by Danny Miller
Today I come back to my Employee Insider series, and this time I will focus specifically on Talon: The Grip Of Fear, my personal favorite coaster at Dorney Park. I worked on Talon during the 2011 season, and we experienced just about every type of situation you could imagine, from guests losing their lunch, to ride breakdowns, all the way to guests shoving security guards.
In this edition, I’ll talk about ride breakdowns and exactly why the ride commonly breaks down, and also a few interesting stories as to why we had the ride break down that weren’t so common. Almost always, when a roller coaster like Talon shuts down for “maintenance,” it is simply due to a computer error. This type of breakdown is commonly referred to among operators as a “ride error” because the computer screen displays “RIDE ERROR” when this occurs. Essentially, a ride error is the most common breakdown, and usually just requires the computer system to be reset by maintenance, allowing the ride to resume operations in a matter of 15-20 minutes depending on where maintenance is in the park.
A ride error is usually caused by an issue with the photo eye sensors. If you go back and read part 1 of my Employee Insider series, I mention how part of block testing is to block the photo eyes to ensure the train stops on the lift hill. That test is done specifically to simulate a ride error during daily operation. On Talon, the train has eight cars, so the photo eye needs to have its connection broken eight times so that the computer knows that all eight cars have traveled through the course. There are several photo eye sensors on the ride, including a set at each end of the station, a set on the lift, a set near the trim brake at the bottom of the Immelman loop, and then multiple sets on the brake run.
When a sensor is not broken eight times exactly, the computer senses that something is wrong. In the most drastic case, a car has become detached from the rest of the train. In this case, the sensor may only be broken seven times, so the sensor immediately relays the information to the computer that something is wrong and the ride must emergency stop, which is why sometime rides will stop on the brake runs, lift hills, or even halfway in or out of the station, because power is immediately cut off from the ride and all of the brakes close to avoid collisions.
This is a great insight as to how safe rides truly are, but that doesn’t explain why a ride error may occur when everything is running fine. In most cases, it is simply a bird, bug, or butterfly landing on the photo eye, causing it to be broken but not the correct number of times. The computer thinks something is wrong and shuts down the ride.
It is fairly common for this to happen, and has nothing at all to do with the reliability of the ride. It takes a quick call to maintenance and a few minutes to reset the system before one test run can be made and the ride is up and running again. Many ask how rain does not cause the computers to malfunction when the sensors are exposed to the elements, and that is simply because the sensors have a special solution (typically Rain-X) on them to “outsmart” natural elements and avoid weather related sensor issues.
At one point during the year, we had to close the ride from opening at 10AM until about 4PM due to an issue with the transfer motor. I will talk a bit more about transfer when I discuss ride closing procedures, but for Talon, each train is stored nightly in a maintenance bay on the main brake run. In order to get the trains into each bay, they must be stopped on a specific track segment and then that segment is moved laterally from the main run to the storage tracks.
These bays are not track, but rather hangars. If you look closely, B&M inverted trains have tiny wheels on the very end of the trains that are not used during operation. These wheels roll into a slot on the inside of the catwalks and this is what supports the trains. The reasoning for this is to keep the main running wheels free of pressure from sitting on track and to avoid flat spots on the wheels.
When maintenance concludes their daily work, they move the trains back onto the main run for operators to open the ride. On this particular day, the first train was brought online, but when the second train was moved onto the transfer segment, the track did not move. We later found out the motor that moves that segment had broken. After hours of attempting to fix it, staff determined that we would have to run just one train for few days (it ended up being three before a new motor was installed).
The segment was moved onto the main run by hand via a crank that is basically a giant wrench on the side of the transfer table. The weight of the train is too much for the segment to be moved by hand, so we had no choice but to leave the second train in transfer.
Another break down we experienced was for a feeder wheel. If you look closely at most inverted B&M coasters, specifically the Batman clones and other ones that immediately engage the lift out of the station, the segment between the station and the lift has several transport wheels. One day, the rubber cover of the wheel cracked and was sagging off of the wheel itself. This is a great example of how employees must watch the ride, because this is an issue that the computer would not detect unless it caused a mechanical malfunction. Maintenance was able to replace the wheel and allow us to resume operation in a little over an hour.
