I have always loved roller coasters—even as a child. So much that I’ve been known to take motion sickness medicine at the first sign of wooziness after a day full or riding so that I can keep riding! I am always intrigued with what it takes behind the scenes on my favorite attractions.
So, when I had the chance to combine my love for roller coasters and my curiosity for behind-the scenes stuff by checking out Dollywood’s roller coaster maintenance work in the off-season, I jumped at the opportunity! If there’s one thing I learned about my tour last week, it’s this: Dollywood puts a ton of work, time, dedication and resources to ensure the safety and enjoyment of guests.
As a part of my visit, I learned a ton of fascinating behind-the-scenes info about roller coaster maintenance at Dollywood during the off-season. Below are a few of those fascinating facts:
1. I got to meet and tour with Barry, Dollywood’s Director of Rides Maintenance. When I asked Barry what rides he was responsible for, he said he’s in charge of the maintenance of “anything you ride at the park, except for strollers and wheelchairs.” In other words, he oversees the maintenance of the train, trams, roller coasters, and kid rides—everything from Piggy Parade in Country Fair to Wild Eagle. That’s a large responsibility! Barry has been with Dollywood for 23 years working with rides his entire tenure. There are now 90 full-time employees who are a part of the maintenance team, with 65 dedicated solely to rides. The others work with the train and trams.
2. Dollywood’s maintenance shop is larger than 10,000 sq. feet of space—having a new 2,500 sq. feet added last year. The shop services all of the main coasters except for Wild Eagle and Blazing Fury because those rides have their own shops. When I visited the main shop, they were working on one train for FireChaser Express, Mystery Mine and Lightning Rod. Tennessee Tornado was next in line to come in to be serviced.
3. This is the first off-season for Dragonflier to be serviced since it was added in 2019. The maintenance team had to custom-build racks to hang the Dragonflier chassis so they can be disassembled, serviced and reassembled.
4. Each year, every coaster is disassembled, undergoes a regiment of Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), inspected and fully-reassembled completely with new fasteners just like it left the factory. It takes an average of four to five weeks to complete the maintenance of an entire roller coaster train.
5. Wild Eagle has its own shop that was built as a part of the original coaster construction. If you’re coming back into the station after your ride, you have probably noticed the building that is on the same level with the track—it looks like a “garage.” Wild Eagle chassis and trains are serviced in that building and never have to be transported to other buildings in the park.
6. When other coasters are waiting to be serviced in the maintenance shop, they are kept on custom-built carriers in a staging area. When I was there, Mystery Mine, Tennessee Tornado and The Mad Mockingbird chassis were “parked” out there.
7. Besides the main coasters, all of the other rides have their maintenance performed where the ride is located. The Mad Mockingbird was being completely disassembled down to the base pole and will be inspected and reassembled in a manner of hours!
8. During the past several off-seasons, work has been done to replace the wood on Thunderhead’s track. They’re doing it little by little. When I was there, work was being done to replace existing wood with a different wood called Ipe from South America. Ipe wood is twice as dense as regular wood, and it has the same fire-rating as steel. Third-party crews were working on 650 feet of track that will be replaced this off-season, and the price tag for this project alone is close to $1 million!
9. The maintenance team is in charge of everything from the safety sign at the entrance to the exit for each ride—including the building. Crews were replacing portions of wood on the outside of Mystery Mine as I walked by the coaster.
10. Earlier I mentioned NDT. All of the rides and roller coasters go through non-destructive testing. I learned there are three types of NDT: magnet particle, dye penitent and ultrasound. Magnet particle is when the metal car/chassis has a magnet current through it and metal particles/flakes are sprayed on to the frame, and if there are any cracks, the particles will outline the crack. The reddish “dust” in the picture is the particle that is sprayed on the frames during testing.
11. The seats on Drop Line are the same seats as the ones on Mystery Mine! This off-season, all-new seats are being installed on Drop Line so you will be able to enjoy a new, comfortable ride!