Two types of riders boarded the Wild One yesterday as the stately old roller coaster began its second life at Wild World amusement park.
The novices hung back a little. They tittered nervously, debating the wisdom of having eaten breakfast. Once launched, they screeched, giggled hysterically, and wondered, too late, what had possessed them to ride such a contraption in the first place.
The veterans came from as far away as Niagara Falls, Indianapolis and Manhattan Beach, Calif. They eagerly climbed into the front and back cars for optimum speed and bounce. They coolly snapped photographs as they zipped and banked and plummeted around the track.
What's more, they were overheard making gleeful statements such as: "The kind of ride I like is brutal," made by Jack Lovinger, 37, of Elizabethtown, Pa., one of 300 members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts who participated in the Wild One's Largo debut on the opening day of the summer season.
"This one has a good first drop," he said with satisfaction. "Throws you right out of the seat."
The Wild One is a 4,000-foot endurance test, a two-minute, 55-mph joy ride. It is also something of a rarity. Built in 1917, it is one of only 225 wooden roller coasters in existence. Forty years ago, there were 2,000.
In its previous life, the Wild One was known as the Giant, a popular attraction at the now-closed Paragon Park in Nantasket Beach, Mass.
At one time, it was rated the sixth-best wooden coaster in the world.
Wild World officials bought the ride at an auction last June for $28,000, hauled it here in 12 trucks, and added a monstrous horizontal loop called the Helix.
"We saved this coaster from destruction," marketing director Lyle Wolinsky said yesterday. "It would have been toothpicks by now." Renovations and the addition of the Helix cost about $1 million.
There's no question that the Wild One adds a distinct grandeur to the Wild World landscape; indeed, its graceful white lines and crisp lattice work dominate the park. Once surrounded by penny arcades and other seaside ventures at Paragon, it now towers over a lushly wooded area.
Yesterday's cool temperatures meant that the Wild Wave and the park's other water-related activities were closed, but Wolinsky estimated that about 5,000 people tested the Wild One.
The members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts were prominent figures in the crowd; many wore jackets covered with embroidered patches representing other famous coasters. Stitched on the front of Dave Hartzell's jacket was the Alexandria resident's nickname, "Mr. Twister." Hartzell, along with many other members of the organization, had known the Wild One during its Giant days.
"We think riding roller coasters is one of the biggest thrills in the world," said Roy J. Brashears of Upper Marlboro, a cofounder of the 1,200-member organization. "I've got a season pass. I'll be out here several times a week after work. This is the best coaster within 300 or 400 miles. It's as good as the Coney Island Cyclone. It has to do with that element of design, the way everything is put together."
A ride on the Wild One begins with a slow creaking climb. The scenery is very pretty and pastoral -- green trees, green grass, picnic tables and bright pink azaleas -- and for a brief hopeful moment, a first-time rider may almost be lulled into thinking maybe the Wild One won't be so wild after all.
Then it happens. After the gradual 98-foot climb, the track drops like a rock in five seconds, bouncing the riders off their seats and sending them hurling over a series of speed bumps -- the once-crisp scenery reduced to a whirl of green.
The Helix provides the grand climax, a 540-degree spin at 55 mph. Most riders stagger off laughing, taking a second or two to regain balance.
"Oooooh, I liked it. It was scaaaary," said Dulcie Bomberger, 11, of Beltsville. "I thought I was going to bounce out and go flying over the trees."
"She screamed the whole time," reported her friend Candice Dunston, 10, of Laurel.
And then, eyes streaming, hair tousled after their windy ride, the girls hurried to get in line again.