Another reason that breakdowns might occur, while rare, is a lift motor malfunctioning. Like the transfer motor, the lift hill motor may blow, but the ride cannot operate with this issue. This didn’t happen during my time, but our own Tori Finlay experienced it where the ride was closed for several days while a new motor arrived (I question why a spare is not on sight).
On that note, if you go to Dorney and ride Talon, from the front row before you load, look at the track just before the lift outside the station. Above it is a ladder leading to a motor. If you look closely, the motor is currently a shade of blue, not orange and yellow like the track. You will also notice that it is not the same blue as the supports. The reason for this is that this motor currently installed is actually a replacement motor from Afterburn at Carowinds. Close inspection will show that the motor does indeed match the blue of the Afterburn supports.
So there is a little inside peek as to what may go wrong with rides and just how serious, or silly, they may be. Nine times out of ten, if a ride is down during the day but was running earlier, it is probably a simple ride error and will be back up and running shortly. Stay tuned for the next part of this series where I will take a look at common maintenance issues with Possessed, a ride that shuts down a bit more often.
For most of us, food is an essential part of any day at a major theme park. There are so many different foods and restaurants; it becomes a maze in and of itself just to find what you are looking for. From the smell of popcorn and funnel cakes to the grilled turkey legs, this blog will give you a sample of the foods and restaurants that you can expect to rest your pallet at individual theme parks.
In this the pilot episode, I am going to talk about the food at my home park of Kings Island. Home of the Diamondback and Beast, Kings Island will surely make you work up and appetite as you work your way around Coney Mall and through Peanuts Kingdom. There are so many options to choose from that I will have to break this down into breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Agreed that this is not the only time you can eat at these place, I am merely giving you options for when you are in the park.
As guests arrive at the park, not only are you greeted with the warm smiles of the staff and the famous fountains, but also the smell of great breakfast pastry goodness on International Street. For those who have arrived on an empty stomach, there is no better place that Cinnabon. This small bakery is known for their sweet cinnamon rolls that will make any coaster enthusiast fall to his knees for a taste. For those who need a little pick me up, you can stop on the corner of International Street and Eiffel Tower Lane. Here you can find that famous coffee shop Starbucks where you can indulge in a flavored coffee, iced drink, or even try a famous latte. There is nothing to jump start a human engine and get you through the day like a cup of Joe.
Maybe you ate a decent breakfast before your travels but you have work yourself out of energy in the first two hours of the park opening. This is the time for a snack that will hold you until you get to lunch time. Many guests frequent the snack vendors throughout the park to give them something to munch on as well as something to do while waiting in lines. There are a number of options in the park for snacks. These include the Great KI Pretzel Company located on International Street which offers pretzels, lemonade, ice cold beer and more. If you have the children along with you, nothing will keep the little ones entertained like popcorn and cotton candy, especially if you are going to one of the shows in the park. A great place to find these items is at Snoopy’s Snack Shack. You can also find these at the Coney Refreshments stand in Coney Mall.
So, you have made it to lunch time. Your stomach is rolling from hunger, not to mention all the inversions from the coasters. It’s time to sit down and rest and take in a nice lunch break. There are way too many options to mention, so I will just cover the most popular ones here. Many guests like to go into the air conditioned Festhaus building. Inside you will find LaRosa’s Pizza and Panda Express. If you are looking for classic American food or Chinese fair, this is the place for you. Maybe you are instead looking for a true local classic. Head on over to Skyline Chili where you can pick up some Coney Dogs or world famous 3 Way Chili. If a potato meal or chicken is on your mind, stop by the Potato Works vendor for the American Famous fries. If you are in the mood for some pollo in your diet, then stop in to Chick-Fil-A, just not on Sunday, of course. You are sure to find something in the park that can satisfy your hunger as the sun is high above you.
And then there is the dilemma of what to do about eating dinner. Sure, you can go out of the park and eat at a restaurant in Mason, but there is plenty of options right in the park for a decent price. You can stop in to the Rivertown Junction Buffet for all you can eat classics like burgers, pasta, tacos and more. This is a great option if you want to eat just one major meal in the park. You can stop in at Hank’s Burrito Shack and take in some humongous burritos. There is also a bar attached to the back of Hanks for anyone looking for an ice cold bruski. If Mexican and Classic fair are not on your pallet, maybe diner fare will be. Hop on over to Juke Box Diner where you can partake in classic malts, fries, burgers and more. Nothing brings out the theme park more than a classic diner touch.
