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Meet two guys who helped build the Thunder Road roller coaster

Carowinds

It was the summer of ’75. “One of These Nights” by the Eagles was the hit song. And Bruce Hensley and Scott Stone were looking for a summer job in Charlotte.

Hensley and Stone went to Myers Park High together. Hensley went off to Appalachian State while Stone attended N.C. State.

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Hensley, who held onto his tool belt, nails and hammer.

During that summer home from college, they helped build the Thunder Road roller coaster at Carowinds.

Earlier this summer, the park announced that it would be closing the roller coaster on July 26 — Sunday— to make room for future growth. So, in the weeks before it closed, I sat down with two of the guys who were there during its creation.

Here’s what I learned:

(1) Job requirements were … minimal.

Hensley went to the park hoping to get a photography job, but it had already been filled.

“And the woman said if you’re not afraid of heights and you know how to swing a hammer, they’re looking for construction workers on this new roller coaster we’re building,” Hensley said. “So I sprinted.”

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He got the job right away, went and told Stone and they started almost immediately.

“I don’t think I’d ever weilded a hammer before that,” Stone said.

(2) The pay was good.

They made $3.10 an hour while working five days a week. That translates to $13.75 an hour today, not bad for a summer job.

“We were the only, really, college guys there,” Hensley said. “Everybody else was blue collar workers that did this full-time. To say we didn’t fit in was a little bit of an understatement.”

(3) The work was hard.

They showed up at 7 a.m. five days a week. Stone’s and Hensley’s main job was laying the track, which consisted of nailing huge corrugated nails into 2×8 and 2×10 pieces of wood that the track would follow.

“I just remember knowing that you had to figure out how to hammer that nail pretty darn well pretty darn quick,” Stone said. “I’d hate to have to take that thing apart.”

(4) “The safety measures were nonexistent,” Hensley said.

There were no harnesses or hardhats, Hensley and Stone said. They wore sneakers, socks, jean shorts and a tool belt — no shirts.

In the morning the dew made the wood slippery. Hensley slipped three times, one time spraining his ankle.

But they remember the construction being sound. No crazy stories or cut corners.

“It was built well,” Stone said. “I don’t remember anything except you had to do it a certain way. … It stood the test of time, and that’s the amazing thing to me, that that thing is still cranking.”

(5) They’ll hate to see it go.

“It’s an iconic landmark for Charlotte,” Bruce said. He rode it for the first time about a year after it opened in 1976.

Stone never rode the coaster. He’s not much of a roller coaster guy. But he did enjoy seeing it from the road.

“I just remember driving down 77 and it was just nice to look over (and see it),” he said. “And every now and then when you’re flying you can look down and see it.”

Hensley carved his name into one of the footers of the coaster. He took his daughter to the coaster when she was 6 — she’s 30 now — and showed her, then they rode the coaster.

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He asked if she wanted to do anything else and she said no, she just wanted to ride Thunder Road again. Why? he asked.

“Because it feels like you’re going to die,” she said.

Photos: Charlotte Observer file; Corey Inscoe; Bruce Hensley.


Corey
Corey Inscoe @CoreyInscoe
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