Into the woods with Thunderbird

So how is Thunderbird construction coming along?

We’re ready to go vertical!

Coasters of the Corn

Let’s take a closer look.

In this episode of the Hard Hat Chronicles, James takes us into the woods and explains one big commonality Thunderbird will have with its Holiday World siblings.

Do you have any questions for James to consider answering in an upcoming episodes? Please post them here and maybe he’ll give you a shout-out in the coming weeks and months.

The Secret: How we kept it

It’s been a little more than a month since our announcement for 2015, and I’m still in shock that we managed to keep this massive project under wraps. And I’m even more in shock that our fans just loved that we kept the secret.

Frankly, we were all braced for people to discover it two days out.

We decided if that happened, it would be okay. After all, we still had an awesome teaser video to reveal.

Two days out, though, a message popped up in Paula’s Facebook inbox: Someone had found our trademark application. He admitted it took him a long time to find. But he found it.

The jig was up.

Then he added something we didn’t expect: He didn’t want to spoil the secret. He just wanted to let us know he had uncovered it.

So when Announcement Day came, and almost everybody was still in the dark, we were bewildered, but proud. It was wonderful to see the fruits of our undercover labor pay off so well.

Now that everyone knows, they still can’t believe how we kept this secret.

So I thought I’d explain the many steps we took to keep the Thunderbird under the cover of night:

The Cone of Silence

We kept the secret on a need-to-know basis. And when the need to know came, we literally told each individual they were being brought “into the cone.”

I kind of wish I was kidding.

As a group, our full-time staff didn’t know until the morning of the announcement. Our seasonal employees found out along with the general public (with the exception of a select few in Warehouse who innocently opened a box of Thunderbird key chains, and then got a free lecture about keeping quiet).

We took no chances.

The workers on the construction site only knew their individual piece of the puzzle (meaning the folks pouring concrete knew where to pour concrete and how much, but did not know what was happening above those footers).

Leah's Inbox

This is what my inbox looked like for several months.

Code Name: BT

Nobody spoke the word Thunderbird out loud, except in hushed tones – and rarely – behind closed doors.

We also never uttered these words: steel, wing, launch, or coaster.

We did discuss in slightly less-hushed tones “Big Turkey” or “BT” or “BT-15” (Big Turkey was our placeholder name before we landed on Thunderbird).

This included contractors. VP James made it very clear that they were never to use the real name or ride type, only BT or BT-15.

Even the launch room became the lunch room (which became the jerky room – if you want to understand that jump, ask James).

Hiding in Plain Sight

We knew from experience (and watching other parks) that roller coaster enthusiasts would search for our trademark application. We considered applying for three or four different names, so no one would be quite sure which name would prevail. Ultimately, we decided that we needed to apply for the trademark under another company. Thus Croatan LLC was born in my name, with the address of our trademark lawyer’s office in Evansville (if you want to understand why I chose Croatan, look up the story of the lost colony of Roanoke—it’s fascinating). Croatan LLC almost flew under the radar (get it?).

Of course, now that I’ve shared this, we’ll have to be even sneakier next time.

B&M? What’s that?

Every box, every document, every label, every scrap of paper with those letters was shredded, hidden, and burned (not really) by VP James. He actually filled his car’s trunk with labels from the boxes when our anchor bolts arrived. He also stripped our documents of any trace of those two letters before submitting anything for permits.

I’m pretty sure his job became a lot easier on July 25.

From left: Tony, Eric, Alison, James, Steve, Leah, Lauren, Lori, Matt

Clermont’s Clever Codes

We got to visit Clermont Steel in Cincinnati to see our coaster being manufactured. They have their own system of coding, just in case some coaster enthusiasts wanted to go sneaking around after hours.

I wouldn’t dare share what our code was.

Clermont and B&M were great about keeping the secret.

VP Eric's selfie at Clermont Steel

Since we had pushed manufacturing up ahead of schedule, they ran out of room to store our steel, but they were very respectful of our secret and made do until we made our announcement.

On our visit back in May, VP Eric took tons of pictures, which he promptly put in a Dropbox folder which he shared with us, and immediately deleted from his phone.

I, on the other hand, took a few photos and set a code on my phone (which I never do) just in case it fell into the wrong hands.

VP James even took a selfie with another park’s coaster—next to the lift hill piece of course—just to cover his tracks (ha—get it?).

Immediately following the announcement (well, after the congratulations and interviews were over), I posted my coaster selfie and another track photo on my Facebook page. I was so excited to post at last!

Now that all is said and done, I hope I can soon start saying “Thunderbird” out loud without experiencing a small anxiety attack.

A bird’s eye view

The downside of visiting the Thunderbird construction site on a Sunday, there’s just isn’t much going on …

The upside, of course, is you can take a photo like this:

Thunderbird's brake run

Above? Well that’s Thunderbird’s brake run.

Thunderbird's brake run

Here’s another view:

It’s amazing to see so many pieces of bright orange track scattered around the staging area, knowing that in just a few months there will be loops and dives and crossovers galore.

For now, though, we have a field of corn separating much of the steel track and supports from the construction site.

The track that’s being put in place right now is in the area where Thunderbird’s station will go – that’s the building you’ll go in right before you ride.

