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Conversion vs. Conservation

Hyde

I Lied About My Age!
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I applied to join a Facebook group the other day, which had a query for folks to join the group. (Rather draconian too, I might add)

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This series of questions had me revisit a question we've periodically asked over the last few years: while roller coaster conversions (aka RMC) breath new life into a roller coaster, is there anything lost in the process? Are we "cool" with a classic wooden coasters getting converted? Are there any roller coasters that are truly untouchable, as preservation outranks all? What about bad roller coasters, those that don't age well nor are historically remarkable; do we care if they get converted, preserved, or destroyed for a new ride?

Yes, it's a long series of rhetorical questions, but interested what others think as we begin to round out obvious RMC conversion choices, and if this is a trend that can continue into more classic wooden coaster designs. Or, from another lens, transitioning roller coasters to timberliner trains or track re-profiling; is this an equally acceptable form of conversion?
 

CanobieFan

Giga Poster
Matt Glumac is.... INSANE.
Oh the scnreenshots I've kept from the Wood Coaster FB page... He blocked me but he is 100% crazy and threatens peoples lives over coasters....

He also steals photos, nonstop, even my own, and uses them for his FB page.
 

Zek_Teh_Kek

Hyper Poster
There are some extents for me. Rides like Racer at KI, which sparked re-interest in roller coasters, or any of the wooden coasters at Kennywood, which are said to be great classics, should be refurbished, rather than converted. I wouldn't see the point in converting those rides anyways as their layouts seem too basic and small for RMC to do anything major with them. Rougher rides that aren't really known for being "historical", like many CCIs (not saying they should be converted) or Dinn coasters (however there's not many left), should be open to either conversion OR refurbished. By refurbished I mean retracking, repainting, and maybe some other things that companies such as GCI could do to roller coasters, such as Ghostrider. Overall, for me, it mostly depends on what ride it is.

Yet again I know pretty much nothing about what parks would want to do, or even what companies could be able to do at this time.
 

gavin

Administrator
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Some people are just f**king nutjobs, let's face it.

RMC the lot as far as I'm concerned. With very, very few exceptions, the "classic" woodies don't hold a candle to newer ones from GCI and Gravity Group. If they're bad rides, bollocks to the history of them; they're meant to be ridden, not looked at as museum pieces.

The few exceptions then, from what I've ridden:

Phoenix at Knoebels shouldn't be touched. Yes, it's old and stuff, but it's still actually an amazing ride.

Cyclone at Coney Island. This one is slightly more for the historical value of it; it's actually a properly iconic ride, unlike the vast majority of forgettable old pieces of crap that people demand should be saved. It's still a decent ride as well.

Grand National. See above, though I understand how a lot of people don't like it. It's probably the UK equivalent of Cyclone in that it's pretty well known, even amongst people who don't give a s**t about coasters.

Blackpool's Wild Mouse was a massive, massive shame.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
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I think it depends on several factors, but ultimately I see conversion as a good thing.

Just to start with a couple of base assumptions: First, wooden coasters don't age well. I've read many memorable threads in here describing bad coasters, and bad woodies tend to bring out the poet in people, usually alongside their lunch, by way of vigorous shaking. "Made me feel like a squirrel strapped to a jackhammer", "Feels like it tried to shake my spleen out through my nostrils", "My back felt like my spine had been reshaped into the letter K", or phrases like that tend to emerge when people describe the experience of riding woodies that haven't been maintained that well.

Second assumption: Wooden coaster maintenance tends to involve swapping out a lot of bits in the off-seasons. Elements under little stress and few dynamic forces can stay in place practically forever, like pieces of the lifthill structure, but turns and valleys need to have their wood replaced every few years. That's not to mention how pieces of the trains, the brakes, the lift hill motor or the control system will have to be periodically updated as well.

These two things together mean that change is inevitable for a wooden coaster in operation. Age itself will change the ride experience, and keeping the ride in shape means that its physical parts will have to change instead. In other words, perfect preservation is impossible, or at least incompatible with continuous operation.

That leaves the question: What, exactly, is the park trying to preserve? The ride itself or the ride experience? As the former is an impossibility, we can define the latter as "not making significant changes to the ride's design", or swapping parts like-for-like. This would of course be done as part of regular maintenance within the coaster's life span, we're only talking preservation if the ride has aged to the point that major refurbishment is in order and the park still chooses to uphold the original design.

