One of the most popular attractions at parks throughout the world is the wooden roller coaster, and during the 1970's a coaster renaissance occurred with the advent of theme parks. Six Flags spearheaded that renaissance adding wooden roller coasters to all of their parks, bringing traditional thrills to a new generation.


After Six Flags had acquired Great Adventure in 1977, they immediately began adding thrill rides. First came Lightnin' Loops, the park's first looping roller coaster.

To follow the success of Lightnin' Loops, they went big with the park's largest roller coaster to date anchoring an entirely new themed area of the park. Rolling Thunder offered not just the excitement of a classic wooden coaster, but the added excitement of two tracks offering different experiences combined with the thrill of racing.

Hernando's Hideaway was built in an area of the park that had originally served as the park's entrance way. A portion of the section was used as the tram circle where guests were ferried in from the parking lots to the front gate.  A portion of the land used for Rolling Thunder was originally a part of the parking lot, and the remainder of the ride area was previously undeveloped woodlands. 

Construction on Rolling Thunder started in 1978 with land clearing for the massive structure.  Hundreds of trees were removed to create the ride's footprint, while care was taken to leave as many trees as possible around the outside of the coaster. Once the ride area was prepared, the hundreds of concrete footers were poured to create the foundations of the new coaster. Pouring of the concrete before the onset of the cold winter weather was critical to keep the ride's construction on schedule for the 1979 season. 

Dozens of carpenters were hired by Frontier Construction to assemble the massive wooden structure. Huge piles of lumber arrived for the project, and the crews began assembling the bents on the ground before they were moved into position for assembly. Construction started with the station and progressed to the lift, following the course of the ride. As each section of the structure took shape, carpenters began laying the catwalks on either side of the track and then the wooden rails were constructed for the dual tracks.

Construction of the wooden rails was one of the most labor intensive parts of the process.  Each rail was composed of multiple layers of lumber which was stacked in a staggered fashion creating a strong rail to which the steel top plates were fastened.  The real challenge of creating the rails was fashioning the complex curves for the changes in elevation and direction the coaster navigated.

The final sections of the ride to take shape were the curve into the brake run which was constructed at the same time as the station building and car shed. Like the surrounding Hernando's Hideaway section, the ride buildings were given a Spanish theme with stucco walls and red barrel tile roof. The roof extended over the ride's brake run for safety, keeping the skid brakes relatively dry in rainy weather.  Like all wooden coasters built up until that time, skid brakes were the only option available.  The skid brakes required the surfaces of the brake pads on the bottom of the cars and on top of  the tracks to remain as dry as possible or the cars would slide right through the station. The coaster was designed for use with four trains, two on each track, though in the event of rain two trains were usually removed eliminating the possibility of train collisions in the station.  Still, often the trains would overshoot the loading platform upon their return.

Pre Construction Promotional Photos
Featuring Kings Island's Racer Roller Coaster
Press Releases From 1979


Technical Information
Designer: Don Rosser - Atlanta, GA
Structural Engineer: Bill Cobb - Dallas, TX
Construction Company: Frontier Construction Company
Description: Double wooden racing roller coaster
with differing track profiles.
Height: 96 feet
Steepest Drop Height: 85 feet 2 inches
Angle of Steepest Drop: 45 Degrees
Board Feet of Lumber: 850,000
Track Length: 3200 feet per side
Number of Hills: 10 per side 
Speed: Approximately 56 mph
Number of Trains: 4 (2 per side)
Number of Cars: 4 per train (originally 5 cars)
Riders Per Car: 6 per car
Seating Capacity: 24 riders per train (originally 30 riders)
Capacity: Approx. 2400 passengers per hour
Restraints: Double locking lap bars 
Approximate Cost: $5 million


Rolling Thunder was originally designed for use with five car trains, each with three benches for a total of thirty riders per train. The station had open railings with a simple yellow line for guests to stand behind.  Several years later this would be replaced with air gates for added safety.

The cars of Rolling Thunder were retrofitted with additional safety devices over the years.  First came the black headrests, which helped prevent whiplash injuries as the trains rumbled along the tracks. Later the bench seats were replaced with divided seats which helped keep riders in place throughout the ride especially if they were riding solo.  Seatbelts were also added as an additional restraint to supplement the old Philadelphia Toboggan Company "buzz bars" which offered very little to hold riders in place.


Rolling Thunder opened to much fanfare, with long lines of guests waiting to ride the exciting new coaster.  At the time, the nearly 100 foot tall coaster was considered huge and the idea of the dueling/racing aspect made the ride even more exciting.  With a maximum speed of 56 miles per hour, Rolling Thunder was the fastest ride in the park (and remained so for 10 years), and at a ride time of over two minutes, it was also the longest coaster in the park.

A unique feature of Rolling thunder was the elaborate sign that the ride was given. The sign featured lights and sounds fitting its name. Against a background of dark gray storm clouds, the three dimensional logo with its twin lightning bolts would light from their source at the top of the sign and continue to the logo at the front and center. The strike of the lightning would be accompanied by a loud clap of thunder from speakers in the top of the signs small tile roof.

