If you’ve ever been on a roller coaster, it most likely had what’s known as a tubular steel track. This term refers to the tubular steel rails that guide the coaster train along the track. The first use of this revolutionary design dates back to the late 1950s in a place famous for making fantasy a reality: Disneyland. Matterhorn Bobsleds opened in 1959 as the first tubular steel continuous track roller coaster.
The first-of-its-kind ride was manufactured by Arrow Development—a company known for building Disney’s early attractions and would later be known for its innovation as a coaster manufacturer. Arrow's ingenuity resulted in revolutionary twists, unmatched speeds, and impossible heights that even they ultimately couldn’t reach.
Watch on YouTube
This article is available in video form with accompanying visuals. Click HERE to watch it.
Over the years, Arrow Development established itself as a pioneer within the roller coaster industry, mainly by building family attractions for regional parks through the ‘60s and ‘70s. During that time, the company was working on a prototype coaster model that would turn the theme park world upside down.
Arrow’s newest installment, Corkscrew, opened in 1975 at Knott’s Berry Farm as the world’s first modern inverting coaster. The transcendent ride not only opened up new possibilities for coaster designs, but it also was a display of Arrow’s willingness and motivation to progress the possibilities of roller coaster engineering.
Arrow in the coming decades would break records for the world’s fastest coaster and the most inversions on a roller coaster, among many more milestones.
Competition on the Rise
Just as Arrow had become the very best in their field, new manufacturers had emerged in the industry by the early 1990s. These up-and-coming companies, namely a Swiss group called B&M, were developing modern coaster designs with elements unlike those of the past. Their rides were smoother and more intense than what Arrow had been producing.
Parks were impressed by B&M’s approach and products, and Arrow would have to adapt if they wanted to stay competitive in a new era. With the competition of B&M, Arrow was no longer the preferred coaster manufacturer on the market.
Arrow's Attempts a Modern Coaster
Busch Gardens in the early ‘90s wanted a pair of new thrill coasters—one coaster for their park in Tampa, Florida, and the other for their park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Busch Gardens turned to the young and promising B&M asking if they would build two ground-up coasters for them. B&M, having committed to other projects and still limited in how much they could produce, agreed to build only one of the two coasters.
This left Busch Gardens needing another partner to create the second coaster, which would go into their Williamsburg park. As a backup plan, Busch Gardens approached the reliable and reputable Arrow to build the new coaster.
Arrow’s influence in a lot of ways was responsible for elevating the roller coaster industry to where it was at that point in the ‘90s. Arrow, however, was pushed beyond their abilities with this new project, being tasked to build a modern coaster rather than their classic design.
The expectations were towering, and Arrow’s limitations were blaring, especially in the results. Using antiquated design methods, Arrow did what it could to break out of its traditional mold and measure up to the cutting-edge rides of its competition.
The Infamous Drachen Fire
Arrow’s attempt at a next-generation coaster was flawed. Arrow was restrained to their traditional development approaches that couldn’t properly produce a modern coaster. Known as Drachen Fire, Arrow’s latest coaster resulted in a painfully uncomfortable ride with clumsy transitions and poorly executed elements. Arrow, a company once known for pushing the boundaries of what coasters could do, was becoming banal and timeworn.
The competition was excelling and quickly surpassed Arrow. The contrast was obvious when Drachen Fire’s sister coaster opened. The Tampa-based Busch Gardens in 1993 debuted its newest coaster: Kumba, manufactured by the upcoming B&M. This ride was everything Drachen Fire was not—smooth, enjoyable, and most importantly, successful.
A Rough Reception
Drachen Fire was heavily criticized and was facing permanent closure a few short, rough seasons after opening.
The failure of Drachen Fire was not a good look for the long-established coaster manufacturer, Arrow; they were being left behind. With smoother and more intense coasters now on the market, parks were turning to B&M and promising coaster manufacturers for their next addition.
Arrow had to adapt to stay competitive in a new era.
Thrills Come to Sin City
In late 1991, casino owner and entrepreneur Bob Stupak broke ground off the Las Vegas strip for what would become the United States’ tallest free-standing observation tower: The Stratosphere. Stupak originally wanted the structure to be a 1,000-foot-tall advertisement for his casino, but the concept grew along with his ambitious ideas.
He was an opportunist, stopping at nothing to thrill and entertain by capturing the attention of Las Vegas’ tourists. His intentions were massive. At one point during construction, Stupak wanted to essentially double the height of the tower to nearly 2,000 feet, or 609 meters, so that the building would own a world record; this plan, however, was rejected by the city and the Federal Aviation Administration. Stupak reverted to a 1,149-foot-tall tower, or 350 meters, as development continued.
