Short term record holders and a massive ride in Mexico: part 2 of our look at the world’s tallest roller coasters

In 1924, the Ingersoll company was commissioned by the Luna Park of Houston, TX, to design and construct a record-breaking roller coaster.  Audley Ingersoll designed the roller coaster and had it built at Lake Contrary Amusement Park, St. Joseph, MO.  The ride was then shipped down to Houston and assembled at the new park, ultimately opening three days after the park did on June 28th, 1924.

The ride stood at a massive 110 feet tall and patterned as an L-shaped out and back.  A long pre-lift section brought the train to the 110 feet lift hill.  The action got underway with what appears to be an impossibly steep 90 feet drop given the photo angle, followed by many hills and dips.  The park claimed it was a massive 6000 feet long, allegedly the longest in the world at that time until it closed in 1932.  A fan of the ride recreated the attraction using roller coaster design software, and the roller coaster would have been, in reality, 5000 feet long based on the 110 feet lift hill.  The park was then known as Venice Park from 1927 to 1932 when it closed to the public.

The ride moved to another location in Houston, Playland Park.  It reopened in 1941 after John A. Miller (who passed away during construction) and H. S. Smith modified the Skyrocket to fit the new site.  Exact dimensions are not available, but a photo shows a shorter lift hill and a drop that was not as steep as it used to be at Luna Park.  Luna Park closed in 1967 when Astroworld opened just south of it, and it’s land located near what is today NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. 

Also standing 110 feet tall, the Giant Racer at Saltair in Magna, UT was a racing wooden roller coaster that ran from 1932 until 1957.  It was the third version of the ride and the tallest of them.  Advertised at the time as the world’s longest roller coaster, but we can’t determine if it was a Mobius loop coaster (like today’s Grand National at Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, UK, and the Racer at Kennywood in West Mifflin, PA).  Sadly, on August 30th, 1957, a massive 75 mph wind gust knocked down 60% of the ride, and the ride never rebuilt.   The history of Saltar with roller coasters ended in 1959.  When the Giant Skyrocket closed down later in 1932, it was the sole record owner of the title of the world’s tallest roller coaster, which it held for the first time until 1937.     

The Utah State Historical Society digitalized this photo of the Giant Racer. The original can be found here: https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6bp0gvh

The Lake Placid Bobsled was the tallest roller coaster in the world when it opened in 1937.  Located at the world’s famous Palisades Amusement Park in Cliffside Park, NJ, the ride was the most ambitious of the Flying Turns, the original style of Bobsled roller coaster.  Starting from a massive 125 feet lift hill that appeared even taller thanks to the hill it was placed on, the train of bobsleds dived down a steep drop into a rising 360° helix.  From there, the ride featured more steeps hills and intense curves.  The inspiration was the real-life Lake Placid Bobsled track in Whiteface, NY, and, advertised as summer-time bobsledding.   This incredible ride ran until 1946; it was sadly destroyed in a massive fire in 1949. On-ride footage of this attraction was discovered and uploaded on the channel of Swamp Foxer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AJha6uz68o

From 1946 until 1957, the Giant Racer of Saltair was again the world’s tallest roller coaster.  From 1957 to 1964, Giant Coaster of Paragon Park got the record back. 

In 1964, the National Amusement Device Company designed and built in Mexico City, La Montana Rusa.  The name translates from Spanish directly to Roller Coaster, and the ride was placed inside the new at the time amusement park section of the Bosque de Chapultepec.  The amusement area was called Juegos Mecanicos de Chapultepec when it opened; the forest of Chapultepec is a large public park with museums and green spaces in Mexico City. 

The park was designed around the massive structure of Montana Rusa, which features one single track in a Mobius Loop configuration.  With 8000 feet total, this was the most wooden coaster track laid out in a single track at the time, but the ride is considered two different experiences since guests have to queue twice to experience the fulll 8000 feet experience.   A Mobius Racer is a racing roller coaster where both paths are joined, meaning that if a train leaves the left station, it will return to the right station.  In effect, it forces the park to race the roller coaster at all times.  Only six wooden roller coasters were built with that configuration, with Montana Rusa the largest by far of the six.  Three remained in operations in 2019, but with La Feria de Chapultepec uncertain future, only the Racer at Kennywood (West Mifflin, PA) and the Grand National at Pleasure Beach (Blackpool, UK)  opened in 2020 to the public.

The pair of lift hills stands 110 feet tall, and they are relatively shallow, lying at a lower than average angle.  That, along with the long turnarounds, gave the ride a very long running time.  The ride features pacing not seen on modern roller coasters, of which William H. Cobb and later Togo were the last designer to use.  Pacing that varied throughout the ride, alternating very intense moments with calmer turns and hills along with visuals that accentuate the feelings of speed and terror.  The result was a wild roller coaster that provided a unique experience that took advantage of its height. 

Starting in 1987, the park began to do some significant renovations to the ride, culminating with Custom Coasters International (CCI) rebuilding the original National Amusement Device trains and switching the brakes to Cincinnati brakes for added safety in 1993.  The roller coaster remained a thrilling experience and is currently standing but not operating as the park is closed, pending a new operating company. 

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