Issaquah High School senior is king of coasters
May 22, 2012
The roller coaster train clicks up the steep chain-linked hill. Once it crests the top, the train is released and spirals through dizzying loops and frightening drops. From close up, this roller coaster train seems to be a new creation from roller coaster giants such as Intamin AG and S&S Worldwide.
It’s not. It’s a roller coaster model using K’NEX — a toy building system consisting of interconnecting plastic rods and connectors — created by Issaquah High School senior Brian Ruggles.
The 17-year-old has been making K’NEX roller coaster models since he was 8. The first set he received was called “Screamin’ Serpent.”
“Although it was recommended for ages 10 and up, he spent the next three days building it in his room by himself,” said Sandy Ruggles, his mother. “He asked for help once or twice, but basically assembled all 1,280 parts and completed the 2-foot-by-3-foot-by-5-foot project by the end of the third day.”
He recreated the set four more times before K’NEX released its next set.
“Looking back, I don’t remember watching the cars fly through the hills and inversions nearly as well as I remember the many long but rewarding hours I spent building the coasters,” Brian said.
He explains that his favorite type of roller coaster is one that delivers the most “airtime.” Airtime happens when the coaster crests a hill, which lifts the riders off their seats, giving them the feeling of weightlessness. An example of a roller coaster that delivers this is Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Ohio, designed by Intamin AG — Brian’s favorite roller coaster designer.
Once Brian grew bored with recreating the same set over and over, he discovered K’NEX roller coaster model videos posted on YouTube. The models used the two sets available through K’NEX and were combined to make a custom roller coaster. He immediately joined the online international K’NEX roller coaster club, SSCoasters, www.sscoasters.net.
In the beginning, he did not know much about acceleration and momentum, he said. Because of his first mistakes, he ordered 26,000 more parts online and built an entirely new roller coaster that was twice his height. In the end, the roller coaster he built in the family’s living room won an online worldwide contest offered by SSCoasters.
“During the voting, I kept refreshing the results page,” Brian said of the contest. “When the results were revealed, I sprinted off to tell my family the great news.”
Now, Brian has collected 30,000 K’NEX pieces. Every time he has built a custom roller coaster, he has used the living room.
“My family has been extremely supportive of me taking up their entire living room,” Brian said.
“Sometimes, I would make him take them down for the month of December so we could make room for our Christmas tree,” his mother said. “But one year we just put the Christmas tree right in the middle of the roller coaster. The coasters circled the tree with all of the inversions and spirals and hills so it was very unique. But there wasn’t any room for the presents under the tree!”
The last roller coaster Brian made was in his junior year for his high school physics fair.
“I was excited to test and demonstrate how varying the mass of the cars affect the potential energy and maximum height the cars attain on the next hill,” he said.
Brian excels in his classes and manages to juggle a hectic schedule that includes being the swim team captain. His hobbies not only involve K’NEX, but also magic card tricks (in Spanish) and speed solving Rubik’s cubes.
“Brian is a very hardworking, positive and inquisitive person,” said Rebecca Nick, Brian’s Spanish teacher, who nominated him for the Rotary Student of the Month in January.
Due to his hectic senior year schedule, he has not been able to make any new roller coasters.
“He still has all of the parts so he can go back to it some day,” his mother said.
“My dream job would be to come up with creative and innovative designs for a big-name roller coaster company, like Intamin AG,” Brian said. “But it is extremely difficult to get into the coaster industry since there are so few job opportunities.
“Engineering is definitely something I’m looking into, but I don’t want to commit myself to one certain job field just yet,” he added. “I want to find out what I’m passionate about learning, and let that direct me to a future job, whether it’s engineering or something else.”
This promising student has spent more than 700 hours creating and building seven coasters that have ranged from 4 feet to 7 feet tall since he received his first set.
“Brian has been passionate about roller coasters since he was 3,” his mother said. “He would turn anything into a roller coaster, from garden hoses to the path his fork took from his plate to his mouth!”
Maggie Thorpe is a student at the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.