‘Part of the heritage’: Lagoon’s Roller Coaster turns 100-years-old

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FILE—In this file photo from May 23, 2020, people ride the Roller Coaster at Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Utah. After a season break that was extended for months by COVID-19 restrictions, Utah’s amusement park, Lagoon, reopened for business just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Amusement parks of all sizes are adjusting everything from selling tickets to serving meals while trying to reassure the public and government leaders that they’re safe to visit amid the coronavirus crisis and warnings against large gatherings. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

FARMINGTON (ABC4) – It’s big, brown, and now 100-years-old. The iconic “Roller Coaster” at Lagoon hit the century mark this week, and, if things go as hoped at the 135-year-old Davis County amusement staple, the ride could go another 100 years.

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“Most definitely, that’s the plan,” Lagoon spokesperson Adam Leishman tells ABC4 as to whether the Roller Coaster, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will hit the bi-centennial mark in 2121.

Constructed in 1921 by John Miller, who also built several of the iconic coasters at New York City’s Coney Island, the Roller Coaster has had an up-and-down path to being a treasured landmark. At the time of the construction, the ride was one of the first of its kind to be placed in the Western United States. It delighted thousands of riders until a large fire in 1953 destroyed a great deal of the park’s Midway section. The Roller Coaster’s entrance and front portion were taken in the flames and were rebuilt in time for the next year’s season. Since that ordeal and a revamped entry station opened in 2018, the legendary coaster has been virtually unchanged. Sections of the wooden ride are replaced year by year, but the look, feel, and experience is essentially the same that thrilled many during the Roaring 20s.

Some Lagoon patrons likely remember a period of time when the ride was painted entirely white. Many refer to it, unofficially, as the “White Roller Coaster,” although the ride has been unpainted and stands as a large brown feature that still protrudes into the parking lot.

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Leishman explains that while the ride did have a run with a coat of white paint to protect it from the rain and other elements, it made more sense to not paint the coaster as the lumber used on it improved its weather resisting abilities.

“We started using pressure-treated lumber back in the early 2000s. When it’s painted it’s more difficult to see any rot, or any sort of areas that needed to be dealt with. There was no need to paint the pressure-treated lumber so it’s a kind of a win-win,” Leishman says. “It makes inspection easier. it cuts down on expenses, and obviously, maintenance. The wood handles the weather much better now.”

The final nail was driven into the Roller Coaster on May 23, 1921, with curious visitors taking their first climb and plunge down the rides’ opening drop later that week. Since Lagoon is still open just on weekends through the end of the school year, Leishman shares a celebration of the ride’s 100th birthday and the 135th anniversary of the entire park will take place later in the summer.

Even though it’s decades older than many of the park’s visitors, the Roller Coaster still brings people in for a thrill and taste of nostalgia each year. Leishman says the ride is still one of the most popular attractions at the park.

Leishman feels the ride is a great way for Utah families to build connections and relationships through the click-clacking and turbulent nature of the trains, hills, bumps, and turns.

“It’s one of those rides and we have a lot of rides like this, where people’s grandparents, great grandparents, parents or kids, grandchildren, they’ve all ridden the same ride,” Leishman explains. “It’s a part of the heritage and kind of a tradition.”

And after all this time, it’s still producing the kinds of excitement the customers experience back in the same year that baseball made its debut on the radio, Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize in physics, and Charlie Chaplin released his first full-length movie as a director.

“It’s always surprising how thrilling a ride that’s 100 years old still is,” Leishman says. “It’s really, really fun.”

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