Defunctland: The History of Busch Gardens’ Swinging Classic, the Big Bad Wolf


In 1992, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, then named Busch Gardens: The Old Country, unveiled a brand new ride from popular coaster manufacturer: Arrow Dynamics. Drachen Fire was a steel beast, providing riders with plenty of whiplash and headaches during its tenure. The coaster did not reflect well on Arrow. The company had a long history of producing some of the most famous amusement park attractions in the world, and Drachen Fire was part of a series of missteps that would eventually lead to their bankruptcy. Perhaps the most ironic part of Drachen Fire and its failure was its placement: The Oktoberfest section of Busch Gardens Williamsburg. For, in this section of the park, eight years prior to Drachen Fire’s debut, Busch Gardens had unveiled another coaster designed by Arrow. This one, however, received a much different response. [Wolf howling] In 1902, in Long Beach, California, a new type of rollercoaster debuted. Its design was much different than the simple wooden coasters of the time. The ride was called Bisby’s Spiral Airship, and it is considered to be the first suspended rollercoaster in the world. Riders boarded square gondolas and were taken to the main tower by a large lift hill. The gondolas then followed a simple spiral downward. This revolutionary ride closed around 1915, and a coaster of this kind would not be seen again until 1975 in Munich, Germany. Coincidentally debuting at the real Oktoberfest, Messerschmitt, a German airplane manufacturer, premiered their suspended coaster at the fair. Prominent German coaster designer Werner Stengel also worked on the project until Messerschmitt made the decision to cut costs by not implementing banked turns. Messerschmitt believed that the banking would occur naturally since the ride car swung. Stengel left the project due to this issue, leaving Messerschmitt to debut the coaster alone. Another famed German coaster designer, Anton Schwarzkopf, supposedly hated the fact that Messerschmitt was attempting to enter the coaster industry, since their company had previously only manufactured aircrafts. Messerschmitt’s suspended coaster, named Alpenflug, premiered at Oktoberfest to rave reviews. However, Stengel and Schwarzkopf were ultimately correct, as after its sixteen-day run, the coaster never reopened, despite Messerschmitt already starting construction on a second. This was because Alpenflug’s lack of banked turns was already causing structural stress during its short operation period. It wouldn’t be until six years later, in 1981, that another suspended coaster would open. And it seemed that this one was here to stay. News reporter: It swoops and dives from 100 feet above the ground, and there’s no track beneath it. Designers call ‘The Bat’ the world’s first and only hanging rollercoaster. More than a dozen men at the Arrow Huss company developed the plans. It took them three years, then construction began, and John Rood made sure their dream came true. John Rood: Well, I’ve [unintelligible- babysat?] this one for about eight months now. News reporter: So, do you like this more than probably any other ride around, or is this one of your favorites? John Rood: I think this is a revolutionary ride. One thing you can consider is that when you rode this, you rode a one of a kind, the only one in the world. News reporter: It cost Kings Island close to $4 million to provide the thrills and chills of The Bat. The public will begin defraying that cost when the park opens this season on Sunday. Narrator: On April 26, 1981, The Bat debuted at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. Designed and manufactured by Arrow Development, the coaster received a large amount of media and public attention. Since the vast majority of the public were unaware of the world’s first two suspended coasters, the ride was considered to be completely new and original. Audiences loved The Bat, and it quickly became one of, if not the most, popular ride at the park. Unfortunately, it was also plagued with mechanical issues. The ride was wearing much quicker than expected, eventually leading to damage and cracks in the supports. An analysis of the ride’s damage revealed a major problem: They forgot to bank the turns. A quote from the report explained that the natural force of the ride was trying to twist the track to a banked position. Fixing these proved to be costly, and Kings’ Island decided to close the ride a mere two years after it opened, in 1983. Despite its failure, The Bat proved that general audiences and thrillseekers alike wanted more suspended coasters, prompting the development of the ride type to continue. Having been open for just over five years, Busch Gardens: The Old Country took note of this. A suspended rollercoaster would certainly have a huge draw for the still-young park. With this in mind, Busch Gardens turned to Anton Schwarzkopf, who already provided his popular Jumbo Jet and Wild Cat coaster designs to the Virginia Park. Perhaps still bitter about the Messerschmitt incident, Schwarzkopf agreed, and began designing a suspended coaster of his own. In his factory, he designed a transportable flying coaster, and he even constructed around 75% of it before abandoning the project due to financial issues. Busch Gardens Williamsburg then turned to Arrow Development, which had recently been absorbed into Arrow Huss. Around this time, Arrow was also asked by Six Flags AstroWorld to resurrect the concept used to create The Bat. Arrow agreed to build a suspended coaster at both parks, and they made adjustments to their original design to ensure that these coasters would last. Busch Gardens was to receive theirs first. In March of 1984. But due to construction delays, it would open after AstroWorld’s. However, the Six Flags coaster was nothing compared to what Arrow and Busch Gardens were able to construct. Commercial narrator: Imagine yourself alone in the woods, and then it happened. You’ve just been bitten by the Wolf. The Big Bad Wolf. The new ride coming to life at Busch Gardens. Narrator: The Big Bad Wolf opened at Busch Gardens on June 15, 1984. The majority of the coaster was hidden within the Oktoberfest woods, with only the main drop being seen from the park’s pathways. Guests could cross the Rhine River from Italy and