I think that preserving a ride like that in the long term should only be done if the park feels (or is given) an obligation to preserve the coaster for historical reasons. We're talking about the likes of Grand National or Coney Island Cyclone. The kind of preservation that makes the park eligible for public funding for the preservation efforts. If the ride's expected lifetime is over, and it's not being popular with the guests any more, I fully understand if sticking to the original design isn't the most preferred option. Bring on the re-profiling, the Timberliners, et cetera.

In the case of RMC conversions, which I think is more controversial to many, I'd ask: "What is the alternative option?". If the park has an unpopular ride that takes a lot of land, requires a lot of maintenance, has no historical significance, and a refurbishment would only restore it to working order (but not give the PR boost of a new attraction), I'd say its days are numbered in any case. Coasters like Twisted Twins or Gwazi were decommissioned and taken out of operation already before RMC came a-knockin', and I think some of the other converted coasters could have been headed for the same fate if not for the RMC option. For instance, SFGAdv removed Rolling Thunder, SFMM took down Psyclone and Carowinds demolished Thunder Road, without any direct replacement. Track re-profiling and new trains could only take those coasters so far, and the park apparently found it better to clear the land for future developments. In such cases, an RMC conversion would simply be a shortcut from the closure of the woodie to the opening of a new attraction. If the woodie is going and a new attraction is coming anyway, one might as well build the latter using parts of the former. It's also an excellent way to keep the memory of the old ride intact, as people can say "I remember when this coaster was called Cyclone" instead of "I remember when a coaster called Cyclone stood where the Sky Rocket II and the burger bar is today".

TL;DR - Woodies are great for a while, but they do age, and at a certain point they will need an overhaul. Keeping the ride as-is is rarely the most profitable (or exciting) option, and unless the park wants to preserve it through refurbishments or new trains, it will probably get knocked down anyway. In that case, an RMC conversion will at least be a quick and resource-efficient way to build a new attraction on the same land. Preserving the ride according to the original design is the rarely used third option, not the default, and should only be done if the park or public particularly care for it.
 

Hutch

Strata Poster
@Hyde, you should've answered the application with #RMCitorWreckit.

In all seriousness though, the conversion depends on the situation. For medium to large size woodies that aren't doing well at all from a financial or ride experience standpoint, an RMC conversion makes sense, and that's basically been the case for current iron horses.

Retracking is the other option, but I'm not convinced they're the best choice. Stuff like retracking Thunder Run at Kentucky Kingdom and Legend's final portion haven't seemed to do jack ****. Now I never experienced those rides before their retracks, but I can definitely tell you they didn't ride well post retrack.

There seems to be some good examples of retracking however. Ghost Rider seems have significantly improved and seems to get long queues now. And apparently Voyage is running much better as well. But how long will those retracks last before the ride returns to its old state? Same with the popularity. You might reignite some interest in the ride, but again, how long will that last?

As for old stuff that shouldn't be RMC'd, we can eliminate a few examples. Obviously, if the ride is good, don't touch it. Of course the park should give it a lot of love over the years to ensure it's running well. Phoenix is the best example here. Also shout out to Yankee Cannonball, that thing opened in the '30s but still runs like dream. I'd honestly hate to see it RMC'd (not that it's gonna happen).

RMC conversions also have to consider the structure size and park finances. Yankee Cannonball and a bunch of other old PTC woodies are tiny, leaving barely any room for RMC to play around with. Of course you also gotta see if the park is willing to spend $10 - 20 million (or whatever RMC conversions costs these days). Do we really want to spend that much on overhauling a ride? Or should we invest in something cheaper, like a family Gravity Group?

So I guess the best options for the Golden Age woodies is to give them TLC or remove them. Now we have to go back to whether the ride is good or not or the park wants to expand. You know, someone should a make a flow chart to help you decide what you want to do with your woodie lol.

