The ‘dummy’ rides alone

Will, Steve, Mike and Jeff weren’t the only fellows to ride The Voyage on Thursday.

Fred rode, too.

In fact, he traveled all the way from Utah for the opportunity.

Fred always hogs the back seat. He calls it his “office.”

(Please note we haven’t changed our Dress Code here at the park. Fred says this is his uniform and since we’re not open to the public yet, we’re letting it slide.)

On Thursday and Friday, Fred rode The Voyage, The Legend and The Raven, measuring the forces of the ride.

Fred is one lucky test dummy.

Fred is a bit of an introvert.

I do think, though, that I heard a “whoo-hoo!” as he swooped through this final curve.

When I asked him about it later, he just stared off with that blank look of his.

Fred’s an okay guy.

The view from the front, er… back, seat

As soon as word got out that the first human rides had taken place (we’ll talk more about Fred the Test Dummy later), the emails started pouring in.

Everyone wanted to know Will’s reaction to his first ride on The Voyage.

So I emailed him, asking if he had time to submit a “trip report” for the HoliBlog. Even a voicemail would do; I could transcribe it for him.

This morning my Inbox contained the following from Will, sent at 2:17 am (too excited to sleep?):

On Thursday, April 20, I took the first ride on The Voyage.

On the first train, I rode with Steve Meunier (Director of Development) in the front seat. Mike Kamp (Director of Safety and Maintenance) and Jeff Mason (Construction Foreman) rode in the seat behind us.

I’d decided to try the front seat first because I wanted the most open view possible on the first ride. The station was packed with Holiday World employees, including Luis, Obri, and Jose (former Custom Coasters employees who were part of our coaster-experienced construction crew), and their entire crew.

It’s hard to describe what a ride like this is like.

First, there’s the thrill of actually experiencing something that we’d worked on so hard and so long. We’d started the project in earnest at IAAPA 2004, when we’d reviewed preliminary designs with Larry Bill, Chad Miller, Michael Graham, and Korey Kiepert of The Gravity Group.

This ride represents my vision of what an ultimate out-and-back-style roller coaster should be.

In all honesty, this coaster matches my initial vision more closely than our first two projects, Raven and Legend. It really is exactly what we envisioned and asked Gravity Group to design those 18 months ago.

Second, is the context within which all of this is occurring. During the past three weeks, our construction site has been an amazing zone of productivity. We have so many people (200 at last estimate) working so hard, and accomplishing so much in such a short time. I visit the site twice a day unless there’s something specific I need to check on, and every time I visit, there is visible progress. So, the opening of The Voyage is one step in this amazing process of getting Thanksgiving and Bahari River prepared for opening day.

Third, is the raw pride that I feel in our family park as a whole. We’ve done so much in so few years, and have grown our park so much, while retaining family ownership and control. The Voyage is a new symbol of what we’ve accomplished during recent history, and of what we will do over the next 10 years. This isn’t the end our growth cycle, it’s a “midpoint.”

I also take great pride in the level of commitment and productivity our wonderful team exhibits on a daily basis. It is such a pleasure to get to lead an organization that is so committed and devoted.

So, that’s the “pre-ride” environment.

Then, we give the word, the brakes release, and we’re rolling out of the station toward the lift hill.

While I love launch coasters, there’s something to be said for the build-up of anticipation ascending a traditional lift hill.

As we ascend, I look back toward Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, admiring the view. It’s beautiful in all directions. To our left, I notice that we’ve poured the concrete walkway leading from The Wave to Bahari River, taking that project one step closer to completion.

This is a big lift hill, and the feeling of being “way up there” sets the tone for the beginning of the ride. The first drop is 66 degrees (did I mention steepest on any U.S. wooden coaster?).

Hanging over the crest waiting to release, the hill looked and felt vertical.

Then we were off.

The first three air hills were very good. This was only the 24th circuit for the track and train, so I know it’ll continue to get faster and faster. This increase in speed will have a big impact on the air moments on the hills on the out-run.

We caught great air on this ride, but I know the air hills will get better and better as the trains and track break in. In addition, I would find out shortly that the difference between the front and back seats on this ride is amazing. The Voyage, like Raven and Legend, is a back-seat ride. With a seven-car train, the difference between front and back is greater than on the Raven and Legend’s six-car trains.

One of the first big surprises for me was the cool air in the first tunnel. The difference in air temperature was striking, and I’m sure our riders during the summer will really appreciate the cool moments in the tunnels.

In the front seat, the crest of the fourth hill was a little disappointing. It’s better in the back seat, and again, I’m sure will improve dramatically with break-in. To me, this is the beginning of the turn-around, which feels like the “second part” of this monster ride.

