Its been a long haul, but the end is in sight.
Carnival ride craftsman John Hinde has been rebuilding the old wooden roller coaster at the Puyallup Fairgrounds since April 2009, tearing out section after section and replacing the deteriorated wood with new pine planks and beams.
Hinde and his crew now are putting the finishing touches on the seventh and final major section of track in the $1.25 million restoration project.
When the 1935 classic Giant Coaster opens at the 24th annual Spring Fair in Puyallup on April 18, the entire half-mile-long track and support structure will have been replaced, leaving only relatively minor work to the trains themselves and in the loading and unloading area.
Im hoping by the end of September were all done, Hinde said. Were working toward that objective.
The old roller coaster, which has thrilled hundreds of thousands of fairgoers since it opened during the Great Depression, is considered an invaluable rarity by historic ride specialists.
According to the American Coaster Enthusiasts, an organization dedicated to the enjoyment and preservation of roller coasters, only about 20 original wooden roller coasters that still use authentic cars are left in the United States.
This is one of the ACE Coaster Classics, said Karen LaFlamme, spokeswoman for the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. Weve got the looping, inverted rides, and those are great, but to have a classic like this is something that real coaster enthusiasts wouldnt give up for anything.
Steel roller coasters can be found just about anywhere, LaFlamme said. Puyallups Giant Coaster is an icon.
The reconstruction project has been a joint effort between the fair and its ride operator, Funtastic Rides Co., LaFlamme said.
The roller coaster operates for 17 days during the fair in September and four days during the Puyallup Spring Fair in April. Its the most popular ride at the fairgrounds, LaFlamme said, regularly attracting more than 80,000 thrill-seekers a year.
Thats why the workers are doing the project in pieces, Hinde said.
We can only take apart as much as we can put back together again by fair time, he said.
Hinde, who lives in Florida, has made Washington a second home during the four-year reconstruction project. Hes currently running a crew of 10 people. Carpenter skills are a must, he said, but beyond that, his workers need to be part acrobat.
The biggest thing is to be able to climb around on a lumber structure and not hang on with both hands, he said. Thats the toughest job we have, is to adapt to that situation.
One unforeseen consequence of the rehabilitation work, Hinde said, is that the trains now run faster. Top speed used to be 35 miles per hour, he said. Now its 38 mph.
One of the things we found is the track is now at the proper gauge, he said. The track gauge had widened over the years, and the trains were slapping back and forth quite a bit. Now theyre following the rails, and its gained speed.
Fairgoers are in for a better ride than ever and should have no concern about safety, Hinde said.
The roller coasters brakes are getting a complete overhaul, too, he said.
Name: Giant Coaster.
Designer: John A. Miller, known as the Thomas Edison of roller coasters.
Year built: 1935.
Materials: Wood, with steel rails.
Height: 55 feet.
Longest drop: 52 feet.
Top speed: 38 mph.
Length: 2,650 feet.
Duration of ride: 1 minute, 45 seconds.
Passengers per hour: 1,300.
Vehicles: Three 16-passenger trains, named Ol Yeller, Blazn Blue and Ornry Orange.