OSHRAT CARMIEL; Courant Staff Writer
6 August 2001
The Hartford Courant
7 SPORTS FINAL
These folks spend hours dreaming of two-minute thrills. They measure
good days in twists and turns, ups and downs. But their kind of drama
evolves high in the air, in a steel cart winding the track of a roller
They're coaster enthusiasts, loop the loop lovers -- the kind of folks
who have crossed the line from occasional thrill seekers to just plain
Two hundred and fifty of them descended on Lake Compounce over the
weekend to celebrate their pastime in an annual summer conference of
the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
There were no keynote speakers, no stuffy meeting rooms. Formal attire
meant wearing more than one amu***t park decal. Guests at this
gathering were less concerned with eating their lunch than with
finding a surefire way to lose it.
Officials of the organization estimate that most members, roaming the
park before, during and after it opened to the public, had taken 50 to
60 rides each on the park's three roller coasters.
Some twisted with the Zoomerang for consecutive half-hour blocks. Some
barreled on the Boulder Dash in the front seat only to move back a few
seats and ride it from the tail. All of them took notes, diligent to
figure out how much closer they have come to riding all of the 1,649
roller coasters that they estimate are in the world.
"Everybody has a hobby," said Bill Linkenheimer, the Pittsburgh- based
president of American Coaster Enthusiasts. "This happens to be a
really fun one."
The ACErs, as the group's members are fondly called, are by no means
uniform -- not in age, profession or the defining twist that veered
their life toward permanent roller coaster fandom.
Gary Baker, 52, retailer with T.J. Maxx in Pittsburgh, started riding
coasters to overcome his fear of heights.
Sue Barry, 27, a bookkeeper from Colonia, N.J., first did it to
impress her boyfriend.
Lisa Scheinin, 47, a medical examiner for the Los Angeles County
coroner's office, found comfort in coasters after enduring a grueling
three-day exam to qualify for the American Board of Pathology.
"I was screaming at the top of my lungs," she said. "It was
She's been on more than 700 coasters since -- receiving a special
honor guard at a Helsinki theme park and renewing her wedding vows
aboard a coaster in Kings Dominion in ***ia.
Linkenheimer, 34, who manages a chain of ski shops in Pittsburgh,
keeps chicken-scratch handwritten notes of every ride he's been on. He
transfers the data to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet when he gets home.
"It's well over 400," he says of his personal tally. "But I haven't
recalculated in over a year."
Peg Batchelder, 46, a veterinarian from Norwalk, counts how many times
she endures each ride by setting her watch alarm one extra minute for
each time she rides. A relatively new enthusiast, she started riding
by accident in 1994 when she found herself in line for Big Thunder
Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World.
It has been uphill -- and downhill -- since then. Her lifetime
achievement stands so far at 315 different roller coaster rides, she
For ACErs the thrill is so defined, so acute, that they can count
precisely how many seconds they spend floating above gravity -- "air
time" in enthusiast lingo -- and can describe the precise feel of a
wooden coaster the morning after a rainfall.
"It just glides better," said Angela Biacofsky of Willoughby, Ohio.
The theme of the conference, which had been scheduled a year in
advance, was preservation, Linkenheimer said. It was a topic that took
the group to Compounce and two other parks in the New York region in a
show of support for their preservation and upkeep. Lake Compounce, on
the Bristol-Southington line, opened in1846 and is the oldest
operating amu***t park in the country.
Few participants appeared troubled by the recent events at Lake
Compounce -- the accidental death in June of a maintenance worker on
the Boulder Dash tracks during an early morning coaster test or the
malfunction the next day that stranded 26 riders 60 feet in the air on
Getting stuck, they say, is a badge of honor, something that most
enthusiasts long for and, in fact, have said they experienced at least
once in their lives.
Scheinin got stuck in an enclosed coaster after renewing her vows in
She and her husband were trapped for about an hour inside a dark
"They turned the lights on and we got to see the inside of the
structure that nobody gets to see," she said. "The only things we were
upset about is that we didn't have a camera."