enter the German Oktoberfest, they were then immediately greeted with the attraction’s entrance. Once inside the loading area, guests boarded their cars, and the ride operator told them to “enjoy travelling at the speed of fright.” The cars then exited the loading area and the ride began. Video narrator: The Wolf is about to take us on a seemingly out of control race through a maze of hills and obstacles. The ride takes about three minutes to travel the 2800 feet of track at speeds of up to 48 mph. And the chase is on! Narrator: After leaving the loading area, the coaster immediately dips to the left and reaches the first lift hill. It then climbs 50 feet and guests plunge a short distance, the track turning to the left as guests swing to the right. The coaster twists and turns through a Bavarian village. The cars free swinging whichever way their momentum takes them. The village was intricately themed and the track was placed in such a way that guests believed that they were about to crash into the models. Perhaps the best part is that these were a complete surprise to new riders, as they were hidden from the queue and the park’s pathways. With the only viewing area of the village being parts of Drachen Fire’s queue. After the sequence, the cars hit a brake run, leading to the second lift hill. Using the park’s terrain, this lift hill takes guests 100 feet in the air, since the hill rises with it, riders often didn’t realize how high they were before it was too late. The coaster plunges 80 feet towards the river, sharply banking right and throwing guests over the water. The turn is ended by a bank in the other direction, then a left turn and a return to the station. TV reporter: The Big Bad Wolf, Busch Garden’s rollercoaster with a new twist. The cars hang from the track, so those of you with hangups over hanging out at an angle of 110 degrees, had better stay home. They let us take our turn on the ride today before they shut it off. And I can tell you, authoritatively, that those who yell “Wolf” aren’t crying wolf. The ride is scary. Narrator: If that experience sounds mundane, that’s because it was considered to be a family coaster. The drops over the three minute ride were relatively small, and the coaster kept close to the ground. The extra thrill was added through the swinging design, and the experience was elevated through the theming and placement. The experience at night was an extra thrill, as lighting was scarce, making swinging through the woods and village all the more exhilarating. The coaster was practically flawless, so why did it close? On July 24, 2009, 25 years after the coaster debuted, Busch Gardens announced that it would close at the end of the season, as with most coasters, rumors circulated that it was due to an accident. While this isn’t the reason for its closure, Big Bad Wolf was not free from incident. In 1993, an employee was killed when he was sent into a restricted area to remove a branch from a security camera, the 63 year old was struck by an oncoming vehicle and later died after being taken to the hospital. Ten years later in 2003, an employee painting ride carts fell to his death when one of Big Bad Wolf’s cars overturned. Despite rumors, neither of these incidents had to do with the coaster’s closure, it was also believed that high operating costs and low ridership contributed to the decision. But the main reason Busch Gardens closed Big Bad Wolf seems to be that they just wanted a change. As they stated in the press release announcing the ride’s closure: “The Big Bad Wolf offers a thrilling ride experience coupled with aggressive ride dynamics. While it remains a safe attraction, it has simply reached the end of its service life.” This press release also claims that Big Bad Wolf is the world’s first suspended coaster… …which it is clearly not. A year after Big Bad Wolf would be demolished, the park announced a major renovation of the Oktoberfest area, the new area would be much more colorful and modern in an attempt to draw audiences to the far corner of the park. Big Bad Wolf seems to have been a mere victim of the renovation. Commercial narrator: Strange things happen in the Black Forest. Where things aren’t always what they seem. Because thrills hide in the shadows. Just waiting at every turn. Verbolten! A new multi-launch coaster coming to Busch Gardens. Brave the Black Forest. Narrator: Big Bad Wolf was demolished, the only remnants being bits of the concrete foundation. Three years later in 2012, the land formerly occupied by the coaster would become home to Verbolten, a family coaster themed after the Autobahn. It is a worthy successor, with unique ride elements and a large indoor portion. It also pays tribute to its predecessor. The indoor section has three randomized storylines, with the lighting and sounds changing depending on the program. These are the Spirit of the Forest, Lightning Storm and Big Bad Wolf. In a tribute to the closed ride, some Verbolten riders are given a trip through a Dark Forest, where they are being stalked by a red eyed Wolf. Also, each car has a specialized license plate, the orange car reads: “WOL FXING”, or “Wolf Crossing” in another tribute to the Big Bad Wolf. Finally, the finale of the ride follows the exact same path as the former suspended coaster, diving toward the river and turning a few times before entering the station. Verbolten is a quality ride, and it makes the loss of Big Bad Wolf a little easier to stomach. As for the rest of the world’s suspended coasters that remembered to bank the turns, many have faced a similar fate to that of Big Bad Wolf. While many rides by other manufacturers still exist, only five of the Arrow suspended coasters are still operating today. One is actually The Bat at Kings Island, on the other side of the park from the original. This coaster was originally themed after “Top Gun”, before being stripped of its branding. Kings Island payed tribute to former coaster by re-theming it to The Bat. That said, no suspended coaster, operating or defunct, seems to be as beloved as the Big Bad Wolf. It was a truly impressive ride and it will be remembered as one of Arrow’s best, which says a lot. Many fans are still upset that it’s gone, but it is far from forgotten. So that said, were you afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Hmm, I wonder whatever happened to XLR-8?

