What I learned from reading – Six Flags Over Texas: The First Fifty Years

by Jason S. Sullivan, 02-06-20

I’m starting to become more of an avid reader. I don’t usually read simply for enjoyment. I want to learn something from what I read.

I finished reading Six Flags Over Texas: The First Fifty Years by Davis G. McCown. Check out what I learned.

Six Flags Over Texas

Perhaps you’ve heard of Six Flags or even visited one of their 15 amusement parks in North America. The oldest Six Flags is the one in Arlington, Texas. It opened six years after Disneyland in California.

Six Flags Over Texas is an Arlington icon. As it opened in 1961, it predates most other attractions in the city. It’s been a few years since I was there last, but I’d love to go some time this year. In the meantime, I came across the book Six Flags Over Texas: The First Fifty Years by Davis G. McCown. 

A brief overview of the book

Mr. McCown’s book may be the next best thing to being at Six Flags. He is a subject matter expert in the purest sense. His book provides an in-depth backstory to the first 50 years.

It takes a certain level of expertise and enthusiasm to write a book like this. As an aspiring nonfiction writer myself, I appreciate the amount of detail in this book. Mr. McCown walks through how the park came into fruition. He then outlines the first year and the lineup of rides and attractions. He then reports on notable changes in the park throughout each year. It contains information, tidbits, and photos — many from the author’s collection. Lots of trivia in this book!

What did I learn from it?

I’ve been to Six Flags roughly 12 times over the years. Rushing from ride to ride, you miss out on some of the finer details. 

Reading Mr. McCown’s book helped me pull back the curtain a bit, and get a better sense of it all. I came away with a new perspective on amusement parks. The biggest lesson I learned is that these parks are much more strategic than I thought. When you’re there and having fun, you often don’t stop to think about it. There’s a reason for everything at these parks. It all starts with the park design and layout.

Park design and layout

The entrance area was designed to split guests into different directions. This helped to spread guests throughout the park. Six Flags used the Duell Loop, named for designer Randall Duell. The Duell Loop was a single, major pathway through the park. Guests could follow the pathway in either direction and visit all the park’s attractions. Curved pathways also helped separate different areas of the park.

Disney’s design was different. Disney had a hub-and-spoke design. This is where a pathway from each of the major sections leads to a central section or area. The Duell Loop isn’t used as much today with designers. Instead, they often prefer random and disjointed pathways. It’s less efficient for the guests, as it causes them to travel again through targeted areas. Why do you think an amusement park would want you to do that?

Buildings in an amusement park aren’t always what they seem. They are often like movie sets and are basically props. Some buildings are functional, while others are more decorative. Many buildings in the park are a smaller size than normal. But, with all the features in the same perspective, it gives the illusion that they are actual size. Buildings will sometimes have different facades. This gives the illusion that it’s two separate buildings when it’s only one. Some buildings even hide park administrative offices not open to the public. 

All of the designs and details of an amusement park play a role. It’s all about getting more visitors, keeping them entertained, having them stay longer, return more often, and frankly, spend more money. That realization takes some of the fun out of it for sure, but I admire the strategy aspect of it. 

Six Flags today

Six Flags Over Texas is near its limit in size. There are almost 50 rides. Plus, there are dozens of other attractions, shows, restaurants, and shopping options. There is very little room to expand any further. Any new additions to the park will likely have to replace existing real estate. From when it opened, more than 25 major rides, attractions, and shows have come and gone. 

Like any business, amusement parks need to evolve. Innovation is vital. But, innovation has to be balanced with familiarity. (Not only that, but balanced with safety, enjoyment, variety, return on investment, and many other variables.) Do visitors want to ride the old rides for nostalgia? Or do they want to check out the latest and greatest? It’s likely both, and the balancing act takes strategic decisions.

The next time you visit an amusement park, take a few minutes to slow down and think about the park design. You’ll start to notice things that the designers hoped you wouldn’t. It may help you enjoy the park even more, and give you a greater appreciation for how it all comes together.

References

McCown, Davis G. 2016. Six Flags Over Texas: The First Fifty Years. Hurst, Texas. Lavaca Publications and Media, LLC.

Parktimes – The Unofficial History of Six Flags Over Texas, Davis G. McCown, accessed February 6, 2020, http://www.parktimes.com.

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