The Stratosphere Opens, Debuts 2 Rides
The Stratosphere opened in the spring of 1996, featuring amusement rides at the top. One was a powered tower ride called Big Shot, launching riders straight up at 45 mph. The other ride was the world’s highest roller coaster, aptly named High Roller. The idea of having a roller coaster atop a colossal tower was an extreme idea, but in practice, the ride’s tame dips, low speeds, and repetitive layout made it a disappointing experience compared to the thrills Big Shot offered.
The Stratosphere, being grand and monumental, was deserving of more than a gimmick. It needed a sky-high concept—one that not only would hook in riders, but would completely rewrite the roller coaster record books.
The Regret of Drachen Fire, The Decline of Arrow's Reputation
Meanwhile, the infamous Drachen Fire coaster by Arrow was still in operation by the mid-’90s. However, it underwent major modifications in an effort to recuperate the disappointing ride. Yet, the updates improved very little for an incredibly problematic coaster. Drachen Fire was still an unpopular attraction with a notorious reputation.
The coaster was open for only a few years before Busch Gardens and Arrow accepted their losses by prematurely shutting down the ride permanently in 1998. It was dismantled and removed a few seasons later, closing off a bitter ending to an overall sour investment for the park and tainting the once-renowned Arrow brand.
An Arrow Revival
Following a tall fall from favor, Arrow Dynamics made adjustments to stay relative in a competitive industry. The company survived the ‘90s by selling replacement parts for their existing attractions in parks worldwide, but, to regain success, Arrow needed to return to its roots as innovators. With the help of young engineers on staff, Arrow started computerizing their process, developing new programs that would broaden what they could do as a coaster manufacturer.
The result was what the seasoned company, Arrow, had failed to do a few years earlier: create a customized and thrilling attraction that’s well-liked by riders and matches up to new age coasters.
Arrow's First Non-Standard CoasterArrow introduced its first contemporary coaster design with Tennessee Tornado opening at Dollywood in 1999. Tennessee Tornado was the first coaster by Arrow Dynamics that featured non-standard loops and distinctive elements, causing smoother transitions as well as a much more pleasant and thrilling ride experience. This was a step in the right direction for the manufacturer. Just like in decades before, Arrow was evolving and diversifying what it could offer.
Arrow, reverting back to the innovative company it started as, had begun designing original coaster models. Such designs included an inverted steel wild mouse, which was versatile enough to be a small-scale family coaster or a major thrill ride, depending on what any given theme park would be in the market for. Arrow was still struggling financially as a business, and the inverted wild mouse concept could be built with a higher profit margin if given the opportunity. Despite interest surrounding the inverted wild mouse idea, not a single park purchased the ride. They needed something more impressive.
Following another setback, Arrow went back to the drawing board and once again to begin creating original ride concepts. Their next, deemed a “mystery project,” would flip where the company was headed.
Flipping the Arrow Brand
Arrow eventually met with Six Flags Magic Mountain out of Valencia, California—a park seeking a headlining coaster that was different to draw in visitors. Magic Mountain was mostly unimpressed with Arrow’s pitches, until Arrow presented an animated video of a new ride concept: a first-of-its-kind coaster that seated riders beside the track, all while having the ability to do front flips and back flips.
The park was sold, with one exception: They wanted it bigger. Arrow designed the ride to be a small-scale coaster, but Six Flags wanted it to be the most impressive and eye-catching ride in the park. The task would be challenging for sure, but Arrow had to say “yes” for the sake of its slumping business. They moved forward with the prototype coaster. Arrow had to dedicate nearly all its resources to researching for and designing this project—a revolutionary coaster that had never been attempted before.
Arrow was spread thin, and the job was afflicted with many delays. But, their work was worth it as Arrow hoped to sell many more of these coasters once other parks would see how impressive the ride was. Arrow was in the midst of building the world’s most expensive coaster, and meanwhile had started work on a project that would sink the historic company.
The Stratosphere Seeks New Thrills
Back in Las Vegas, The Stratosphere and its two thrill rides were a success. But, wanting to attract more visitors and compete with larger casinos, The Stratosphere was in the market for more attractions.
One proposed ride toward the end of the millennium was a $6 million attraction known as Belly of the Beast. The idea for this ride was to put up to 48 riders on a King-Kong-like ride vehicle that would scale halfway up the 1,000-foot tower, giving moments of a free-falling sensation. The ride was canceled after two months, as a Stratosphere spokesperson explained...
“It was determined to be not feasible, and we couldn't be sure it would be an exciting ride. It was an engineering challenge, to say the least.”
Arrow Takes a GambleThe Stratosphere was looking for excitement and began to consider other options that would better stand out. Arrow Dynamics had an idea. The declining coaster manufacturer partnered with The Stratosphere to build a coaster set to shatter records.