Comments

  1. Is there any historical similarities between the rides mentioned in this video and The Bat at Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah?

  2. When I was a kid, my family visited Bush gardens and I saw the Big Bad Wolf being tested before it opened, never got to ride it, my loss.

  3. I rode on this one and it was absolutely terrible. It never felt like the cars were actually coasting, but were being limited in what should’ve been freer motion. It was jarring and painful, and should never have been made. A ride needs to be comfortable and smooth, like the flight of a bird. It’s a matter of balancing centrifugal forces with gravity and geometry. But the experience needs to be relatively comfortable while being exciting.

  4. Apparently there are some cars,track and some memorabilia from The Big Bad Wolf on display at Dollywood roller coaster Museum. Big bad wolf was my first roller coaster. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is my home park I'm so lucky!

  5. The big bad wolf was the first roller coaster I ever went on. It was always in my top 3 favorites. Verboten was okay but I thought it fell a little short of the mark.

  6. I'll never get tired of that photo of Anton Schwartzkopf on one of his roller-coasters, looking truly unbothered.

  7. Somehow I missed this video… I remember hearing Big Bad Wolf was shutting down and managed to talk my family into visiting Busch Gardens about a month before it closed for good. So worth it… and now I want to try Verbolten. Great video as always.

  8. This was my first roller coaster! I was around 10 or so and it was the smallest/shortest roller coaster in the park at the time if memory serves.

  9. Loved the big bad wolf. Used to go to Busch gardens every year, haven't been back since they shut big bad wolf down

  10. I used to love this ride! It honestly took me years to figure out which one it was and where to get on. You would always be walking underneath Loch Ness Monster on your way across the lake to go up to Oktoberfest for lunch and……AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH……out of the trees and flying directly down at the lake and then quickly doing a 180* back into trees these people would come screaming for a brief second.
    But I was always hungry and wouldn’t look for it and after eating I was too full to risk puking. Went there for years before I would try Big Bad Wolf. Lol

    But it was such a long ride and was always a surprise because you could never see where you’re going through the tree that it was fun! All the other rides st BG are sooooo short lived. But this one gave you your money’s worth.

  11. Great video on one of my favorite coasters of all time! I love suspended coasters with Top Gun at Kings Island being one of the first big coasters that I rode! Big bad wolf's theming and its final drop over the lake make it a top 10 in my book!

