The Iconic Wooden Roller Coaster at Playland in Vancouver

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The Playland roller coaster and the incline at the start (Photo by Linda Crampton)

The wooden roller coaster at the Playland Amusement Park in Vancouver has become an icon. It has been voted the best ride of its type in Canada and the twelfth best in the world. The coaster is so large that it can be seen from multiple places in Hastings Park, where Playland is located. The ride is a highlight for many teenagers, as I know from taking students there, and is greatly enjoyed by people of other ages as well.

The amusement park is located within an area of Hastings Park known as the Pacific National Exhibition, or the PNE. It’s a very popular place that provides great entertainment. Even for those who don’t enjoy rides, the coaster can be an interesting and impressive structure.

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The coaster as seen from a children’s playground in Hastings park (Photo by Linda Crampton)

The coaster was opened in 1958 and is made of Douglas fir, which is said to be fireproof. Of cause, the ride’s condition is checked regularly and the structure is repaired as necessary. The coaster was designed by Carl Phare and the head of construction was Walter LeRoy. Phare was born in Missouri and was well known as a roller coaster designer. The Vancouver coaster was his last creation and is sometimes considered to be his crowning glory. Phare died in 1962.

A chain pulls riders up the first hill of the coaster. A seventy-five horsepower electric motor drives the chain. The hill is seventy-five feet high and its summit is the highest point in the ride. The clicks that are heard as a train moves up the hill are due to the repeated activation of anti-rollback brakes and not to the chain itself. After reaching the summit, the train releases its grip on the chain. Its speed during the rest of the ride is controlled by gravity, momentum, and the design of the track.

Each of the three trains in the ride contains eight cars and each of the cars holds two people. According to Playland, the total length of the track is 5/8 of a mile and the ride lasts for 90 seconds. The train reaches a maximum speed of 45 miles an hour. The start/finish area for the trains is located under the blue roof on the right in my photo below.

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A close-up view of the first incline and its chain

I’ve often read that although the Playland coaster doesn’t look as dramatic as some other versions when a person is standing on the ground, the ride is more exciting than expected. The ride is relatively low-tech compared to modern ones, but its design makes it fun. Some people even say that it’s best coaster that they’ve ever ridden.

The ride certainly looks interesting in the video below. Based on my observations, it’s also very popular. I’ve accompanied multiple groups of high school students to Playland for the annual Amusement Park Physics Days. On these days, only students and their teachers or supervisors are allowed to enter the park. The goal is for students to have fun and learn about science at the same time. In every group that I’ve accompanied, many of the students have rushed to join the line-up for the coaster ride as soon as they’ve entered the park and have started their assignments after the ride.

Though I enjoy examining roller coasters and studying the physics of their operation, I haven’t ridden on one for a long time. I don’t like fast rides or the feeling of being out of control. That being said, I have never heard of an accident on the Playland coaster.

The orange roller coaster that can be seen in the background of the video screen above and in the centre background of my photo below is called the Corkscrew.  It has now ceased operation. Playland is planning to dismantle it once they’ve sold it and then transfer it to its new owner. Thankfully, there are no plans to dismantle the wooden roller coaster.

Playland announced the closure of the Corkscrew in May, 2019, just before the new season started. When I visited the amusement park in August during the fair at the PNE, the ride was still intact but was closed to the public. The plan is to eventually replace it with a driving track ride. It seems strange that the Corkscrew wasn’t in operation while it was still in place. Perhaps there are reasons for keeping it out of service and selling it that haven’t been publicized.

Playland is planning to expand into an area currently used as a parking lot and to introduce multiple new rides. The decision about which rides to include in the revamped park is still in its early stages, but they may include more coasters. The expansion sounds like a major development. It will create areas with different themes and may take as long as ten years to complete. The preliminary concept map shows the wooden coaster still in place in the revitalized park, as well as some other popular rides.

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Multiples curves of the roller coaster can be seen in the background of this view of Empire Field.

Playland’s website should be checked before a visit to the roller coaster or the other rides. The amusement park is not open every day or all year round. It’s generally in operation from some time in May to some time in September. At this time of year, the weather is reasonably warm and dry. Admission prices vary according to certain conditions. The area is free to enter with admission to the PNE fair, though tickets must be purchased in order to go on the rides.

The amusement park contains many other types of rides, gentle rides for young children, carnival games with prizes for the winners, a haunted house, and multiple kinds of food services. It’s a fun place for many people. It looks like the wooden roller coaster is going to be a highlight of the park for many years.

References

  • Facts about the coaster and its awards from Playland (a PDF document)
  • Roller coaster information from Amusement Park Physics at Annenberg Learner

6 thoughts on “The Iconic Wooden Roller Coaster at Playland in Vancouver

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