After the American Coaster Enthusiasts’ (ACE) Spring Conference concluded, many of the participants went to the add-on event over at Dollywood, Lightning Rod Run. While there was a little bit of rain in the forecast, that did not deter them from enjoying some great roller coaster rides, a behind-the-scenes tour, and some snacks to conclude the event!
One thing that must be said about the ACE representatives team in the southeast and the great folks at Dollywood is that they really know how to put on a great event no matter what the weather and circumstances hold. Originally [when this event was planned], it was hoped that the weather would be beautiful all day long and that Lightning Rod would be open and ready for riders. Mother Nature, however, had a few other ideas. Sure, the weather could definitely have been worse, but late afternoon showers definitely slowed the pace and halted the coasters for most of the reminder of the event. Still, that did not matter. ACErs showed up with ponchos in hand and made every moment count. Furthermore, RMC is still working to get Lightning Rod ready to open to the public. With this being the case, Dollywood, RMC, and ACE worked to offer participants a magnificent behind-the-scenes tour of the queue house. More details on that in a minute! To conclude the event, the rain continued and washed out the initial Exclusive Ride Time (ERT) plans, but that made no difference. ACErs enjoyed the kettle corn, cupcakes, and drinks while Dollywood and ACE worked on a Plan C! Participants were in luck as Dollywood has an indoor roller coaster, Blazin’ Fury. Participants were given the chance to ride the coaster with the lights on (something that is rarely offered) and some ride time with the lights off as well. At the end of the day, Lightning Rod was a great event; then again, most ACE events are!
Lightning Rod: Behind-the-Scenes Construction Tour
Participants of the Lightning Rod Run event were given the opportunity to check out how the Lightning Rod queue house is coming along. Simply said, the theming is great! ACE members were very excited to see all of the updates and many found the progress to be spectacular. Sure, the ride is not quite open, but the park and RMC are working endless hours to ensure that every little detail is given appropriate attention and that this world’s first (and record-breaking) wooden coaster lives up to expectation.
The queue line begins at the entrance of the service station. This specific building does two things really well. First, it offers a little introduction into the theme of the ride. Dollywood loves to ensure that the roller coaster ride goes beyond just the lift hills, banks, and turns, for the ride expands to a great experience that tells story. Second, this front building ultimately expands and extends the queue line capacity while offering some cover from the elements for waiting guests. Guests will weave through this highly-themed area and walk past the hot rod before taking the outside pathway to the main queue building.
This main queue building has three floors for riders. The first floor takes guests through the production shop. According to the theme, this is where those working on the hot rod clock in each day and where production schedules are kept and tracked. A progress board is showcased, among other themed items!
From there, the line continues up the stairwell to the second floor – the Engine Shop! This is where all of the magic happens. Guests get to see some of the drawings on a chalkboard that is located this highly-themed second floor! Engine parts are on display, and the coaster enthusiasts can really feel as though they are part of the process of making this hot rod go!
Lastly, the third floor is where riders will queue up for their ride on the world’s first launching wooden roller coaster. Themed to the max, riders will have an area they can put some of their smaller loose articles so that their ride experience [and the ride experience of others on the coaster] is the best one yet! This amazing roller coaster has two trains. When it is not operating, one train will be stored on the second floor of the building – just under the track where the guests will typically load the roller coaster. This also provides plenty of space for maintenance to work on one of the Lightning Rod roller coaster trains when needed! As a result of this setup, the transfer track is essentially an elevator, and that piece of track sits right outside the back of the queue / loading area!
This ride will have handicap access via a conveniently-located elevator as well as quick queue access via the park’s Timesaver Line Management Pass! The park approximates that it should be able to have a ride throughput of between 800 and 900 guests per hour. Fred Grubb, co-founder of RMC, mentioned that the top speed on the lift hill launch is 47mph, and that should put the speed at the top of the drop at approximately 45mph. As a result, Lightning Rod will reach a top overall speed of 73mph at the bottom of the first drop, breaking the world record for fastest wooden roller coaster.
Sometimes, the rain just happens. Luckily, there are fellow coaster club members to hang out with. If you as any coaster club member and especially if you ask an ACEr, most will tell you that half of the fun at coaster events is riding the coasters, but that’s not the only thing that is fun. Most will mention that hanging out with coaster friends (meeting new friends and reconnecting with coaster friends not seen in a little while) is just as fun, often even more fun than the coasters that the club members ride. So, that is saying a lot! The rain might have hampered ERT on Thunderhead, but it can’t prevent club members from enjoying each other’s company!
As mentioned before, rain or shine, this was a great event. For those who attended the Spring Conference in the Carolinas, this was a great final touch. For those who only came to this event, it was a great time! Much thanks and appreciation must go out to the amazing folks at ACE (especially the ACE Southeast Region team), Dollywood, and RMC!
[Video courtesy of Mako Madness.]