Joker Construction Tour at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
This Friday I got a chance to take a a behind-the-scenes hard hat tour of The Joker at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, the new Rocky Mountain Construction hybrid of the former Roar set to open this Spring. The tour was timed to coincide with the installation of the first piece of inverted track, which was going up while we looked on. In addition to getting to take lots of awesome pictures of the construction, I also got a chance to ask a few questions of Rocky Mountain Construction’s Project Site Coordinator Lindsay Murphy and foreman Justin Whiteman about the project. We were also blessed with a rain free morning despite heavy rains earlier in the week, and later in the day (you’ll notice a lot of mud in these pictures).
We started by the beginning of the ride, getting an up close look at the pre-lift section coming down from the station house. The first thing that stood out when getting up close was how large the “small” initial airtime hill is coming out of the entrance, something you couldn’t really tell from other photos (like those in our report from last month). The second that stood out was how tight the twist is on the first turn out of the station. While pre-lifts don’t tend to be the most exciting things on a coaster, this does look pretty fun.
If the pre-lift seems pretty long to you, the reason is simple. As Justin pointed out to me, because of the new, ultra steep drop, the entire lift hill basically had to be moved forward, which means the pre-lift needs to be stretched out (and done so with little bunny hops, of course).
The Lift Hill And the Amazing Drop
We continued along the side of the lift hill underneath the wooden structure towards the drop. Speaking of the wooden structure, another curious little fact: Because the RMC I-box track is actually stronger than a normal would track and can help support the structure, a lot of the wood support isn’t actually necessary for an RMC track. They’ll usually remove a few pieces, but most of the time it’s left just because it’s easier (and looks good).
I asked Lindsay and Justin about roughly how much of the original structure could be reused, and the answer was mostly that it depends. Obviously places where the layout changes will have a lot removed, along with any pieces that look like they’re starting to wear. Justin commented that the structure was well made and well maintained so a decent amount could be kept, but estimated roughly (probably very roughly) 50-50 on what gets kept and what gets removed. It is easy to spot the new pieces of bright wood on the structure, and certainly a lot of the material near the track has that fresh wood shine.
Looking at the new drop from up close makes it look even more awesome than it did before. It’s amazing how tight it twists to the ground, and how much steeper it looks compared to the original Roar drop. I can’t imagine how awesome it will feel while riding.
Something you may have noticed in these pictures that’s different from many other Rocky Mountain Construction coasters (like say, Twisted Colossus), the track isn’t completely painted. The area where the wheels run has been left unpainted. Apparently this is intended to help reduce some of the track noise experienced on rides like Colossus, and since Discovery Kingdom didn’t mind having those sections left bare, it was decided to make them that way. I’m curious to see if there is a noticeable reduction in squeal.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the first inverted track was being installed today. Apparently track installation basically goes at the pace the pieces arrive from the RMC factory in Hayden, Idaho, and the pieces for the “Step-Up Under-Flip” arrived earlier this week. In between track pieces arriving the crew works on other aspects of the construction, like removing wood and adding supports, so the pace can sometimes seem sporadic (if visitors don’t see new track installed, it doesn’t mean work isn’t going on).
As the piece hung there from the cranes the crew swung around the piece in the harnesses, lining up the joints and hammering the bolt holes into place. Currently all the guys working on the project are full time RMC employees (about 15 crew). Temporary crew may be added later on in the project, but for now it’s all RMC full timers. Justin also commented that while all the rides they rebuild like this have a different starting point, they’ve been using basically the same methods since Iron Rattler, so the process for installing the tracks is pretty much the same on every coaster they work on. I also learn from Russel Martin, ride maintenance manager at Discovery Kingdom, that while RMC is doing all the track and structure construction, once that’s complete the SFDK team takes over to install all of the mechanisms needed for the ride, like the brake sections, chain lift, and transfer track mechanisms. I asked Russel whether any chances would be made to the station house and he said that it wouldn’t be anything major. A few changes to the gates and lines, and widening the track, but most things, including the operator panels, should remain similar. There was a hint that there may be a fully enclosed tunnel coming, but for now we’ll file that under “rumor”. It certainly would be cool to see one as a kind of call back to the GCI heritage of the ride (and because tunnels are awesome).
Maybe the most amazing thing about seeing this piece go up is the realization that pretty much the entire inversion is made in one piece of track. Looking where the piece connects on the bottom and where it ends on the top, it’s nearly a full 180 degree turn. How nuts is that? And if you’re curious how RMC makes sure all the pieces fit together, Justin told me that apparently back at the factory there are basically mockups of the actual coaster supports, so the pieces can be lined up as they’re made to ensure they’ll fit together on site. It also helps to ensure everything goes together right by marking each steel piece with the exact numbers of the connection points, no chance of mixing up what goes where.
While the green piece went up this morning, the neighboring purple track was waiting to go on, and the next two track pieces to complete the inversion were on site as well.
Other Parts of the Structure
With the inversion going up, we took a few more shots of the rest of the structure that will house all the future elements to go in over the next few months.
Of course, the actual best part of the tour was the sweet purple hard hat. I wonder if we should put this in a give away some day…
So there you have it, the first inversion of The Joker should now be installed! So far the ride is looking great, and seeing things like that first flip and the twisted drop up close is making me even more excited for how great this coaster will be than I was before!
Many thanks to Justin and Lindsay from Rocky Mountain construction for showing us around and answering questions, and to Nancy Chan, Captain Lee, and Russel Martin from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom! You can, of course, find out more about SFDK on their website and their facebook page, where they just uploaded some video footage from installation as well. And remember, the park is open weekends, so you can go take a look at the new track yourselves, plus check out the new 5D Pacific Rim attraction they just opened. And, hey, let us know if you’re as excited for The Joker as we are (or if you have any questions about what I saw/heard).