut in 1999 with a train full of beautiful ladies in togas and romance novel model Fabio up in the front seat dressed up like a Roman god. On the first drop, a 210-foot plunge that goes past the park's river, the train hit a goose which had flown up directly over the track.
Fabio was struck at high speed, suffering only a small cut on his nose (the immediate results
, as seen in this bloody picture, looked a bit more gruesome.) While the park had already put up netting and protection along the track to keep the birds away, they added more and the ride has run along goose-free since.
Ten years and another coaster later, the park has now announced that they will close the Big Bad Wolf after operation on September 7th. In an official FAQ
, Busch explains that the decision to remove the ride was simply one of maintenance: it has "reached the end of its service life." The park also cannot keep the ride open during their post-season Hall-O-Scream event because they're itching to take it down real quick. But when asked about the ride's replacement, Busch's only response is that it's not unusual for a park to remove a ride without a replacement planned. But when the ride is a park favorite and they want it out of there quickly, you have to wonder what they're planning on putting up on what was formerly those Schwarzkopf footers. Surely it's going to be something big. Or weird. Given the park's odd luck when it comes to roller coasters, it'll probably be both.