You are planning to ride this beauty, right?

The horizon will soon take on such a different look and a different color.

Steel field, corn field, construtcion

The brake run is ready to be hoisted in place very soon. You might even catch the action live on our Thunderbird ConstructionCam this week.

Here’s VP James with an update in our latest edition of the Hard Hat Chronicles:

Orange is the New Track

On July 24, while our Thunderbird announcement was still underway, there it was on Twitter: Orange is the New Track.

I’d gladly give credit to the clever person who tweeted that witty phrase within seconds of seeing our Thunderbird animation, but alas, Twitter won’t give me access that far back in our “notification” history. (We have been tweeted-at a lot lately!)

Whoever you are – bravo!

Because suddenly, we all love orange.

Matt, of course, he’s always been an orange fan.

In fact, he insists it’s his favorite color.

Orange is the new Matt

Orange is the new Matt?

No, no, no … sorry.

If you look just behind Matt, you’ll notice more even orange.

Ah, the first piece of track.

Today’s the day.

VP James paced like an expectant father.

In his orange hard hat, of course.

James watches the first piece of track take off

But then it was time for everyone to step back.

It was time for that first piece of Thunderbird track …

… to fly!

Thunderbird track

The first piece of track goes inside the coaster station … which doesn’t exist yet, because the track needs to be in place first. And then Thunderbird’s station will be built.

Got it?

First piece of Thunderbird track

Ah, there we go! That first beautiful piece of orange track is now in place.

… watched over carefully by all the other parental units who have been waiting years for this proud day.

Let’s see, here are the backs of our newlyweds, Lauren and Michael … and you already know Matt and James.

First piece of track

And there you have it. One piece of track in place …

… just 76 more to go.

First piece of Thunderbird track

Thunderbird will take flight on April 25. And if you join us on opening day, brace yourself: more than a few of us will probably ask, “Orange you glad we built this?”




The Legend of the Thunderbird

After the most amazing new-ride announcement we could have asked for, some people are a bit confused. They like the fact that we’re getting a steel coaster, but they don’t get how Thunderbird belongs in Holiday World. Especially in our Thanksgiving section.

The Voyage is easily the best name. It’s simple. It tells a story in a word.

But that name was already taken.

So we had to start getting creative. Really creative.

When I first heard the name Thunderbird, like some others, I cringed a bit. I didn’t see the fit.

But I started researching. And researching. And it began to make perfect sense.

Did you know that Thunderbird is a part of Native American lore? I find it fascinating that across North America, many Native American tribes believed in the Thunderbird, but had different names for it.

Did you know that there have been sightings of the mysterious bird as recently as last October in Iowa? There apparently was a picture of one, stretched on a barn door in the 1960s, but no one can locate it.

We now embrace the name. We call Thunderbird the “Sasquatch of the Sky.” (Another fun fact: my dad loved my mom’s Toyota Sequoia because he thought it was such a powerful name. “Kinda like Sasquatch,” he used to say. He always wanted an SUV named Sasquatch, but I think he’d like this secretive little tribute as well.)

According to legend, Thunderbird has a wingspan of approximately 20 feet. The bird flaps its wings to create thunder and shoots lightning out of its eyes.

Paula already knew that the Pilgrims had endured terrible storms at the end of their journey, and we began to wonder.

What if the storms would have knocked the Pilgrims off course? What if they never made it? What if they were never intended to land where they planned? What if those storms were actually somehow what ensured the Pilgrims arrived at the New World? What if the Thunderbird saved them?

What if the Thunderbird, after hundreds of years in hiding, came to Holiday World?

We began to develop the story. If our coaster is the Thunderbird, and the Thunderbird helped the Pilgrims, then couldn’t humans and Thunderbird coexist at some point?

Thunderbird stationWhy will you be in a barn that looks nothing like what the Pilgrims would have built? (Other than the fact that we wanted a beautiful station building and that architecture at the time was simple—even at its fanciest?)

The Thunderbird eventually found his way to southern Indiana, mystically connected with the 66 Days At Sea journal that had been lovingly preserved for centuries by the descendents of the Pilgrim mother who had kept daily account of her experience on board the Mayflower. One descendent, a farmer, was fascinated by Thunderbird’s power and grace and tried to harness him. But as you can see by the scorch marks and the holes in the barn, this majestic creature cannot be tamed.

We inherited the farmer’s barn and property, and only recently discovered a wooden box buried near The Voyage. It seems our farmer chose not to pass along the journal to the next generation in the hope of sparing his descendents the challenge of sharing the land with the unbridled energy of the Thunderbird. When we opened the wooden box and found the journal, we now realize we unleashed the powerful creature to rule the skies once again. Thunderbird nests in the barn and in our woods.

He is home here.

We’ll ride our new coaster on the wings of the Thunderbird, because he is now more familiar with humans and is willing to show us a glimpse into its world.

He will take you on an amazing journey. (Fascinating fact: According to legend, the Thunderbird was warned not to fly too close to the trees, as he would fly so fast, he wouldn’t be able to stop in time to avoid them. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen!)

We hope you’ll come to love Thunderbird as much as we do.


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