Powder Keg

A Blast for the Whole Family

By Chris Godsey, ThrillRide/

Take a step back in time and visit Silver Dollar City. Sitting atop the Ozark Mountains, Silver Dollar City is a superb park themed to the 1800’s. You walk in and are taken back to the “olden days.” Do not be deceived though. Silver Dollar City is one park packed with new era thrills! This year the parks already stellar collection of thrill rides just got a lot bigger with the addition of PowderKeg-A Blast in the Wilderness. There is nothing “olden” about this ride! This S&S power launched coaster is packed with a plethora of negative Gs and amazing floater airtime hills, along with over banked twisted turns all in a fantastic setting on a hillside overlooking Table Rock Lake. One of the most important highlights of a great coaster is the ability of the entire family to enjoy the ride together. But don’t be fooled by its “family coaster” designation as this ride is “exploding” with thrills. For all these reasons and more we can easily say that PowderKeg is our pick for the Best Family Thrill Coaster on the Planet!

The year was 1999. Buzzsaw Falls became the first “Liquid Coaster” ever built. Developed by Premier Rides, this coaster debuted as one of the most innovative concepts of its time. The ride opened to rave reviews, but the park always felt something just was missing. So, in 2004 the park decided to retire the water coaster for something that was a little more thrilling. However, they wanted to keep some of the existing ride structure and buildings to preserve some of the “Buzz.” The park accepted bids for the new coaster and chose S&S Power to design their “family thrill ride.”

S&S Power’s Pneumatic Launch System (that’s air launched for you non-scientific types) debuted with the opening of HyperSonic XLC at King’s Dominion. Next S&S Power launched the Dodonpa in Japan, which held the world speed record at one point, using the same pneumatic launching system. However, the technology didn’t seem to catch on like they had hoped. Enter PowderKeg.

Don’t be fooled though. PowderKeg is a design to its own. PowderKeg was designed to have a thrilling launch which would raise the hair off the neck of any thrill seeker, yet be tame enough so the whole family can be blasted together. With its 42 inch height requirement, PowderKeg can be enjoyed by the youngest and oldest alike. The unique S&S restraint system allows for complete safety and security for the little ones. The lap bar comes across the hip area and can be moved up and down depending on the rider’s size. This allows for maximum comfort and maximum thrills!

The park had several ideas for the design of this unique thrill ride. Number one, they were searching for a family ride. With 42 inches as the minimum highth requirement for this ride, a family ride is exactly what they got. Number two, the park wanted something environmentally friendly. PowerKeg is just that. As an air launched system, you get the best of both worlds. You get great launching speed yet virtually no impact on the environment. And in a place as beautiful as the Ozark Mountains, you can see why the park felt this was important. Number three, the park wanted to use some of the old Buzzsaw Fall’s ride track and structure. S&S accomplished this by using almost a third of Buzzsaw Falls’ ride track and structure and then adding over 2,800 feet of twisted, airtime filled track. It is a great combination of the old and the new! Lastly, if the ride was to be launched, the park wanted an observation area so guests could watch a train being launched. Or more specifically, watch the unsuspecting riders who didn’t quite know what they were getting into when boarding PowerKeg.

The observation viewing area posed a small problem because the park also wanted to use existing station and queue areas which sat downhill from the existing pathway on which the observation area would be. However, this problem was overcome with an ingenious design for a transfer track system to get the trains uphill almost 30 feet to the launch zone. This is something that had never been done. What a uniqueness this element brings to the ride! Using 10,000 pound counterweights, a transfer system swiftly lifts the train from the lower station area to the launching area. The anticipation of the launch builds as you inch higher and higher to the launching area.

Once the ride reaches the “blast shack,” audio warns you of smelling smoke as well as nitroglycerin being left out in the open. It sounds like things are about to turn bad. Onlookers notice effects on the outer wall of the shack that reveal a blast is imminent. The train slowly creeps out of the shack and approaches the launch bogey. A loud click startles riders as they wait to be blasted toward Table Rock Lake. The shot tank is ready and releases two quick hisses. Fire and smoke blast out of the top of the blast shack. BOOM! The train blasts from 0-53mph in less than 3 seconds and onto the first airtime hill. Before you have time to catch your breath, you are face down twisting downward 110 feet into the valley below. The second hill is also filled with amazing floating airtime which leads into the first “dragonfly turn.” This over banked turn flows gracefully into airtime hill number 3. Wow, 3 beautiful pops of air in the first 20 seconds. This is NOT your average family ride!

After a few more heavily banked turns, you enter part of the helix from Buzzsaw Falls. S&S did a fabulous job with the transitions from their track to the existing Buzzsaw Falls track. After this intense helix, you hit a couple of pairs of magnetic brakes to slow the train into the lift hill. Now I know the thought here. Why the lift hill so far into the ride? At first, I wasn’t a big fan of having a lift hill so far into the ride either, but the lift allows you to catch your breath before one final plunge and turn into the brakes. The ride coasts to a stop and the blasting is over.

With this ride you get the best of both worlds. You get to experience the new technology of a launched coaster mixed with an old-fashioned coaster experience. As you catch your breath from the exhilarating launch and all the crazy air time you just experienced, you listen to that lift hill chain as you go higher and higher then plunge straight down letting gravity take over to pull you the rest of the way around the track. The mix of the old and the new is absolutely amazing and in perfect harmony with the Silver Dollar City park experience.

As my first ride of PowerKeg heads into the station, I catch my breath from one amazing ride. Being the coaster enthusiast I am, I can not help but think about the fact that this ride is one great achievement in both coaster engineering and design! We stop in the station and get off the ride.

As I turn around to head to the exit I notice children, teens, moms, dads, and even a few grandparents getting off the train with me. We all have one thing in common: a great big smile.

Do not be deceived by all those smiling faces though. This group has just experienced a genuine thrill ride. The launch was intense. The speed was a blur. And the heights of the hills were enough to make even the stomach of the most avid ride fan flip upside down.

Silver Dollar City and S&S have an instant winner with PowderKeg. So whether you are young or old, or maybe just young at heart, you will enjoy the unique experience of PowerKeg. It is a ride whose thrills will truly amaze those coaster enthusiasts who are looking for another coaster for their count, as well as those who are ready to experience their first coaster ever. One thing is for sure; each of those riding will come off the ride smiling and are ready to be blasted again.

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  • Launch Speed — 0-53 mph in 2.8 Seconds
  • Track Length — 3,506 feet
  • Ride Duration — 2 minutes, 53 seconds
  • Top Speed — 64 mph
  • Tallest Vertical Drop — 110 feet
  • Number of Trains — 3 trains carrying 16 passengers each
  • Height Restriction — 42 inches and higher
  • Ride Manufacturer — S&S Power Inc. of Logan, UT

Other Interesting Stats

S&S designed PowderKeg to reuse approximately 30% of existing Buzzsaw Falls track and the surrounding queue and station buildings. The ride also boasts a one of a kind counterweighted transfer track to lift the 16 passenger trains uphill almost 30 feet to the launch area.





© Robert Coker.
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