After more than 30 years in the industry, Larry Bill has taken a lot of roller coaster rides. Unlike enthusiasts, he can say he was involved in building those rides.
Larry Bill has been involved in an estimated 75 wooden roller coaster designs in
nine countries since his start in the amusement industry in the late 1980s. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. For many years, his work was done for Custom Coasters International (CCI). He joined the company in 1992 following a few years of work with Curtis D. Summers, Inc. When CCI closed its doors in 2002, four of the engineers from CCI decided to form a new company. Bill is one of the founding members of the The Gravity Group, LLC.
“In many ways, Larry took us under his wing and helped us grow into the engineers that we are today,” said Korey Kiepert, engineer and principal. “Early on in The Gravity Group, park owners mainly wanted to talk to Larry, but he was always first to include us in conversations and bring us into the fray. To him, The Gravity Group wasn’t just about one person but about the entire team. We all worked together and shared equally in any accolades for a ride.”
“As we have worked with Larry for many years, he has guided us in many ways,” said Michael Graham, engineer and principal. “Directly and indirectly, he made sure we knew that we were a team and that engineering roller coasters was not just the glamour of designing the ride path. He also was an advocate for regarding everyone on the team as part of the excellence of a roller coaster. Inside our team, Larry was known for some phrases that shaped this attitude of hard work. While some of these phrases are familiar, they took specific meaning as they created memories of particular projects and of moments in time.”
“Dishwashing.” Bill made every new employee understand that there is a lot of “lower” regarded work involved with each project that everyone on the team will need to complete for each ride.
“Lay the lead.” When he started in a huge room of drafting tables, making drawings was a very time consuming, manual drafting process. His superiors used to say this phrase to him.
“Bulk, son, bulk.” When it came to creating design calculation packages on whether to include some of the tiniest details, this phrase always came up in discussion. Bill heard this in his early years, and it never got old.
A favorite of Graham’s: “All hands on deck.”
“First, as there was a huge amount of design, engineering and construction work required for each roller coaster, Larry made it clear that there were times when we needed ‘all hands on deck’ to get past particular hurdles,” Graham recalled. “As the vast majority of the work to design and engineer a roller coaster can be repetitive and mundane, his other phrases played into this effort.”
“We have this video that my wife took after my first day at Custom Coasters,” said Kiepert. “In it, I told her about Larry and ‘wearing many hats’ and ‘dishwashing.’ I think that this mentality has really helped us as we have grown our small business. Instead of just trying to do one job, we have all stepped up and had to do many different jobs, from taking care of the trash to ordering office supplies.”
Throughout his career, Bill enjoyed meeting park officials. One for whom he had great respect was Holiday World’s Will Koch. Three roller coasters were designed for the park, starting with The Raven, which in many respects put the park on the national map when it opened in 1995. He remembers surveying the landscape with Koch and Jeff Mason trying to preserve as many trees as possible. The Legend was a wooden coaster that opened five years later to welcome in the new millennium, and The Voyage opened in 2006. Both The Raven and The Voyage have taken the Golden Ticket for Best Wood Coaster in their operational lives. In 2021, all three wooden coasters are on the chart of top 25 coasters.
Figuring out how Hoosier Hurricane would fit into Indiana Beach’s unique site is also a great memory for Bill. The ride was designed in 1993 and opened the following year. “Electric rock” was a term Bill used when laying out the Hoosier Hurricane coaster. They had brought a “portable” computer that was a heavy all-in-one machine with a small screen. That term is indicative of how far technology has come and its effects on how things are done today.
In its close-to-10 years of existence, Custom Coasters designed 34 scream machines, the majority of which involved Bill on the team. One of the driving forces of The Gravity Group, often inspired by Bill, was the sense of teamwork. The dissolution of Custom Coasters was a time of uncertainty, but the joined forces of the engineers involved was a first step once again.
“In addition to Larry’s hard work ethic and his view of teamwork, when we formed The Gravity Group, he was a strong proponent of the group concept that was collaborative and not tied to individual heroics,” said Graham. “As most coaster companies are small businesses, he also made sure any potential employees understood that we ‘wore multiple hats’ and the expectation was that everyone would need to be well-rounded and called upon for random responsibilities.”
One of Bill’s other phrases makes Graham smile. “Stirring the pot and banging the sides, which meant continuing to aggravate something that should be left alone,” he said.
Since forming The Gravity Group, the company has been involved with 28 more roller coaster designs. A sister company, GravityKraft, was also formed to manufacture the Timberliner trains, which is marketed as the industry’s only steering roller coaster car. They have become the signature rolling stock on Gravity Group coasters.
Among The Gravity Group’s accolades are Golden Ticket Awards. When the category of Best New Ride was introduced in 2005, the company took the first win with Hades at Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park. This was followed with The Voyage and two years later with Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer.
Over the years, the company has built large thrillers and several family-sized coasters. Even with years of experience and successful projects, Bill had no problem remaining quietly in the background.
“Larry wasn’t one to step into the spotlight,” noted Kiepert. “He was always very thoughtful and wanted to share credit with everyone involved.”
Graham added, “Larry was a steadfast, hard worker who would always jump in to help in any way he could. We have been very privileged to have had worked with Larry for over 20 years, and we think we got more irritated than he did when people called him Bill instead of Larry.”
Amusement Today is pleased to add Larry Bill as the newest Golden Ticket Award Legend.