It's actually remarkable to think that some of these rides have lasted 80-100 years of operation. Most PTC woodies I've done are still decent so I don't mind seeing them stick around. But some rough CCI built in the '90s? Yeah go ahead and RMC it.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
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RMC conversions also have to consider the structure size and park finances. Yankee Cannonball and a bunch of other old PTC woodies are tiny, leaving barely any room for RMC to play around with. Of course you also gotta see if the park is willing to spend $10 - 20 million (or whatever RMC conversions costs these days). Do we really want to spend that much on overhauling a ride? Or should we invest in something cheaper, like a family Gravity Group?
There is also another side to this argument: A small coaster is cheaper to maintain and periodically overhaul than a large one. It's easier for a park to justify the conservation of a 15 m tall, 600 m long woodie whose footprint is six meters wide along the length of its parking lot, than of a 45 m tall, 1600 m twisting layout that takes up an entire section of the park. You can spare the odd dime to keep the tiny one running for a century, but if the big one isn't attracting guests after 20 years of operation, you wouldn't want to spend a small fortune to keep it running.
 

Hutch

Strata Poster
There is also another side to this argument: A small coaster is cheaper to maintain and periodically overhaul than a large one. It's easier for a park to justify the conservation of a 15 m tall, 600 m long woodie whose footprint is six meters wide along the length of its parking lot, than of a 45 m tall, 1600 m twisting layout that takes up an entire section of the park. You can spare the odd dime to keep the tiny one running for a century, but if the big one isn't attracting guests after 20 years of operation, you wouldn't want to spend a small fortune to keep it running.
Didn't think of that earlier, but that's true. In theory, a bigger woodie would also expect to draw in more crowds, whereas a smaller woodie could get away with being a less popular ride in a large park, yet still hang around after a while. The smaller woodies might also get away with one train operations, so given that and their popularity you may end up with less wear and tear over a given period.

Mean Streak and Blue Streak are good examples here. Blue Streak nowadays is just a filler attraction and doesn't need to attract large crowds but stills runs fairly well. Mean Streak on the other hand...well we all know what happened there.
 

Thekingin64

Strata Poster
This is a hard question for me to answer but will put some thoughts down.

In a sense, I am a preservationist and don't like change but also welcome change for the better. This mostly applies to older buildings with wanting to keep any Victorian age buildings but Brutalist concrete buildings from 60/70s can be torn down at will. Mostly personal taste and I recognise there are people out there who like the Brutalist style though. For example, the Chemistry department at Cardiff Uni is currently situated in a lovely looking listed building dating from 1905 but there are rumours that a new purpose-built Chemistry building soon. While I can see the many benefits of the purpose built building, I'm worried what the space in the Main Building will be used for, if anything...

For a ride based example, I don't care for the numerous small-but-historic rides torn out of Blackpool in favour of Icon but would complain if any of the woodies are touched. While the rethemed ride itself is ok and I don't remember much of Gold Mine, I'm still not happy with the Gold Mine re-theme for blocking off the interaction the ride had with River Caves blue lagoon and that restaurant. That River Caves room will never be the same again.

In terms of RMC, most of the rides RMC'd so far are semi-modern and built before the modern GCI and GG, leaving them in the awkward phase being being new and exciting, and old and historic. This means they would often just be seen as old and no tears are shed over their demolition/retracking. This means I would happily welcome the RMCing of Megafobia (and can't wait for Robin Hood/Untamed) but would hate for any of the Blackpool Woodies to be touched.

There is also the point of the relative newness of the ride's parts. Over time, ride maintenance would require removal and replacement of numerous ride parts. After long enough, this would likely mean 100% of the ride is replaced and none of the original ride remains. At which point does it stop being the old ride? It may have been continuously been located/operated at the same location but steady parts replacement may mean a supposedly 100 year old ride may only be 10-15 years old.

Effectively, the more noteworthy and historic significance the building/ride is, the more it should be kept untouched.

(sorry for the long rambling post here, can attempt to clarify all points in a later post if required)
 

SilverArrow

Giga Poster
I prefer a mix and tbh I enjoy a good woodie over an RMC (see signature) but I am not against RMCs as a concept even though I would say I am interested in historic rides and their value more than the average Joe. Variety is good.

I am a member of that group, but joined before the questions haha. Most of the people on the group are less extreme than that guy.
 

mouse

Giga Poster
I'm not overly fussed. If a coaster's age and history is a major positive aspect of the ride experience then I wouldn't want to see it converted. Also, if a ride has some kind of historical significance, say if King George VI once urinated against Grand National, then it has a reason to be preserved.
 

