What Was: Hercules

Hey all, Andrew here with another “What was” blog post! Before we dive in, I want to acknowledge that it has been a while since I last did one of these posts. As a result of a summer filled to the brim with work and travelling, it was difficult to find the time to sit down and write one of these. Now that I am back in action, let's discuss a ride that typically goes under everyone's radar when they think of defunct coasters. That ride being Hercules at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.

Hercules Logo

Hercules Logo

What is: Hercules

Dorney Park was a relatively small park in the 1980s. The largest roller coaster the park had entering the decade was Coaster (now known as Thunderhawk), a Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters wooden coaster from 1924. Alongside Coaster was a Pinfari Zyklon known as Flying Dutchman, which stood where the Ferris Wheel stands today. Later in the decade, Dorney Park decided to begin adding more thrill rides. In 1986, the park unveiled Colossus (later renamed to Laser), a Schwarzkopf Double Looping coaster. It was the park’s tallest and fastest coaster, as well as the first looping roller coaster in the parks history. Except Dorney planned to change this with the introduction of an all new record breaking ride; one which would land them on the map.

Dorney Park’s owner Harry Weinstein worked alongside Curtis D. Summers and Charles Dinn, of the Dinn Corporation, to bring a new roller coaster to the park. The location of this ride would be on a hill towards the back of the park that went all the way down to the lake. This ride would be a $6 million wooden roller coaster and would feature the tallest drop on a wooden coaster at the time. It would be the largest attraction the park has ever built, and there was a lot of excitement surrounding its announcement. Interestingly enough, a name was not initially given to the ride as that had yet to be decided on. Reportedly, a couple of names were considered for the ride, including Thunderhawk, which would later be used to rename Coaster upon Hercules’ debuted. 

Hercules Media Invite

Hercules Media Invite

However, the ride did not have a smooth start. Construction was constantly being delayed due to the townships concerns with various aspects of the new attraction, including its height, noise, and proximity to the lake. Eventually though, the park received the final approval to commence construction. Hercules opened on May 4th 1989 and quickly received rave reviews. So much so it was considered world class by many coaster enthusiasts at the time. Initially, it was the hit the park was looking for.

A Record Breaking Ride?

So what exactly did Hercules offer to the table. The ride stood at a height of 23 meters (95 ft.), with a track length of 1,219 meters (4,000 ft.). However, due to the use of the hill, Hercules featured a 46 meter (151 ft.) drop, allowing riders to achieve a maximum speed of 105 km/h (65 mph). This drop was immediately followed by a massive 55º banked turn above the lake, prior to returning to the top of the hill for the remainder of the ride. Hercules successfully stole the drop record from American Eagle at Six Flags Great America (which featured a 45 meter (147 ft.) drop) and was the second fastest wooden coaster in the world. For a sense of how this ride sizes up to current wooden coasters, if it still stood it would feature the 10th largest drop on a wooden roller coaster along with being the 11th fastest wooden coaster in the world. Hercules was enormous and quickly became the flagship attraction for the park.

Hercules first drop

Hercules first drop

Despite featuring the tallest drop on a wooden coaster, there was controversy about whether it could be considered the world’s tallest wooden coaster at the time. Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas was also claiming to be the world’s tallest wooden coaster, as it stood 44 meters (143 ft.) tall, but only featured a drop height of 42 meters (137 ft.). While Texas Giant was structurally the larger ride, Hercules had a taller drop. While both were technically correct, the debate developed into conflict between the two parks into determining which was considered taller. Alongside the record drama, Hercules proved to be a very noisy ride and the park received multiple noise complaints about the attraction in the years following its debut.

Early Issues

After Hercules successful opening, the ride had to undergo some changes. Various parts of the ride were re-profiled to assist in its sustainability, and trim brakes were added to the first drop. Hercules continued to receive track work for many years following its opening, most notably including work done by Martin & Vleminckx. As a result of these modifications, fans of Hercules noticed that it was not running as well as it used to. Eventually, this led to the ride becoming very rough and very expensive to maintain. This led to Hercules gaining the nickname “Hurt-your-knees”, and ridership began to dwindle over time.

Hercules from within Dorney Park

Hercules from within Dorney Park

In 2003, Dorney Park determined that Hercules would be removed due to a combination of low ridership and high maintenance costs. The ride was quickly demolished to make way for Hydra: The Revenge, a Bolliger & Mabillard Floorless coaster, scheduled to open in 2005. Hydra is located where Hercules once stood, and is a reference to the ‘12 labors of Hercules’ which included him defeating the monster of the same namesake. The addition of “The Revenge” was added to act as a twist on the story, for the story goes Hydra returns and defeats Hercules, taking the place of where the ride once stood. That being said, evidence for Hercules is still present in the park. While hard to see walking around, there are footers remaining in the lake that used to support the first banked turn. The best way I found to see them is to take a ride on Steel Force, the parks Morgan Hyper Coaster, and look down at the lake before entering the helix. 

This screenshot from Google Earth shows the footers that remain in the lake behind Dorney Park

This screenshot from Google Earth shows the footers that remain in the lake behind Dorney Park

Hercules was intended to be the ride that was to place Dorney Park on the map as a major regional theme park. Unfortunately, that intention has now faded into obscurity and what was once a legendary ride has been lost. Despite this, videos of the ride are still available and CoasterJunkie created a tribute with footage from opening year. Be sure to check it out by clicking on the image below!

Made this several years ago using b-roll footage from opening day 1989.

Made this several years ago using b-roll footage from opening day 1989.

That is all for this “What was” post! Thank you for reading all the way through and we hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more blog posts from the Coaster Bot team.

Until next time,

- Andrew