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The Non-Expert


Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we teach you everything you’ll need to know when you finally build that rollercoaster in your backyard.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Dear Sir or Madam, I would like to make a small roller coaster in my friend’s backyard. I believe it should have brakes. My question is: How do hydraulics work? I find them rather bewildering. Thank you, Mo

Answer: There are many reasons one might want a rollercoaster in the backyard: family fun, the challenge of construction, and cold, hard cash-ola from the neighborhood kids. But learning about hydraulics? Bah. Let’s get serious here.

Now, whether your single rollercoaster project spawns a full-on backyard carnival depends only on your imagination. For everything else, it’s a question of character. So, what kind of carney are you—Clever Carney or Crooked Carney? While that may be a question only you can answer, here are ways you can navigate the many unpleasantries in your path toward rollercoaster stardom.

Straight-Aways vs. Loop-de-Loops

Too many straight zooms in your rollercoaster design and, congratulations, you’ve built a monorail, moron. Heed this: you’ve got to spice it up. Don’t go wild, though. Too many loop-de-loops and you’ll be hosing down the coaster-basin more often than you’d like. How to choose the best design?

Clever Carney: Takes a night-school course on rollercoaster design, purchases textbook, designs coaster himself, always sure to reference all great thinkers on home rollercoaster design. Passes designs by a certified structural engineer, just to be sure they meet code. Tattoos OSHA requirements on forearm.

Crooked Carney: Hires a ‘renowned’ coaster architect who spends 26 weeks developing a ‘rollercoaster proposal document’ and ‘multimedia presentation’—but no actual designs. Sues coaster architect for the designs, which are suspiciously messengered over a mere 12 hours later. Upon opening of theme park, offers ‘architect’ free unlimited rides on rollercoaster to let bygones be bygones. Then doesn’t bat an eye when architect replies, ‘What!??! On the death-mach—Uh…no thank you, I don’t believe so.’ Meets up with ‘architect’ (who is really an out-of-work actor from Duluth, hired by carney to pretend to be an architect) in Puerto Vallarta, where he poisons actor’s margarita before he gets the chance to cash the death-coaster insurance check.

Getting Around Zoning Restrictions

You’re an at-home carnival operator, meaning, in case you’ve forgotten, you’re building an unlicensed rollercoaster in your yard. Back or front shouldn’t matter, though, since the man will be on your case before you’ve ordered your first girder. (After all, he didn’t let you build that shooting gallery over the garage, now did he?)

Clever Carney: Scales down coaster design to meet community restrictions.

Crooked Carney: Using a carefully planned sequence of poison-pen letters, slowly knocks off zoning committee to a few members who agree to ‘play ball’ in order to ‘keep their children’ then orders to have his street rezoned as a ‘supermarket/thrift store parking lot,’ since those seem to allow carnivals. Considers having cul-de-sac demarcated as a lube shop, but hates changing his own oil, so decides against it.

Choosing the Proper Placement

Time for the ground-breaking, and you still don’t know where to start? Too close to the house or, say, right over the bonfire and you risk the health of your patrons. And safety is key, right? Right??!?

Clever Carney: Chooses a level surface upon which to set up the ride, ensuring even stress levels on all support struts. If not enough space, considers removing home from lot entirely, replacing with tent or cabaña, depending on carnival or carnivale theme.

Crooked Carney: Erects the coaster above the popcorn machine, employing the butter bucket as a nifty pocket-change catcher. Co-signs a plan to split the fallen booty fifty-fifty with the crooked Board of Health representative. Also, designed turn-of-bumpin’ curve to meet the Hendersons’ bedroom window at eye level.

Corporate Sponsorship

All the big-name theme parks name their new rollercoasters after movies, comic-book characters, comic-book movies, and the like. What to do for the at-home carnival operator who has no such connections to the glitzy, glamorous world of Hollywood rollercoaster tie-ins?

Clever Carney: Decides his rollercoaster will be free from the corporate hangtag, and strikes out on his own, name-wise. Names coaster ‘Spotted Owl Sputter-Howl’ and promises a portion of all ticket sales to the animal’s protection fund. Changes ride name every three months to spread the wealth to all threatened members of the animal kingdom.

Crooked Carney: Claims to invent new comic-book characters that are really just intentional misspellings of popular character names. ‘Supermand’s Flight!’ ‘The Web of Spidermon!’ After years of ether abuse, eventually becomes delusional in copyright law, tries to sue Stan Lee.

Lost and Found

Whether it’s a misplaced giant teddy bear, or a misplaced sack of Krugerrands, as a carnival operator you have a responsibility to hold the valuables and belongings strewn about by your more absentminded patrons.

Clever Carney: Purchases a used PC for at-home business use, then writes an application to log all items, time they were found, location on premises at the time of finding, and detailed description of the item in question. Application automatically connects to local newspaper lost-and-found classifieds section (at rollercoaster owner’s expense), in hopes of returning the item to its owner.

Crooked Carney: Same thing, only connects to eBay.

Proper Signage

Signs—or ‘signage’ in theme-park parlance—are necessary to keep a safe distance between your hard-scammed sawbucks and a recovering, but emotionally scarred seven-year-old’s very litigious parents.

Clever Carney: Makes a clear, legible sign that informs patrons they must keep their arms and legs inside the cage of the rollercoaster car and ensure the rollbar is properly engaged.

Crooked Carney: Emblazons a sign with a trippy, cartoonish image of Cheech and Chong, mid bong-hit, holding aloft a grossly oversized joint horizontally beneath the words, ‘You must be THIS HIGH to ride the rollercoaster.’

Dealing With the Neighbors

Though the sounds of your carnival may be music to your ears (money plinked into coffers, homemade almost-beer swilled from baboon skulls, your hand-crafted zoom-coaster rushing and swooshing round the backyard at all hours), your neighbors are almost certainly already plotting your eviction and/or burial alive.

Clever Carney: Invites all the neighbors to opening night, plying them with tasty treats, name-brand beers, and a lifetime supply of CoasterBuxx.

Crooked Carney: Hires a midget with a switchblade.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack