Ronald Toomer designs the most terrifying roller coasters in the world. Just thinking about their elaborate loops and bloodcurdling dips makes him queasy.
More than 200 million daredevils hop on and off his rides each year, but Toomer isn't one of them. He sheepishly admits he hasn't boarded one in more than five years.It isn't that he's a wimp, you understand. It's just that the king of the coasters suffers from severe motion sickness.
"I guess I don't really like to be thrown upside down and all that kind of stuff," Toomer said. "I mean, it's not necessarily that they frighten me. It's just something that I don't care to do too much, especially the bigger ones."
As a child, Toomer entered cars reluctantly because they made him sick. Today, after designing roller coasters for more than half his 64 years, he must focus very hard to keep his stomach still during the frequent air travel required by his work.
So why does the chairman of Arrow Dynamics Inc., one of the premier roller coaster manufacturers in the world, keep at it when he can't stomach his own creations?
"You know, you start out with nothing - a blank piece of paper. But when it's finished, you get to be there and you get to see all these people yelling and screaming. It's just a great satisfaction, I'll tell you."
Toomer has been relentless in his quest for vicarious thrills.
Arrow Dynamics has constructed more than 100 roller coasters and almost 500 amusement-park rides. Among the six rides it has built this year is the world's tallest coaster, a 209-foot monster scheduled to open in August along the California-Nevada border.
Arrow also is negotiating five roller coasters in Southeast Asia and has manufactured rides in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China, Great Britain, France and Germany.
"I've sort of learned that the sky's the limit," Toomer said. "But you've got to be willing to take risks."
Such as becoming ill nearly every time he's dared - or been forced - to ride a roller coaster.
"I sort of got sandbagged to go on most of them," he said. "I just don't enjoy them that much, and that sounds crazy, I know."
The enjoyment is obvious, though, as Toomer grins while describing the lines of people who wend through what he calls "chicken gates" before reaching their destination: the ultimate ride.
"I think somehow people like to be scared," he said. "If you watch people waiting to go on a roller coaster, some of them look like they're going into a gas chamber.
"And yet they know that the thing's going to come back and they're going to be OK."
Toomer started out in his early 20s with his feet planted firmly on the ground as an auto mechanic. But then he decided to go back to school. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nevada-Reno and worked in the aerospace industry with Hercules and then Therma-test.
A welder at Thermatest convinced Toomer to go to work for Arrow Development Co., which manufactured rides for Dis-ney-land. The fact that he'd never been on a roller coaster was no deterrent.
"I was just excited about designing something," he said.
Toomer's innovative ideas eventually helped transform the amusement-park industry.
"I always kidded about making loops," he said. "It was sort of frivolous at the time. But the more we talked about it, we thought, `Yeah, why not?"'
Toomer's first roller coaster was patterned after a corkscrew. He built miniature models using tiny cars before testing a full-size prototype in the company's back yard.
"Nobody had ever done anything like this before," he said, but he didn't have to look far for volunteer riders. "We would tell people in the company, `Hey, you want to come out and have a ride?' And the whole place would show up."
The first-of-its-kind corkscrew ride opened more than 30 years ago and helped make Six Flags of Dallas-Fort Worth a success. Arrow Development then changed hands a couple of times before moving to Clearfield and becoming Arrow Dynamics Inc.
Ever the pioneer, Toomer often prods his engineers to make even more intricate rides - safety being the only limiting factor. For example, as his rides have reached 80 mph, windshields are being considered to prevent injury from flying insects.
Toomer's scarier-the-better credo is hidden behind the mildest of manners. His two sons and daughter, now ages 26 to 36, used to hesitate to tell their childhood friends what their father did for a living. Everyone thought they were lying.
"Most of my neighbors don't know what I do. And even if they did, they'd probably never believe it," he said.
Toomer stresses that most aspects of his job are like any other.
"There's no magic to it," he said. "This whole thing people think it's some great creative process, but it's hard work. Sometimes I sit there and I can't draw a line. I can't even get started."
That's when Toomer takes time out - reading, gardening or whittling wooden ducks. But never, ever contemplating retirement.
"I think I'll be around for quite a while," he said. "You can only carve so many ducks."