I grew up 20 minutes from Canobie Lake Amusement Park. For those of you unfamiliar with Canobie Lake, it was built in 1902 to increase ridership on the local trolley lines. It’s a small family-friendly park. They have the original carousal from opening day still in operation, an entire section devoted to kiddie rides and shows with clowns and magicians. What they didn’t have back in the day was a real thrill ride.
That is until they opened the Galaxi roller coaster. This was a modern tubular coaster with higher hills, steeper drops, and speeds up to 65 mph. The ride only lasted a minute and a half, but it was the most excitement a kid could have in 90 seconds.
I had been on the Galaxi many times before my 6th grade class field trip. So, unlike some of my other classmates, I wasn’t anxious at all about riding. I’d get on the ride, put my hands behind my head and just relax as the cars zoomed up, down, around and through the spirals. They called me crazy and couldn’t believe how casual I was about the entire experience. For a short time, I was the coolest kid in class.
For my 8th grade class field trip, we went to Whalom Park. Whalom was like Canobie, except that even then it had seen better days. Where Canobie had a relaxed picnic vibe, Whalom was pure carnival. No, not carnival, it was worse, carney. The grounds were a mess. The rides needed painting, (and possibly more). But to me and my 8th grade class it was great because it wasn’t “Kiddie Canobie”.
The entire trip on the bus, I and my friends would discuss Whalom Park’s roller coaster, the Flyer Comet. Was I concerned? No, I rode a Galaxi, what’s to fear from a little comet. If the girls were afraid and needed someone to ride with, I’d be happy to. (We were 8th graders after all.)
Classic or relic?
When we arrived at the park, the line for the Flyer Comet wasn’t too long, maybe 10 minutes or so. And all the while, I was playing it cool as I looked up to see this wooden behemoth, paint flaking, bolts dropping, swaying back and forth as the cars rolled by. No big deal I lied to myself.
As soon I sat down, I noticed something wasn’t right. There were no doors. The Galaxi had doors to keep you safely inside the ride. No problem, I thought, the lap bar will come down and keep me secure. As the cars started down the track, I kept pulling on the bar. “Hey, the lap bar won’t come down!” I shouted as we passed the ride operator. His response, “Yeah, that doesn’t move.”
“Ok, I can handle this” I thought to myself as I grabbed the bar tightly, but not too tight, as I didn’t want my classmates to see my rising fear. I braced my feet against the side trying to stabilize myself.
And then came the climb. This coaster was taller than the one at Canobie. It used multiple chains to move the cars to the top of the first hill. And every time the cars moved from one chain to the next, there was a jerk, a free fall backward and finally a jolt as the next chain caught.
As we hit the top and rounded the corner there was a sign. Probably placed there by some well-intentioned soul who didn’t realize that at this point there was no going back. Hey, if you want to give me a choice, put the sign where I can see it before I get on the ride! I will never forget what it said –
WARNING! Do not stand up on this ride.
You WILL DIE!
This is your final warning.
Final, as in last warning ever? And why would anyone ever design a ride where you can stand up and WILL DIE?
That was it, I screamed like a small child wanting its mother. I desperately clawed at the unmoving lap bar as I tried to stay inside the car over every hill, through every bump and around every turn. I didn’t care how uncool I looked at that moment, I just wanted to survive.
Proper maintenance is crucial
Some claim that the ricketiness of wooden roller coasters is an illusion. That they are just as safe as modern steel coasters. That may be, but ANY equipment, no matter how safe the design, that is not properly maintained can and eventually will become a danger. And just a reminder, putting up a sign that says “YOU WILL DIE” is not proper maintenance.
If you need help ensuring the safety of your facility, maintaining equipment including conveyors and forklifts to manufacturers standards, or replacing material handling equipment that has seen better days, contact Abel Womack and you too can be the cool kid.