Friday, April 15, 2022

Retired in 2021, Giant Wheel was once World’s Largest:
Goodbye to the Ferris Wheel: Darien Lake's Ferris wheel being dismantled

One of the early signature rides at Six Flags Darien Lake is being dismantled this week nearly 40 years after its debut.

The Giant Wheel, a fixture at the center of the park since 1983, was retired in 2021. In recent days crews have begun removing the rest of the Ferris wheel in pieces.

The park, in a statement to The Daily News, said the Giant Wheel “has reached the end of its useful life.”

“We greatly appreciate the history and tradition of this classic and thank you for your patience while we evaluate alternatives for a replacement ride in the future.”

The park said that as it makes future plans for the park, it identifies rides “that are no longer a good fit in our attractions lineup. Retiring these rides will make way for future new thrills for our guests.”

The Giant Wheel opened at Darien Lake in 1983, arriving one year after the debut of the park’s first roller coaster, The Viper, in 1982. The attraction was a key piece of the park’s growth from its origins as a campground with rides and water slides into a full-fledge theme park and one of region’s most-visited attractions.

The Giant Wheel, built by Dutch manufacturer Vekoma, was originally built for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. The ride was at the time the largest Ferris wheel in the world with a height of 165 feet and a 78-foot main axle. It’s 40 gondolas could seat up to six people each.

The ride wasn’t originally included in Darien Lake Theme Park’s plans for 1983, but an informal survey of people who visited the park showed a Ferris wheel would be the most popular new attraction, according to a June 1983 story by United Press International.

So Darien Lake joined many potential bidders for the attraction and ultimately won out, the story said.

The 220-ton Giant Wheel was delivered to Darien Lake from Knoxville in 26 tractor-trailer trucks. A mild winter allowed workers to drain about 8 million gallons of water from one of the park’s lakes to complete foundation and support work for the ride. Erection of the wheel itself began in March 1983 and was completed in about three weeks, according to the UPI story.

The final touches included installing 15,000 light bulbs.

At the time, the Ferris wheel was the tallest structure in the theme park. Looking west from the ride, the tops of buildings in Buffalo were visible 30 miles away.

The Giant Wheel was among Darien Lake’s signature rides, appearing on letterhead and as part of the park’s logo for many years.

The ride was last in operation in 2019. The park was closed for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and when guests returned to Six Flags Darien Lake in May 2021 they were greeted by a sign announcing the ride’s retirement.

“After 38 great years, The Giant Wheel has retired and will not re-open for our 2021 season.”

While the ride remained standing through the 2021 operating season, its gondolas and signage had been removed.

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