Giant Coaster in Japan and the last roller coaster from industry legend John C. Allen: part 3 of our look at the world’s tallest roller coasters

Mount Fuji is the most recognizable mountain in Japan and is considered a sacred location. It’s signature perfect mountain shape with snow covering the top is one of Japan’s main tourist attractions.  In 1961, Fuji Five Lakes International Skating Center was opened by Fuji Kyuku Co. Ltd near Mount Fuji in Fujiyoshida City.  Fuji Kyuku Co. Ltd. was started in 1926 as a transportation company to bring guests to Mount Fuji and was initially named Fuji Electric Railway.  In 1960, the company was renamed Fuji Kyuku Co. Ltd. to reflect its new tourist and recreation businesses.

In 1966, the first amusement rides opened at Fuji Five Lakes International Skating Center, among them, a colossal Jet Coaster and 50 meters (164 feet) tall Ferris Wheel.  Jet Coaster is the local name given to roller coasters in Japan, and today refers to a particular style of roller coasters.  Whereas scenic railway and roller coasters up to that time were constructed of wood elsewhere around the world, Japan took the idea behind a scenic railway with its not so steep drops, long turns where you can enjoy the scenery and made them out of steel.   The first roller coaster in Japan opened in 1952 with the small Wave Coaster at Takarazuka Family Land. While Wave Coaster only 3.5 meter tall (11.48 feet) and 90.266 meter long (296.14 feet), it launched a style of ride that was the standard for amusement parks in Japan. On https://sites.google.com/site/jetcoasterjapan/home/hall-of-fame/wave-coaster, we discovered photos and information about the Wave Coaster. The two following photos come from that site. The third roller coaster to open in Japan was the Roller Coaster/ローラーコースター at Hanayashiki in Asakusa, Japan. This ride, which still operates today, launched the Jet Coaster style.

Sansei-Yusoki is  a theatrical stage equipment and elevator manufacturer that started manufacturing steel roller coasters with the Wave Coaster in 1952.  It continued at Nara Dreamland in 1961 with the Bobsleigh.  Patterned after Disneyland, a mountain with a bobsled roller coaster was constructed in the park, with Sansei-Yusoki designing and building the roller coaster using a tubular steel track.  This raises an interesting question: why use tubular steel track there versus the flat steel used with Wave Coaster and older rides to that point?  Matterhorn Bobsleds opened only two years before at Disneyland in California, so it is either a coincidence, or the owners of Nara Dreamland had a specific request after visiting Disneyland and had Sansei-Yusoki do it.  Bobsleigh is also a point of contention in one aspect: The ride is listed as 40 meters tall or 131.2 feet tall, which judging from videos, doesn’t appear possible.  We presume that the mountain is indeed that height, with the ride lift housed inside and not reaching that level.

Sansei-Yusoki went back to flat steel for a record-breaking roller coaster: The Giant Coaster at Fuji Five Lakes International Skating Center. According to online websites,  the roller coaster stood an incredible 131.3 feet tall and 4698.2 feet long, .  We verified with Sansei Interactives (current name of Sansei-Yusoki), who were kind enough to look through their archives, and we received a definite answer about its height: 25 meters or 82 feet tall with a confirmed length of 1380 meters or 4527.6 feet.  As such, it was not the world’s tallest roller coaster, but it was the world’s longest roller coaster, which was certified by Guinness Worlds Records at the time. 

It features a world-first innovation: the first catch car cable lift.  Instead of the traditional steel chain that takes riders up its first hill, a steel cable is attached to a large catch car that rolls inside a channel located in the middle of the track. 

The ride was built on new land located northwest of the main park, and the Jet Coaster style perfectly suited to this ride: the long turns allow riders to enjoy the scenery and have a look from a unique vantage point at Mount Fuji.  The ride included another unique feature of Japanese roller coasters: inspection catwalks surround the track with very few exceptions, like inversions and some foreign-built roller coasters.  

Giant Coaster long track course featured many spirals, drops that scaled in height as the train lost energy, and finally, a unique braking system.  The braking system consisted of pneumatic calipers mounted on the side of the track.  When the train passes by, they rub against the side of the cars on pads placed there.  The following link is a video uploaded by Hikawa Rides, a youtube channel who is a treasure trove of old japanaese roller coaster videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9nGXqeFrBw&fbclid=IwAR0oNsOYopQs3x-jHTlUS7aph7fDL5PSJ-egk5TaQmr25P8uBAhNmc0qCHY

This ride truly put the facility on the map, and in 1969, it was renamed Fujykyu Highland to demonstrate its new focus as an amusement park.  The second roller coaster to open was the Mad Mouse in 1973, a smaller model to the one that opened in a different location in the park in 1998. From there, the park has constantly built record holders, as we will see in a future article.

The ride was removed in 1996 once a new record breaking roller coaster. The massive area the ride’s occupied was replaced by Thomas Land, the first themed area that brought guests to the Isle of Sodor. Guests there can experience a dark ride through the world of Thomas The Train, ride a smaller sized roller coaster and other attractions. Part of Do-Dodonpa (world’s fastest roller coaster when it opened as Dodonpa in 2001) also occupy a portion of the land.

Screamin’ Eagle opened in 1976 in honor of the United States of American bicentennial celebration.  The white-painted structure ride was the last wooden roller coaster designed by the legendary John C. Allen, assisted by noted structural engineer William H. Cobb and Don Rosser.  William H. Cobb was also designing roller coasters at the time and, he assisted in the design of Screamin’ Eagle. 

Screamin’ Eagle hits its max speed of 62 mph at the bottom of its third drop, an impressive 86 feet drop experience. What’s crazier is that the ride’s first drop is 92 feet, so you can imagine how big the height difference between the top of the 110 feet tall lift hill.  Six Flags St-Louis is located in a hilly forest, so the designers took advantage of that and designed the world’s fastest roller coaster at the time. 

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