The track gets very twisty all of a sudden. The pace picks up nicely. The Gravity Group Guys have done an incredible job filling every moment with something interesting, and keeping new things coming all the time.

Riders who’ve done the online ride will notice many subtle changes from that version to the finished product.

Thank The Gravity Group for not leaving well enough alone!

One of the great things about the turnaround is that it’s completely hidden until you ride it. Because the bottom of the hill (the turnaround curve itself) is about 60 feet lower than the crest of the hill, and we chose to keep the track low and fast in the turnaround, this is a high speed, exciting element.

As we start back up the hill, we go through the reverse-banked curve (nice touch–adds variety), and then enter the back-to-back 90’s.

This works very nicely, and is just a nice bit of track.

The 90’s aren’t a gimmick. They just work as track elements, and feel like a very natural part of the ride. In the front seat, I felt that the second 90-degree section was a little slow, but the push we felt as we passed through the curve and headed for tunnel three and the exit from the turn-around gave a big hint that this element would feel very different in the back seat, and as break-in progressed.

So, then, tunnel three, and a slow climb onto the spacing brake. This works exactly as I’d hoped. You kind of catch your breath, and enjoy the pause. I have a hunch many of our riders this summer will think the ride is slowing down and nearing the end.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

From here on, the ride accelerates relentlessly, as the pacing increases from medium to crazy.

The first element after the spacing brake is the underground triple down. I thought this worked extremely well. We’re not moving extremely fast yet, but the three drops in the tunnel are a great “kick-off” to the “third part” of this ride. For me, this is the best part of the ride.

One of my fears in building such a long ride with only one lift hill was that the ride would run out of gas at the end. However, our topography is now working for us, as we accelerate down the hill toward the station. The pacing here works exactly as intended, with the time interval between “elements” getting shorter and shorter as we near the end.

As we roll down hill, the station gets closer and closer. The track entering and exiting the station and leading into tunnel five is some of the best on the ride.

I think many of our Guests will have forgotten by this point that the ride doesn’t end at the station, but goes through it.

After exiting the station, the final section of track leading to the brake run is an exclamation point on the end of the ride.

This very long coaster ends with a bang.

We have plenty of energy left for a big finish and to hit the brake run strong. This track is also the most visible part of the ride for spectator viewing, and I’m sure will draw plenty of attention from both riders and non-riders.

I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that the conclusion is almost a little more than I bargained for. At the end of this long ride, I almost found myself feeling ready for the ride to just end.

ALMOST.

I guess to summarize, it was everything I’d dreamed of. The Gravity Group outdid themselves in tweaking the design, and maximizing every moment.

Luis’s track work is excellent.

Particularly in the high-speed sections, where the ride could be marred by a bad shimmy, the train moves very well. And I’m optimistic that the steel structure (and thicker side steel) will help us to postpone major track work for a very long time. It is a great ride now, and as it breaks in, it’ll only get better.

Earlier, I mentioned that this is a back-seat ride. My first back-seat ride came about 40 minutes after my first front-seat ride. To me, the difference was striking.

Where there were a few slow moments in the front seat, in the back seat, there were no slow spots to gripe about. I’ve said many times that the best measure of a ride is the riders’ expressions at the end. I couldn’t see my own face after my first back seat ride.

But I know how I felt. I think my face showed my sense of awe.

After just a few more than 30 cycles, this was already an amazing ride.

It’s hard to imagine what this ride will be like during the heat of the summer, after a thorough break-in period.

I think it’s safe to say that a new era in wooden roller coasters has begun.

What a wonderful Voyage it is going to be!

No respect …

None.

One of my HoliBlog-email buddies just sent the following:

I thought that I heard a very loud, high pitched scream as I was driving from Evansville to Newburgh for lunch today. Where you getting your first Voyage ride?

Guilty as charged.

I'm hoarse, or I'd tell you more.

One last day for the auction

The excitement is just beginning for our eBay charity auction. We’re down to the last day, so it should get wild in the coming hours.

We’ve received lots of wonderful feedback as well as a few emails asking for some coaching so that they are sure to win.

No big secret: Bid more money than anyone else.

I feel compelled to share that this is more than just a fun publicity stunt for me. It’s really personal.

The auction’s proceeds go to the Riley Children’s Foundation.

Three years ago, James and I spent ten days at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

It all started on July 25, 2003.

Christmas in July.

James was three and was totally not into flushing the potty.

Thank God.

It was the wrong color. Blood in the urine, that can’t be good.

Off to the doctor we went that Saturday morning. Turns out there was blood and protein, which is a bad combination.

