Backyard Roller Coasters of John Ivers
John Ivers looks mild-mannered -- but he's an adrenalin junkie. Sharon, his wife, said he used to amuse himself by getting banged around in demolition derbies, drag racing, and driving so fast over hilltops that his car would go airborne. "I'd be planted to the ceiling of the car, hoping that I wouldn't throw up."
By 2001, however, John was a grandfather. His wild driving days were in his rear view mirror. But he still loved the shock of G-forces and the thrill of impending, weightless doom, so John built something to give him those feelings all the time. He built a roller coaster in his backyard, and named it The Blue Flash.
"I'm not engineer educated," John said. "A lot of it was trial and error. I just thought one day, 'Man, a roller coaster coming down the side of that shed would be pretty neat." John said that the project was simply, "something fun in the backyard for the kids," but it's pretty clear that the person who enjoys it most is John Ivers.
John fired up the machinery and strapped one of us into the seat (The Blue Flash, like a rocket sled, holds only one at a time). The ride begins with a chain lift pulling you slowly up the steep side of John's shed. This gives you time for reflection. You're about to ride a roller coaster built by someone who never built a roller coaster before and who built this one from car parts and farm equipment (John works for a company that makes screw conveyors and bucket hoists for grain storage). You reach the top of the shed and look down. The track drops beneath your feet like a railway to hell, then veers sharply, painfully, out of view. Is that twist-turn compatible with the human spine? What are you doing here?
John stands on the lawn below and smiles. He's seen your look of terror on countless faces. He enjoys it.
The Blue Flash ride lasts only ten seconds. It's enough. You're immediately wrenched sideways -- like getting slammed in one of John's demolition derby cars -- then thrown into a 360 degree corkscrew loop, then wrenched in the opposite direction through a helix before rolling back to the chain lift to start all over again. Video POV? "One guy tried it," John said. He used metal tape to secure his camera; the loop ripped it off. "Took the paint right off the frame," said John, with pride. "That camera was in pieces. The loop just shredded it."
Mindful of the monster he'd created, John built Blue Too in 2006. It's a less stressful roller coaster for those whose sense of fun doesn't include aching muscles and extremities. "Mostly for the grandkids," said John, although he added that his youngest granddaughter, age six, had already ridden The Blue Flash.
John has lost count of how many people have come to ride his roller coasters. He and Sharon are gracious hosts, but they also have ground rules: weekends only, call ahead to make an appointment, and be polite. Don't just show up. Maximum weight for a rider is 200 pounds and there are no rides in cold weather. "Even big, fancy coasters don't operate in the cold," said John. "They'd just snap like pretzels."
The personal roller coaster timeline remains obscure, but John's creation seems to have inspired a handful of others to build similar rides in their own back yards. Why so few? The circumstances have to be just right, as they were with John: his ability, his daredevil's disposition, his big yard, and the well-placed shed that triggered the idea. John told us that when he first built The Blue Flash he thought it might lead to work building personal roller coasters for other people, but thus far no one has asked him to.