By STEVEN BERGER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Just over a year ago, the RC-48 was set aside, stuffed into open-air containers on the New Jersey boardwalk.
The largest portable roller coaster in the nation is now the newest showpiece at the South Florida Fair’s midway.
Lined with University of Florida flags, the orange-and-blue roller coaster wasn’t in any shape to run last year when it was purchased by Frank Zaitshik. The owner of Wade Shows Inc., the company that runs the fair’s midway, Zaitshik took a gamble with the 5-story-tall roller coaster, which had been sitting unused for three years.
The RC-48 almost debuted at last year’s fair, but rebuilding and testing the roller coaster would have cut it very close with the fair’s opening. Zaitshik instead chose to set it up at the Florida State Fair, which would offer an entire month to make sure everything ran smoothly.
“It was like a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “We had to lay it all out, and then try and figure out how to put it together.”
The gamble paid off. The RC-48 worked and was the top money-winner at that fair, Zaitshik said.
Wade Shows has invested between $500,000 and $600,000 in the RC-48, the vast majority spent on work put into the roller coaster after it was purchased, he said. If the company put it back on the market today they would ask for $1.2 million.
Even though the RC-48 earned the most money of any ride last season, its size kept it from covering its costs, Zaitshik said.
“It wasn’t really profitable, because it’s so expensive to move it all around the country,” he said.
The move from Oklahoma to North Carolina alone cost $27,000. Zaitshik said he eventually plans to keep the RC-48 in Florida to reduce transportation costs, but he needs to find another comparable roller coaster to take from state to state first.
The ride was not operating for portions of the fair’s opening weekend. By the time the roller coaster was making test runs before reopening on Saturday afternoon, a small group had gathered waiting for the gates to open.
“It was really fun and fast,” said 12-year-old Daniel Good, a Jupiter Middle School student.
“For a grown-up, the car is a little bit too small,” said West Palm Beach resident Axel Riese. “But besides that, it’s very nice.”
The RC-48’s expenses are offset by its amusement-park quality in a portable package, Zaitshik said.
“There’s just nothing like it at the carnival,” he said. “We may not be Disney World, but we’d like to see Disney World move from here to the Florida State Fair in four days.”
Riders must be 55 inches tall to ride the RC-48, which costs 5 tickets. Unlimited ride wristbands are available at the gate for $25 on weekdays and $35 on weekends.