As you can see, there are so many options at the park for meals that you are certain to find something to please everyone. I have mentioned only about half of the options available. I can include desserts which range from handmade fudge on International Street to the one of a kind Kings Island Blueberry Ice Cream. You can even purchase a backyard BBQ located in the shelters between Kings Island and Soak City. Stay tuned next week as we will study a brand new location and the foods that are offered there. If you have a location you would like to be written, contact me. Until next time, I am CoasterJunior and may the queue lines be ever in your favor.
by Danny Miller
The Employee Insider series returns this time to talk about some weather procedures for taking care of rides, guests, and employees in different weather conditions. This will cover what rides close when, what guests are told to do during weather, and even what employees are to do during weather condition.
For Dorney Park, like any park, we have a series of codes for various happenings at the park, such as ride breakdowns, weather, and even guest confrontations. The specific code for weather is a number code that I can not disclose, but there are six levels of “weather” codes at Dorney Park: A, B, C, D, E, and F, with F being the most severe. Since I was not a team leader, and I also have not worked every ride, I have not learned all of the ride procedures, but here is a brief overview.
Code A is the least severe and indicates that there is a thunderstorm in the vicinity but it is more than ten miles away. In this code, I believe that the only things the close are the Cedar Creek Cannonball, Demon Drop and possibly the Ferris Wheel. These rides are unique because they are also rides that can close without being in a weather code if it is simply raining. Rain effects the operation of these rides because the train’s wheels slip, as do the Ferris Wheel’s. The brakes on Demon Drop are largely dependant on tires, so it also will close in rain even if there is not a weather code that is active.
Once we get to code B, all of the major roller coasters, tall flat rides (more than 20 feet or so), and any rides that involve water (including the water park), cease operation as quickly as possible. This code indicates that there is thunder and/or lightning approaching, and it is within ten miles from the park, posing a safety hazard for the larger rides. This is typically the code that upsets guests the most because there is not yet severe weather at the park, but the preparation for a storm is necessary for safety reasons
The interesting thing about a B code is that this is when Zephyr, the other train, closes. I assume it is because the wheels are better protected from the rain, but this ride’s wheels do not typically slip like the other train, so it is able to stay opened longer.
Code C indicates that a storm is directly at the park and many of the uncovered flat rides will close at this time, including Monster, Scrambler, Tilt-a-whirl I believe. Once we get to a C code, the only rides left in operation are the two carousels, the Whip (since it is covered), and Musik Express (also covered) if I remember correctly.
Typically it is very rare to see things escalate to above a C code, but in 2012 there were quite a few times where D, E, and F were used. A D code is essentially the same as a C code with one exception. In B or C, ride operators at roller coasters and rides with covered stations are asked to clean by the operations team, whether it be sweeping the station, cleaning the train, or cleaning the railings. Once things get to a D code, the employees at rides with operating booths are given the option to go inside the booth.
The next step is a code E, which all the rides in the park shut down I believe. There may be one or two that continue to operate, but to the best of my knowledge all rides are closed by the time we get into an E code. This indicates that there is severe weather that will remain in the area for the foreseeable future and may contain high winds.
The last step of this process is if we get to the highest level, an F. This indicates extreme weather conditions that are unreasonable for guests and employees to be outdoors. At this time, all employees with booths at their rides are asked to seek shelter in them, and other employees are asked to seek shelter in the nearest building, be it a gift shop, a restaurant, or even a restroom.
While security does not enforce guests to stay in covered areas (largely due to the fact that they also seek shelter), it is strongly recommended that guests also seek shelter during these weather conditions. While E’s and F’s are very rare, there were at least five or six times during 2012 that I know the park was in one of those two codes, which is telling of the extreme weather we had during the summer because typically we only see one, maybe two of those in a whole season.
So just to recap, most rides close in either a B code or a C code, but there are also a few rides that may close down with rain even if there is not a weather code, because rain is not considered part of the severe weather coding. It really is quite an interesting system, and although I only know the way that Dorney’s works, I am sure that all parks have a system very similar to this one.
