The Comet roller coaster at Six Flags Great EscapeThe Comet roller coaster at Six Flags Great EscapeFor most people, a roller coaster is a roller coaster is a roller coaster. Fast, fun, terrifying, exhilarating!

But for author and lifelong coaster enthusiast Richard Matturro of Stephentown, in Rensselaer County, NY, one specific type rules supreme: wooden roller coasters, or “woodies.”

One of these impeccably-maintained, venerable old “classics” (as coasters of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s are dubbed) is located at Six Flags Great Escape in Queensbury, in Warren County.

The Comet’s towering, majestic presence will be the first thing to catch your eye — and make your heart pound!

To date, Richard Matturro has ridden 67 woodies and 59 steel coasters. “On traditional wooden coasters, the metal wheels roll along noisily on a flat metal strip nailed to the wood track,” he wrote in a 1994 newspaper story about The Comet.

“On a steel coaster, high-impact plastic wheels glide smoothly and silently on a track of tubular steel. To an aficionado, that makes all the difference. A woodie has, for lack of a better term, more romance. By their very nature, wooden roller coasters cannot perform the looping, upside-down acrobatics of their steel cousins, but they provide riders with the thrill of a living ride. No two seats are the same on a woodie.

“The back car experiences more whiplash,” he explains, “the front more a sensation of floating. No two days are the same, either. Wood is affected by heat, humidity, weight distribution, and even air pressure. Then there’s the noise. What can compare to the rush — and the terror — you get from hearing the rat-a-tat clatter of the lift hill as the chain raises your car up the shifting, swaying, organic structure beneath you?”

Part of the Comet — which today travels at a top speed of 55 mph for two minutes and 15 seconds along a 4,197-foot track — was built in 1927 and named Cyclone.

In 1947, this thrilling ride was redesigned and given a new, space-age moniker: The Comet. For more than 40 years, The Comet was a landmark at Crystal Beach, Ontario, Canada, its superstructure rising 95 feet over the water. But with the closing of Crystal Beach in 1989, this longstanding woodie was dismantled and put on the auction block.

Fortunately, The Comet’s retirement was short-lived. In October of 1989, Canada’s loss became New York State’s gain when art collector, amusement park developer, and philanthropist Charles R. Wood purchased the iconic ride for $210,000.

Wood had been searching for a classic coaster in good condition to add to his equally iconic play land (then called Storytown) near Lake George, and The Comet fit the bill. Wood stored the sizeable structure at his Grand Island amusement park in Erie County while awaiting the results of an environmental impact study conducted by the Town of Queensbury.

Four years later, approval finally granted, the arduous task of transporting The Comet across New York State began in earnest, followed by the even more monumental task of reconstructing The Comet in its new location.

As Matturro wrote in 1994, “It took 49 tractor-trailers to haul the sections of the coaster across the State from Buffalo to Lake George, at a cost of $240,000, some $30,000 more than the price of the coaster itself.”

Equally amazing was Wood’s total commitment to retaining the integrity of the original roller coaster, no matter the cost. Wood soon discovered that the original cars, manufactured by Philadelphia Toboggan Company, or PTC, no longer met modern-day safety standards.

But, rather than replace them with the modern-looking Morgan train-type of cars commonly available in the 1990s, Wood commissioned the original company, PTC, to recreate new cars that captured the glorious age and characteristics of the original coaster.

Charles Wood passed away in 2004, but his adherence to historic accuracy in the world of wooden roller coasters remains an inspiring testament to his unfailing vision and commitment.

On September 13, 2009, the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) designated The Comet a Roller Coaster Landmark, an honor reserved for rides of historical significance.  To date, only 46 coasters have earned this distinction.

What was considered in 1927 to be one of the world’s most thrilling rides is, today — some 100 years later — still holding its own as one of the finest wooden roller coasters in existence. Richard Matturro rode The Comet as soon as the ride opened in 1994. The experience left such a lasting impression that he even wrote about it in a detailed scene from his 2007 novel, Luna.

“It is the sensation of imminent death that provides the thrill of a roller coaster. Zach saw the tracks drop away at an appalling forty-nine degrees off the horizontal. Every nerve of his body screamed panic. It was not that Zach feared he would die in the plunge; it was that he knew he would die. Ten-thousand years’ accumulated experience of his species told him that. Zach clung to the bar, and as the train plummeted, an incomprehensible, guttural sound escaped his lips.

“And he did not die.”

A retired Times Union librarian and University at Albany English professor, Matturro regularly teaches classes at OLLI, the Berkshire area’s chapter of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Summers, he also volunteers as a docent at Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s historic homestead in Pittsfield, MA.

Richard Matturro reads a short story from his 6-CD set, Porch of the MaidensRichard Matturro reads a short story from his 6-CD set, Porch of the MaidensTo date, Matturro has six published books to his credit, as well as a multi-CD set, Porch of the Maidens, featuring six of his short stories and a novella.  His two latest novels will be published by Livingston Press later this year.

Matturro, who holds a doctorate in English, specializing in Shakespeare and Greek Mythology, has written three novels about the ancient world: a comedy, Perseus; a tragedy, Medea; and a history, Troy. Both Perseus and Medea feature illustrations by artist Mary Trevor Thomas.

Matturro has written three contemporary novels about women on personal missions. Luna, Janey, and Leslie, collectively known as his Tri-Cities Trilogy, take place in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, respectively. The author sprinkles mythological references throughout all three stories, and his lifelong fascination with amusement parks shines through in Luna and Leslie.

This summer as you head to Six Flags Great Escape for an exciting mix of relaxation and thrills, be sure to check out The Comet! Whether you choose to brave its wild ride or simply appreciate its magnificent architecture, you’ll be awed by this time-honored woodie’s unique clattering soundtrack, stunning dips ‘n dives, and unparalleled place in roller coaster history.

To learn more about Richard Matturro, visit

Illustrations, from above: The Comet roller coaster at Six Flags Great Escape; and Richard Matturro reads a short story from his 6-CD set, Porch of the Maidens.

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