Skip to content

Worlds Of Fun Roller Coaster History Essay

It’s a sunny afternoon in a living room somewhere in Kansas City, Missouri. The year is 1983, a young girl sits poised in front of the family television, watching a Saturday morning cartoon, it breaks to commercials, and all of a sudden a exciting adventure plays across the screen. It’s a commercial for the Kansas City theme park, Worlds of Fun, and its newest creation is just being announced with a flourish and a flash of light, it’s the EXT.  It doesn’t matter if she isn’t tall enough or brave enough to ride this amazing ride, it’s the adventure and excitement that it entails that becomes to the girl, and as of that moment, there is no place more exciting and enticing than that park.

Though this story is from 1983, and the ride, Extremeroller, it seems fitting to begin a discussion of Screamroller, the ride that would also be known as Extremeroller later in its life than with a very true story,  as its my own story, or history so to speak.

Both photos above are Corkscrews, but only one is Screamroller.  Believe it or not the brochure on the left for Worlds of Fun, is NOT Screamroller, it's actually Knott's Berry Farm's Corkscrew.  Though the rides are very similar its easy to tell them apart by the style of the corkscrew upper supports, which are quite different. (black and white photo provided by Debbie Reasoner)

But while my personal story with Screamroller might start in 1983, Screamroller’s real story started much earlier, earlier than even April 10, 1976.  It started instead on May 24, 1975, when the world’s first modern inverting coaster opened to the public, at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. A local paper, The Independent, called it a “70-second thriller”. The Corkscrew’s lines when it opened were only half jokingly referring to as ending in the next county.

Designed by Ron Toomer, at the time Engineering Manager of Arrow Development of Mountain View California, it was his job to engineer a successful looping coaster.  Looping coasters were first introduced in the 1890’s, known usually as either Loop the Loops or Flip Flaps, they failed primarily due to a lack of engineering knowledge, of those that built them. These earliest of looping coasters were built with a perfectly circular loop, causing extreme gravitational forces on their riders.  This engineering flaw spelled a short end to this first chapter of looping coasters. Enter Arrow Development in the 1970’s, Ron Toomer took a scientific approach to the looping coaster.  In a 1976 engineering conference covered by The Argus of Fremont, California, Ron Toomer stated “Before a coaster is offered to the public, it has been checked by computer, analyzed by mathematical experts and test-ridden over 2,000 times”.  That doesn’t stop the ride from experiencing kinks as Ron Toomer went on to explain, that the Corkscrew at Knott’s itself required chassis replacement after only 5,000 rides as the originals were considered inadequate.

The clamoring of riders to the Arrow Plant in Mountain View, California should have been the siren’s song of warning when it came to the popularity of the Corkscrew.  Hoards were already showing up at the Mountain View plant, attempting the scale the fences and RIDE corkscrew, before it was even completed!  With its introduction, Corkscrew not only literally kindled the flame of the coaster wars, but packed Knott’s Berry Farm with future coaster fans to the gills.

Six months later, November 13, 1975, Worlds of Fun jumped on the bandwagon, and announced the addition of the new 3.5-acre addition, Bicentennial Square, and at its heart would be the brand new, blazing white, Screamroller.  Screamroller would be a very-near identical twin to the Corkscrew at Knott’s Berry Farm, but it wouldn’t be the 2nd version, or even the 3rd… Corkscrew coasters had become quite a phenomenon in just a span of six months, and like the beanie babies of the 1990’s, had become a hot commodity, everyone wanted one. Worlds of Fun would be the 5th version of the Corkscrew coaster, following the likes of the Chicago Loop at Old Chicago, the Wabash Cannonball at Opryland park, and the Corkscrew at Magic Harbor (Surfside Beach, SC).

However, as hot a commodity as the new Arrow Corkscrew was, it was still an amazing, gapping mouth open moment for those in the region, so much so that on April 10, 1976, two weeks before its announced grand opening, Screamroller gave 27,000 rides… 

Grand Opening day, April 24, 1976, for both Bicentennial Square and the Screamroller, wasn’t going to be your normal run of the mill day either, it brought out the finest festivities the park could offer, on behalf of our country’s 200th birthday.  A musket and cannon salute by the continental volunteers of Marceline, a replica of the liberty bell was on display, patriotic music was to be played by the Wentworth Military Academy, and in TRUE American fashion, there was a roller coaster and a 76 foot long hot dog…

Lee Derrough, General Manager of the park at the time went on to comment “We are extremely please how well the Screamroller and Bicentennial Square were received by our guests on our two preview weekends.  We feel our increased attendance is a good indication that the new ride and area will be immensely popular additions to Worlds of Fun”

Screamroller would reign supreme along with Worlds of Fun over the entire state of Missouri, as the state’s only looping coaster until Orient Express came into existence in 1980, and only then, in 1981 would Six Flags Mid-America (currently Six Flags St. Louis) finally compete, with Jet Scream.