Dr. Ruff seemed concerned; he sent us to the local hospital for some tests. Afterwards, the technician hugged me and kindly whispered, “I’ll pray for your son.”

Why?! What’s wrong?

She couldn’t tell me, of course. We were sent home to wait.

I held a sleeping James in my arms most of the afternoon, waiting for the call from the doctor. While Gary held James, I researched all sort of scary diseases on WebMD.

By late afternoon, I’d calmed myself down with the thought that during a playful wrestling match with his older brother John, a bump to the kidney area had caused the scare.

Then the phone rang.

Paula, your son is very ill. Pack a bag for the two of you and go to Riley right away.

Go straight there. Don’t stop.

There was no time to panic. We threw together a bag and got in the car.

Little James reached out to his dad before we left, “It’ll be okay, Daddy.”

When you live on a dairy farm, you have a very short leash. Gary, stricken, stood in the driveway as John, James and I headed out on the three-hour drive to Riley.

When we arrived at the hospital late that night we were greeted with, “Oh, this is the little boy with kidney failure.” I wanted to deny it, but didn’t know for sure.

We spent the night in the ER and then moved up to a room. In the outside chance that James was contagious, he had to be fully covered as we rolled the gurney down the hallway and into the elevator.

Even his little face.

It was hours later before I finally could bring myself to ask a nurse if there was a chance we would lose James.

You got him here in time. We’ll take good care of him.

Later, in the bathroom, I clutched the cold tile walls and sobbed silently, begging God to help my child. And all the other children at Riley.

We were in isolation. That meant lots of masks, gowns and gloves.

Eventually I learned more about Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or H.U.S.

Remember the eColi problem that nearly closed down a west-coast hamburger chain? James had something akin to that. But we never found out what caused it, despite more than 600 tests to his blood. It wasn’t undercooked food, it wasn’t stagnant water, it wasn’t the cows at Daddy’s farm.

Two other children were at Riley with H.U.S. when we were there. They were both on dialysis; they were both younger than James.

Despite the “kidney failure” diagnosis, James’s kidneys kept working well enough that we didn’t have to put him on dialysis. At one point, 12 hours went by without him using the potty; our specialist, Dr. Leiser, told us we had two hours to go (literally) and then would need to consider more drastic measures.

There’s nothing like a deadline. Within 20 minutes, James had produced a remarkable 22 ounces.

Yes, we had to measure it. And I don’t think anyone believed me that this little fellow could produce so much.

They didn’t know my stubborn little fellow with the cast-iron bladder the way I did.

Meanwhile, the only treatment available for H.U.S. was “supportive,” meaning a blood transfusion. My hand shook as I signed the paperwork.

I asked the nurse, “Is there any alternative?” She slowly shook her head, no.

In the middle of the night, the nurses came in to check on James and to draw more blood.

“Shhhh!” I heard him admonish them, “My mommy’s asleep.”

I found out later that H.U.S. patients tend to be very irritable.

One morning, when they were drawing blood and taking James’s blood pressure for the zillionth time, he’d had it. He threw a good old-fashioned tantrum.

The nurses remained calm and tried to gently soothe him while continuing their work. One of them was particularly dear, “We’re almost done, pumpkin.”

James would have none of it.

The little redhead roared: I! Not! Punkin!

Dr. Leiser later praised that behavior, telling me it was the fighters who got better more quickly.

After a week, James was finally interested in eating again. Daddy came to visit every other day, bringing “commasghetti” and hotdogs.

I’d sneak off during the visits to do some laundry, just one floor up.

While standing in the elevator, it suddenly hit me. There’s no small talk. Worried parents merely nodded at each other, but there was nothing to say.

One evening I decided James needed a sponge bath and shampoo. I asked one of our favorite nurses, Big James, for help. He told me we could unhook Little James from the monitors for a while.

When he brought me the tub of supplies, Big James talked me through all the different types of soaps and shampoos he’d gathered up for us.

“I hope there’s something in here that will make it feel like home for James.”

Tears stung my eyes. Big James really cared. He wanted to comfort my sick little boy who was so far away from his own bathtub.

After a second blood transfusion, James’s numbers turned around. A third unit was canceled. The morning of the tenth day, we were told we could go home after lunch.

That morning as I packed, I counted five “Code Blue” calls in the hallway. The P.A. call was always followed by the sound of running footsteps and then silence.

James and I were going home.

How many families don’t get that happy ending?

Since those harrowing yet incredible days, Gary and I have made Riley Hospital for Children “our” charity of choice. We know firsthand how wonderful every last person on staff is — from the person who brought me a blanket and literally tucked me in as I cradled my sick boy that first night in the ER to the nurses who never showed any annoyance, to the doctors who took the time to explain H.U.S. to me until my overwrought brain could take it all in.

