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.

20 Weird Clubs That Actually Exist

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

Groucho Marx once famously quipped that he'd never "want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members." Most people would probably say the same about the Martin-Baker Ejection Tie Club—a very exclusive, 63-year-old organization created specifically for individuals who have had their lives saved by an ejection seat. Currently, the club boasts more than 6000 members.

That's just one of the weird and wonderful clubs you'll learn about in our latest edition of The List Show. Join Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she hunts down the world's most unusual clubs (Extreme Ironing Bureau anyone?). You can watch the full video below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

An Explosive History of the T-Shirt Cannon

Tom Szczerbowski, Getty Images
Tom Szczerbowski, Getty Images

As the mascot for the San Antonio Spurs from 1983 to 2004, Tim Derk—also known as the Coyote—was constantly looking for ways to make the live game experience better for fans. In addition to dancing, antagonizing players, and engaging with attendees, Derk did what many mascots do to raise morale: He gave the crowd free stuff.

Shirts, hats, and other apparel were tossed out on a regular basis, though the gifts were limited to the ability of a mascot’s throwing arm. Which meant that fans seated in the upper bleachers didn’t get much of anything, except maybe a nosebleed.

Derk and the other mascots used huge rubber bands to propel shirts to those people seated higher up in the stands, but even those had limited range. Then, in the 1990s, Derk and his peers decided to become apparel arms dealers. They designed and fabricated a massive, 90-pound cast-iron pipe 4 feet in length that used the pneumatic principle to blast T-shirts into the air and into the arms of fans.

Once Derk strapped it on for an appearance during a game as “Rambote,” sports would never be the same again.

The T-shirt cannon can be traced back to Britain during World War II, when sailors on commercial freighter ships were left vulnerable after their anti-aircraft weapons had been rerouted to warships. Desperate to protect themselves from enemy attack, the sailors adopted a weapon developed by the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. Dubbed a Holman Projector, it could shoot projectiles out of a tube using steam from the ship’s boiler.

Rugby mascot Captain Hurricane (L) stands near former Hurricanes player Norm Hewitt (R) as he fires a T-shirt cannon at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand in May 2018
Hagen Hopkins, Getty Images

Sailors usually lobbed grenades in this manner, but when they weren’t under direct threat—which was most of the time—they loaded the gun with less-lethal ammunition, like potatoes. When Winston Churchill observed a demonstration and someone forgot the grenades, operators used beer bottles instead.

Without a wartime steam boiler, people still felt a need to launch projectiles. Contemporary “spud launchers” use compressed gas, usually carbon dioxide, that is delivered into an air tank. When the trigger is pulled, the gas is released all at once, and the energy shoots whatever’s in the barrel. That can be a potato, a paintball pellet, or a rolled-up T-shirt.

Derk was intrigued by the concept of the spud launcher and adopted it for clothing. When he began brandishing his T-shirt cannon, other mascots quickly followed suit. Kenn Solomon, also known as Rocky the Mountain Lion—a mascot cheering on the Denver Nuggets—had a friend build him one after seeing Derk’s. Solomon also got involved in selling them commercially. Pretty soon, the device was in heavy use across the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL organizations, growing smaller and lighter with each passing year. Once 90 pounds, the cannons now weigh as little as two pounds.

This T-shirt arms race grew to include multi-barrel guns like Big Bella, a 600-pound behemoth which debuted in 2012 at a Philadelphia 76ers game and could fire 100 shirts every 60 seconds. Not to be outdone, the Milwaukee Bucks introduced a triple-barreled gun powerful enough to propel vests and jackets. The Army’s football team built a tiny T-shirt tank.

Rumble, the mascot for the Oklahoma City Thunder, fires a T-shirt cannon at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in May 2016
J Pat Carter, Getty Images

Despite having a relatively innocuous payload, these guns have not always brought joy to attendees. In 2018, a mascot named Chip at the University of Colorado-Boulder suffered an injury when a T-shirt cannon malfunctioned, shooting him in the groin. (The video, of course, went viral.) That same year, a fan named Jennifer Harughty claimed that Orbit, the mascot for the Houston Astros, shot her with a T-shirt and shattered her finger, necessitating surgery. In 2019, Alex Swanson was at Citi Field for a New York Mets game and alleged that a shirt struck him in the eye and knocked him unconscious. Both sued the respective teams.

Derk surely had no idea there would be the occasional mishap, nor could he have predicted someone might misappropriate the gun for other purposes. In 2019, a woman named Kerri Jo Hickman was arrested after being caught while trying to deliver contraband—cell phones, chargers, ear buds, and drugs—by shooting it over the fence of North Folk Correction Center in Sayre, Oklahoma, with a T-shirt cannon.

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