The 1975 Corkscrew was the flame to the match that set off the Coaster Wars that were prevalent well into the 1990’s.  For the first eight years Worlds of Fun was not only a player but also well in the forefront. Orient Express, which came only four short years after Screamroller in 1980 allowed Arrow Dynamics to build exponentially on what they had accomplished with Screamroller.  Screamroller was revolutionary in 1976, towering at 75 feet tall, 1200 feet of tubular steel track featuring TWO upside down corkscrews, thrilling riders with one and half minutes of thrills.  Orient Express by comparison was light years ahead only four short years later towering 117 feet tall, with a track length almost triple that of Screamroller at 3,470 feet long, FOUR upside down elements including two massive loops and a boomerang, and an elapsed time of what felt like riders in the 1980’s as eternity, 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  Orient Express was a behemoth both to Kansas City as was as the overall coaster world.   However as mighty as Orient Express, and all the coasters that followed it would be, it simply would not have existed if Screamroller hadn’t come first.

And Worlds of Fun and roller coaster history wasn’t done with Screamroller either.

Arrow, the king of coaster builders of the 1980’s, had by this time built its first few great looping coasters with Orient Express and Loch Ness Monster; it had proven what needed to be proven.  What was left?  To do things never even tried before, so entered the era of the next decade of “trick” coasters, some stuck and became classics, and some did not.  The suspended Coaster, the six and seven inversion multi-loopers, AND the stand-up coaster.  The fight for the first stand-up coaster was fought directly between Worlds of Fun and Six Flags Mid-America in 1983.  Six Flags attempting to convert one side of the two track’s of the also Arrow-built River King Mine Train, while Worlds of Fun went for converting Screamroller, and it was a photo finish, with Worlds of Fun beating Six Flags and opening the newly re-named Extremeroller on May 24, 1983. 

Like the first Corkscrew in 1975 though, there was only so much the engineers could learn on a piece of paper, and much more to learn when the engineering was put to practice.  Extremeroller, and its St. Louis cousin Railblazer both were very short lived.  In the case of Worlds of Fun, about a year, the coasters, engineered for sit-down chassis, couldn’t handle the strain of the much taller, heavier, stand-up pods.  Though short lived, Screamroller or as it was later known, Extremeroller, had something very few coasters can say, a double shot at fame.

The 1979 Screamroller Crew posed with the train at the top of the lift.  From the 1979 Ambassador Yearbook.

As many know telling a story of Screamroller from an engineering, or even a guests point of view is really only telling you half the story.  Worlds of Fun from its very first season, had a secondary, but just as important culture, that of its Ambassadors.  For forty years every seasonal employee at the park wasn’t JUST an employee, or an associate, instead they were known as Ambassadors, an ambassador to the world of fun.  It gave an air of dignity to an otherwise rather hum-drum job.  In good seasons, Rides Ambassadors were loyal to their rides and to their fellow crew, and the best of seasons they were a family.  Screamroller’s crew was no less.  From 1983 until its last year, the crews of Screamroller played practical jokes, experimented with the equation of weight and motion of a 28-person multi-ton train to ketchup and mustard packets, and best yet they threw great parties.  Nicknamed, and then officially named, Scream Jam, these ever-not-so-park-sponsored events, were probably anything but dull, and properly enough had refreshments “sponsored” by the proceeds of the nearby Omegatron’s riders loose change.   And folks… this was just one ride, make no mistake the 1980’s were a good decade, and that’s just the parts those that lived it can remember.

Screamroller was the coaster of the 1970’s, Extremeroller of the 80’s, but as 1988 came edging up, so did the end of the decade, and the end of Screamroller.  Screamroller only operated twelve seasons at the park, a short life span for a memorable ride, and more important memorable experiences.  In its short time it saw Worlds of Fun grow from a small, young park with 60 brand new and exciting things to do, to a mature, beautiful park with over double the attractions, and a brand new water park to boot!   In the end Screamroller would be removed to make way for a coaster of the 1990’s, the Timberwolf, one of the first of a wooden coaster revolution.  Even Timberwolf though couldn’t make Screamroller go away for good, the loading gates still, almost thirty years later, don’t line up to the Timberwolf trains, because they were designed to line up to Screamroller instead.  Even many of Screamroller’s concrete footers can be found for those with a keen eye, and then of course is the entire entrance, queue-line and station which are nearly identical (there have been some minor changes) to the station Extremeroller left behind on its last day of operation, October 30, 1988.