So if I get a little carried away and hug all 28 of the Voyage winners on the morning of May 6, I hope you’ll understand.

Meanwhile, James’s recovery is complete. Here he is riding The Raven with Gary last fall (that’s Lord Chadwick right behind them):

They were riding for the National Geographic Channel shoot. Poor Gary looks like he’s had one ride too many, but there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his little guy.

Thanks to everyone who is bidding on the auction. Your hard-earned dollars are going to a very good cause.

Train #1 is here

The first train is here.

Seven cars per train means 28 riders for each. (The trains for The Raven and The Legend have six-car trains.)

Train #2 is enroute and #3 will follow in a few more days.

Next, a crane will lift them onto the track. Not sure how much you’ll be able to see from our webcam, but I’ll try to keep the focus on the activity.

Sticking with Holiday World

Well today a friend and I visited a theme park in Cincinnati, Ohio, and after being there only a short while we found that we much prefer Holiday World.

This particular park was not nearly as clean, the employees weren’t nearly as friendly, HALF of the rides weren’t even running, there was no tram to and from your car, and everything was very expensive.

So we just decided to stick to Holiday World and we bought season passes to Holiday World. Your park is the best we’ve ever visited and we have never left with a complaint.

Thank you,
Jessica

“This is more-like paradise!”

That funny little phrase was uttered Friday evening by James as we walked hand in hand through the park.

The hours get long this time of year, but the burden of carrying a key is sometimes a perk.

You get to take your six-year-old son along for an after-hours HoliBlog photo shoot.

It was his idea, which should come as no surprise. He was concerned that the blog needed more photos.

So off we went.

We said hi to Karen in the Christmas plaza. She has worked here seasonally for a number of years and is now full-time Rides Manager. It’s training time and she was carrying two pizza boxes. I was grateful my boy didn’t try to mooch.

On through Fourth of July to see the new walkway into Thanksgiving. We opted not to walk along it, as it looked too fresh. I remember, long ago, while growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, walking along a newly painted bridge that spanned the Housatonic River near our home. There was enough tackiness left that my bare footprints remained. For months I worried that somehow I would be discovered for defacing public property.

The guilt was remarkable.

I wasn’t going that way again!

Instead, James and I headed into Splashin’ Safari. Over to the tower for the AmaZOOM and Bamboo Chute.

Please note that there are pieces of the reprofiled Bamboo Chute that must still be added. For proper clearance, the water slide needed a lift. Not a bad idea if it prevents the following:

“Hi Joe, what’s with the head bandage?”

Well, I took the family to Holiday World last week and on our way down to that new coaster I whacked my skull on one of those dang water slides!”

The reprofiling is definitely in the best interest of us all.

Next we headed over by The Wave, toward The Voyage.

We still weren’t up on the walkway, but you can see from this vantage point what a tangle of track awaits you this season.

Here is a peek inside that last tunnel.

At least I think that’s what it is.

Until they throw that thing over the hill and I eventually get to ride, I’m still not positive about all this.

James was very patient as I took all these photos.

He made me a little nervous, though, as he kept telling me, “I want to climb up that hill.”

When I glanced over at him I was horrified to see he was pointing at the lifthill.

Next we took a look at the plaza area in Thanksgiving.

That’s the Voyage Souvenir & Photo Shop on the left and the Pepsi Oasis on the right foreground with Gobbler Getaway in red in the background.

Here’s another view to show where Gobbler Getaway is in relation to the free-unlimited drink station.

We took this photo through the window of the new Pepsi Oasis building.

Although the sun was sinking in the west, we hurried up to look at the finished track. We even saw some deer prints in the soft ground. James wondered if they were from Santa’s reindeer and what they thought of this huge coaster in the woods.

Here’s the first tunnel and a look at the fourth hill there on the left.

And finally, we chugged on over to Splashin’ Safari to take a look at Bahari River. Here’s a portion of the canyon:

Back to the office, it was uphill all the way. We stopped to chat with Tori, who was training a ride operator on HallowSwings (he was taking the written test portion of his training).

Tori just called to leave me a voicemail. My ear is still ringing from her, “What are you doing?” It was a quizzical squeal from which I may never recover.

She had some inside information about when we might “throw it over the hill.” She wanted me to make sure to put the Gravity Group guys on alert.

James and I are heading home, so that we’re all tucked into bed before the Easter Bunny makes his rounds.

A happy and holy Easter and Passover to all of our friends.

They’re here!

It’s amazing what you won’t hear on our two-way radios.

