Editor’s Note: This is part 2 in a summer-long series from WYDaily called, ‘Landmark Lost.’ This series will examine beloved parts of the local area that are no longer around. To read part 1 on Busch Gardens’ Drachen Fire, click here.
WILLIAMSBURG — It’s not every day that you can travel on the back of a mythical wolf, racing through a Bavarian village at the “speed of fright.” From 1984 to 2009, that is exactly what guests of Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) could do aboard the roller coaster, Big Bad Wolf.
In 1978, the park debuted Loch Ness Monster. This masterpiece, which was manufactured by Arrow Huss (later known as the now defunct manufacturer, Arrow Dynamics) and designed by roller coaster genius, Ron Toomer, made history as being the first roller coaster in the world with interlocking loops. Fans flocked from the small “ma & pa” parks at local beachfronts, like Buckroe Beach in Hampton, to ride the Scottish-themed mythical beast.
Wanting to capitalize upon the success of “Nessie,” BGW knew that it needed to start moving in the direction of these monster-sized coasters. Ownership turned back to Arrow to create another legendary ride. However, this time, the park wanted something to appeal to its core demographic: families.
Keeping Riders in Suspense
BGW wanted another innovative, ground-breaking design to out do not only the local beach parks, but also Virginia’s other major theme park, Kings Dominion, which is located in Doswell.
Arrow went back to the drawing board to examine a design that it unsuccessfully tried before: a suspended coaster.
In 1981, The Bat debuted at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. From day one, the ride was riddled with problems. The physics involved with a suspended coaster added increase stress on the structure, leading to the cracking of the ride’s steel support beams and track. The Bat had a short life, with its ultimate closure in 1983.
Looking to modify what was considered a prototype design, Arrow Huss entered into contracts with both BGW and Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston, Texas to build two new suspended coasters.
On Nov. 10, 1983, BGW announced to the public that a new beast was coming to Williamsburg and this one would be both big and bad.
The Big Bad Wolf
On June 15, 1984, the public finally got a chance to take a whirl on the Big Bad Wolf. Opening in the Oktoberfest hamlet of the park to much pomp and circumstance, riders climbed aboard the black coaster cars which hung from a cherry red track. After pulling the iconic hard plastic shoulder harnesses over their heads, guests were told to enjoy “traveling at the speed of fright” before the trains departed the station.
After a leisurely start, the train made its way to a lift hill. The sound of the chain clicking its way up the lift sent chills and thrills down the spines of excited guests. Then, the train slid down the first drop, sending the cars swinging from side to side while speeding around a simulated Bavarian village at 48 mph.
Then, the train was slowed down before hitting another lift hill. At an apex of 80 feet, the track dropped down over the river in a site that became synonymous with the coaster, sending the trains through a last hurdle of twists and turns before coming to a stop at the station.
The park’s new addition was an instant hit with guests. While it provided a truly thrilling ride experience, its relatively low height requirement made it so a broader range of riders could climb on board. Many remember the Big Bad Wolf as their very first foray into the coaster world, making it a sentimental favorite for many park goers throughout the years.
The Life (and Death) of an Icon
Like Loch Ness Monster, the Big Bad Wolf was a BGW park staple. But as coaster designs evolved, the Big Bad Wolf was not competitive against the larger coasters that were later opened at BGW.
While it was still iconic for its swinging cars and held a fondness in the hearts of park enthusiasts, its ride experience was no longer quite as unique as the years wore on.
Though its popularity began to wane, it still outlived its sister coaster at AstroWorld and then the BGW misstep that was Drachen Fire.
Arrow Huss became Arrow Dynamics and, in 2002, the manufacturer that was once synonymous with state-of-the-art rides shuttered its doors and its assets sold to S&S Manufacturing, who would later be responsible for BGW’s Screamin’ Swing, Finnegan’s Flyer.
Big Bad Wolf was also starting to show its age and the stress of over two decades of sending riders on a wild journey was beginning to take its toll on its structure. Without Arrow around to provide parts and support, it was as though the coaster’s fate was sealed.
Midseason, BGW announced that Big Bad Wolf would cease operations on September 7, 2009.
Fans were bewildered and even outraged by the announcement, with many flocking to the park to relive the speed of fright one last time before the Big Bad Wolf’s growl was silenced forever.
On May 18, 2012, BGW debuted Zierer’s partially dark ride roller coaster, Verbolten, in place of the Big Bad Wolf. While this ride was not suspended like its predecessor, it still utilized the same queue buildings and some of the same track layout.
It pays homage to the beloved coaster by having themes in the dark ride section that are based on wolves in the Black Forest, and one of its trains has a license plate referencing wolves. But the biggest honor paid to Big Bad Wolf is the final lap of Verbolten, which traces the same final drop.
While Verbolten could never replace the Big Bad Wolf, it is a worthy ride, creating new memories for young coaster enthusiasts.
Though there is no longer any other trace of the Big Bad Wolf at BGW, one of the cars from the iconic coaster is now on display at the National Roller Coaster Museum in Arlington, Texas. To take a look, click here.
With the race of the wolf stopped and the ride’s heart-pounding adrenaline rush relegated to memories, this iconic, beloved coaster is officially a Historic Triangle Landmark Lost.
To relive riding at the speed of fright, check out this point of view video found on YouTube.
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