Nine Lives of a Wildcat: the first part of the story of how Frontier City adopted a roller coaster from Missouri

Premier Parks was initially known as the Tierco Group from Oklahoma City, OK. They stumbled by accident into the theme park business, starting with Frontier City’s purchase, a worn and aging wild west theme park in their hometown.  Changing market conditions canceled the original plans for the piece of property the park sat on, leading to Tierco taking another look at the property.  Naming Gary Story as its General Manager, they invested heavily with great returns.

The first roller coaster they purchased for the park was the Silver Bullet, the prototype Looping Star from Schwarzkopf.  After debuting on the German fair circuit in 1978, it was presumably sold in 1980 to Eden Enterprises, a traveling rides company that took it to the major fairs. Still, it was featured heavily at the Texas State Fair from 1980 to 1983.  After that, it spent two years in Ocean City, MD, at Jolly Roger, a transient place for roller coasters between more permanent homes.  Finally, Tierco purchased it and installed it at Frontier City, boosting business immensely and making it more permanent, with a tunnel on the last turn.

Tierco continued to upgrade the park while the American Coaster Enthusiasts and other ride fans tried to find operators to relocate closed wooden coasters. Finally, Knoebels had successfully rebuilt the Rocket (from Playland Park in Houston, TX) to their park in 1985 as the Phoenix.  In 1986, the Giant Coaster (from Paragon Park in Nantasket Beach, MA became the Wild One at Wild World, now Six Flags America (Upper Marlboro, MD.)

The owner of the site Fairyland Park previously occupied in Kansas City, MO, wanted to clear the last remnants, the abandoned Wildcat wooden roller coaster.  Before the ride was demolished, four ride enthusiasts sent photos and videos to Gary Story, Frontier City general manager.  Gary Story and others visited the ride, and Tierco decided around 1988-1989 to move the attraction to Frontier City.

The Wildcat was built in 1967 at Fairyland Park, replacing the classic Skyrocket; this John Miller wooden roller coaster unfortunately suffered catastrophic damage in 1966 due to a wind storm.  The Wildcat stood 75 feet tall and built with a steel structure, painted white.  On the steel structure, a traditional wooden coaster track laid on top, changed from a ten ply wooden stack at Fairyland to a thinner Douglas Fir stack at Frontier city. 

The ride had an unusual layout, with the station and return run a long line, the lift hill on one side, and the outrun the longest section.  The turnaround was unique, with a right turn leading into a steep drop, followed by a rise.  A flat turn with an s-curve takes the track next to the first part for another deep drop.  The turnaround concludes with another flat turn in the shadows of the turnaround first section aligns the track with the station. 

Wildcat used two trains, each composed of 4 classic 3-row Century Flyer cars.  Those cars are among the most beautiful rolling stock for rides ever designed were the signature of Dayton Fun House (DFH), later renamed National Amusement Devices (NAD).  Frank Williams was instrumental to DFH rise, coming to DFH in the late 1920s.  He brought new ideas and improved designs, helping Aurel Vaszin (DFH/NAD owner) grow his company immensely. 

Tom Barr provided us with these fantastic photos of the ride in Kansas City, MO.

Ricky Sommersett provided us with those amazing photos of the ride while it sat dormant at Fairyland.

Initially, the plan was to rebuild Wildcat in another location than what was chosen at the end.  As revealed in Amusement Today in 1990 with a site plan, the station and lift hill were to be sandwiched between the flume ride and the Ghost Mountan dark ride building.  The first drop would have gone near the flume, continueing near the Nightmare Mine Coaster soundstage, before turning and running behind Renegade Rapids, the new for 1990 Hopkins River Rapids. Then, it would make a turnaround and return to the station, with a right-hand turn in the middle of the return run. 

That plan was quite expensive and required modifiying many of the parks walkways.  Finally, the ride went on unused land located to the west of the park, behind the River Rapids and the station, and lift south of that ride instead of north.  

 Even with that new site, there were two challenges.  The ride was built on flat land in Kansas City, while the land at Frontier City is a hilly forest. Second, the turnaround and station area would needed modifications.  To adapt the ride, Tierco hired John Pierce, an engineer who was part of legendary roller coaster design Bill Cobb’s team, to create new plans. Find out more in our next part!

One thought on “Nine Lives of a Wildcat: the first part of the story of how Frontier City adopted a roller coaster from Missouri

  1. Phoenix (formerly “Rocket”) is from a different Playland Park in San Antonio, TX, not the Houston one. Houston’s Playland Park also had a wooden roller coaster named “Skyrocket”/”Giant Skyrocket”/”Giant Roller Coaster” that had been originally opened in 1924 at Houston’s Luna Park then moved to Houston’s Playland Park in 1941 before being demolished in 1963. It was an incredible coaster and was once the largest in the world. I really wish there was more information on it out there.


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