Jodie, our warehouse manager, gets to announce to the appropriate staff members the news our latest arrivals as they’re delivered.

There’s a pretty steady stream of two-way reports this time of year.

Jodie just happily blasted across the airwaves:

The new urinals have arrived!

Don’t you just guess she’s all flushed with excitement?

An omen?

Driving in to work a little over an hour ago, I had to slow down … there was a wild turkey crossing my little country road.

I kid you not.

To get to the other side, I guess…

It strutted across the road with its long neck jerkily bobbing forward and back.

That bird had attitude.

Suddenly it hit me. The direction Mr. Turkey was heading.

He was in an exact beeline for Holiday World.

His route was rather “over the river and through the woods” so he may not arrive for a few more hours.

I guess I won’t feel right using “as the crow flies” anymore in my description of how far I live from the park.

“Yes, I live nice and close. As the turkey struts, it’s about four miles.”

“Throw it over the hill”

Throw it over the hill?

What does that mean?

We’ll get to that in a bit…

First let’s go back to daybreak.

Korey, one of the Gravity Group engineers, took this photo.

What was Korey doing here at dawn?

He had a TV interview scheduled for this morning.

Danielle from the Korean Broadcasting System was here to talk to Korey and the rest of the designers.

Poor Rachel tried like crazy to catch a photo of the GGG (Gravity Group Guys) together, but she said they scattered as soon as they got to the site. It had been a few weeks since their last visit and they had some catching up to do with their creation.

Later, they burst in through my office door, their enthusiasm nearly overcoming them. (And that’s really saying something; remember they’re all engineers. Good-natured engineers, thank goodness, as I couldn’t help teasing them a bit. “Somebody help me! I’m in a room full of geeks!”)

The talk was all about how next week, “We’ll be able to throw it over the hill.”

Throw what over the hill?

Not trash, surely … Mrs. Koch would have their hides if they littered.

A basketball? This is Indiana, after all. (When in Rome…)

Potters throw clay. Gamblers throw dice. Pregnant women … no, let’s not go there.

Oh.

They were talking about the very first test ride.

That’s what they call it: We’ll throw it over the hill.

They load a train up with bags of corn and throw it over the hill.

Now, my I.Q. may not match theirs, but even I could come up with a phrase a little more fitting of this monumental occasion.

“Throw,” after all, denotes a vector, does it not?

As in one-way?

Shouldn’t we maybe come up with a term that indicates it’s coming back? Like a boomerang?

At least we could say “throw it over the hill” in an Australian accent. That would satisfy me at this late date, mate.

So what exactly are we “throwing over the hill”?

Trains. Those lovely PTC trains. Tom at PTC took these photos recently. The shiny new trains are heading this way in plenty of time to be “thrown” next week.

As the throwing date approaches for any new coaster, a question invariably comes up from the uninformed, the uninitiated, and the un-optimistic.

Marcus from England was the first to bring it up to me:

As an eternal optimist I have a question which I hope you might be able to answer in your HoliBlog as I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking it. How do you know that the train will make it all the way around without running out of momentum? I’m guessing the software used to design the ride is pretty accurate but is there a chance it won’t make it back to the station? Is the first time you send the train around one of the scariest moments in your life?

Thanks and hope I’ve not passed a dark cloud over Santa Claus.

A dark cloud? Was that what this morning’s fog was all about?

Chad was kind enough to provide us with an explanation:

It’s typical for the train to run a little on the slow side when it’s sent around for the first time. Coasters have certain spots that can be identified that pose the most risk for a “roll back.” The Voyage has very few of these spots. Only two, in fact; the safety block and the brake run. Anti-rollback steel is placed in these locations to guard against a roll back.

A big part of coaster design is energy management. We know how much energy the train has to start with (based on the height of the lift hill) and so, in order to figure out how much energy it has at some point along the course of the ride, we have to know how much energy has been removed by friction. The friction is higher on cold days early in the season than it is on hot days later in the season. By applying the “cold day early in the season” value for friction, we can spot specific locations on the ride where the train slows to the point where we deem it necessary to install anti-rollback steel. As the ride breaks in, the friction will approach the “hot day later in the season” value and those spots on the ride will no longer be a concern.

Holiday World has always done a good job of preparing their trains for the first run, thus reducing the likelihood of any occurrences. Once the train gets some laps on it, the chances of a roll back are extremely slim. This is especially true for The Voyage because of the low profile of the return run.

Before anyone emails me begging for a first ride, let me explain that the State Ride Inspectors must first “seal” The Voyage before the public is permitted to ride.

Plus I’d just refer you to a charity auction that’s getting quite a bit of buzz.