14 Antique Roller Coasters You Can Still Ride

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What could be more terrifying than ascending the rails on a roller coaster? Try riding one that was in service before the Wright Brothers' first airplane flight.

As one of the nation’s greatest amusement park pastimes, the coaster—introduced to the U.S. in 1884 by LaMarcus Thompson—has evolved from rickety wooden terror trains to high-tech steel diversions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a ride on a classic. Check out these 14 old-school coasters that that are still accepting new passengers.

1. The Cyclone

A popular destination among thrill-seeking tourists in New York City, Coney Island’s famous—or infamous—Cyclone debuted in June 1927 and has outlasted many of its peers in the park over the years. When the nearby aquarium tried to get it demolished, supporters stepped in to preserve it; it was later named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Cyclone’s 2640 feet of track and pre-Depression-era framework didn’t always hold up: The ride stalled out several times, requiring riders to make a dizzying descent from the track on foot. The ride’s track has recently been replaced.

2. Giant Dipper

At 95 years young, the Santa Cruz-based Giant Dipper isn’t ready to retire just yet. The Dipper cost just 15 cents a ride when it debuted in 1924, and builder Arthur Looff said he wanted riders to experience a combination “earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop.” Passengers first enter a dark tunnel before being lifted seven stories above ground.

Repainting the 327,000 board feet of lumber used in its construction cost $300,000 in 2013. A “sister” coaster, also named the Giant Dipper, was erected in San Diego in 1925.

3. Lagoon Roller Coaster

Farmington, Utah’s Lagoon Amusement Park rates its antique coaster’s thrill level as “very high,” a biased but probably accurate summation. Built in 1921, the coaster can hit speeds of 45mph across more than 2500 feet of track, its wooden planks visibly rattling as the train speeds by. Inspectors do a walkthrough every day, frequently replacing any worn out parts.

4. Rutschebanen

Located in Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Rutschebanen (Danish for “roller coaster”) is unique among classic amusement rides. Built in 1914, it has a driver—specifically, a “brake man”—who sits in the train and can control the speed manually, creating a unique experience for each set of passengers. Rutschebanen was originally designed to be a simulation trip through the mountains, with artificial peaks seen at the top of the ride (which have recently been restored).

5. The Wild One

Originally designed and built for Paragon Park near Boston in 1917, the 98-foot-tall Wild One moved to what is now Six Flags America in Maryland (although it’s considered unlikely that much survives of the original roller coaster). Fans of the coaster are said to be thrilled with “ejector air,” the feeling of being launched from your seat. It’s rumored that the Kennedys took regular rides before it was relocated.

6. Jack Rabbit

Designer John Miller made an important tweak to roller coaster blueprints with the Jack Rabbit in 1920. It was one of the first to use an under-friction wheel approach, which kept the train seated firmly on the tracks as a safety measure. Located in Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, New York, the Jack Rabbit has a sister coaster at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, with the same name.

7. The Racer

The 1927 Racer, which is also located in that same Kennywood Park, takes a (nearly) singular approach to coasters: There are twin passenger trains that launch at the same time, “racing” one another to get to the end of the ride. Curiously, it’s still a single track—just one that’s looped for two-lane excitement. If you leave on the right, you’ll return on the left side.

8. Great Scenic Railway

While many antique coasters have had to close temporarily for one reason or another, the Great Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia’s Luna Park claims to be the oldest continually operating ride in the world. Opening in 1912, the Railway was joined by an eclectic group of attractions at Luna Park, including the “world’s fattest boy” (who weighed 350 pounds at age 12) and a woman who would set herself on fire before diving into a pool that was also burning. The 107-year-old ride is accessible via the Aussie Luna Park’s “Mr. Moon” mouth entrance portal.

9. The Legend

Arnolds Park in Iowa has a towering tourist attraction: the 63-foot Legend, on park grounds since 1930. The appeal, according to purists, is a bumpy ride akin to the spin cycle of a dryer. By 2013, the coaster was tossing passengers around so freely that it underwent renovations to make for a smoother ride. In August 2015, Des Moines-area retiree Les Menke took it for a spin; 85 years previously, the 96-year-old and a friend had been the first on board following a bunch of test sandbags.

10. Thunderbolt

Roller coaster design legend John Miller crafted this Kennywood Park attraction, which debuted in 1924. The ride got a redesign in 1968 and a naming contest was held; Thunderbolt was the winning entry. The revamp was seemingly successful—in 1974 it was described as the “ultimate coaster” by The New York Times.

11. Wildcat

Bristol, Connecticut’s most famous human agitator is located at Lake Compounce and opened in 1927. It made major local headlines in 1975, when Noel Aube hopped on and rode it 2001 consecutive times, logging more than 79 hours and around 1022.5 miles on the coaster. Aube would eat and sleep on the track; business of a personal nature could be handled during the five-minute breaks he’d take every hour.

12. Thunderhawk

Originally referred to as simply “The Coaster,” Dorney Park’s Thunderhawk debuted in 1923. For a while, passengers would sit in the train and go underneath a separate station housing bumper cars before being spit out on the main track. While that was all removed in later renovations, Thunderhawk continues to appeal to classic coaster fans.

13. Kiddie Coaster

While you usually need to be of a certain height to hop on amusement rides, the 1928 Kiddie Coaster is one of the few to penalize visitors for being too tall. Running for just 300 feet, the Playland Park attraction in Rye, New York, is intended for children only.

