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Kevin Krock
Doc Krock's Electronic Lab Bench E-Mail - 8/1/00

The second part of the Space Mountain article is still on the way... I've got a few more cool things to collect before I can finish! However, since I started writing this column, my electronic lab bench here at the MousePlanet Mobile Laboratory has been piling up with e-mails, and it's now time to clear some of them out. So, here's a few tidbits to hopefully tide you over...


Space Mountain Comments and Questions:

Out of necessity to keep the first part of the Space Mountain article relatively short, readable by a general audience, and focused on Space Mountain, I intentionally kept some sections oversimplified and broad, and well, I got quite a bit of mail about it. Several readers were requesting additional information or clarification on a few points I made in the article.

Fortunately, several readers provided additional information and details to help clear things up:


WDW Seating

I received several comments about a misstatement about the original seating configuration in the Walt Disney World (WDW) Space Mountain. To clarify:

Reader Brad adds:
When the ride opened, it used the same seating configuration: 2-Cars, 4 seats total, with up to two people sharing each seat (like the current Matterhorn). This seating configuration was in place until the rehab that occurred in early 1989, when the 1st version of the 2-cars/3-seats was introduced.

Thanks for clearing that up, Brad!


Block Zone Systems

In the article, I made a generalized statement about the Matterhorn being the first to use a block zone system, and I need to clarify that statement a bit. First, the concept and practical application of block zone systems have been around for several decades, but the earliest systems were either manually controlled by operators or mechanically triggered. It wasn't until about the 1960's when electronics had reached the point that electrically automated systems could be developed. During that time, the Matterhorn was one of the very first coasters to use an automated blocking system. It was very simple, but it was more flexible than a mechanical block zone and more reliable than a human operator. The readers also provided some additional information and detail that I'll pass on.

Reader JD originally wrote in to say:
Just a quick note, there were wooden coasters back in the 20's and 30's that had towers in the middle of the track. From these towers, an operator had handles that he could pull on to activate brakes on the track in different places and would effectively "block" that track.

After clarifying the statement about the Matterhorn, JD replied:
The Matterhorn was, to my knowledge, the first to use an automated blocking system. Most wooden coasters of the time were using little or no blocking systems at all since they were generally too short to require them. The reason they didn't need them was actually because they generally only had one or two trains. With a two train operation, it's very safe to run a "one and one" with one train on the lift hill/on the course and one in the station.

Thanks for the detail JD.

Reader Alex had an interesting point of clarification regarding how the trains are "removed" from the tracks after a ride cascade:
·Coasters are designed so that the block brake is high enough to allow the train to return home under it own momentum (don't know if momentum is the correct word there, but you get the idea).

Yes, when there is a cascade, the trains are held in the various brake zones along the track. The brake zone closest to the end of the ride is released and the train returns to the loading area under its own energy (the train is never literally "removed" from the track). The cast members unload the train and take it off the mainline track (backstage). Then, the next closest brake zone is released, and the process continues until all of the brake zones are cleared. If you are on the ride during a "recycle", over the loudspeakers around the track, you can hear the operators announce each of the brake zones as they are released and then declared "clear" or empty.

Thank you Alex for clarifying that point.


Wooden Coaster Comments...

I very quickly mentioned wooden coasters as the starting point of roller coasters, but since wooden coaster history wasn't the focus of the article, I glossed over it and oversimplified it. Wooden coasters have a very long history, and some readers felt I didn't accurately represent them. Here's some additional detail provided by one of the readers - there were several of you, but I could only pick one! ;)

Reader Kyle:
I'm enjoying your article about Space Mountain, but I wanted to point out (if someone hasn't done so already) that your illustration of a wooden roller coaster over simplifies the design of the system.

The earliest roller coasters performed exactly as illustrated in your article, but they were called scenic railways and rarely reached speeds beyond 12 miles per hour.

Then a man named John A. Miller (no relation) introduced over 100 improvements to the vehicle design around the turn of the century, including side friction wheels that hugged the inside of the track and upstops that were positioned underneath the track to keep the car hugging the rails just like the wheels on the steel roller coaster. It was this innovation that allowed rollercoasters to (safely) reach the speeds that we associate with them today and paved the way for the unique design of the Matterhorn Bobsled cars.

Thanks Kyle, and if you want more coaster details, be sure to check out a series of good coaster physics articles listed in the references!

Well, that's all I have for right now! I've had a couple Monorail questions, but don't worry, they'll be covered in a follow-up Monorail article in the near future. Also, some of the other mail I've received has been suggestions for other articles, and I've been filing those away to make sure I can do the research to answer them!

Keep sending in the ideas - they've been great.

Don't forget to send email to Ask Doc Krock! at

Until next time...
Keep your eyes and minds on the magic!

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Coaster Physics

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