After millions of safe rides, on  August 16, 1981 a 20-year-old park employee fell to his death from Rolling Thunder during a routine test run.   An investigation by the New Jersey Labor Department concluded that the man might not have secured himself with the safety bar. A park representative later confirmed this conclusion, saying that the employee "may have assumed an unauthorized riding position that did not make use of safety restraints." The ride was inspected, and the Labor Department concluded that the ride was "operationally and mechanically sound,"  and reopened.   



Rednuht Gnillor 

(Rolling Thunder Backwards)

In 1984, the centennial of the roller coaster was celebrated in America, and for a single season, the inside track of Rolling Thunder was turned into Redhut Gnillor- Rolling Thunder backwards. The process for running a wooden roller coaster backwards was relatively simple- reverse the chain dawgs which served as anti- rollback devices underneath the cars.   In addition, signage both in the station and on the lift needed to be repositioned so the backward facing travelers could read them.

Like many coasters which traveled backwards, the ride caused great discomfort for riders, since sitting backwards provided little support for the passengers necks, resulting in stress.  After one season the trains were switched back to their normal forward seating postion.


Click the placard below for a
Rednuht Gnillor
radio commercial:

  One of the original features of Rolling Thunder was a lighting system that was a series of spotlights that glared up into the white wooden structure, creating a white glow against the trees and sky.  Over time the lights burned out and were disconnected.

Over the years since it opened, little has changed on Rolling Thunder with the ride receiving periodic wood replacements as needed and the occasional repainting. The last repaint was in 2003 with the ride getting a fresh coat of white paint though the once red trim was also painted white.

Over the decades Rolling Thunder has borne the signs of many sponsors including Doritos, Head & Shoulders, and others.

The biggest changes to Rolling Thunder came with changes to the areas around the ride. The first change was the addition of the Ultra Twister next to the lift hill in 1986.  The construction of the Ultra Twister resulted in the clearing of the forest that had once hidden so much of the ride's structure.  The contrast of the state of the art new coaster next to the classic wooden coaster made a strange juxtaposition, especially when viewed from the newly constructed bridge which connected the Best of the West and Hernando's Hideaway areas at the far end. The new open area beside Rolling Thunder's lift hill took away from the illusion of height and mystery that the coaster once had and made it look smaller. After Ultra Twister's removal in 1989 the area it occupied was left barren for many years which further diminished the look of the once proud wooden roller coaster.  




The next major change to Rolling Thunder came with the addition of Viper in 1995. With Viper's arrival came a new ghost town queue area which would back up to the lift hill.  While great care was taken to create a themed experience for the new coaster, the back of the ghost town facades were left as blank construction materials that were clearly visible from the Rolling Thunder. The scale of Viper and its  added theme elements were generally complimentary to Rolling Thunder, especially in comparison to its predecessor Ultra Twister.

Over time, the elaborate sign with its thunder and lightning required expensive maintenance and finally the original sign was replaced with a more simple plywood background and wood letters. The multiple wires required for the lightning effect were never removed from the sign, and for a time could be seen hanging behind the sign.


In 2002 a major change was made on the parking lot side of Rolling Thunder with the addition of a new Season Pass Holder Entrance.  This opened up new views of the final bunny hops at the end of the ride as the new fence ran right along the track edge. Three years later, the changes kept coming as the Season Pass Entrance was removed to create the new Golden Kingdom area of the park which included Kingda Ka.

Kingda Ka was built parallel to Rolling Thunder and created a buffer between Rolling Thunder and the parking lot that had not previously existed.  The new jungle themed area was designed to skirt Rolling Thunder's track and station, and the brake run section of the building was to have received new plantation shutter style coverings to help it blend in with the newly themed area, but despite the application of the frames to the building, the shutters were never added.



The 2006 season saw the biggest changes to Rolling Thunder, with the addition of El Toro.  During the 2005 season the Viper was removed and the infield of Rolling Thunder was cleared of the trees that had been left between the curve of coaster track.  This made way for the twister section of El Toro's tracks which would be hidden from view.


At more than twice the height of Rolling Thunder, the 21st century El Toro wooden coaster would end up dwarfing its neighboring woodie which had a design harkening back to the turn of the 20th century. Adding to the excitement of both rides, the tracks of El Toro were designed to cross Rolling Thunder at the base of the first drop, creating a new "head chopper" effect. The final diving hill of El Toro into its twister section towered nearly as tall as the first drop of Rolling Thunder.

With the addition of El Toro came the retheme of Hernando's Hideaway, transforming the section into Plaza del Carnaval. Rolling Thunder was included in the new area and was given a brand new overhead sign at the entrance to the queue.

Rolling Thunder continues to thrill riders more than 30 years after its debut. Over that time it has gone from thrill ride to family ride as the rides around it have pushed the limits of height and speed. Its design was classic and with the proper maintenance it will continue to thrill future generations of riders for years to come.

Click the placard below for video of
Rolling Thunder:

Postcards of Rolling Thunder