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Landmark Lost: The Big Bad Wolf
By Nancy E. Sheppard

BBW ImageFrom 1984 to 2009, Busch Gardens Williamsburg took guests on a harrowing journey through a Bavarian village, traveling at the "speed of fright.” Big Bad Wolf, a classic Arrow Dynamics suspended roller coaster was a beloved icon of not only the park but of the roller coaster industry. In September 2009, the wolf’s growl was forever silenced and its heart stopping adrenaline rush was relegated to the memories of those who dared challenge the ride.

After the highly successful addition of Loch Ness Monster in 1978, Busch Gardens was seeking another big roller coaster. This one needed to be new and innovative while still appealing to their core family demographic. They turned to Arrow Dynamics, the masters behind Loch Ness Monster.

This wasn’t Arrow’s first go-around with the idea of a suspended coaster. In 1981, The Bat opened at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. However, the ride was riddled with problems, and was closed in 1983. The physics involved with a suspended coaster out increased stress, cracking the ride’s steel track and support beams. Never to be deterred from mistakes, Arrow completed suspended coasters for both Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Six Flags AstroWorld in Houston, Texas.

On June 15, 1984, Big Bad Wolf opened in Busch Gardens’ Oktoberfest hamlet to much pomp and circumstance. Riders were told to enjoy their journey, traveling "at the speed of fright,” before leaving the station. It’s swinging black cars hung from a menacing red track, racing its way through a fabricated replica of a Bavarian village at 48 mph before climbing to the finale, a drop that sent riders from a height of 80 feet above the Rhine River. Big Bad Wolf was an instant hit for the thrilling experience, yet relatively low height requirements, allowing many young riders to brave it.

For many, Big Bad Wolf became their first roller coaster and cemented a sentimental place in hearts. As time went on, it wasn’t competitive with hyper and gigacoasters that began dotting theme park landscapes, but its unique ride experience still allowed it to outlive its sister coaster in AstroWorld as well as Arrow’s famous Busch Gardens misstep, Drachen Fire.

There were only two major incidents with Big Bad Wolf. In 1993, George Mason, a park employee, was struck and killed by an incoming train while working in a restricted area of the ride. In 2003, Bill Linnin was painting the ride before the operating season commenced and his high reaching vehicle overturned, killing Mr. Linnin. While both incidents were tragic, it was determined both were not a result of any safety violations of the ride itself.

In 2002, Arrow Dynamics shuttered its doors. Meanwhile, Big Bad Wolf began showing its age and the stress of over two decades of thrills began taking its toll on the ride. Without Arrow around to provide parts and support, Big Bad Wolf’s fate seemed sealed. Midseason 2009, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced that the Big Bad Wolf would cease operations on September 7, 2009; Labor Day weekend.

Fans of the ride were bewildered and outraged over the ride’s sudden closure. In 2013, Zierer’s partial dark launch coaster, Verbolten, opened in Big Bad Wolf’s place. Utilizing the same queue building and a finale that paid homage to its predecessor, Verbolten has been deemed a worthy successor to the Wolf.

Still, park fans miss flying their way through a Bavarian village on the back of an invisible wolf and remember fondly.

 





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