The Wonderland Years: Wizard’s Fury

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th March 2014.

The final ride under my area’s responsibility at Australia’s Wonderland was the Wizard’s Fury, manufactured as the Bayern Kurve in 1973. A toboggan style train, riders would be sent round and round a circular track at 50km/h, passing through a house, presumably the aforementioned wizard’s crib. Part of the original 1985 ride lineup, it was also inherited from Kings Island Amusement Park, Ohio, owned at the time by Wonderland’s parent company, Premier Parks.

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The neat thing about the attraction was that the sixteen toboggans tipped towards the centre during the cycle, giving riders the false perception that they’d be decapitated by the entranceway of the house. Fun, huh?

As an operator, the biggest challenge operating Wizard’s Fury was the noise. It was a really loud ride. Being trapped for hours at a time behind the operating console which was located inside a three sided glass windowed booth usually resulted in headaches and some degree of hearing loss. Ear muff style hearing protection was supplied but I rarely wore them because I couldn’t hear the phone ringing, and it would mess up my hair. Hey,I was a single, reasonable looking guy wearing a disgusting green and white striped uniform for $7 an hour. I needed all the help I could get.

Come to think of it, I must have industrial hearing loss. I am quite partial to the music of Phil Collins. I better call my lawyer.

Despite the attempts to theme the ride as a magical journey through a mysterious dwelling, I always thought that the experience was diminished somewhat by the fact that the house doubled as the ride maintenance workshop. Instead of vials of dry ice bubbling in coloured water and the like, riders instead enjoyed the feast for the eyes which was oily rags, containers of degreaser and spare ride tyres. Mmm, magical.

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Wizard’s Fury was not rainproof either. As soon as the park received a light sprinkling, the slippery ride motor wheels would squeal as they attempted in vain to push the train up the track. Oh dear, time to empty the queue line and call in a 61 Delta, Wonderland code for a ride down due to inclement weather, and my code for kicking back in the booth with my feet up.

Closing the ride at the end of the day was a little tricky too. We were under instruction to finish on time. If the park closed at 5pm, we were required to cut off the queue so that the final riders would go through at 5pm. Unfortunately, with the queue behind me, it was pretty hard to know if crafty guests had snuck onto the line, usually resulting in a late finish with no overtime. Wonderful Wonderland indeed.

Wizard’s Fury was closed in 2002 when the track and carriages succumbed to rust (I did say that the ride wasn’t rainproof). The wizard’s mechanical workshop didn’t go to waste. The site and theming were utilised as the new home for the Galleons Graveyard attraction which was relocated from the defunct Hanna Barbera Land.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:59  Leave a Comment  
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The Wonderland Years: The Zodiac

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th March 2014.

The Zodiac was not originally part of my area of the rides department at Australia’s Wonderland. Sometime during my employment we inherited this twin arm gondola attraction, originally manufactured in 1974 under the name Star Wheel, from Hanna Barbera Land. Wonderland itself inherited The Zodiac. It was transplanted from its original home at Kings Island Amusement Park in Ohio in 1989. At the time, both Wonderland and Kings Island had the same parent company, Premier Parks. How such a huge ride is transported from one side of the planet to the other is beyond my comprehension. I presume it wasn’t in the overhead compartment.

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Whilst not the most exciting of attractions, it certainly produced its fair share of sick guests, mostly because riders had the ability to spin their gondola by turning a wheel located in the centre. Guests would emerge from their 5 minute captivity in the oversized birdcages and stumble towards the nearest garbage bin or garden bed. Most didn’t make it. As always, a little kitty litter would do the trick, followed by a phone call for some poor sucker from the park services department to attend with a dustpan and brush.

The legend amongst ride staff was that there was once a competition to see how long operators and loaders could hang onto the base legs of the gondolas as they ascended before they had to let go and fall to the ground below, landing safely I assume. Now as a proponent of workplace health and safety, I in no way condone this activity, however, I did try it, just the once. I got maybe 2 metres off the ground before I had to drop away, way too concerned for my ability to walk (and possibly talk) in the future. I hate heights and the idea of falling almost as much as I hate the idea of falling from a height onto concrete. And certainly not for $7 an hour.

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Operating The Zodiac was a boring affair. Stuck up in a raised booth, you had little contact with anyone. Wait for the loader to lock the twelve gondola doors and press two buttons when you received the thumbs up. My boredom was only broken by the occasional visit from my girlfriend at the time (she worked as a character escort) and one of my best mates, Anthony, in the disguise of Fred Flintstone or Captain Caveman. Normally silent when interacting with customers, it was always amusing for me to hear Fred complain about the heat, swear about the smell in the costume, give me a rude gesture and be on his way. Yabba-dabba-don’t-do-that-in-front-of-paying-guests.

From the booth, you had a bird’s eye view of the backstage area of the Hanna Barbera Stage. My favourite moment was catching Play School’s John Hamlin having a cheeky fag whilst only metres away sat hundreds of toddlers awaiting Big Ted and company.

The Zodiac closed with the park in 2004 and is now presumably rusting away in a scrap yard somewhere.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:56  Comments (1)  
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The Wonderland Years: Dragon’s Flight

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25 February 2014.

