Monday, May 17, 2010

Testing “The Grizzly”

This Saturday, I had a chance to get away from things for awhile and spent the day with my older daughter at California’s Great America (which has gone through many ownership changes since its inception in 1976 and my first visit there). I had fun showing her which rides were original (albeit with different names) and which had come in the last decade or so.

It was while we were waiting in line for The Grizzly (an old fashioned wood frame roller coaster ride, complete with rumble and bang that makes those ride so jarring and fun) that the ride was stopped and the people in line were told “the Grizzly is experiencing technical difficulties, you may wait until it is resolved, or you may exit the way you came". 90% of the people in line exited, but 10% of the people stayed put. My daughter and I were in the pole position for the front car (it went on standby just before we were to load). Having waited 45 minutes to get to that point, I suggested that we should wait it out and see how long it will take.

Part of this was my teaching my daughter the virtue of patience, but I must confess I had an ulterior motive. I’d never been this close to the main dispatch when a problem had occurred. I was really curious to see what it was, and what would resolve it. While I can’t be 100% sure, as the people on the other side of the track were far enough away that I couldn’t hear them, I could hear that there was an issue with the braking and advancing system (the one that queues cars up for loading and then for pushing cars onto the chain track was not triggering correctly; cars would get in line for loading onto the chain and they would stop).

The steps for getting the system back into operation were interesting:

• The drive attendant makes announcement, and then radio'd someone.

• The more senior ride attendant (I’m guessing) comes and looks over the console with the first ride attendant. The senior attendant pokes and prods a few things.

• Both go to both sides of the track and push a few buttons. Nothing happens.

• Another radio call. This time an older person with a jacket appears (ride management? Not sure) and *they* look over both consoles. The lady with the jacket hands them an orange piece of paper (their trouble ticket system?) Someone triggers a switch and the car that was stalled on the track (with people in it) was released to be added to the chain (this is a fully gravity driven coaster; one chain ride and the rest is all done with the ups and the downs of the track).

• The car in the waiting queue is let through (without people) and sent to the spot to be loaded on to the chain. No problems. The returning car with people gets back to the spot, the car is unloaded, and then the cars are run through the system a few times. After about 4 loads on the chain, the cars stop short of the load point.

• Another call. This time a guy with a pair of aviator sunglasses and a toolbox arrives. OK, we now are assured something is wrong. The guy with the toolbox hands the lady in the jacket a blue piece of paper.

• Guy with glasses asks a few questions from both sides of the track, releases what must be an override to load the stuck car onto the carry chain, and the process repeats, this time letting 6 cars load without people until it sticks again.

• At this point, glasses guy scratches his chin, goes over to the rear console (where the back of the train would be (unscrews the top of the console plate, looks at a few wires, then puts the plate down and unscrews the microphone used for the ride operations to communicate with the crowd.

• Four more car trains are allowed to pass through, both pieces of paper (orange and blue) were handed to the lady in the jacket, and with that, the attendant announces “Welcome to the Grizzly” and everyone waiting gets to get in the cars and ride the ride.

The total amount of time from ride stop to restart turned out to be twenty minutes, but I found it to be rather instructive. First, it was clear that there was a thought that the problem was with something on the track. The tests they ran and the order they ran them first pointed to that. They took the time to get a number of opinions of the issue, and someone with authority to make a decision (I’m guessing the Orange paper was either the acknowledgment of a problem or proof that they were allowed to override the controls). Through additional testing, a senior mechanic was called, and through some quick determination, and a blue piece of paper, her went over and determined there was a short in the communication relay (how this was affecting the track control, I honestly don’t know, but I would have loved to have had a chance to chat with the mechanic to see how he determined that), and then a confirmation that the system was working as expected after the change.

A simple 20 minute wait gave me insights into the ways and methods that Great America tests and troubleshoots their rides, and it also gave me a great feeling that there were people there that knew what they were doing, and could do it quickly. I love Great America for lots of nostalgic reasons. Having a glimpse into their quality assurance and control mechanism make me like them just a little bit more today :).

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