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Shivering Timbers

More "Floats" Than The Rose Bowl Parade.

For many folks, yours truly included, thirtieth birthdays can be a little traumatic. This artificially portentious milestone has come to signify the end of youth and the beginning of a new stage in maturity; when there's 30 candles on the cake, life starts getting Serious. But some triple-decade anniversaries are very much joyous occasions...

Back in 1968, when Roger Jourden purchased Michigan's Deer Park, an unassuming nature park several miles north of downtown Muskegon, he began to carefully transform it something more to our tastes. In 1972, four years later, rides were first added: a Tilt-A-Whirl, a Merry-Go-Round and a Ferris Wheel. Over the next decade, the Jourden family continued to nurture their growing offspring and by 1979, when the Arrow-designed Corkscrew rollercoaster showed up, they had a solid little amusement park on their hands. At age 11, Michigan's Adventure was showing signs of a bright future.

In 1988, the park added its first woody, heralding MA's post-adolescent years. The raucous 85-foot tall, 55 MPH Wolverine Wildcat twister, designed by Charles Dinn for the Curtis D. Summers company, was a solid indication that the Jourden clan had high ambitions for this property. In 1994, they established a relationship with Custom Coasters, Denise Dinn-Larrick's new company, enlisting CCI to create Zach's Zoomer, a zippy junior coaster. Along the way, they also added the Logger's Run flume, the Adventure Falls splashdown ride, the comprehensive WildWater Adventure water park and a varied selection of traditional spin 'n spewers. Michigan's Adventure was now a place with which to reckon. But for MA's big Three-Oh, the Jourdens were planning to pull out all the stops - it was time to get Serious.

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It should come as no surprise that they once again called upon Custom Coasters to do the honors. Plans for a massive coaster had begun to hatch as soon as Zach's Zoomer was completed and in the years since ZZ's debut, CCI had earned a world-famous reputation for delivering the goods to parks that couldn't blow major coin (i.e., Holiday World's Raven). But the Jourdens were not looking to pinch pennies; they wanted CCI to build them the biggest coaster the company had ever created: a towering mile-long out-and-back that would rank as America's third-largest wooden rollercoaster. And in June of 1997, ground was broken for just such a beast - a very special gift for MA's 1998 season.

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To get to Michigan's Adventure, you follow U.S. 31 along the state's west coast and take the Russell Road exit, following the signs. The last leg of the journey is a short drive down an innocuous two-lane stretch of asphalt. Trees line both sides of the road, so's you can't make out much of what is to the left or right of your passage.

And just when you might begin to wonder if you've missed a turn, foliage on the passenger side stops dead to reveal a wondrous site: the mountain range of lumber that is Shivering Timbers. "Woo-hoo!" Keeping your eyes on the road becomes a strenuous exercise of willpower.

The modest appointments of the park's ticket booths and entrance plaza will leave you completely unprepared for the first-class experience you're about to have. But as a family-owned and operated playground, whatever Michigan's Adventure lacks in grandiosity is made up for in user-friendliness. The park is built around a central lake, with a few attractions and the water park to your left and the bulk of the mechanical action to your right; there's no miles-long trek from one end to the other. And even on a glorious Summer Saturday, you won't find yourself at the end of an hours-long wait for anything. Including the awesome Shivering Timbers, which takes flight from the far end of the main midway.

The layout is, of course, simple; ya head out and ya head back. But the devil is in the details, and Shivering Timber's details are most devilish, indeed. The lift hill tops out at 125 feet and drops you down 120 feet at a hair over 53 degrees, good enough to send the PTC trains flying along at 65 miles per. The second and third hills are nearly as mouth-watering: 100 feet at 51.5 degrees and 95 feet at 50 degrees. Those treats are followed by a fourth, 50-foot tall drop and a gorgeous swooping U-turn.

As you'd imagine, the last half of the voyage is a rapid-fire series of smaller hills. But there's an unexpected surprise, too: a section of "trick-track" that pays homage to an element made infamous by coaster designer Harry Traver many decades ago. Mr. Traver, whose bruising monstrosities included the Crystal Beach Cyclone (a ride generally considered the most terrifying rollercoaster ever built), sometimes tortured riders by undulating the rails back and forth along an otherwise straight segment, causing the train to lurch from side to side. ST's trick-track is far less brutal than I imagine Mr. Traver's must have been, but it's a nifty touch nonetheless.