Trooper

Roller Poster
The wood-to-steel conversions don't look good to my eyes, but I have no moral objection to them. What I thought of immediately was Nickelodeon Streak at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. A ride which was so old it was simply called 'Rollercoaster' in a park with several historic rides, painted bright orange for the sake of an IP which peaked in popularity over a decade prior to the 'retheme'. I have no problem with restoration works in general. Lots of the stunning castles and churches in Britain are ruins, and the parts that look impressive today are reconstructions. That doesn't take away from their splendour, in my view, because they are often restored with respect for the original, and not painted bright orange.
 

Hyde

I Lied About My Age!
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That leaves the question: What, exactly, is the park trying to preserve? The ride itself or the ride experience?
In terms of RMC, most of the rides RMC'd so far are semi-modern and built before the modern GCI and GG, leaving them in the awkward phase being being new and exciting, and old and historic. This means they would often just be seen as old and no tears are shed over their demolition/retracking. This means I would happily welcome the RMCing of Megafobia (and can't wait for Robin Hood/Untamed) but would hate for any of the Blackpool Woodies to be touched.

These are the two things I swing back around to:
1. What is "conversation"? To some, it is maintaining the literal structure of a roller coaster. And while there are some well preserved coasters out there, there are those that have been modified, adapted, and changed over the course of time - while still maintaining the spirit of what was originally intended. Individual ratcheting lapbars, auto-tensioning seatbelts, retracked/reworked layouts - does it all really matter if the same amount of riders enjoyed the ride to the same extent?
2. There have been some really crap roller coasters over history, especially with wooden coaster designs. While the 1990s where a transition to a new era for steel roller coasters, wooden coasters did not enjoy the same luxury; relying on older building practice and design to... still build the same ride. This was partly due to single-regime mentality (Dinn Corp begat Custom Coasters International begat early Great Coasters International), which was not broken (aka create competing firms) until the early 2000s, when we really saw wooden coaster design take it's modern form. And don't even get me started on the travesties of RCCA. In this wake however, there were a lot of bad, really bad, wooden coasters built. For every Boulder Dash, there was still a Villain built. This is where the business origin of RMC really took root - parks with "stranded" assets in operation - wooden coasters that cost a decent amount to build and more than their steel counterparts to maintain, yet vital to park operation; what if there was a way to rebrand and reinvigorate the ride that also helped reduce operational cost for the long term? I mean, wouldn't you love to know your clunker of a car could run 15 more years if replacing some components were a surefire bet? So in turn, 9 of RMC's first 10 conversions were to often considered sub-par rides (I'll still defend Colossus as the loss of a good classic). And to go back to the first point - if a roller coaster is suffering from low ridership and high maintenance cost, wouldn't it be worth reinvesting in the ride to give it new life and new ridership, ultimately extending it's life expectancy? I just struggle to understand the zealous wooden coaster enthusiasts who believe every wood is sacred (or sperm, for Monty Python fans), when what started was a derelict ride no normal park goer would approach. Conserving a roller coaster for the sake of conservation is not the point of an amusement park - that's a museum. Amusement parks are there to, well... amuse!
 

JJLehto

Hyper Poster
That group shows that there is always a more hardcore community lol

I am a big fan of history. So I get it, the want for preservation. But there's no way around it, some of these rides end up just sucking and the RMCs are an undeniable improvement. I think we should absolutely preserve good wooden rollercoasters. Or some that are simply too historical to be touched, such as the Cyclone (never rode idk if its good or not but most seem to like it) or the Kennywood ones, which actually none really impressed me but I'd never dare touch em.
But if they suck now...cmon whats the point in having this dreadful ride hanging around that people barely ride? Isnt that almost a disservice to the history? I almost find it more respectful to "put them out of their misery" ya know?

Basically: If its good, leave it. If its super historical, leave it. If its not good and not super historical, RMC it for all I care.
There is no point to keeping a ride around for looks. Take Mean Streak, amazing structure I loved to look at it, didnt ride it my last few visits. What is the point then?

I think the parks have chosen well. Every RMC conversion is imo a ride that was not gunna be missed. Now if we heard they wanna RMC the Beast or Phoenix then yeah we got some problems
 
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