The Proposed Fish Hook Coaster
The plan was to build a 740-foot, or 225-meter, tower that served as the coaster’s record-breaking drop, located along the east side of the 1,000-foot Stratosphere. Riders would board six-passenger ride vehicles that plunged 120 mph down the first drop, crossing over Las Vegas Boulevard. In a ski-jump-like shape, the train would race up a 416-foot, or 127-meter, tower across the street where the ride would then free fall backward. The coaster would end after losing momentum between the two spikes before coming to an end.
Set to be the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world, the proposed concept was best known as the Fish Hook Coaster because of the track’s shape.
The Community Supports the IdeaThe plan was monumental, and The Stratosphere was eager to debut an attraction that would stand out without a doubt. A resort spokesperson added...
“We've been the forerunner in doing things that people said were impossible.”Others agreed. A Las Vegas Councilman, Gary Reese, expressed his support for the ride and how it would help the local economy, saying...
“It would bring tens of thousands of people to the area.”Some locals were just as high on the idea as the resort’s leadership was. A resident from a nearby neighborhood shared about their enthusiasm for the ride, saying
“We live in Vegas, and this is what it's about. Fun, and lights, and noise...It's great.”
Arrow Strikes a Deal, The Coaster is Official
The promising multi-million-dollar attraction was sold to The Stratosphere as a part of their $75 million expansion. The Stratosphere and Arrow signed a contract, officially agreeing to move forward with development.
As is the process with all attractions, the plans at this point had be to submitted for city approval. It was just a formality, but there was a problem that would impact the entire project.
The proposal didn’t clear this phase.
The Stratosphere and Arrow withdrew the proposal in November 2001 upon learning it would have been voted down. The reason being was that some locals were less than enthused with the idea as the coaster would cause traffic, generate noise, look tacky near a residential area, and ultimately devalue their homes. One nearby resident reacted, saying...
“Who wants to live under a roller coaster? If there is a quicker way to destroy a neighborhood, I don’t know of one.”The president of a nearby HOA summed up the situation by inputting...
“Nobody wants to live in the shadow of a carnival ride.”
Revising the CoasterArrow, determined to please Las Vegas residents, was forced to go back to the drawing board. They modified the design by shortening the coaster in hopes the smaller structure would be less of an issue for residents. The adjusted plans took off about 200 feet from the first drop, now reaching 510 feet tall, or 115 meters, hitting speeds of 93 mph, and racing to a 325-foot-tall fish hook spike across the street. The ride vehicles would also be enclosed to lessen any concerns about noise.
Resubmitting the PlansThey submitted the amended proposal. The Stratosphere anticipated push-back once again, regardless of a downsized design. During public City Council hearings in regard to the proposed coaster, The Stratosphere presented expert witnesses who assured the intended ride would not be a burden to residents as it would be relatively quiet and have a minimal impact on traffic.
All of Arrow's Eggs in One Basket
Arrow needed this proposal to be accepted. The company at this time was coming off the heels of the delayed opening of X, a coaster type they expected to sell more models of. The issue was that no parks were in the market for a coaster of that magnitude or were willing to take a risk after the complications of X.
Simply put, Arrow had everything invested into the unnamed fish hook coaster. This ride had to go through for the iconic manufacturer to stay open and continue its legacy.
They had no upcoming projects; this was it.
Arrow had many wins over the years. After all, they were the innovators who introduced the world to the modern steel coaster. But, their efforts were losing momentum.
A Disappointing Rejection
The Las Vegas City Council voted unanimously to block the construction of the 50-story roller coaster.
The case was set to be appealed before a judge. In court, the judge was compelled by the arguments in favor of the attraction, potentially leaning toward approving construction for the enormous ride. The Stratosphere's attorney argued the area was properly zoned for a coaster. The case was promising. However, the court was obligated to respect any evidence that supported rejecting the ride.
Unfortunately, the fish hook coaster was deemed to be too much of an eyesore on the side of a notable and pronounced landmark. The ride was thought to be not compatible with the neighborhood and could discourage new residents from moving in. The disapproval was louder than the support, leading to the project ultimately being rejected. The attorney defending the ride said...
“I have never, in 30 years of practicing zoning in this town, ever seen a travesty of justice as what has happened.”
The End of Arrow
Arrow, a company that had been drowning for several years, took its final breaths. They did not expect the record-breaking coaster to be rejected. It was a project that was supposed to propel them, but it did quite the opposite. The company’s final project would go unbuilt, and Arrow would go under. They had no upcoming projects and filed for bankruptcy in late 2001.
By November 2002, Arrow shut down for good and auctioned off its assets. Decades of theme park ingenuity were now left in the past as other manufacturers carried the torch into a new generation of theme park attractions.