I will focus here on the earlier generation of portable, oval kiddie coasters. I will ignore the more recent rides made by Vekoma, Zierer, Pinfari, Wisdom, etc., as well as powered coaster-like rides.
Note that all picture links below are to other sites. These links are current as of 10-Aug-2009
The Herschell Little Dipper was designed by David Bradley, who installed the protoype at his Beverly Park in 1946. Bradley advertised the ride for the 1947 season, and rights to the ride were sold to Herschell near the end of 1948. Herschell made minor modifications and advertised the Little Dipper as a new ride at the end of 1948. An improved version in 1954 had a faster lift, deeper dips at the ends, and incorporated a shock absorber in the lift dogs. Improved versions with ground sizes of 51x102 and 37x102 feet were advertised for the 1955 season. In 1960, new models were introduced. The advertisements for the 1960 Roller Coaster touted the Mad Mouse-style undercarriage and indicated ground dimensions of 108x33 feet. The ride may have been produced through the firm's demise in 1970. By 1971, Chance (which acquired Herschell) no longer advertised children's coasters.
The track for the Herschell rides is flat, as shown in the figure at the bottom of the page. The trains consist of non-trailered two-bench cars, with three-car trains being the most common. Three general styles of train are identifiable.
- The earliest cars are rounded and have cutouts for loading only on the right side of the train. These have a decorative grille with 'AH' on the front of the train. Two examples are the rides now at Sandy Lake Park (picture link) (rcdb.com, 4 pictures) and Little-A-Merrick-A (picture link) (CoasterGallery.com, 2 pictures). This style of train is depicted in the 1954 advertisements.
- A second generation of trains appears to correspond to the 1955 models, since it is depicted in the ads for this season. These trains are boxy and have symmetrical cutouts on both sides of the train (although only the right side is used for loading and unloading). The high front (approximately as tall as the car sides) is nearly flat. Examples are found at Magic Forest
(picture link) and Quassy (picture link).
- The most recent Herschell trains have rounded low fronts with a high bar in front. This style car is depicted in advertisements for the 1960 model roller coaster. Most of the surviving trains have padding on the front bar. Examples are the Mild Thing at Valleyfair
and the Little Laser at Dorney Park
(picture link). The latter has unusually high headrests.
Overland introduced their roller coasters at the end of 1952, and advertised them until 1957. These were built under license from Charles Cooper (US patent #2642005
), who introduced the ride at the 1951 Canadian National Exhibition. The last known surviving example, the High Speed Thrill Coaster at Knoebels
(Ken Denton's site), was retired at the end of the 2008 season.
The track structure is distinctive, consisting of four rails joined by U-shaped cross-ties having an additional horizontal brace (see figure). Like the Herschell coasters, the flange on the rail is toward the inside, and the passenger compartment is completely above the rail top. The trailered trains have a distinctive shape. The Knoebels coaster had an Overland logo on the front of the train.
Schiff and Miler
Ben Schiff began selling coasters around 1952. Carl Miler must have been making coasters by 1949, but appears to have constructed the rides, run them as concessions for a few years, and then sold them. Since Miler rarely advertised, and made few coasters in the earlier years (before 1960), it is hard to track these rides.
The Schiff and Miler coasters are superficially extremely similar. The track structures appear to be identical, consisting of four rails with U-shaped cross-ties (see figure). The trailered trains consist of 5 cars that have footwells extending between the rail tops.
Although the shapes of the cars are nearly identical, the trains can be identified by differences in the running gear. The Miler trains use an arrangement described in the 1954 US patent #2674957 which is still used on the modern Miler coasters. The wheels are completely articulated. Each wheel carrier has two road wheels, and the entire wheel carrier is free to rotate about a tranverse axis so that both road wheels can follow an irregular rail. Each axle assembly can pivot about a vertical axis. Finally, the leading axle assembly on the front car has a longitudinal (roll) axis.
This arrangment can be seen on the coasters at Como Park in Minneapolis
and at Williams Grove
(Ultimate Coaster, many pictures).
In these rides, each wheel carrier has two upstop rollers, one for each road wheel.
For comparison, the more recent (post c1990) Miler coasters use a flat rail and have distinctive boxy fiberglas car bodies. They retain the fully articulated running gear, but have only one upstop per wheel carrier. An example is Taxi Jam at PGA
In contrast, the Schiff trains use single road wheels. The wheel assemblies are fixed to the car bodies, except for the leading axle assembly, which is movable about a roll axis. The Kiddie Coaster at Steel Pier is an example
The ride at Castle Park in California
(2 pictures) is interesting because it does not follow the pattern described above. This is one of the last Carl Miler coasters made, but the running gear is completely different from other Miler coasters. The wheel assemblies resemble (but are not identical to) those found on Schiff and Molina coasters.
The Molina coasters are mechanically identical to the Schiff coasters (of which they are a copy), and were advertised as "Schiff" coasters at least until the mid 1980s. The more recent coasters from Molina use a fiberglas car body with a somewhat different shape from the earlier Schiff coasters. One example is the Lil' Phantom at Kennywood Park
There have been several other makers of small steel coasters, including King, Standard Kiddie Rides, Spillman Engineering, Bradley & Kaye, Pinto Brothers, and Stacy Johnson. Bradley & Kaye produced 26 units of the Little Dipper before selling production rights to Allan Herschell in 1948. The Bradley & Kaye coaster at Knott's Berry Farm and the sole surviving coaster attributed to Spillman appear distinctly different from the others described here. The smaller Bradley & Kaye coasters made in the 1970s are similar to those made by Herschell, but employed two-bench fiberglass cars. An example is found at Six Flags St. Louis (picture link)
(Coastergallery). The Pinto Brothers appear to have gone out of business in the early 1950s. King began advertising coasters between 1950 and 1954. These appear to have been powered rides similar to the more recent Childress Kiddie Coaster. Max Gruberg's Standard Kiddie Rides introduced a kiddie coaster at the end of 1953. Stacy Johnson began making coasters around 1956. The Johnson coasters are reported to be very similar to those made by Schiff and Miler. I know nothing about the mechanical details of the Pinto coasters.
(not to scale)
Rails and other continuous elements are shown in black, while cross-ties are shown in gray. Diagonal bracing is omitted.
1 track used for Miler, Schiff, and Molina coasters
2 Overland track
3 modern Miler track
4 Herschell track; also used for most Bradley & Kaye coasters
Identification of the trains does not necessarily indicate the manufacturer of the track. Some older Schiff coasters appear to have received new Molina trains. I do not know if trains can be interchanged between the Schiff/Molina and the Miler rides.