14. Leap the Dips

Opening in 1902, Altoona, Pennsylvania’s Leap the Dips is the world’s oldest surviving roller coaster. It might also be the most tame: Topping out at 10 to 18mph, the drops are a fairly serene nine feet. But being on board is another story—passengers experience an undulating series of dips that feels like being in a car without shocks (or seat belts, or lap bars, or head rests, according to Lehigh Valley Live). If you need a relaxed introduction to roller coasters, this is probably the ride you've been looking for.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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The Fur Trade: How the Care Bears Conquered the '80s

Care Bears were one of the great merchandising success stories of the 1980s.
Care Bears were one of the great merchandising success stories of the 1980s.
Kristy Sparrow, Getty Images

How do you patent a teddy bear? That was the question facing executives at American Greetings, the popular greeting card company, and toy kingpin Kenner in the early 1980s. American Greetings was coming off the success of Strawberry Shortcake, an apple-cheeked sensation that adorned cards and hundreds of licensed products. Kenner was the force behind the Star Wars action figure line, which rolled out in the late 1970s and went on to become one of the biggest success stories in the history of the toy industry.

Now the two companies wanted to collaborate on a line of teddy bears. For Kenner, it was an opportunity to break into the lucrative plush toy market. For American Greetings, having a stuffed, furry iteration of a greeting card—complete with a name, a unique color, and an emotional message—was the goal. The solution? Put greeting card-esque designs on the bears's stomachs and call them Care Bears. It was a simple idea that proceeded to rake in roughly $2 billion in sales in the Care Bears's first five years alone.

 

Strawberry Shortcake was the brainchild of Those Characters From Cleveland, a creative subsidiary of American Greetings headed up by co-presidents Jack Chojnacki and Ralph Shaffer. (While on a business meeting on the West Coast, the two overheard a receptionist telling someone that “those guys from Cleveland” were there, inspiring the name.) Given a mission from Kenner to reinvent the teddy bear, a childhood staple since the turn of the 20th century, Those Characters recruited cartoonist Dave Polter and freelance artist Elena Kucharik.

Shaffer examined the rainbow, heart, and other greeting card designs submitted by Polter. He then examined the bear sketches turned in by Kucharik. They fit together like two puzzle pieces. Putting the colorful designs on the bear’s stomach gave it a quality similar to the sentimental cards American Greetings was known for.

Two Care Bears are pictured at the Boy Meets Girl x Care Bears Collection at Colette in Paris, France in February 2017
Care Bears symbolize friendship—and billions of dollars in revenue.
Kristy Sparrow, Getty Images

Those Characters continued to refine the look of the bears, compressing their frame and giving them a little extra volume to make them more squeezable, and a heart-shaped button on their rear ends identified them as Care Bears. American Greetings was able to secure a patent based on the graphic design of their bellies. Their two-dimensional look was fleshed out by Sue Trentel, a plush designer who was able to craft a teddy that resembled the drawings.

The creative team eventually settled on a lineup of 10 bears, each one a different color and reflecting a different emotional dimension. There was Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, Good Luck Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, Tenderheart Bear, and Wish Bear, along with one anomaly. To balance out the potential overdose of saccharine feelings, Grumpy Bear was added. In the narrative devised by Those Characters, the Care Bears lived in a giant castle and went out on missions of caring.

While Kenner was leading the charge in terms of marketing, American Greetings knew they had a premise with broad appeal. Before any Care Bears made it to shelves, the company secured 26 licensees to manufacture everything from clothing to bedsheets to coloring books. Retailers who may have been reluctant to devote store space to a new line of teddy bears were impressed by the support, leading chains like Walmart, Kmart, and Target to quickly sign on.

 

To complement the launch of the Care Bears at the 1983 Toy Fair in New York City, Kenner president Bernie Loomis mounted a major Broadway-style stage production at a cost of roughly $1 million. During the show, Strawberry Shortcake made an appearance to introduce the next great merchandising craze.

The bears went on sale that March and quickly sold out. Desperate for more product, Kenner promised a factory owner in Taiwan a new Mercedes if he could make 1 million more Care Bears—and quickly. (Kenner got their bears, and the factory owner got his car.) American Greetings had a 16-foot stretch of Care Bears cards lining the greeting card aisles. An animated series was a hit. The Care Bears Movie followed in 1985. By 1988, more than 40 million Care Bears had been sold. By 2007, the number was 110 million. The teddy bear had successfully been reinvented.

Several Care Bears are pictured on a table at the Boy Meets Girl x Care Bears Collection at Colette in Paris, France in February 2017
Care Bears have endured for nearly 40 years.
Kristy Sparrow, Getty Images

The Care Bears have been reintroduced several times, including in 2002, 2007, and 2013. American Greetings is still marketing the Care Bears under their Cloudco Entertainment brand. A new animated series, Care Bears: Unlock the Magic, began airing on Boomerang in 2019, while apparel and other licensing—like Care Bears Funko Pops! and Care Bears clothing for Mattel’s Barbie—is still going strong.

Why the enduring appeal? In 2007, Polter credited the secularized version of values that are often instilled in churches. The Care Bears were on a mission of sharing, loving, and caring—a greeting card message that never had to leave your side.