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The Prior & Church designed 1925 Giant Dipper at Belmont Park, Mission Beach, California.

 

This is a beautiful coaster - one of only three Prior & Church designed coasters left in the world. The other two are the Dragon Coaster, at Playland Park, in Westchester County, New York, and the Giant Dipper of Santa Cruz, California. The latter was built by Arthur Loof, the designed copied from a Prior & Church blueprint.

 

Prior and Church was a design duo that formed in 1911, after a business partnership formed between Tom Prior and Frederic Church after they met each other in Chicago opened their racing side friction coaster, the Race-Thru-the-Clouds (designed by John Miller) at Venice Beach, California. They went on to form the Venice Amusement Company, opening new attractions along the Venice waterfront. After Tom Prior died in 1918, his son Frank, came into the partnership, and the duo opened other attractions and coasters, mostly designed by others.

 

It wasn't until 1921 that Fred Church would patent his new articulated coaster trains and the experiments started beginning, with the opening of the very first "Bobs" coaster on the Venice pier. The coaster design was extremely successful - and nearly every Amusement center on the California coast was constructing a Prior and Church designed coaster.

 

Almost every one of these coasters followed a certain formula. The Belmont Park Giant Dipper, however, is the only Prior & Church Coaster standing that represents the majority of the firm's designs, which were called "Bobs". Why they were called that, I have no idea, but almost every P&C design was given the name "Bobs" during its design process.

 

The "Bobs" coasters were known throughout the country for their twisting drops, sudden changes in direction, and tall, arching fan curves. Even though Frank Prior and Frederick Church's partnership ended in 1928, Church continued to design "Bobs" coasters. Up until the 1970s, it was a Fred Church "Bobs" that held the world speed record for the fastest roller coaster on earth, that being the 1928 Bobs of Bellevue Park, Manchester England. And it was the Playland Park Aeroplane-Coaster of 1929 that was the tallest coaster for decades - standing at one-hundred and three feet.

 

For many coaster enthusiasts (Keep in mind, I do not consider myself one) the number one coaster of all time was the 1924 Bobs of Riverview Park, Chicago, Illinois. This beautiful coaster operated for over forty years in Riverview, and since the day it opened in 1924, up until the park's closing in 1967, the Bobs was the most popular ride in the whole park. The two sweeping back turnarounds framed the station, surrounded by a winding tunnel to the chainlift. The first drop sent you into a tall fan curve that sent you out to the first back turnaround. Visually, it was a sight to behold.

 

The coaster was knocked down by the wrecking ball in 1967.

 

The Belmont Park Giant Dipper, however, is the survivor.

 

It was opened on Independence Day, 1925, meeting with an enormous crowd. It was a P&C operated concession, and drew in a lot of money for them - as almost all their coasters did. The coaster survived the Great Depression, three fires and a period of neglect, abandonment and threats of being demolished due to being an eyesore. Thankfully, rather than going to the wrecking ball in the 1980s, it underwent a thorough restoration and reconstruction as the park's site was redeveloped. It was reopened in 1991 with newly restored trackage, station and new (very ugly) rolling stock.

 

The Giant Dipper breaks the mold of most P&C coasters.

 

Rather than dropping into a first-turnaround fan curve, the coaster twists 'round (Coaster innovator John Miller called an 'aeroplane dip') this and heads into a double dip - and then into a the fan curve, which is anathema to most P&C coasters - it's actually the reverse of the typical order: First drop, fan curve, (hill, trim brakes,) aeroplane dip, double dip, waterwing (hill, trim breaks) aeroplane dip, etcetera.

 

Of course, the best way to experience a coaster is to ride it. Which I did. And let me tell you - it's no wonder P&C built so many coasters across the US during the 1920s. It's a quick, fast ride that looks tame from the ground. The tunnel leading to the chainlift is fun, and disorienting, and the double dip pulls you out of your seat. It's a fun ride - and I want to ride it again next time I'm in San Diego.

 

So - before I sound more and more like a dork, I'll say go and ride the thing. You'll be glad you did.

 

(some information for my description was taken from Jeffrey Stanton's great article on P&C. Seen here: www.westland.net/venicehistory/articles/church.htm )

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Taken on October 3, 2007