No Screamroller wasn’t going away easy, and in fact it could be said to have lived even a third life, not in Missouri, not even in the United States, but in South Korea, as the Spiral.  The Screamroller and Spiral finally met its end just a few years ago.

Many times it’s easy to focus on the past, something I greatly enjoy doing because as I always say it keeps the long lost attractions of the past alive.  However, I think Screamroller’s testament is not so much its past, but the future it helped create, it and the company that created it, Arrow Dynamics spurred the coaster race, and for that we had many great rides such as Orient Express and today even continue to have such great rides as Mamba and Patriot to enjoy, both of which are direct descendants of the great Corkscrew and Screamroller.  To those of us who remember Worlds of Fun of the 80’s, and for those of you who remember riding Screamroller remember we were all young once, like they said in 1976 though when Screamroller opened, lets be young again… Twice.


1) Controls On/Off.  This key-operated switch must be in the ON Position to operate the ride.

2) Low Air Pressure.  This light indicates low air pressure in the system.  The ride cannot be started when this light is on.  If this light should come on during operation of the ride, immediately bring all trains to a stop and notify your ride manager.  Notify Rider Operates and Maintenance immediately.  (Interesting enough Viking Voyager, also an Arrow product, has this same light).

3) System Power.  This a pull-to-start/push-to-stop switch with an illuminated head.  it also serves as the Emergency Stop (E-Stop) button.  It must be activated (pulled) to turn on control power.  It's head will be lit when control power is on.

4)Clear Block Left & Right.  This is a three position, key-operated switch with a spring return to center.   Clear the blocks by turning the key first to th left and then to the right.

5)Ok-To-Move-Track Switch.  The light indicates when the track switch can be moved from its main line position.  The time delay function described prior to this controls this light.  

6)A pull-to-start/push-to-stop switch with an illuminated head controls the lift meter.  The lift will run only when there is track continuity at the switch and the "B" block is clear.  The switch head will be lit when the lift is running.

7)Block Lights.  Indicates the status of the safety blocks.  Two for left (7a and 7b) and Two for right (7c and 7d).  The "A" block extends from the station to just beyond the lift crown.  The "B" block extends from the lift crown to the station.  The left and ride status lights should always be in agreement.  When control power is turned on, the Red Set Up lights will light.  When the blocks are cleared, the Green Clear lights will light, and the Red Lights will go off.  The presence of a train in the block will be indicated by White Occupied lights.  (Orient Express had these as well, the quad-buttons presence are very indicative of an Arrow Coaster)

8) Discrepancy Reset.  A discrepancy in status between any two similar right and left block functions will be indicated by the sound of a buzzer and the illuminated head of the Discrepancy Reset push button which will light.  The buzzer can be stopped by pushing the button.  Any such warning should be reported to Ride Operations and Maintenance for their attention.

Special Thanks to Debbie Reasoner for providing a copy of the original Screamroller Operator's Manual as well as several of the photos seen above.

Also on this day

American Revolution

1738

Patriot printer, publisher and postmistress, Mary Katharine Goddard, born

On this day in 1738, Mary Katharine Goddard is born in New London, Connecticut. She went on to publish the first version of the Declaration of Independence to include all of the Congressional signatures. Mary Goddard’s professional life was inextricably bound with that of her brother, William. They worked together...

Automotive

1903

Ford Motor Company incorporated

At 9:30 in the morning on this day in 1903, Henry Ford and other prospective stockholders in the Ford Motor Company meet in Detroit to sign the official paperwork required to create a new corporation. Twelve stockholders were listed on the forms, which were signed, notarized and sent to the...

Civil War

1862

Union thwarted at the Battle of Secessionville

On this day, a Union attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina, is thwarted when the Confederates turn back an attack at Secessionville, just south of the city on James Island. In November 1861, Union ships captured Port Royal, South Carolina, which lay about halfway between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia. This gave...

Cold War

1961

Russian ballet star Nureyev defects

Rudolf Nureyev, the young star of the Soviet Union’s Kirov Opera Ballet Company, defects during a stopover in Paris. The high-profile defection was a blow to Soviet prestige and generated international interest. Nureyev became a star of Russian ballet in 1958 when, at barely 20 years old, he was made...

Crime

1999

SLA member captured after more than 20 years

On this day in 1999, Kathleen Ann Soliah, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), is arrested near her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Soliah, who now calls herself Sara Jane Olsen, had been evading authorities for more than 20 years. In the mid-1970s, the SLA, a small, radical...