  12. Huh. My local park, Canada's Wonderland has an Arrow suspended coaster (Vortex). It's apparantly aged quite decently and still a good ride 3 decades on, according some of the reviews I've seen on here.

  13. The bat is upsetting to ride on, it’s not fun and it’s the only coaster I’ve refused to ride on twice, its actually marketed as the only bat in the world that doesn’t fly upside down, which is super weird, like I know that kind of car wouldn’t be able to go upside down but why that gimmick

  14. I love Busch Gardens! My first time going I was probably around 10 or 11. I was too scared to go on any of the roller coasters at the park except for The Big Bad Wolf. I would ride the ride and go right back in line to ride it again. I LOVED the ride sooo much. I was in shock when it was replaced.

  15. Omg, this was my first roller coaster! I had no idea it had such an interesting history! I went on its replacement, Verbolten, last year and it was amazing!

  16. I just about shit my pants when i saw that Arrow Dynamics was from Clearfield, Utah. I live there and had no idea. 😱

  17. Love the intro in this one. And the post-credits scene, that's a great way to get people excited for the next episode.

  18. Oh my. That was one of my favorite rides growing up. Went back to ride it 20 years later and it had its last season the year prior. Everything but the concrete blocks at the lake was gone. Bush Gardens really stopped updating the park for about 10 years, and with the removal of all of the free beer and bratwursts in Octoberfest things just fell off big time, and so went the Wolf. It would be awesome to build a bigger badder wolf and call it Wolfs Revenge or something.

  19. "They forgot to bank the turns." Are we sure that wasn't intentional? That seems like a pretty huge thing to overlook.

  20. Funny, I've always been told that with Arrow going under, Busch Gardens couldn't source parts for repair/maintenance so they closed Big Bad Wolf to use the parts for their other Arrow coaster Loch Ness Monster which has interlocking loops and was thus more desirable.

  21. I haven't been to VA in several years (Alpengeist was NEW when I went last. :D) and didn't know that this coaster was gone! it was one of the best in the park! Best to bow out gracefully than run it into the ground.

  22. Lol. I forgot they actually used to make commercials just for amusement park rides. Don't think I've seen one in years.

  23. I rode the Big Bad Wolf before and I loved it very much. When Verbolten opened, I was skeptical at first but now it’s one of my favorite roller coasters there at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

  24. A couple of the TV's in the queue line house still play Big Bad Wolf commercials. I would take the Wolf over Verbolten any day.

  25. Tbh, after riding both, I definitely prefer Verbolten. Big Bad Wolf always smashed my nose into the back of the cart in front of me as a child.

  26. Man I remember riding this with my family when I was a kid. Even though I was/still an afraid if rollercoasters, I really enjoyed this one. One of my favorite experiences

  27. This was my first coaster at 4 years old! Such a cool video! Verbolten is cool but I sure miss Big Bad Wolf and now Drachen is a Howl O Scream attraction

  28. "Prepare to ride at the speed of fright." I can still remember waiting in line hearing that slogan coming from the TVs.

  29. When I first dated my now husband, he took me on this ride at Busch Gardens, knowing it was going to be leaving the forest for good. I still have the Big Bad Wolf t-shirt he bought me after telling me it was closing down. I'm really sad it's gone and hope the wolf will come back. Verbolten is alright, but it doesn't hold the same meaning to me.

  30. Considering the big bad wolf was the first rollercoaster I'd ever ridden, I was TERRIFIED of the big bad wolf. Also, as someone who'd ridden the ride a decent amount of times before it's closure, one of the reasons might have been because the ride gave a MASSIVE case of whiplash. It was pretty much impossible to walk off that ride without at least a mild headache. It wasn't a very smooth ride like verbolten is now.