Finally, the trains roar through a banked multi-level spiral before hitting the brake run. Standing on the loading platform, watching the cars rocket around this vortex, I had but a single thought: "Bobby
wants!"

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As Roger Jourden, Jr. said, "The hills are designed so that the train will maintain its speed pace and lose very little over the tops." And CCI Senior Designer Larry Bill spelled it out pure and simple: "Since the layout is pretty straightfoward, we wanted to have as many 'floaters' as possible." Sounded like an air-time bonanza to me, so I immediately opted for the back seat.

Climbing up the lift hill, my anticipation was off the charts. Custom Coasters has never failed to impress, and this, their largest ride ever, had me lookin' forward to something extraordinary. When the first car disappeared over the peak, the rest of the train started gathering speed long before we had reached maximum altitude. Sweet!

From then on, it was a non-stop delight. Charging along, up and down, the train never seemed to decelerate. The far turn was packed with all kinds of lateral action, the return trip a bevy of bodacious bunny-hops. And the final spiral was high-speed icing on the cake. All in all, it was a really fun ride.

But I had to admit to a little disappointment. There was plenty of air-time, no doubt about it. And the pacing was on par with many fine rides. Perhaps my hopes had been too high... "Hey, CCI's coasters can't all be spectacular, right?"

Then I took a trip in the front seat...

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With the rear cars behind us, the slow climb over the top of the lift offered a moment savor the view. And what a view it is: two parallel rails, perfectly straight, curling over those immense constructions of latticed wood... second only to the female form, this is about as pretty as things get. But it wasn't long before the rear of the train caught up with us and down we plummeted. Thundering into the first valley at superhighway speeds, all my initial thoughts of disappointment began to fade. And as we soared over that second 100-foot tall hill, something magical happened: angels slid their tender hands under my butt and carried me aloft, gentle as a feather. And there they held me for what seemed like several seconds, until we were well into the next descent. I wish a camera had captured the look of beatific revelation on my face.

Those angels hung right in there, for they repeated their negative-G interventions on the second hill... and the third... and the fourth. Smooth as silk and long-lasting - it's air-time heaven.

By the time we dove into the U-turn, I had completely changed my opinion about the Timbers, and this sucker wasn't even close to finished with me. Flying up and to the left, we exited the turn and high-tailed it down into the home stretch, tipping this way and that over the trick-track, hurtling under support beams, rampaging over the bunny-hops and floating, always floating, right out of the seat over every last hill.

With momentum to spare, the trains surged into the double helix, careening upward, slamming hard to the left, round and round, and finally coming to a halt on the brake run.

Well. I can only say that I'm glad I made time for that front-seat trip. What an amazing difference... If you're looking for a bucking bronco of a ride, help yerself to the Wolverine Wildcat. But if you want "a trip to the Moon on gossamer wings," Shivering Timbers' first car is the answer to your prayers. Those angels, man, they'll be waitin' for ya.

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It's clear when talking with members of the Jourden family that they are quite proud of their newest attraction and they have every right to be. Shivering Timbers marks Michigan's Adventures' entry into the big leagues, an exceptionally fitting achievement for its 30th year. But this stellar coaster is more than just a single shot at glory; it's a promise of even greater things to come. When you look out beyond the central lake, it's plain to see that there's gobs of room for future expansion. Alas, details about what to expect are closely-guarded secrets but know that any memories of the tame Deer Park are long-forgotten. The family that plays together, stays together and the Jourdens are folks who really know how to play.

And what of Custom Coasters? Will Shivering Timbers remain their largest project now and forever? Maybe... and maybe not.

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Shivering Timbers

  • TRACK LENGTH: 5,384 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 65 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 125 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 120 feet
  • MAX. ANGLE: 53.25 degrees
  • RIDE DURATION: 2 minutes, 30 seconds
  • CARS: Philadelphia Toboggan Co. trains, 4 seats per car, 6 cars per train.
  • MANUFACTURER: Custom Coasters, Inc.

 

 

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© Robert Coker.
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