87-Year-Old Takes His Last Ride on Popular Disney Roller Coaster He Created


There’s a special place in everyone’s hearts for their first trips to Disneyland. Whether they’re barely old enough to walk — and probably don’t remember the exact first time they went through the gates — or are bringing their own kids with them for everyone’s first time, it’s an experience no one forgets.

Personally, I’ve never been. I know, crazy, right?

But I’ve been to Disney World plenty of times, because living on the opposite side of the country makes that a bit more conducive to budgets. It’s still been quite a few years since I’ve been there, though.

I doubt, though, that it’s been as long as it was for Bill Watkins, the creator of Space Mountain — both in Disneyland (1977) and Disney World (1975).

He’s 87 years old now, and the last time he rode his creation was in 2005.

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But recently, a fellow roller-coaster enthusiast and engineer, Kyle King, 29, read about him and encountered him on his bike in the neighborhood one day. They were both living in Long Beach, California, at the time.

After some introductions and probably some excited questions from King, he asked the big question: “When was the last time you rode Space Mountain?”

When Watkins told him just how long, King had an idea. He got a hold of someone at Disneyland and arranged for a special visit.

And so Space Mountain opened early for its very own creator, and Watkins got a tour before hopping into the front car with King for his last ride.

At 87, Watkins said this would probably be his last ride, and said, “I suppose it’s goodbye.”

They rode with the lights on, so Watkins could examine his handiwork — even though it had undergone a renovation or two — and when it ended, he seemed unimpressed.

But then he asked that question we all do at some point: “Can we go again?” And so they did, but this time with the lights off.

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When the cars came to a stop for the second time, Watkins said, “It’s better in the dark.”

Just in case you’re curious about some details regarding the coaster, here are some stats. It doesn’t go 100 mph as you might think, but you might be surprised by its exact speed.

It actually goes a paltry 27.27 mph. And rather than relying on thrusters, like many coasters nowadays, Space Mountain relies entirely on gravity.

It “simply starts up and goes down.” You don’t really notice that in the dark, do you?

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