  31. I rode it around 1990 or so, on a school trip to williamsburg. ;D I still have the Big Bad Wolf stuffed animal and a Loch Ness Monster one too. 😀

  32. I supervised this ride for a few years. It was always cracking a tire. The employees who checked the safety harnesses were very good at hearing when a tire cracked and rolled into the station thump thump thump thump. They would go ahead and load guests because one cracked tire didn't hurt anything. Just made the ride a little bumpy for that particular car. However the workers would call it in to dispatch at phone number 3222 and tell them the code which was B1 Controlled. This meant we are taking the ride down because of a Maintenance issue and no guests are trapped on the ride. If we said B1 Uncontrolled this meant guests were stuck on the ride with a maintenance issue. When that car came back in, it was unloaded and sent back out empty. When it came back to the station, it was stopped short of the station and then the maintenance track would slide the main track over so the train with the cracked wheel could drop over to the maintenance shed. The main track was slid back into place and the ride started up again. It wouldn't take long for maintenance to replace the bad wheel. They kept dozens of them in stock as they had short lifespans. When it was slow, we would run two trains. When it was busy, we would run all three trains. There were 4 zones in the ride and the computer would shut down the ride automatically if two trains got in the same zone at the same time. This prevented two trains from ever running into each other. We never did have a train collision accident. Fabio did get busted in the face by a flying duck on the big drop. He was bleeding when he came back into the station. That freaked everybody out until we learned what happened. The park usually had on a good day about 20,000 to 22,000 people in it. On a very busy day, we would max out at 30,000 people. I remember one day we had 33,000 people in the park and the main gate literally stopped selling tickets until enough guests left. That was a rough day!!! The queue line played some crazy scary music with some wolf howls for theming purposes. Before I left, I took one of the copies of the Maxell audio tapes that looped all day long. I still have it after all these years but I don't think I still have a tape player. All kinds of Busch Gardens history in the beginning years.

  33. This was my first rollercoaster. I was absolutely terrified. My dad (who didn't ride anything the entire time we were there, he just sat and read the paper as my mother, sister, and I went around the park) said he would ride with me. On the ride he had his newspaper with his finger bookmarking a page in one hand and my souvenir cup in the other. I remember it so vividly.

  34. Alpengeist is another suspended ride at that park and I suggest paying extra to ride the front row and also the back as they're two totally different experiences. That is if it's still there.

  35. Verboten means forbidden in English. That would be a scary name as well. Now we have AutoCAD and Pspice to calculate loads and stresses, the return of hanging coasters should make a strong comeback. you could stand on and in your coaster designs…

  36. Wow my grandfather had a giant mug from BG with that Drachen ride printed on it when I was a kid in the 90s lol and I specifically remember when that verbolten shit launched too. A lot of these videos take me through memory lane lol

  37. I loved this coaster so much and I went on it three times because my friend warned me that it was probably going away in the future. I'm glad I did.

  38. I've been on Iron Dragon at Cedar Point and had no clue there were only 5 of these because tons of other rides there are or once were record breaking. It is the ultimate theme park for roller coasters.

  39. Omg I grew up on the BBW it was one of the greatest rides! The sign of the wolf’s eyes would glow bright eye at night and could hear it actually howl in the forest! It was amazing and yes we all cried when it was taken down. I was hoping to share the experience with my child but it was gone before we got the chance. Verbolton is great but can’t touch the original magic of the Wolf.

  40. Big Bad Wolf was one of my favorite ever rides (I’m as old as Busch Gardens, so I’ve been going since I was a toddler) and I was sad to see it go, but I adore Verbolten, so at least it’s a positive replacement. My family has season passes to BG as we live about an hour and fifteen minutes away, so most of the time, it’s a favorite activity during the summer/fall for us, and Verbolten has emerged as my favorite ride.

  41. One of my favorite coasters of all time! The theming, drop over water, terrain were all part of what made this ride great. Yea it's nothing over the top or even slightly intense but not all coasters have to be to be entertaining! Also this is one of my favorite channels on YouTube, the research and content in all of these videos is top notch! 🌕🐺🎢🏚

  42. My Dad would talk about this when we went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. He said that the trees around the track would grow into the way of the cars and riders would frequently be hit by branches.

  43. Busch Gardens Williamsburg was my first amusement park and I have great memories of riding Big Bad Wolf with my best friend and dad. I was sad to watch this video because I'd hoped to ride it again one day, but on the other hand it prompted me to buy a shirt!
    Thanks for the memory

  44. This made me tire up. This was the first rollercoaster I ever road. It broke my heart when it closed.

    And yes I was afraid of the big bad wolf (at least at the time)

  45. God, Verbolten came out in 2012??? I remember that, I was there pretty close to opening weekend. I've learned how to feel old. I vaguely remember Big Bad Wolf, but I can't remember if I was big enough to ride it at the time (I was only 9 in 2009). Oddly, I definitely remember the video they played in the queue more than anything else.

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