In 1990, Six Flags Over Texas unveiled a monstrous wooden twister called Texas Giant.
Initially, I took a look at it and thought that the first drop angle was awfully shallow. It's so tall and the potential for a wicked drop was there, but it kinda just eased over into a shallow grade.
It only took one ride, though, before that thought became so much nonsense. The drop wasn't about falling-off-a-cliff steepness, it was about garnering a lot of downhill footage, which translates into SPEED. It was insanely fast and the train bucked and tossed about like a crazed rodeo bull, first to the left then to the right, tossing in little hills and valleys at ridiculous speed. It was the coaster equivalent of a cowboy's 8 seconds, stretched into a much longer ride. It was magnificent.
Texas Giant saved the best for last, though. Diving off the southern end helix, it entered a run that got dubbed the "flying carpet" finale. It started with a quick zig-zag then dove inside the structure for a long righthand turnaround filled with little rises and valleys all done at breakneck speed. It was and still is regarded as perhaps the finest stretch of wooden coaster track ever built.
The problem with wood coasters, especially in a climate that gets brutally hot in the summer and icy cold in the winter, is that wood track tends to get rough over time. When the trains run the course as fast as these did with the forces they generated, it wears things out pretty quickly. As Giant neared its 20th birthday, it was almost unridable. Brutal, in fact. Six Flags knew that they had to do something, and a complete re-tracking was the most obvious thing. That track would eventually suffer the same fate, though. Six Flags opted to take a chance and do something radical.
Take a good look at that picture right there, because things are about to get crazy.
Six Flags announced that 2009 would be the last year that Texas Giant would operate before extensive renovations. It was closed for the entirety of the 2010 season while changes were made and re-opened in time for the park's 50th birthday year in 2011. Giant didn't just get a rehab, though... it became a completely new coaster.
Yeah, that's the same shot as before, only now it's got even more insanity.
Six Flags contacted Rocky Mountain Construction to remake the Giant with their new Iron Horse track system, which would utilize the existing wood structure of the coaster but replace all the wood track with steel I-beam track. This had never been done before and the announcement sent waves through the amusement industry as well as the enthusiast community. It was a gutsy move for both Six Flags and Rocky Mountain Construction to tackle a project this large as basically a prototype. It was even gutsier to push the layout to the extreme limits this one would have, with near-vertical drops, turns banked beyond vertical, and custom trains with lap bars as the only restraint. Then to unveil it at the park's 50th birthday celebration... so it would get huge attention drawn to it, whether it was a success or a failure... well, that takes balls right there. Giant, massive, heavy balls.
All eyes were on Six Flags Over Texas and park president "Uncle Steve" Martindale, who managed to present a calm demeanor to the media during the entire construction process, in spite of the fact that his park had just spent $10 million on Guinea Pig The Ride, which is nearly twice what it cost to build the damn thing from scratch the first time. Meanwhile, the renovation went on all through 2010 and with each new photo, everyone except for Uncle Steve began to question whether or not this thing was even going to work.
The first big thing was that the shallow first drop was raised 10ft and made a whole shitload steeper. Seriously, just LOOK AT THAT FUCK. Oh, and now that the bottom of the drop is pulled way in, what will they do with the extra space before the upcoming turn?
Well, howzabout a tiny little hill tossed into the layout right at the bottom of that massive drop? Seriously, nobody was even believing this when they saw it. Nobody.
More track went up, more jaws dropped, more heads shook, and more people began to wonder if maybe Six Flags had collectively lost its damn mind. I mean, HELL YES this is in-freaking-credible, but SERIOUSLY? This is the prototype for a whole new kind of coaster? Shouldn't you maybe do a simpler one first?
The killer shot happened when the third turn got tracked. Seriously over banked to a near-inversion level, it seemed to be held up with matchsticks. Even those folks who staunchly supported this project before had to be having second thoughts about it after seeing this. Coaster forums and Facebook pages and rumor sites were blowing up with talk about this thing and it wouldn't even open for another year. But the moment of truth came in 2011 when the park invited the media and some local enthusiasts out to sample the New Texas Giant. I was one of those invited and I made the trek up to Arlington after work, without sleep, ready to ride this thing at 5am when the first live broadcasts went out on the morning news.
So did it work? Undoubtedly. In fact, it met or exceeded every expectation that was placed on it. Not only did Six Flags rid itself of a ride that was losing popularity and becoming a maintenance nightmare, but it gained a world-class custom coaster that provides an experience unlike anything the world has ever known.
First of all, that shallow-grade first drop is now unspeakably steep. If you're anywhere near the back of the train, you will feel like you've been pushed off a cliff. It's crazy good.
The turns, especially the three banked at 90 degrees or more, are simultaneously graceful and surreal. As you approach them, you think that there's no way you can do that, yet you do, and with smoothness that is unparalleled. This is the smoothest coaster I've ever been on, period. That's not something anyone ever said about the previous Texas Giant!
Oh, and the other thing nobody ever said about the old Giant? "Full of airtime." In fact, the old Giant was all about laterals and offered little or no airtime at all. The New Giant addressed that in a big way. It has airtime. It has a LOT of airtime. Of course, that little speed bump at the bottom of the first drop will send you skyward. Of course, those other little hills peppered throughout the layout offer various degrees of floaty air and ejector air, too. But the New Texas Giant is all about extremes, and airtime is on the list. Three moments of airtime? Four? More?
How about EVERY. FUCKING. HILL.
Every one. There, I said it. I'm not sure that even Uncle Steve and his giant cajones even fully grasped the reality of the airtime-filled layout that Rocky Mountain Construction had built. If he did, then he's got a lot more self-control than I have. I'd have been standing on top of the observation oil derrick in the center of the park all during 2010, shouting down to the guests, "better come back next year and ride the New Texas Giant. It's going to have airtime on EVERY FUCKING HILL!" Seriously, that guy. He couldn't have known how good it would be, otherwise.. yeah. I'll bet he didn't sleep at all the whole year.
Speaking of no sleep, that media day was a killer. After working all day the day before, traveling all night to get to the park, and then riding all morning and most of the afternoon, I had been awake 33 straight hours and had ridden the New Texas Giant about 35 times when this picture was taken. Yeah, I look like crap, but I didn't care. On the inside, I was still wowed by the experience and thrilled that one of the best steel coasters on earth is right here in my home state. Subsequent rides later that year and since have shown that Giant is running even better and wilder than it did on Media Day.
And the "flying carpet" finale? Sadly, it's gone. The new version is nothing like the original, putting in special effects tunnels and such instead of crazy laterals, but that's OK. It more than makes up for it in every other way.