AT Hall of Fame

Ron Toomer Had one Hell of a Ride

Ron Toomer with his loops

Every once in a great while a man comes along that dabbles in a bit of everything. Ron Toomer was such a man. Ron lost his battle with cancer Monday at the age of 81. Leaving behind his wife of 54 years and his 4 children. Some of you are scratching your head and wondering who the hell this guy is. When this is done, you’ll either go “Oh yeah .. that guy.” Or you’ll learn something new about someone who deserved much more credit.

The man helped our boys get home from space

Graduating with a B.S. from the University of Nevada-Reno in ’61, Ron went on to start putting heavy objects up in the air and bringing them back down again. Little did Ron know, doing just that would ultimately round out his career and he would be most famous for doing just that.

Shortly after graduating, Ron got a job at Hercules Powder Company as a mechanical engineer. His first assignment was the nozzle section of second stage Minuteman solid rocket motor, and, from what I understand, that either works or it doesn’t.

After his brief time at Hercules Powder, Ron was taken in by Thermatest Laboratories Inc. and served as lead mechanical engineer responsible for research and testing of high temperature materials used in aerospace. After a successful run of discovering new materials, Ron was tapped to oversee the development and manufacturing of the heat shield sensors in the Apollo space program. Making sure our astronauts made it safely back to earth during the dangerous reentry into the atmosphere.

Arrow and the greatest rides ever made

Arrow Development delivered much of the ride packages for Disneyland and later for Walt Disney World. Toomer joined Arrow in 1965, and according to “Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers” his first job was working on water flow for Pirates of the Caribbean, and he quickly moved on to working on the Runaway Train rides. Many of the actual “inventions” Ron was given credit for, including the Corkscrew, are actually properly credited mostly to Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan who pioneered Arrow. But that doesn’t diminish Toomer’s contributions; not the least of which were his leadership of the company in getting it out from under Rio Grande and Huss in 1986 just in time for some of the perhaps less innovative, but certainly most noteworthy and ambitious projects Arrow ever built.

That project became known as the igniter of the second renaissance of roller coasters. The first roller coaster to top 200’ and 70mph. Magnum XL-200 opened to the world at Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio in May 1989. Magnum was Ron’s legacy.

Toomer would be credited with 93 coaster designs during his time with Arrow. Including Pirates at both Disney parks, Runaway Mine Train at Six Flags over Texas, and the initial layouts of most rides you have seen at your local vomit producing amusement park. One should note, Ron hated roller coasters, but he enjoyed the looks of everyone faces when they got off Magnum for the first time on opening day in 1989.

In 2009, 20 years after Magnum opened, an older and not any wiser Prawo Jazdy had the opportunity to sit down on a park bench at Cedar Point and talk with him. He shared with me the love he had for his garden at home in California, the love he had for his wife and children and how much he enjoyed hiking. He was kind and enjoyed the fact that I wanted to talk to him about his time with NASA and Thermatest and he told me some great stories.

Ron was a friend and I most recently spoke with him earlier this year when I sent him the article about the Minuteman written by our own Engineerd. Ron read Atomic Toasters for a while and I occasionally got emails from him about the articles here and what I should read not knowing that I read every day. Ron also helped me research a few things about my article on the Hydraulically Launched Top Thrill Dragster.

Ron will be greatly missed.

[Ed. This was written by Atomic Toasters reader and roller coaster aficionado Prawo Jazdy. All of us at Atomic Toasters enjoy hearing about the great men of technology, and Ron Toomer is just that. Rest in peace, Mr. Toomer.]

  • PrawoJazdy

    Thanks for allowing me to do this. Ron was awesome. Anyone that has ever ridden an Arrow roller coaster will either love or hate the man now.

    Again, thank you.

  • The Professor

    Very nice article. I wasn't familiar with Mr. Toomer's works until now, and he was quite an engineer. Thanks for sharing.

    • PrawoJazdy

      The guy wore a lot of hats. No really, every time I met him in person he had a different hat. *rimshot*

      Seriously though, you're very welcome. It was actually quite hard to write the ending where I wrote about the last time we talked. I asked one time if he wanted to ride Magnum with me and was shocked when he said no. Thats when I learned how much he did not like to ride.

      Here is a video taken by someone of his keynote at Coastermania in 2009.

      [youtube gTA97b2mGTk youtube]

  • Number_Six

    Thanks for writing this – Mr Toomer lived a long and wonderfully productive life!

    • PrawoJazdy

      I thought so too. The guy was like me a sense that I just cannot stay in one job for too long.

      He'll live on through me as I get to ride what is arguably his best creation on a weekly basis