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Theme ParksRegional ParksFormer Tallest US Coaster: Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Over...

Former Tallest US Coaster: Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Over Georgia

This article was originally written in February 2021 and was updated in January 2022.

Century-Old Beginnings

At the start of the 20th century, a new company known as Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, or PTC for short, had become well-known for building state-of-the-art and ornate carousels. Their newest carousel in 1908, labeled as #17, was installed at Riverview Park in Chicago, Illinois. The merry-go-round included 72 hand-whittled horses and four chariots that made for a gentle and amusing experience.

The carousel at Chicago’s Riverview Park (Image credit: Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters)

Over 50 years later in 1967, Riverview Park closed permanently, and the carousel was then stored in a warehouse. That same year, a new theme park just outside of Atlanta called Six Flags Over Georgia opened its gates. The park shortly after in 1972 recovered, restored, and reassembled the historic carousel, now located in a prime spot on top of a tall hill in the park. In its new home, the carousel would soon be joined by family; the ride’s manufacturer, Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, had big plans for the recently opened Six Flags park.

A Young Park with Great Plans

Dahlonega Mine Train in the park’s opening year (Image credit: Six Flags Over Georgia)

Six Flags Over Georgia in its early years was successful right away, welcoming more than 1 million guests in its first season of operation in 1967. In 1971, park management started planning an expansion in the back of the park. With other theme parks around the country revolutionizing what coasters can do, Six Flags Over Georgia joined the coaster boom of the ‘70s by developing a back-to-basics wooden coaster aimed to break records—designed by industry vet John Allen and engineered by William Cobb. The new coaster would be the anchor attraction for the park’s new fair-themed area called Cotton States Exposition of 1895—a name that has since been retired.

Great American Scream Machine as seen during construction (Image source: Great American Scream Machine Documentary)

PTC started construction on what would be the tallest and fastest wooden coaster in the United States. Construction workers and carpenters assembled the coaster, bending the track’s seven-ply wood on site, 4 feet at a time to contour with the hilly L-shaped layout.

Months into the project, the crew had spent another long day laboring at lofty heights. As the sun set, they wrapped up work, and the track was cleared its first test run. The coaster made its inaugural run with the whole crew keenly watching. The train successfully completed the circuit and would soon be ready for riders.

To debut the new attraction, Six Flags Over Georgia hosted a multi-day opening event that featured an appearance by TV’s Lassie and performances by The Association as well as the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose. The opening weekend festivities also included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a firework show.

Great American Scream Machine in its opening year (Image credit: Six Flags Over Georgia)

Great American Scream Machine opened March 31, 1973. Eager riders lined up to experience the all-new, record-breaking coaster. Its queue has a classic look to it, with plain theming and tight switchbacks. The attraction dons a traditional design with white wooden supports and red and blue accents to achieve a patriotic aesthetic.

The coaster makes a right-hand turn just out of the station and directly into in record-breaking 105-foot lift hill. Dropping 89 feet at 57 mph, this out-and-back layout is situated over a small body of water and next to the scenic Chattahoochee River. Paired with being the tallest, fastest, and longest American wooden coaster at the time, Great American Scream Machine features 11 airtime-filled drops with floater and ejector moments.

Great Records Surpassed

In 1976, only three short years after Great American Scream Machine debuted, Screamin’ Eagle at Six Flags St. Louis opened. The new coaster, also built by PTC and with apparent visual similarities to Over Georgia’s woodie, featured a 110-foot lift hill and speeds over 60 mph. Screamin’ Eagle narrowly bested Great American Scream Machine by about 5 feet and 3 mph.

With this new coaster, Great American Scream Machine was swiftly stripped of its “tallest, fastest, longest” title for a wooden coaster in the U.S. Despite that, the Atlanta-based coaster would continue to excite riders for decades to come.

An Ongoing Legacy

Great American Scream Machine operating backward in the 2018 season (Image credit: Tom Kelley/AJC)

In 1993, for the ride’s 20th anniversary, the trains temporarily ran backward for an extra thrill. Six Flags would do the same in 2018 for a limited time, again flipping the trains around for a backward experience.

In 2009, the Atlanta area encountered heavy storms that caused 18 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. As a result, Six Flags Over Georgia’s adjacent Chattahoochee River flooded a large portion of the park. Much of Great American Scream Machine’s wooden structure was submerged; though, soon after the floodwaters drained, Six Flags Over Georgia reopened, and so did Great American Scream Machine.

Great American Scream Machine under water
Great American Scream Machine in 2009 under water due to flooding (Image credit: John Bazemore/AP)

At this point, the coaster was not in the same shape as in its glory years. The track was unforgiving to its riders. Great American Scream Machine no longer offered a world-class ride experience and developed an infamous reputation for being a bumpy, painful coaster. The valleys in between the hills became quite punishing and took away from the ride’s potential. Guests favored the park’s newer, smoother coasters. Despite its rough condition, the ride still would stand the test of time.

Historic Recognition, Restoration for the Future

The now-defunct Georgia Cyclone, which its retired trains now operate on Great American Scream Machine (Image credit: Tom Kelley/AJC)

In 2017, Great American Scream Machine was the 44th coaster to be recognized as an ACE Roller Coaster Landmark for its historical significance. This validated the coaster’s legacy and prominence.

Great American Scream Machine would outlive the park’s other wooden coaster, Georgia Cyclone, which, at the time of its closing in 2017, was only about half the age of Great American Scream Machine.

With Georgia Cyclone now defunct, its trains were transferred to Great American Scream Machine for an improved ride experience. In 2019, the coaster’s original manufacturer, PTC, restored the coaster’s nearly 50-year-old track with new lumber. The first few drops have been retracked, but, for the most part, the overall ride is best described as out of control as much of the coaster is unbearably rough in its current condition.

Regardless, Great American Scream Machine continues to prove it’s a memorable coaster with traditional elements and thrilling moments of airtime. With nearly a half-century under its belt, this coaster doesn’t seem as if it’ll hit the brakes any time soon.

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Matt Neuenschwander
Matt Neuenschwander
Hi! I'm Matt. I grew up in the Orlando area, and like many of you, fell in love with theme parks at a young age. I created Storybook Amusement to share about the history and emotional draws of the industry's notable and obscure attractions. (Profile picture by Sonder Quest)



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