Disaster

1896

Tsunami ravages Japanese coast

As daylight breaks, survivors of a tsunami in Japan find that more than 20,000 of their friends and family have perished overnight. The tsunami resulted from a disturbance in the Japan Trench, 120 miles east of Japan’s main island of Honshu. This deep underwater gorge is located where the Pacific...

General Interest

1958

Leader of Hungarian uprising executed

Imre Nagy, a former Hungarian premier and symbol of the nation’s 1956 uprising against Soviet rule, is hanged for treason by his country’s communist authorities.After becoming premier of communist Hungary in 1953, Nagy enacted a series of liberal reforms and opposed Soviet interference in his country’s affairs. He was removed...

1963

First woman in space

On June 16, 1963, aboard Vostok 6, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to travel into space. After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date.Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born to a peasant...

1977

Brezhnev is Soviet president

Leonid Ilich Brezhnev, first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party since 1964, is elected president of the Supreme Soviet, thereby becoming both head of party and head of state.A member of the Soviet Communist Party since 1931, Brezhnev was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s protege and deputy in the early 1960s....

Hollywood

1943

Charlie Chaplin marries Oona O’Neill

Oona O’Neill, the daughter of the famed playwright Eugene O’Neill, is an 18-year-old freshly minted high-school graduate and fledgling actress when she marries 54-year-old Charles Chaplin, the internationally renowned actor, filmmaker and Hollywood legend, on this day in 1943, in Santa Barbara, California. Her famous father (already a Pulitzer Prize-winner for...

Literary

1904

James Joyce meets his future wife, Nora

Aspiring writer James Joyce meets his future wife, Nora, a lively, uneducated woman with little interest in literature, on this day in 1904. Joyce will immortalize this day in his masterpiece Ulysses, whose narrative unfolds entirely on June 16, 1904. James Joyce was born in Dublin, the eldest of 10 children...

Music

1965

Bob Dylan records “Like A Rolling Stone”

By the spring of 1965, Bob Dylan’s presence in the world of music was beginning to be felt well outside the boundaries of his nominal genre. Within the world of folk music, he had been hailed as a hero for several years already, but now his music was capturing the...

Old West

1890

Alaskan explorer Fred Fickett leaves Army

Because of ailments he contracted during an arduous exploration of the Alaskan frontier, Fred Fickett retires from the military to become a civilian lawyer. A native of Maine, Fickett enlisted as a private in the Army Signal Corps in 1882. By chance, he was assigned to duty in Alaska, a...

Presidential

1858

Lincoln warns that America is becoming a “house divided”

On this day in 1858, newly nominated senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln addresses the Illinois Republican Convention in Springfield and warns that the nation faces a crisis that could destroy the Union. Speaking to more than 1,000 delegates in an ominous tone, Lincoln paraphrased a passage from the New Testament: “a...

Sports

1968

Lee Trevino wins his first U.S. Open

On June 16, 1968, golfer Lee Trevino wins the U.S. Open at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. His score of 275 for 72 holes tied a U.S. Open record. Lee Trevino was born in Dallas, Texas, on December 1, 1939, and raised along with two sisters by...

Vietnam War

1961

Kennedy agrees to send instructors to train troops

Following a meeting between President John F. Kennedy and South Vietnam envoy Nguyen Dinh Thuan, an agreement is reached for direct training and combat supervision of Vietnamese troops by U.S. instructors. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem had earlier asked Kennedy to send additional U.S. troops to train the South...

1965

More troops to be sent to Vietnam

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announces that 21,000 more U.S. troops are to be sent to Vietnam. He also claimed that it was now known that North Vietnamese regular troops had begun to infiltrate South Vietnam. The new U.S. troops were to join the U.S. Marines and paratroopers from the...

1970

Communists isolate Phnom Penh

North Vietnamese and Viet Cong attacks almost completely isolate Phnom Penh. The principal fighting raged in and around Kompong Thom, about 90 miles north of the capital. On June 17, Cambodia’s last working railway line, which ran to the border of Thailand, was severed when communist troops seized a freight...

World War I

1918

Battle of the Piave River

On June 16, 1918, the Battle of the Piave River rages on the Italian front, marking the last major attack by the Austro-Hungarian army in Italy of World War I. After turmoil-plagued Russia bowed out of the war effort in early 1918, Germany began to pressure its ally, Austria-Hungary, to devote...

World War II

1940

Marshal Petain becomes premier of occupied France

On this day in 1940, Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain, World War I hero, becomes prime minister of the Vichy government of France. As Germany began to overrun more French territory, the French Cabinet became desperate for a solution to this crisis. Premier Paul Reynaud continued to hold out hope, refusing to ask...