Tidal Wave

The Tidal Wave was the first new roller coaster added to the Marriott’s GREAT AMERICA parks. To lure opening-season guests back for 1977, the Tidal Wave rolled out across Yankee Harbor in Santa Clara. The thrilling new roller coaster made its debut there in July of 1977. Thrillseekers in Gurnee would have to wait until 1978 to get launched through the Tidal Wave’s loop.

A creation of Anton Schwarzkopf and Werner Stengel of Germany, the Tidal Wave represented the latest in steel roller coaster technology: the shuttle loop roller coaster. The coaster’s launch was powered by a unique weight-drop system. A multi-ton weight was hoisted up inside a cylindrical tower located beneath the highest spike of the coaster’s track. When the weight was dropped inside that tower, a system of cables and pulleys propelled a pusher, or “bob”, forward. This launched the train out of the station with great force and acceleration. The train sped down a straightaway, headed directly for the vertical loop. After traversing the loop, the train rushed skyward until it ran out of momentum. Then the train fell backwards, returning through the loop and back towards the station. During earlier operations, the train was immediately brought to a stop upon returning to the station. Later, the more familiar operational sequence was to slow the train somewhat as it passed backwards through the station. Then it would partially climb the rear spike of track and drop forwards into the station for a final stop.

For pure roller coaster fun, the Tidal Wave was hard to beat. Eventually the Gurnee Tidal Wave was removed after the 1991 season. After operating for a while in Atlanta, Georgia, the Gurnee Tidal Wave ran in Louisville, Kentucky through 2009. Eventually, parts from the Santa Clara Tidal Wave were used on the Gurnee Tidal Wave in Kentucky, which was later scrapped.

The Santa Clara Tidal Wave remained in continuous service from 1977 through 2002 in its original location. After 1998, however, the coaster was renamed as Greased Lightnin’. The ride was removed after the 2002 season. It soon afterwards reappeared — in pieces — in Vallejo, California. Eventually, the parts were removed from Vallejo. The train reportedly went to Six Flags Over Georgia. Other parts went to what was then Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom.

Yankee Harbor
Santa Clara: 1977; Gurnee: 1978
Final operating season:
Gurnee: 1991; Santa Clara: 2002

Go to the Tidal Wave photo album.