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CT's oldest wooden roller coaster is a bumpy ride. But the 'Wildcat' is getting an upgrade

Visitors take in a view of the Wildcat roller coaster at Lake Compounce. The park reports it is renovating the ride to be less bumpy for the 2024 season.
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Lake Compounce
Visitors take in a view of the Wildcat roller coaster at Lake Compounce. The park says it is renovating the ride to be less bumpy for the 2024 season.

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When it comes to roller coasters, Lake Compounce punches well above its weight. The park boasts five of them, including Boulder Dash, a five time winner of "Best Wooden Roller Coaster” as chosen by Amusement Today.

The oldest coaster at the park is a classic woodie called Wildcat. Built in 1926 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the coaster has gained a reputation over the years for being notoriously bumpy. Now the park is hoping a renovation project will smooth out the ride.

In recent years, roller coaster enthusiasts on YouTube have not been kind to Wildcat.

“That first drop was beautiful, smooth and fun,” said Gene from the “Full Time Coaster Tour” YouTube channel in 2021. “But little did I know that what was about to ensue would be the worst ride probably of my life.”

“Wildcat is 2,746 feet, or 837 meters, of pain. This kitty has claws. Sharp, painful claws,” said YouTuber “Canobie Coaster.”

Efforts have been made over the years to mitigate the jostling ride. In 1985, the entire structure was reconstructed with new wood. In 1998 the coaster was fully retracked. In 2017, sections of the ride were retracked, and new trains were installed. But some enthusiasts say the last retracking effort actually made the problem worse.

According to Lake Compounce, Wildcat has the distinction of being the oldest roller coaster in the world still operating at its original location. In an effort to preserve that history, and make the ride smoother, the coaster is undergoing another retracking effort, this time using new technology by the Gravity Group, a design firm dedicated exclusively to wooden coasters.

The first step in this multi-layered process is to assess where the bumpy sections of the track are, and the level of jostling endured by the rider.

“You take the readings, you actually graph them, computer generate them,” said Doug Hemphill, general manager of Lake Compounce. “Then you apply those readings to every section of the track.”

Those readings should help the Gravity Group team adjust and smooth out very specific sections of track. Then the entire track will be rebuilt at Gravity Group headquarters. When it is brought to Bristol for installation, the wood tracks will be stacked vertically rather than horizontally, another move to ensure a smooth ride.

Hemphill says more improvements are underway for the historic coaster, all in preparation for the coaster’s centennial in 2027. He expects this first phase of the project to be completed and ready for riders in time for opening day, 2024.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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