While I was at Silver Dollar City, I had the chance to interview Brad Thomas. He’s the General Manager of the Branson, Missouri park. I wanted to learn more about Silver Dollar City and also gain insight into how Outlaw Run came to be. It was great to get the chance to sit down with him.
Part 1 focused on some great details about what makes Silver Dollar City special as well as the research process leading up to Outlaw Run. Part 2 of the interview focuses specifically on bringing Outlaw Run to life including the ride’s theme as well as the construction process and early feedback.
Creating Outlaw Run’s Story Line & Theme
Joel – How did you develop the theme for Outlaw Run?
Brad – As we were building the product, we were developing the story line. And the story line fits sweetly into Silver Dollar City. Out on the outskirts of town there is a stage coach depot. And the stage coaches depart every day. Outlaws got wind of that and they outlaws start to make plans to rob stage coaches. But the good citizens decided to do two things. First they decided they would find good law men and women from all over these parts to come help capture the outlaws and keep the stage coaches safe. And second, they decided if they hired good, fast stage coach drivers that the stage coaches could outrun the outlaws. Thus, the full name of the story is Outlaw Run.
We also had fun looking at who we are as a company. Who we are at Silver Dollar City and the approach we would take when building this ride. We did not want the villain to be the hero. We wanted the good guy to be the hero and we had a real passion about that. And we constantly desire that at Silver Dollar City that families are drawn closer together.
And we also want kids to aspire to be the good guys. So we built a monument and we dedicated it to law enforcement. We did a contest with the Springfield newspaper and sought stories of kids that are doing amazing things within their communities. There was a judging panel and we got the quantity of kids down to 10 winners. Each of those 10 winners won a trip to Silver Dollar City with their family. And we teamed them up with FBI agents and secret service agents and police officers and county deputies. And they were able to ride Outlaw Run. So imagine riding Outlaw Run sitting next to a secret service agent. They had their picture taken underneath the monument and gave each of the agencies a special plaque to commemorate the day and did some special things for our law enforcement. Because I think in this World, especially today, it is so important that we show appreciation to those who are literally keeping law and order throughout our country.
Challenges of Building a Roller Coaster in the Ozark Mountains
Joel – Can you tell us about some of the difficulties that you might have run into while building Outlaw Run considering the terrain of the park?
Brad – Silver Dollar City’s based in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, which presents lots of benefits because we have the beauty of the Ozark Mountains around us. If we were building rides and attractions in the middle of an asphalt parking lot that becomes much more of a challenge than when you’re building it in the beauty of wooded hills that overlook more wooded hills. So, we’re blessed with great natural beauty, but the Ozark Mountains have pretty difficult terrain. So, coasters and different rides have to be designed to fit into the terrain of these hills.
And in addition to that, there isn’t soil here. So, as we build rides, as we build buildings, and certainly as we pour hundreds of footers for Outlaw Run there is difficulty. Folks need to understand what they’re doing and they need to understand the challenge of building a project in this type of terrain. But, the folks that did it from Rocky Mountain to the Silver Dollar City construction folks, they did an amazing job of creating a ride that I think will be a shining star of Silver Dollar City for decades to come.
Were There Concerns During the Development Process?
Joel – This is such a big project with first-of-its-kind elements. What kinds of things were keeping you awake at night? What concerns did you have?
Brad – As part of our process, we go to a lot of park, we ride a lot of rides. So, we have those past experiences that we can apply to the plans for a particular ride. So we were doing that with Outlaw Run. With what Rocky Mountain had done with the Texas Giant at Six Flags and looking at the smoothness and how that track ended up working and all of those things. There are a lot of worries that one can have over a new ride, that we were resolved and were okay, because we knew we had done some homework.
But in all honesty, if anyone’s building a roller coaster and doesn’t have concerns that the trains going to go all the way around, then they’ve got more guts than I have. Because it doesn’t matter how wonderful the engineers, how great the computer animation, and all of the computer technology. The fact that that track is off just a little bit. If the wheels don’t align just exactly right, something could cause that train not to go all the way around. So, I think any park person, any coaster builder, when they finally get the train to go from the station, back into the station, they have to have a sigh of relief.
As they were building and I would go out and see the 153 point. And see how quickly you come out of that drop right into the 153. And even though we knew what the track was like, you wonder how is that going to feel when I’m doing that? And I think the biggest relief I had was when I rode the ride and I felt how smooth it was. We expected it to be smooth. Fred (from Rocky Mountain) certainly built a ride to be smooth and not jerk folks around. But when you read all of the features of that ride and you feel that the ride is as smooth as it is. It takes the 153, and you bank on one side and then you bank on another side. And then you go through that double barrel roll and you do it without being tossed and turned, you actually can enjoy the experience, that gave us all great relief.
But here’s the piece that I appreciate most. Every time the trains come in, there’s usually 1, 2, 3, sometimes a full train of people that are just applauding. That just makes me smile because we have a lot of rides and I’ve been to a lot of parks and I’ve ridden a lot of rides, but rarely do I watch a train come in and someone or someones break out in applause. That makes me think that the process worked. We built a good ride.
Measuring the Success of Outlaw Run
Joel – Obviously Outlaw Run was a big investment, when will you know that it was a success?
Brad – We already know that Outlaw Run is a huge success. Typically when we open a new ride or a new festival or new show we always want to wait a little further into to the story just to see. But we can clearly see that Outlaw Run is a home run. Our guests getting off of the ride love the experience. Word of mouth is hugely positive, Silver Dollar City and Outlaw Run have made the NBC Nightly news. We’ve made Fox and Friends. We’ve been in print in USA Today as well as USA Today’s website. And when you look at a park in Branson, Missouri to get that kind of national exposure for the past four to five weeks. It’s helped to put us on a stronger footing and it’s helped us tell the story of this place that millions of people have been able to experience. And it helps tell folks throughout the country why we have such raving fans at Silver Dollar City. So we’re very excited about what the year and the years to come have in store for Silver Dollar City because of Outlaw Run.
Take-Aways from Part 2 of the Interview
It’s probably not something some of you really think about much, but Outlaw Run’s positive theme that holds up law enforcement as heroes (rather than focusing on villains) was an interesting choice that I really liked. As a parent, you start to notice that often the bad guys are glorified and chosen as the focus of theme park attractions. I liked this idea so much that I bought a couple t-shirts when I was at the park. They have the ride’s slogan on the back written in Old West font: “The Good Guys Always Win”.
I was interested to get his thoughts on concerns he had about the ride as it was a first-of-its-kind and brought some really unique elements to the table. I liked his answer that he was reinforced and felt confident by the research process, but even still had some questions when he looked at the ride as it was coming together. I can appreciate the honesty because I had similar thoughts looking at the ride’s wild banking and turns from early pictures and video of the ride.
I want to again thank Brad Thomas for sitting down and talking with me about Outlaw Run. I’d have to agree that Outlaw Run is a success (from a fan perspective at least). This month it won the Golden Ticket Award for Best New Ride of 2013. And, it was good enough to make into my Top 10 roller coasters list.
What did you think of the interview? What’s your take on Outlaw Run? Leave a comment below. Images 2 and 4 courtesy of Silver Dollar City.