Written by RD Sussman-Dewberry
As I roast here in the deserts of Arizona, and remember summers past, I'm reminded that 1987 brought forth the start of a very wonderful future for me. Not that it was anything special; I was about to start junior high (and all it's 'wonderful' challenges) but also that half my public school was now gone. In a lot of ways, it was a great summer... but one particular event would alter my life forever.
In those days, we didn't take a lot of air-travel vacations (This was tough for an #avgeek like me...) so road trips were the most prevalent way of getting around. In this case, the family decision was made to go to Williamsburg - to Colonial Williamsburg, to Water Country USA, and to Busch Gardens The Old Country. (Yes... it was still called that!)
I will spare you of the details of Colonial Williamsburg - other than I ate a ton, sweat a ton and tried to make paper...poorly. As for Water Country, it was still a much smaller and much more compact place to visit. The park was still in its formative years, and had yet to be acquired by Busch Entertainment Corporation. It was a splashing success, and I still have very fond memories of the park - and the various water slides.
Let's move on friends - to two days at BGW. In 1987, the park was very much the same as it is now - though with a LOT fewer coasters. At the time, Festa Italia was being promoted as their latest addition - with its various attractions of fun and thrills. While staying in the hotel I found one of those 'ticketer' displays with the local attractions in it (you know the one...tourist trap brochure hell) and I picked up one for Busch Gardens. Inside it featured their latest coaster... the Big Bad Wolf. Now mind you good readers this: Pictures are worth a thousand words... and in the coaster world, worth exactly NOTHING. A picture shows the beauty of the ride... but to a smaller than average 12 year old it showed... nothing. Just a train swinging. Nothing big about that, right?
(It should be noted for the record: By now, I'd already ridden my first coasters - though the actual dates/places and order are now long gone due to the lasting effects of Multiple Sclerosis.)
And so we went to The Old Country. For me, BGW has been a part of my life since 1978 - though again, those memories are long faded, I remember the park fondly in so many ways. The smell as you enter the park via Banbury Cross; the smell of the grass & mulch going into Hastings (Shut up. I know it's Ireland now. It's my story dammit, and it's still Hastings in 1987.) and the wafting smell of the nearby brewery tour flowing into the park. Loch Ness Monster stood her ground as she does now, looking over her kingdom and all her disciples living in it. We made our way around the park through France, into Ocktoberfest... and there it was.
Big Bad Wolf
Now all I'd seen at this point was the brake run... and the turning trains leaving the platform... and NOTHING ELSE. I didn't know of what it was, or who made it, or how it was developed... only that it was some sort of swinging ride. The station, dressed in Bavarian style, did not show much for the ride itself. As I entered the queue at the base of the station, the pre-show screens played a pre-ride sizzler reel, narrated by none other than Vincent Price. I could hear screams...but did not yet see my fate at hand.
The wait was not excessive - maybe 15 minutes or less - and the funky hanging trains with the glowing red eyes slid into the station - and the trains unloaded. All I can remember of this point was the restraint being ginormous compared to me, and that I wondered why it would need something that big... after all, it's just a swinging ride, right?
Within a few seconds, the station's horn blasted out words that to this day are memorable - and distinctive to me:
"Sit back, relax. HOLD ON TIGHT. Enjoy traveling at the SPEED OF FRIGHT on the BIG... BAD... WOLF."
Followed by the sounds of the brakes releasing, and the train advancing out of the platform. Now mind you, I'd yet to ride anything like this. But it was something truly special to me in so many ways - a first of my kind. And it really wasn't all that bad, I mean, so far just a little swaying as the train moved forward....
"CLANK CLANK CLANK.....clonkuppa clonkuppa clonkuppa clonkuppa clonkuppa" and the train began to advance up the lift hill slowly...and it is at this point I realize... this isn't QUITE what I bargained before. Looking to the left side, I could see the helix and the village below... and just a hint of the second lift in the background. And in a few seconds time... "CLONK CLONKCLONK..." and the train slid off the chain and swept into the village below.
Now those of you who know me, or know of my reading, know that I have a very 'salty' mouth. I'm not afraid to drop a word, phrase or combination into normal conversation; in fact, I'm rather known for it. But at the ripe age of 12, there was only one word I could really use to describe my total and complete terror at the time...
(Unlike Ralphie... I simply blared it out.)
To me, the first bit of the ride was like being stuck in a broken movie projector... flickering of light, images & scenery as it flew by me. There was no detail, other than the train zipping around the course like a pissed off pit bull with a rag doll in its mouth. The Big Bad Wolf was real.. and was he ANGRY! We shot through the helix and up to the base of the second lift, only slowing as the chain grabbed the last car of the train
(It should be noted: From my memory, the brakes at the base of the lift that later slowed the trains to a crawl only slowed the train to the pace of the lift.)
As the train ascended lift two, I could only imagine what was about to happen to me. And oh did I realize that in my near future I was going into the water...As the train reached the top of lift 2, the slow, soft turn to the left revealed the insanely steep second drop down to the river below... at blinding speed. I could feel the water hit the train as we bottomed out (OK, OK... it was the 'misters' that created 'Wolf's breath' but when you're scared shitless going at light speed on an unknown ride, you hit the water.. REALLY!) and then the feeling of being ripped up and around the hill back up towards the brakes.
I was <WHITE> (The only other time I was that white was my one ride on Lightning Rod. Ask Randy if you don't believe me.)
As the train hustled into the brakes, I recall feeling VERY queasy... and dizzy. I headed up the stairs, where my Mom was waiting at the base of the exit, next to the bushes.
My comment: "That was INTENSE." followed by.....
Yes, my wonderful readers... I lost the contents of my stomach. In the bush (It never did grow back) and in full view of the exiting riders. The rest of the day was spent on more 'family' attractions that my height would allow - but something was nagging me in the back of my mind. Should I conquer it again?
The second day we were at the park, I thought about it. Then I thought about it again... and again... and yet: I never rode it a second time that trip. But something about Big Bad Wolf would still be a part of me - for reasons I didn't quite know.