The Man Who Built the World's Largest Roller Coaster Enjoys Life's Ups and Downs
"The first design we made," Dinn recalls, "was 80 feet high. But the word from the marketing people was, 'Let's go out and break everyone's record.' It kept getting bigger and bigger." Dinn also wanted to make the Beast smoother and safer. He got a foretaste of his triumph six weeks ago when he made the first trial run. Strapping himself into a 2,700-pound gleaming red car, he sped through the three-and-a-half-minute ride, down 45° slopes, through yawning tunnels (three underground) and around eight banked turns, including a 540° spiral. "Awesome," he decided while 80 construction workers, who had spent eight and a half months building the ride, cheered their heads off.
Experts (such as a group called the American Coaster Enthusiasts) have already listed the Beast among the top 10 roller coasters in the country, and most are calling it No. 1. Kings Island expects to recoup its $3.8 million investment this year. "There was a three-and-one-half-hour wait during a preview last Saturday," Dinn says. "But nobody complained. They got off and went right back on line again."
Dinn says the Beast is even more hair-raising on a rainy day (it's faster) or at night. "People like to be scared," he insists. Indeed, one little girl told him, "It frightened me to death—three times." But, he adds, "They also want to know it's safe." To keep the Beast under control, 132 sensors throughout the course are hooked into a computer that will shut the ride down instantly if anything goes wrong. "Statistically," he says, "it's safer to be on the Beast than to cook dinner."
The son of an Ohio jeweler, Dinn fell in love with roller coasters at a tender age. Like ones he knew back then, the Beast is built on a wooden (Southern pine) frame that squeaks the way purists love. He was married at 20, then spent two years in college (which he never finished) studying the Bible. Meanwhile, he began a series of construction jobs including four years at a nuclear propulsion lab. After being hired by Kings Island, he vowed to design the "perfect ride," and visited more than three dozen of the nation's roller coasters.
Some, he found, were very bumpy, including Coney Island's Cyclone, long rated No. 1. "I also saw some I wouldn't let my children ride," he says, chillingly. "They were in really bad condition." How can prospective passengers be forewarned? "Look at the part where the chain pulls you up," Dinn advises. "If the incline's straight, it means the track's in good condition. If the incline's crooked, you should question whether to get on. It can be really scary." Many riders are "their own worst enemies," adds Dinn. "They take it three or four times, and then they say, 'This doesn't thrill me anymore.' The next time they stand up.' "
While he was rushing the Beast to completion, Dinn's wife, June, a real estate agent, rarely saw him at home (a four-bedroom house with indoor swimming pool that he built himself). His children—Denise, 18, and Jeff, 17—were luckier: They had jobs at the park. With the official opening at hand (3,000 people will be able to ride each hour this summer), Dinn is finally planning a vacation. "No roller coasters on this trip," vows Dinn. "My family won't allow it."