Roller coasters have become a fun part of American culture due to their reputation for being shocking and exciting. Dating back to the 1400s when the practice first debuted as ice sledding in Russia, the concept of roller coasters finally came to America during the early 1800s when the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway opened to serve as a means to transport coal over a mountain. By the 20th century, the US had at least 1,500 roller coasters throughout the country.
Essentially, roller coasters are machines that use inertia and gravity to send a cart round a track. If you’re a roller coaster enthusiast yourself, you’re in the right place. You won’t have to wait in line to get your daily dose of adrenaline anymore — in this blog post, you’ll learn how to make a roller coaster in your backyard.
While you may feel overwhelmed by undertaking this seemingly complex task, building roller coasters actually isn’t all that complicated. Below are the step-by-step processes that you can follow to create a fully-working roller coaster right in your backyard.
Specifying Your Roller Coaster
While it might be hard to figure out the various aspects needed to build your roller coaster, this is an essential part of your building process and can significantly change your overall design. These are the most important things you need to consider when building your roller coaster.
- Your Intended Rider: Depending on who you’re building the roller coaster for, the ride may end up different. If you’re designing a ride for kids, you’ll want to keep the slopes and hills at a minimum and make them small. But, if you’re looking to thrill older riders, you may want to create something more elaborate and speedy.
- Materials: Steel and wood are the two most common materials used in the construction of roller coasters. However, steel is a bit more versatile and can provide smoother rides.
- Track Layout: The layout of your track will influence the whole ride. For instance, a corkscrew track will have helix-like loops that run in a sequence just like a corkscrew.
- Cart or Train Type: The train refers to the vehicle that carries your passenger through the ride. While there are many different kinds of roller coaster trains, you will need to decide on the type that works best for your needs.
As the designer of your roller coaster you’re in charge of all these aspects, but remember that at this point in time, just focus on what you want to build.
Designing Your Roller Coaster
Much like any other construction project, you first need to design your roller coaster before you decide to build it. This will help you to ensure that your coaster offers maximum safety while still delivering a thrilling ride. Below are a few things to consider at this point in the process.
- Choose a design you want to make or create one of your own: Decide whether you want to build a track for kids or if you want something that’s also appropriate for adults. Take into consideration the amount of weight that your cart will be able to support.
- Ensure that your design is well-planned and that you take materials and tools into consideration for the design process. Make sure to plan how everything fits together — you wouldn’t want all your hard work to collapse into a heap of garbage. To do this, look into NoLimits 2, a roller coaster simulator that will allow you to plot your course, including the length of your track as well as the height of your posts.
- Map out every part of your roller coaster, including the structure, supports, and track. Use each category to complete your project and create a miniature model of the whole roller coaster. You can start with a sketch of your plans, which you can then turn into a model to help you flesh out the details and to ensure that you get an accurate representation of what your roller coaster will look like once completed.
Tools and Materials You’ll Need
To make a roller coaster with at least 15 meters of track, you’ll need the following:
- 50 x 37cm four-by-two ties
- 50mm O/D PVC pipes for the tracks in 6 x 5m sections
- 12 x 1.7m four-by-two stringers
- 5 x 40mm x 10mm dowels
- 11 x 3m four-by-four posts
- 400 x 100mm head deck screws
- 40 bags of concrete at 25 kg each
To build your car, you’ll need the following:
- A 60cm x 90cm wooden platform
- 2 x 89mm x 610mm x 12mm plywood
- 4 x 89mm x 270mm x 12mm plywood
- 4 x 89mm x 190mm x 12mm plywood
- 8 x 130mm x 10m bolts and lock nuts
- 2 x 610mm four-by-twos
- 4 x 190mm four-by-twos
- 4 x 270mm four-by-twos
- 2 x lazy Susan bearings, minus the ball bearings
- 12 x 50mm castor assemblies with bolts
- A child’s car seat
For the Track
- Dig out your post holes every 1.5 meters of your planned route. Each hole should be around 25cm in diameter and a third as deep as your posts’ height. While keeping in mind that a third of the post is underground, cut it down to size then fill in each hole with concrete.
- Prepare your rails by drilling two holes on each end of the ties and using your deck screws to secure them in place across the top of every post, in a T-shape.
- Next, drill two holes on both sides of every PVC pipe. It’s important to countersink these from the outside, then screw them onto the end of every tie.
- Repeat this process to ensure that ties are joined every 30 centimeters throughout the pipes. You will then need to connect all of the five-meter track sections towards the next one by putting 40mm dowels within the end of each PVC pipe. Now, it’s time to screw and drill through them to attach a tie at every joint.
