This Wooden Warrior Packs a Punch

Review of the Quassy Amusement Park Wooden Roller Coaster

Photo of the highly rated wooden coaster at Quassy in Middlebury, Connecticut.

Arthur Levine

It may be relatively small and offer a comparatively short ride, but Wooden Warrior is surprisingly potent and, pound for pound, is one of the best wooden coasters out there. It's also remarkably smooth, thanks to its prototype Timberliner train.

Up-Front Info

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!: 5
    • Typical wooden coaster thrills, but relatively toned down due to its small stature and steady ride.
  • Date of review: August 2012
  • Coaster type: Wooden
  • Top speed: 35 mph
  • Height restriction: 54 inches (42" accompanied by an adult)
  • Lift hill height: 33 feet
  • Drop: 45 feet
  • Track length: 1250 feet
  • Ride time: 57 seconds
  • Manufacturer: The Gravity Group
  • Location: Quassy Amusement Park

Unique Cars. Unique Ride.

From the moment passengers enter the loading station and climb into one of Wooden Warrior's seats, it's apparent that it is no ordinary coaster. Instead of the typical lap bars, seat belts, or other restraints, the sleek blue train has curved bars that swing horizontally and deftly accommodate everyone from young children to, ahem, belly-challenged adults. There is no need to staple riders of any size; the unique restraint system, which uses hydraulic controls, makes for a comfortable experience. The horizontal restraint bars are among the innovations featured in the ride's Timberliner train. We'll get to the coaster's other behind-the-scenes engineering breakthroughs later; for now, let's focus on the ride it delivers.

Leaving the station, the train locks onto the chain and climbs a diminutive 33-foot lift hill. As it ascends, it's natural to assume that a fairly tame ride awaits, perhaps something akin to the Barnstormer at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom or a similar junior coaster. It's a reasonable assumption. The height, drop, and top speed of Wooden Warrior put it firmly in the family or junior coaster category. Assume at your own peril.

After a small turn, the train picks up speed, drops 45 feet (the lift is built on top of a small hill, which accounts for the difference between the height of the lift hill and the first drop), and immediately rises to deliver the first of many, incongrously forceful pops of delirious airtime. Before riders can say, "What just happened?" the train banks to the left and ascends for a second welcome instant of out-of-your-seat airtime. Roaring down and up as it tears past Quassy's picnic grounds, Wooden Warrior shoots into a small covered tunnel section. It briefly emerges, turns around, and enters a second short tunnel.

The coaster then delivers its second biggest drop, followed by another satisfying heavenward lift to the coaster gods. That is followed by four small camelback hills, each one punctuated by an airtime rush, and a helix that returns passengers to the station. A scant 57 seconds after they began their journey, beaming, joy-filled riders are left wondering what just happened. Let me try to answer that.

Smooth Operator

Let's get back to the Timberliner train. Most wooden coasters offer a characteristic rough-and-tumble ride. Coaster fans wouldn't want it any other way. But many woodies don't age well, and end up emphasizing far too much of the rough in the rough-and-tumble quotient. I've been on some sorry rides that left my internal organs like a bad James Bond martini: violently shaken and stirred.

To help quell the shaking and stirring, one manufacturer has focused on the track and has developed a prefabricated "plug-and-play" design. The breakthrough concept, which is used on a handful of coasters including El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure, has produced much heralded rides. The Gravity Group, which designed and built Wooden Warrior, instead focuses on the train.

Traditional wooden coaster trains have fixed wheels. When they a approach a curve in the track, they want to continue going straight. This can cause a rough ride, especially over time. According to Korey Kiepert, engineer and partner at The Gravity Group, the Timberliner trains have a steerable wheel system with tie rods that can actually navigate through turns. Each row of seats has its own set of wheels and can move independent of the rest of the train. "It reduces friction," he says, "and removes the usual shuffle that riders feel." And how. Other than El Toro, I have never had a smoother wooden coaster experience.

Turning and banking aboard Wooden Warrior, I felt the typical wooden coaster dynamics. I could sense the pliable wooden structure breathing and experienced the lateral forces that slightly jostled me to and fro. But there was none of the shudder, unwanted vibrations, or occasional high-intensity zing that woodies often impart. It was rock-solid smooth and precise.

Quassy is only the second coaster in the world to feature Timberliner trains. (The first one is in Sweden.) "We were contacted by The Gravity Group," says Ron Gustafson, the park's director of marketing, "and asked whether we would be guinea pigs." It is a gamble that has paid off for the small park. Just as the trains do not beat riders up, they also don't beat the track up. Kiepert says that they exert 50% less vertical force and 66% less lateral force on the track. While woodies are notoriously finicky and costly to maintain, Wooden Warrior has had comparatively low maintenance costs, according to Gustafson.

Quassy has been thrilled with Wooden Warrior. President and owner Eric Anderson says that when he was planning the addition to the park, he wanted to build a ride that could serve as a child's first wooden coaster. After he rode it for the first time, he amended his target audience to "a very brave child."

How much do I adore Wooden Warrior? I rank it among the best wooden coasters in North America. readers love the ride as well. It was voted the Best New Roller Coaster of 2011 in the Readers' Choice Awards.

Timberliner trains don't necessarily guarantee a solid, smooth coaster experience. I had high hopes for another diminutive New England coaster manufactured by The Gravity Group, Roar-O-Saurus at Story Land in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the high bar set by Wooden Warrior. Read my review of Roar-O-Saurus.

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