Dragon’s Flight, a wave swinger ride known commonly as the flying chairs, was my least favourite attractions to operate at Australia’s Wonderland. One of the original rides when the park opened in 1985, it was located in the Medieval Faire zone, later renamed International Village.

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Operating the ride was a challenge. Not only did you have to count forty eight riders at a time through the turnstile (we were supplied sporadically with cheap clicker counters which would literally fall apart in your hand after overuse), but you also had to control the ride brakes. There was a hydraulic foot pedal in the ride operator’s booth. As the chairs descended at the end of the cycle, I’d have to slow the ride so that the passengers would touch down exactly as the rotation stopped. I rarely got it right.

If I braked too early, the chairs would crash into each other in a uncontrolled seething mass of chains and legs. If I braked too late, the riders received the best foot exfoliation ever.

I was forever kicking guests off Dragon’s Flight. Mischievous riders would spin their chairs before the ride started and twist up the chains. They’d hang onto each other, or kick the chairs in front. I’d usually give one friendly warning on the mic, and if I was ignored, I’d cancel the ride cycle and bring everyone back down. I’d then kindly request that the idiots, er, naughty riders depart the attraction. Occasionally I’d cop some abuse from the evicted, but a quick call to security would usually result in the unruly guests escorted to the special attraction called the park exit.

Once, I answered a call from my manager informing me that a bomb threat had been received and asking that I casually check the bins and ride surrounds without the guests knowing. You can imagine exactly how obvious it was to the two hundred guests in the queue line when I brought the ride down, asked the passengers to depart, left the operator’s booth and proceeded to stick my head in every bin and shrub around the ride. One women asked me if I was looking for a bomb. I denied it, making up some pathetic explanation about a routine check for missing animals from the Wildlife Park.

Speaking of animals, every now and then in summer, I’d hear a shriek from the queue line and turn around to see people running in all directions. In the heat of the day, some of Wonderland’s residents snakes would come out of their holes to sunbake on the warm paths.

Dragon’s Flight was notorious for making riders sick. Known as a protein spill, there was a bucket of kitty litter ever present in the booth for a quick cleanup when a rider’s lunch came up for air, usually at least hourly on a hot day.

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My not-so-beloved flying chairs ride is now located at Sunway Park in Malaysia.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:44  Comments (1)  
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The Wonderland Years: Bounty’s Revenge

This column was originally published in The Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th January 2014.

Bounty’s Revenge, known to Australia’s Wonderland staff as “360”, was a looping starship ride with a pirate ship shell. One of the original attractions when the park opened in 1985, it seated fifty passengers at the time, swinging backwards and forwards until it eventually went right over the top to a height of twenty four metres. It was also one of my favourite rides to work on because it required 3 staff. With the ride queue really close to the operator’s booth, plus the extra colleagues, it was great fun to operate if you liked to socialise and interact with the crowd, which I certainly did.

Microphone in hand, I’d give my safety spiel every ride cycle and then begin my banter with the riders. One of my favourite things to do was tell the passengers that they would receive a free set of steak knives if they kept their hands up throughout the ride. Of course, I had absolutely no control over the ship whatsoever. Besides the lap bar controls, the start button and the big red emergency stop button, the ride operator had no influence on how long the ride went and how many revolutions it made.

I was also certain that no-one believed a word I said, until I was called in to see my manager. Unable to control his laughter, he proceeded to give me a “serious” warning. It seems that a rider indeed visited the guest relations office to claim his complimentary steak knives and after a fairly lengthy period of confusion on behalf of the poor employee behind the counter, became quite irate when told he had been duped. I didn’t play that prank again, much.

The problem with pirate ships that go upside down is that riders tend not to listen to warnings about loose objects. Fortunately, in the early nineties, no one really had mobile phones, so the staff would take shelter under canopies or umbrellas from frequent showers of coins, cigarette lighters, sunglasses and once, an SLR camera. At best, the object landed in the ride pit and would remain there until I called a maintenance crew member to fetch it, but usually it would stay where it landed for weeks until a scheduled clean out. At worst, it landed in the lake and was never seen again.

Whoever got the job to drain the lake in 2004 when the park closed for good would have made a fortune in coins. My friend and former colleague Craig claims to have found $80 in change when rostered to clean the outskirts of the ride.

Occasionally we would have a rider who was a little too, well, rotund for the seatbelt. The solution was pretty simple: seatbelt extensions. The tricky thing for staff was to retrieve these extensions when the ride cycle finished. Being almost identical to the standard seatbelts, they were pretty hard to find. Of course, when they plummeted from a height of  twenty four metres and slammed into the platform, they were much easier to locate.

The worst thing about Bounty’s Revenge was cleaning up after a guest was sick on the ride. Affectionately known as a “protein spill”, it was not possible to toss kitty litter over the mess and call park services to sweep it up. Instead, we’d throw soapy water over the seats, tell all of the guests to move under the queue canopy and run the ride. Not many attractions have their own spin dry cycle!

Bounty’s Revenge is now known as Pirate’s Revenge and is located at the Sunway Lagoon theme park in Kuala Lumpur.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 18, 2014 at 23:04  Comments (1)  
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