OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — Passengers on the Galaxi roller coaster can hear a distinctive click-click-click-click as the ride’s citrusy green and yellow cars climb 35 feet to a panoramic view of the Palace Playland amusement park and ocean beyond.
The cars make a brief semicircle before plummeting toward the asphalt below — leaving riders’ stomachs behind — then another ascent and drop, followed by several rapid-fire loops of white-knuckle centrifugal force.
So it has been for more than 20 years. But when the park closes for the season after Labor Day, the Galaxi will be retired to make way for a new state-of-the-art coaster, one that includes automated features and was built in Italy from lower-maintenance galvanized steel.
Not everyone is thrilled to see it go.
“I don’t want them to take this one down,” said 6-year-old Belle Bouchard, of North Reading, Mass., fresh from her first Galaxi ride Saturday afternoon. “But I do want to see [the new coaster].”
The Bouchards have been coming to the park since Belle was a baby, said her mother, Christine Bouchard, 37.
“This is a big family tradition for us, so it’s very cool that she got to ride it before they knock it down,” Christine Bouchard said.
As a brisk ocean breeze blew through the sun-drenched park and people nearby dipped into ice cream sundaes, nibbled fried dough, or sipped lemonade, Bouchard said she felt nostalgic about the old coaster but also excitement as she contemplated its replacement.
“It’s fun to see the old rides,” she said, “but you’ve got a new generation of kids coming through here, and it’s nice to see the bigger, faster, better rides.”
The new coaster will indeed be larger and more dramatic, said Joel Golder, 69, who has owned Palace Playland since 1996 and worked there about 35 years.
It will be twice as tall as the Galaxi, at 70 feet, and will be 30 feet wider and 50 feet longer, Golder said. The new coaster is expected to be installed in time for the park’s reopening next Memorial Day weekend.
“God willing and the creek don’t rise,” Golder said with a wry grin. “That’s an old Maine expression.”
Golder plans to travel to Italy this fall to check out the new roller coaster before it is shipped to Maine.
The Galaxi was one of about 50 or 60 of its type constructed by a now-defunct Italian manufacturer, of which perhaps 20 are still in use, he said. Since the manufacturing of amusement park rides has almost entirely ceased in the United States, most are now made in Europe, he added.
“It’s a unique, compact design. … It has a lot of elements in a small footprint,” said Golder, a native of Revere, Mass., who got his start in the business working at Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach in Hull.
The Galaxi was brought to Old Orchard Beach from its previous home in Peony Park in Omaha, Neb., after that amusement park closed in 1994.
The Old Orchard park is Golder’s family business and as a businessman he embraces progress, but he admitted to feeling a bit nostalgic.
“The ride’s been very good to Palace Playland,” he said. “It’s been enjoyed by a lot of people over the years. … But nothing stays forever.”
His son, Paul Golder, 34, said he grew up playing in the park and started working there at 18, the minimum age to operate rides. He worked his first summer on the Galaxi and has trained its operators every summer since.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said of seeing the coaster go. “The timing for this ride in particular is very intensive, compared to some of the other rides. There’s a certain amount of skill involved. … It’s kind of like learning a sport or learning to drive a manual car.”
He said park employees consider being assigned to operate the complex ride “a badge of honor.”
“There’s prestige in being part of the coaster crew,” he said.
For riders, the coaster is a shot of adrenaline — but a modest dose the whole family can enjoy together, several parents said.
“It’s not super scary, so the kids like it,” said Stephanie Gouveia, 36, of Dartmouth, Mass., who rode the coaster Saturday with her husband, Nelson, 38; daughter, Serena, 9; and son, Mason, 6.
Serena said her favorite part of the ride was the sudden plummet. She could feel the drop in her stomach, she said, but the coaster never frightened her.
“I get nervous, and then it starts tickling me,” Serena giggled.
Tina Zaborowski, 43, of Quincy, summed up the experience succinctly.
“Whoa, that was awesome!” she said moments after her family’s ride. She was pleased that the new coaster will also be small enough for children.
“I was glad they’re not going to put up a big monster one,” she said.
The Zaborowskis usually come to the park once every summer, she said. She was there Saturday with her husband, Mark W., 44; their son, Mark H., 10; their daughter, Melanie, 8; and her husband’s father, Joe, 66; and sister, Lindsey, 24.
Joe Zaborowski, of Wakefield, confessed that the ride was just a little scary.
“I couldn’t take my hands off the [grab] bar,” he said.
Like the other children who rode the coaster Saturday, the younger Mark admitted that the ride makes his stomach feel funny but said it never frightened him.
“I like how it has those two big drops,” he said. “It feels fun.”