Vuoristorata is one of the few remaining roller coasters in the world with trains with manual brakes. Although Vuoristorata was opened in 1951, it was built according to the drawings of Rutschebanen, which opened in 1932. So already in its opening year, Vuoristorata basically represented 20-year-old technology.
Before automatic pneumatic brake systems became common on roller coasters starting in the 1960s, wooden roller coasters had either brakes operated with brake levers on the platform, or brakes built in the train operated from a brake handle located on the train. The advantage of the latter is that several trains could be sent onto the course at a time, as the trains could be stopped at any time. In systems operated manually from the platform, the skid brakes that stop the train were usually at the end of the course and on the platform.
Vuoristorata is a unique amusement ride even on a global scale, as similar roller coasters have not been built since, and many of the old roller coasters with similar technology have been demolished or converted to utilize automatic braking system. So you can only experience a real old-time roller coaster ride in Finland on Vuoristorata!
Vuoristorata in numbers
- Length of the track: 960 metres (3,150 ft)
- Height of the track: 24 metres (79 ft)
- Longest descent: 48 metres (158 ft)
- Top speed: approx. 60 kph (37 mph)
- Average speed: approx. 25 kph (16 mph)
- Ride duration: approx. 2 minutes 15 seconds
- Four trains, 22 passengers per train (the number of trains in use depends on the number of customers in the park)
- Maximum capacity: 1,430 passengers per hour
- A total of approx. 42,000 cycles are run during the season, and up to 700 cycles during one busy opening day
- 800,000 guests visit Vuoristorata every year
- It is estimated that over 40 million guests have visited Vuoristorata in the course of 70 years
The structures of Vuoristorata are made from creosote-impregnated Finnish pine, and the structures weigh a total of about 400 tons. The 6×6-inch vertical support columns are numbered, and there are a total of 365 of them. A badge is also attached to each of them, on which the year of renewal of that part has been stamped.
The structures are renewed during off-season in a certain cycle. The last original structures were replaced with new ones in 1967. All the structures have been renewed at least three times, so even now the oldest structures are only a little over 30 years old, from 1991. In the early days, parts had to be renewed more often, but since then, thanks to higher-quality impregnation, the structures have had a service life of 30–40 years.
Impregnation guarantees the wood its excellent durability in Finland's varying climate, and good-quality heartwood is already an extremely durable material by nature. For over 30 years, the lumber has been supplied by Versowood sawmill located in Vierumäki, Southern Finland.
Vuoristorata's track gauge is 1,130 mm (3 ft 8 31⁄64 in). On the wider lower plank a wooden sleeper plank is attached with a flat steel on it, which acts as a rail. The side of the track, the so-called "stack", which is made by nailing five boards on top of each other, acts as a braking surface. The replaceable plywood strip attached to the side of the stack acts as a tread. The wider board on top of the stack keeps the wheels of the train under it during the course. A flat steel is also attached to the lower surface of the top board, so that the train wheel does not come into contact with the wood and wear it down.
Vuoristorata has a total of four trains. Trains are named Red, Green, Blue and Yellow according to their coloring. The first three have been in use since the beginning. The Yellow train was built later in the 1950s, when the fourth train was felt necessary e.g. for maintenance reasons. With the exception of a few minor changes, the trains' design is similar to the original; some of the cars still have the original oak frames from the 1950s. A long wire runs through the train, holding the four cars of the train together. Between the cars are bars with ball-joint connections.
Vuoristorata's train is 11.5 meters (38 ft) long and weighs about 1,500 kg (3,300 lbs) empty and about 3,000 kg (6,600 lbs) with passengers.
The appearance of the trains has changed at least five times over the decades. From the end of the 1950s to the beginning of the 1970s, the front of the trains were decorated with Disney characters, after that they changed to different animals, and from the 1980s to the 2000s to clown characters. Otherwise, for the first 60 years, the trains were painted mainly with one color. The latest paintings were done one train per year between 2011 and 2014. The paintings were done with air brush technique by Jeppe Kivilaakso of FAW D-sign .
Vuoristorata's train has a total of 16 wheels. Each wheel is attached to the train's frame with a fixed axle, so the wheels do not turn. Although each car of the train is 2.6 meters (8.5 ft) long, the short wheelbase of the cars of 1,080 mm (42.5 in) ensures that the cars can travel through curves and hills.
The wheel's flange runs inside the rail, keeping the train sideways on the track, and the wheel hub extension runs below the top plank of the side stack, so the train also cannot jump off the track during the ride.
Just like on the tramways, the rails on Vuoristorata are greased several times a week during the season; greasing reduces friction between the wheel flange and the rail, especially in the curves. This reduces noise and makes the train run more smoothly on the track.
Due to the old-fashioned wheels of the trains, Vuoristorata is classified as a "scenic railway" roller coaster. Therefore, there are no significant banking on the curves either. The more modern roller coasters have separate wheels above, below and on the sides of the track.
Brakemaster's most important tool is the brake lever, located at the back of the last car of the train. Using the smaller handle, the brake lever can be locked in place, leaving the train stationary without the need for the brakemaster to manually hold the lever in the back position. When releasing the brake, the locking lever is raised and secured to the upper position, so the locking does not accidentally engage during the ride.
Although Vuoristorata's trains are basically similar, decades of operation and maintenance have made the braking feel of each train slightly different.
Because Vuoristorata's train was originally intended to be braked while in seating position, the original brake lever was a straight rod, but in 1988 it was redesigned into a loop-type handle, making braking while standing much more ergonomic. In the original brake lever, its locking mechanism could not be locked in the open position either, so the brakemaster had to squeeze the lock handle throughout the ride.
