Radio Field Trip: Riding a Historic, Wooden Roller Coaster in Salem

Jun 27, 2018

For this week’s Radio Field Trip, Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley is going for a ride.

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(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

Even before you enter the Canobie Lake Park in Salem you can see the towering white track of its most popular attraction -- The Yankee Cannonball roller coaster.

But this isn’t just any ride. It’s an iconic, wooden coaster that’s been in New England since 1932.

Chris Nicoli is the entertainment manager for the park. He’s been working there for almost 20 years now.

“The actual feeling of the ride, just having the sounds, the clicks, the going through the air, the smooth ride, but bumpy ride at the same time – the wooden coasters just can’t be matched,” Chris says.

Generations of New Englanders, myself included, grew up with the Yankee Cannonball. Chris says part of the coaster’s draw is nostalgia.

“When families come here to enjoy themselves, they get to go on with their child for the first time. Maybe it’s the child’s 8th grade field trip, but the parents came on their 8th grade field trip, [and] the grandparents came on their 8th grade field trip,” Chris says.

I’ve been coming here for years, and now my kids are riding the coaster too.

But it’s a huge task to maintain a coaster through 90 years of history. The entire thing was moved in the 30s. It survived a hurricane in the 50s. And after almost a century of use, there’s certainly a lot to take care of.

“We are constantly looking after this attraction,” Chris says. “We have one our mechanic staff who’s been with the Yankee Cannonball for 27 years, and has personally himself walked every single day of operation. He knows every nut, every bolt, every board.”

And that mechanic is Gerardo Magliocchetti – or Jerry for short. He’s been doing this so long, he says he could hear if there was something off when the coaster is running.

“It’s a very, very responsible job,” Jerry says.

He says he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without knowing the ride was safe.

And as historic wooden coasters are replaced with newer technology, people like Jerry are harder to find. But Chris says this is a piece of history the park really wants to keep around.

“Year after year, just because of the amount of work it takes to maintain them, we’re seeing them close down,” Chris says. “So I think that’s just more motivation to really keep this in tip top shape. Hopefully 200 years this will be the last one in existence just with how well we’re treating it.”