Imagine a tightrope walker afraid of heights or a baker allergic to flour, and then ask Ron Toomer to take a ride on one of the 81 roller coasters he has designed worldwide in the past 24 years. A lifelong sufferer from motion sickness, Toomer turns slightly green around the gills at the invitation and firmly declines. “No way,” says the mechanical engineer. “They’ve gotten too big. And the bigger they are, the sicker I get. Just the thought of riding on one makes me queasy. I’d much rather sit at my drafting table and draw them.” And so he does, as president of Arrow Dynamics, Inc., the largest custom roller coaster producer in the world.
It was in the serene safety of his Clearfield, Utah, office that Toomer designed the current holder of the World’s Largest Roller Coaster title: the $8 million Magnum XL-200 at the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. Toomer’s Magnum opus boasts a gut-wrenching 201-foot, 60-degree drop, palm-moistening speeds of up to 75 mph and a foot-numbing four-hour wait on weekends for a ride that lasts less than three minutes.
Toomer, 59, grew up in Pasadena, Calif., during the Depression. Although his family had little money (his father worked odd jobs), they went to the amusement park several times a year. “There was a big old coaster called the Cyclone Racer on Long Beach that was the most frightening thing I’d ever seen,” he recalls. “I never wanted to go on it.”
These days, with more than 100 million people already riding his coasters, Toomer, married with four grown children, spends his time devising ways to give even bigger goosebumps to other people. “As soon as I’ve designed the biggest coaster in the world,” he says, “there’s only one thing I can do: design the biggest coaster in the world, again.” As for the unending queries about why he is so intimidated by the fruits of his labor, Toomer has the perfect retort: “Hey, the inventor of the electric chair didn’t try out his creation either.”