Stay tuned for the next part of this series, because there are plenty more topics to cover that I’m sure many people want to know about, and we can even get into more of the codes and what they mean, including some quite bizarre ones used for when people might have “accidents.”
by Danny Miller
Well it looks like my career as a ride operator has come to a close, so I would like to take the chance to explain to folks some of the things that go on behind the scenes at amusement parks around the world, specifically my park, Dorney Park.
Keep in mind that all of the things I tell you in this series are things that most people involved in the amusement industry already know, and I am not in any legal or physical danger by disclosing this information. The main idea of this series is to better inform the general public of reasoning for why things happen the way they do in the amusement industry.
The first topic I will discuss is opening procedures for rides. I will focus on two rides in particular, and they are Talon and Possessed, two roller coasters at Dorney. Up to a certain point, both rides (and all rides in the park) follow the exact same protocol.
Ride operators arrive an hour prior to park opening, and if the ride is not cleared by maintenance yet, the operations crew cannot do anything to the ride itself for opening procedures. They instead take care of “housekeeping” items, such as testing all of the rides phones, making sure ride signs are in good shape, and checking for trash or debris on the surrounding paths.
Once maintenance signs the ride off, the operators begin opening the ride. For Talon, this consists of logging in to the computer and checking to make sure all restricted area gates are closed and locked. After that comes the emergency stop test. This requires every red emergency stop button to be pressed, including those on the brake run, operating panel, station platform, and the lift hill. The person who checks the lift phones also tests the lift emergency stop button.
For Possessed, the emergency stop buttons are tested automatically when the ride is logged on, so the next step is to unlock and open all of the rides harnesses, and then lock and close each of them, checking them as if you would during the day. Talon follows the same procedure, with harnesses being opened, locked, and then checked. From this point, trains are ready to be run for testing. Talon involves an extra step where the lift motor must be started or “jogged.”
From here, each train on each coaster must make three full ride cycles to verify that the trains are tracking right and that sensors on the rides circuit are functioning properly. At this point, each ride requires different procedures.
Talon requires what many know as block checks. The photo-eye sensors located on the brake run and the station are blocked in a specific order to fool the computer into thinking a train is sitting on the brakes. This should stop the other train on the lift hill, which is why you will often see a train stopped on the lift just prior to opening. Once each sensor is checked properly, the attendant returns to the station and the employees take part in the best part of their job: test riding.
Possessed requires what is referred to as a light curtain test. Many shuttle coasters and rides with retractable floors are equipped with infrared light sensors that create a curtain of invisible light on either side of the station. This ensures that no one is in a dangerous location during dispatching of the ride. For Possessed, this is especially important because the train passes through the station at high speeds.
To simulate a guest or employee breaking the light curtain, a flag is used to trip the sensor when the train is at the high point of the front spike. This ensures that the train gains full speed prior to approaching the station. The goal is to have the train stop just prior to it entering the station in the launch area so that guests can be evacuated if need be, but also ensures that the train will not strike any person or object that may be in the train’s path. Each light curtain (one on each side) is tested, followed by the ride stop buttons located at the back of the station and on the panel.
Once those tests are complete, employees get the chance to test ride prior to the park opening. Once the ride is operating, the procedure is essentially the same throughout the day. For Talon, the harnesses automatically unlock upon the train stopping in the station. The “button” attendant opens and closes the gates, and guests take their seats.
Each of the four attendants checks their respective rows and return to their posts. The “button” attendant (rear load side) gives the clear signal, followed by the “lift” position (front load). Then comes the “window” attendant (front unload), and finally the head attendant (rear unload), who then signals to the operator that the train is clear. The operator says “ready,” at which point the “button” attendant presses and holds their dispatch button until the operator dispatches the train and it has cleared the station. Both must hold their buttons down to bring in the following train as well.
Possessed is very similar, although in addition to the guest gates needing to be locked, each attendant must also be behind their gates which must be locked. The clearing procedure is identical for Possessed, starting with the “button” attendant and ending with the head attendant.
So there you have it. A brief insight on what goes in to opening and operating a ride throughout the day. Next time you go to a park, especially a Cedar Fair park, pay attention to how the operators work. It really is a very well oiled machine that puts Cedar Fair capacity above some of the other major theme park chains that use slower and less efficient methods. Ride On.