- For any straight sections on your track, be sure to attach a four-by-two stringer between every post that runs along the center line of your track. Be sure to use deck screws to attach your ties — this will stop the track from flexing under the weight of your car whenever it passes.
For the Car
- Fix the castors in place by bolting them to each end of one of the 610mm four-by-twos, leaving a space of 420mm between the center line of every wheel. Follow it up by bolting two castors right in between the two 270mm four-by-twos.
- Continue by using four deck screws — these will help you attach the castors at right angles at the end of the longer four-by-two.
- Attach your windbreaks by bolting two castors at the center of two 190mm four-by-twos, then attach each end at right angles towards the 270mm four-by-twos. Each end should be able to hook around the other pipe while all the wheels run along it. Next, secure the plywood boards on the outside by screwing them in, and then repeat this for the rear of the car.
- Be sure to get a kid’s car seat and bolt it into the wooden platform. You can attach the wheel assemblies with a lazy Susan bearing between the top of the assemblies as well as the bottom of your cart’s platform, then use a large bolt to make them join at the center.
- Next, you’ll need to find a crash-test dummy, and you’ll need to test your build against 200% of its normal load. This will help to ensure that your ride is functioning as it should and to ensure the safety of all who will be riding your roller coaster.
Time and Cost Estimates: How Much Will It Take?
The answer to this question will depend on how long and how labor-intensive you want your roller coaster to be. Depending on the size of your backyard, you may opt for a smaller or bigger roller coaster project. Let’s look at some past examples. A 180-foot roller coaster cost one individual around $3,500 and took around a year to finish.
However, an engineer was able to build a backyard roller coaster for just $500 while maximizing the space he had in his backyard along with the materials he chose for building his dream ride.
The amount of time that you might spend working on a roller coaster will depend on a few things, such as the length of the ride, as well as how complex you want the ride to be.
No matter the size of your project, roller coasters will generally take a long time to build from an idea to a reality. It will also depend heavily on the kind of material you choose. While wooden coasters will typically take eight months to build, a roller coaster made out of steel will usually take around a year and a half to complete.
When it comes to building a roller coaster in your backyard, fun and adrenaline are most likely at the top of your priorities, but safety should be given extra special attention. Whenever you want to use your newly-finished roller coaster, be sure to do the following first:
- Use sandbags — they are the perfect crash test dummies, so be sure to run your tests until you can deem your ride safe enough for people to test.
- Limit the number of people near the roller coaster when it’s in use — it’s best to keep only the rider and a supervisor around when riding.
- The cart’s design should never let limbs come out to the tracks of the ride or anywhere near the wheels.
- When kids are using the roller coaster, make sure an adult is there to look out for them.
- Use high-quality seat belts to attach to your cart’s frame.
- Install a safety barrier around your track to ensure the safety of your rider and those around them.
- Create an anti-rollback provision on the hill lift — should the operator slip, the cart will be able to stay in place and this can help to reduce accidents.
- Avoid motorizing your track since momentum can provide a great riding experience. A motorized coaster will only add another worry, especially when kids are on the ride.
Tips and Facts About Roller Coasters
If you’re looking to get fancy with your roller coaster and you happen to have a bigger space in your backyard, you may be looking to build something a bit more complex. Part of the reason why roller coasters are so popular is that they offer plenty of sharp turns, big loops, and high hills. However, they’re not just added for a thrilling experience. They also change the cart’s elevation and speed throughout the ride.
Referred to as the lift hill, this is typically the first hill on a roller coaster and is usually the biggest. When the car comes down, there is a build-up of kinetic energy which then provides energy for the car to keep going through the whole ride. Without this lift hill, your rider may not be able to reach the end of your ride. You could add a hill that’s extra tall to give riders more thrill.
Loops are then added to help slow down the car and to control its force and speed where they’re found in the tracks. But, this isn’t the only purpose of loops: they also help to keep people from fainting during rides. Experiencing too much g-force all at the same time can cause people to faint or pass out.
The use of vertical loops can help to slow down the ride while reducing g-force. The faster and bigger a roller coaster is, the more a rider will take notice of its effects. When it comes to sharp turns, people will often feel a rush of adrenaline due to Newton’s first law of physics. You may notice that your body will keep going in one direction even after taking a sharp turn until your seat belt pushes you toward the right direction.
Building a roller coaster in your backyard doesn’t have to be hard or cost a lot of money to achieve. All you need to do is create a plan of action ahead of time to ensure that everything goes the way you’d hoped. Moreover, there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration before and after the construction of your roller coaster.
However, once you turn your vision into reality, you’ll be able to enjoy roller coaster rides without the need to line up for hours at your local amusement park.