When the brakemaster pulls the brake lever, the brake shoes between the wheels of the last car are pressed to the sides of the track, which slows the train down due to friction. The braking system is therefore completely mechanical. The brake shoes are made of 12 mm (½ in) spring steel and weigh about 10 kg (22 lbs) each.
Behind the brake shoe is a wedge, there are two of them per car. If the train stops uphill, the wedges bite into the wooden wedge rails next to the actual rails. This prevents the train from rolling backwards. The wedges also make a recognizable tinkling sound when they hit the wedge rails on the lift hill and on every uphill.
In addition to the mechanical main brake, the train has a back-up brake system using compressed air which has been added to the trains in the 1960s. It can be used, for example, in the event of a main brake failure. The system was not in the original drawings, so it is Linnanmäki's own design. The compressed air system is operated from valves located next to the brakemaster's seat, which release air from the tank to the cylinder under the third car of the train. The piston in the cylinder pushes the brake shoes between the wheels of the third car to the sides of the track. The compressed air brake can also be activated remotely from the platform: electric current supplied to the rails is routed through the wheels of the train to the solenoid control of the air brake valve, therefore activating the air brake.
An important part of the train's compressed air system is also the horn, which can be used to notify other trains and the brakemaster working on the platform, in a situation when, for example, a train has stopped in the middle of the course.
Due to the ride experience which has remained original, Vuoristorata has been awarded the Coaster Classic designation by the American Coaster Enthusiasts club. The title is prestigious, given to only 30 roller coasters in the world. Vuoristorata meets the criteria for the title, which are the hallmarks of a classic wooden roller coaster:
- The trains have one-piece lap bars that lock in only one position
- The seat is shared by both passengers, and there are no dividers between the passengers
- The cars do not have high backrests or headrests that hinder the passengers' visibility
- There are no gates or other seat-specific queuing for the train at the platform
Vuoristorata works like most other roller coasters, i.e. the trains are lifted by machine power to the highest point of the track, from where they roll to the end of the track by gravity. As a result, each hill and curve has to be lower than the one before, as friction reduces the kinetic energy of the train during the course. In addition to this, the brakemaster slows down the speed of the train by braking during the course, so that the ride is safe and as comfortable as possible for the customers.
Therefore Vuoristorata's trains do not have motors at all, even though many people think so. The entire platform area is also slightly downhill, so the trains start to roll forwards by gravity when the brake is released.
Vuoristorata's train is pulled to the top of the first hill by a 22 mm (⅞ in) diameter steel wire. The train grabs the wire at the bottom of the first uphill by means of grippers at the bottom of cars 1 and 2, and the train detaches from the wire at the beginning of the top curve. The gripper consists of two spring-loaded metal jaws, between which the wire is squeezed. The grippers open as the train runs over the opening rails at the beginning and at the end of the lift hill, so the gripping system works completely mechanically.
The wire is driven by an electric motor. Originally, the engine room of Vuoristorata housed a R22 model motor made by Brook Motors in the 1930s, and the gearbox was manufactured by Scania-Vabis in Sweden in 1951. In 2016, the technology was completely overhauled. The current power source is Finnish-made ABB 75 kilowatt IE4 induction motor controlled by a VFD, which rotates the wire drive wheel through a Magnagear right angle gearbox manufactured by Dodge Industrial.
The wire moves at the speed of 4 m/s (13 ft/s), which is the speed of the train when it grabs the wire at the beginning of the lift hill. The wire is rolling continuously while Vuoristorata is running, but when there is no load, rolling it only requires about 2 kW of power from the motor.
The total length of the wire is 200 meters (656 ft), and it is usually replaced annually. The hand-braided wire is spliced, i.e. the ends are joined by hand.
The trains of Vuoristorata are serviced at the two-story depot located in the middle of the roller coaster. The trains are taken to and brought from the depot via manual switchtracks, which are like big jigsaw puzzles. Trains under maintenance are stored at the depot and on the side track located in the tunnel.
The number of trains in use depends on the amount of customers in the park, so trains that are in use can change even daily. There are usually two or three trains in use. With three trains, Vuoristorata's capacity is already 1,100 customers per hour, which is by far the highest capacity of all Linnanmäki's rides.
After each opening day, the trains in use are run to the tunnel to their designated spots for overnight storage. There is a service station at the platform where the trains are inspected every day before being put into service.
A lot of work not visible to customers is done at Vuoristorata through the winter. During off-season extensive maintenance takes place: all trains are disassembled and thoroughly serviced, and wooden parts of Vuoristorata are being renewed on a certain section. The renewed parts and track sections are built according to the old ones, so that the ride experience remains the same.
When replacing the stacks, i.e. the sides of the track, the old stacks are removed by cutting them with a chainsaw, and new stacks are made from fresh lumber according to the track profile by bending and nailing the boards on top of each other. Finally, long bolts are installed through the stacks. During the process, the measuring device is used to make sure that the track is flat and the width of the track is correct. When changing the vertical columns, the track is supported so that the structure cannot move.
The iconic lighting of Vuoristorata consists of the red neon sign installed in 1991 and the so-called "running lights" consisting of a total of 3,030 bulbs. The light chains following the shapes of Vuoristorata have been in place since the beginning, but for the first two decades they were static. For the 1971 season, the electrification of the lights was rebuilt and the bulbs were connected to sets of eight lamps. When the relays turn off and on one lamp of the set at a time in sequence, it creates an illusion that the lights are "running" along the track.
Originally, the running lights were 15-watt incandescent bulbs, but they have since been replaced in the 2010s with 2-watt LED bulbs, which are significantly more energy efficient. The need to replace LED lights is also quite small compared to the old bulbs.