By Margie M. Palmer
North Park resident Tim Cole has been making replicas of things since he was 5 years old.
You may have seen Cole at your friendly neighborhood coffee shop; he’s the man who’s reconstructing a model of the Rye Playland Airplane Roller Coaster. Not only does working in public help prevent him from being cooped up at home all day, it also helps him keep the project to a manageable size.
“If I worked on it only at home, I would have pieces all over my apartment,” he said, laughing.
His love affair with roller coasters began in the early 1970s, Cole said, after seeing one featured on “The Partridge Family” TV series, although he admits he didn’t ride his first until his 15th birthday.
“The first coaster I rode was [the Giant Dipper] in Belmont Park. I was nervous, because the cart was one of the old ones and it didn’t have seatbelts. I remember it being a rough-and-tumble kind of ride; it was exhilarating,” he said.
The Airplane Coaster is the fourth coaster model he’s worked on.
His first was a replica of the Belmont Park coaster back in 1981, after he learned it was supposed to be torn down. That project wound up morphing into a full-fledged effort to save it.
The Giant Dipper was erected by John D. Spreckels in 1925 in an effort to bolster local real estate sales. By the late 1960s and 1970s, Belmont Park had lost its appeal. Both the park, and the coaster, closed in 1976. Residents eventually started to complain that the abandoned amusement park was becoming an eyesore; calls for its demolition began to rumble through the city.
“A group of us formed the Save the Coaster Committee. We were a group of citizens who were dedicated to saving the Mission Beach Giant Dipper Coaster from the wrecking ball because we hoped it would one day be restored and reopened,” Cole said.
The efforts of the Save the Coaster Committee proved successful and with the help of a newly formed company called the San Diego Coaster Company, the Dipper was restored and it reopened to the public on Aug. 11, 1990.
Cole hopes his latest project will help generate interest in rebuilding the Airplane.
That coaster first opened at Rye Playland, a beachfront amusement park in Westchester County, New York, in the late 1920s. It was torn apart and taken down in 1975.
Cole notes that while memorializing the Airplane Coaster in model form wasn’t his idea, it has lit an internal fire.
“Building the model was the request of Richard Munch, who was one of the founders and first president of the American Coaster Enthusiasts organization. He’s now on the board of directors for the National Roller Coaster Museum,” Cole said. “The Airplane was special to me because I always remember my first impression of seeing an aerial image of the clover leaf-shaped coaster in a magazine. This model is an attempt to spark an interest of having the ride rebuilt again someday, after all, that happened to me once before.”
Cole’s model is comprised of more than 70,000 inches of styrene plastic strips. It stands 17-inches tall, weighs about 40 pounds and has cost more than $3,000 to build.
In October, the model will be on display at Balboa Park’s “Maker Faire.” In November, it will be shown at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention in Orlando, Florida.
“This is more than just a model,” Cole said. “This is something that tells a story about a community that rallied to preserve a special piece of the past through a model of an abandoned coaster.”
—Margie M. Palmer can be reached at email@example.com.