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Ruby Anniversary for a Historic Icon:
The Loch Ness Monster
By Nancy E. Sheppard

Nessie imageThis year marks the 40th anniversary of Busch Gardens’ legendary roller coaster, Loch Ness Monster. While this roller coaster dwarfs in comparison to her sister coasters in the park, for many of us, her yellow tracks and iconic green cars are filled with wonderful memories. As a personal note, this roller coaster has a soft spot in my heart. Twenty-three years ago, my Uncle Wilton convinced me to ride Loch Ness Monster to get over my terrible fear of roller coasters. From the first drop, turn, and through Nessie’s iconic interlocking loops, my steadfast passion for the aerodynamic contraptions was born. When my uncle passed away a few weeks ago, I thought of that moment with him that was one of the defining moments of my life.

Loch Ness Monster was the brain child of famed roller coaster designer, Ron Toomer, and the now defunct company, Arrow Dynamics, which was responsible for many of Disneyland’s earliest rides. Busch Gardens Williamsburg, then known as "The Old Country,” approached Arrow Dynamics in need of something unique that would draw in greater crowds. What Toomer came up with was a fete of engineering and unlike any other coaster in the world. This new, 300-ton steel machine would feature not only the world’s first (and now only) interlocking loops, but also the tallest (at 130 feet), fastest roller coaster (at a max speed of 60 mph) with the steepest drop (55 degrees at 114 feet) in the world. By the time of its completion, Nessie cost Busch Gardens $5 million, forcing them to raise 1978’s admission price to $8.79 (approximately $34 today).

When the park unveiled the yellow giant in May 1978, Busch Gardens General Manager, John Roberts, said, "It will be the most awesome, terrible, frightening thrill ride in history.” Up to that point, he was absolutely right. The first riders of Nessie were celebrities known in 1978 pop culture as brave dare devils, including football player "Mean Joe” Greene and stunt woman Kitty O’Neil. That same year, Busch Gardens hosted American Coaster Enthusiasts’ first annual National Roller Coaster Convention to celebrate the coaster’s opening.

Loch Ness Monster has changed through the years from the number of trains run to shifting from manual to computerized safety systems. Special effects, including fog, lights, and a mural of the monster inside the tunnel, known as "The Monster’s Lair,” have also been removed. On June 17, 2003, American Coaster Enthusiasts bestowed upon the beloved thrill ride the honor of being inducted as a Roller Coaster Landmark, perhaps as an effort to prevent it from meeting the same fate as Nessie’s sister coaster, Big Bad Wolf, would several years later.

Loch Ness Monster is no longer the fastest, steepest, nor tallest roller coaster in the world but she defined a new standard for roller coasters and thrill rides. Unlike many of her Arrow Dynamic counterparts, she still retains much of her smoothness, even after all of these years. Now multiple generations ride together and create new, thrilling memories together on board the tubular beast and will hopefully continue to for many more to come.

 





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