Part One - January/February 2002.

By Doug Ferguson, Project Director

When, at the end of its 2001 season - the 9th year of its run - New Orleans' House of Shock finally decided to have a go at doing the first 'hard top' dark ride at an October Haunted Attraction, a myriad of things had to be considered. The first, of course, was where the cars were going to come from. As it turned out, there was but one firm in the USA making these vehicles: Catarzi Mfg. in Sarasota, Florida.

At first, I approached Jules Catarzi about making cars for us. This turned out to be prohibitive, as a two-seater car was to cost nearly $8000. During my discussions with him, we decided that for capacity reasons, House of Shock needed a car that could seat 4 adults or 6 kids. Such cars would have cost well over 12K each. That would have made our rolling stock investment well over $80 thousand - before we even purchased track!

It was a hard decision, but we finally settled on doing the R&D, and making 7 cars ourselves. Mr. Catarzi spoke to me in disbelief at this prospect. He was probably convinced that we were a bunch of crazy hobbyists working on a shoestring budget. He was right about the budget. My bosses want to keep the costs very low, and some obscenely tiny figures were mentioned at first (realistically, I expect the whole project to come in somewhere around $50K.)

Jules also issued the following friendly warning: 'You'll need good spooks.' Obviously, he was not familiar with our reputation. ;-) Although I assured him that we had a highly experienced mechanical engineer on our team, he remained unconvinced of our capabilities.

I should introduce that engineer to you now: Byron Falgout, currently employed by Laitram Corporation, which manufactures the world's finest automated shrimp peeling machinery. He has been responsible for a number of refinements and improvements in the design of this system - a large, impressive agglomerate of stainless steel machinery (I'll try to find some pictures to post later.)

Above: Byron operates the metal cutting band saw
in the spacious sweatshop in our second large warehouse,
the front of which will also house the dark ride.

During my preliminary design work for the project, Byron was in the Middle East at the time of the September 11 debacle. He escaped to London safely, and finally returned to us about two weeks before we were to open for business. That night, I drew the design I envisioned for the ride car on a scrap of paper, and he was convinced that it was workable. By November, I had the basic design you see below drawn out to give us something to work from.

Several details are omitted from the drawing. There is to be a second rail which will provide the 24V.A.C. hot supply, located nearer the floor than the drive rail. There will be a floating pickup which will contact the hot rail, and this will be attached to the driving mechanism. The car will also have a pair of roller switches which will contact hill-shaped lobes on the floor to allow speed changes (low to high and high to low.)

Above: Byron welds and inspects the initial prototype frame, which he simplified from the original concept drawing. Notice that a number of unnecessary frame members have been eliminated, and that we are building a very strong chassis, capable of carrying at least 1000 pounds of passengers.

Above: (Left) Flexion, a local materials handling company graciously supplied four compressible solid tire casters for test purposes - and we may end up using these on the ride. They have a capacity rating of 500 lbs. each, and feature steel sleeve roller bearings with lube ports, both on the wheels and caster elements.

(Right) Note that the end of the frame nearest the camera is the front of the car. The wheels are inset from the ends of the frame so as to provide a tighter turning radius, in the manner of a 'Wild Mouse' roller coaster car. Tight turns are an essential part of the dark ride experience, and - as we plan to use a dual speed motor - we can add a little 'whip action' to the ride.

Above: Two more views of the frame, size 4' wide by 7' long. This will allow the comfortable seating of two large adults side by side - or two average adults and a child.

Above: The completed test frame sits on a section of drive rail.

Right: The rear guide rollers stride the track. We will most likely offset the guide and drive wheels to the left (in this view) in the final version of the frame so that the combination of hot and guide rails forms a center. This will allow an increase in turn radius.

A Little Logic Goes A Long Way

Above: Here is the relay logic I designed to coltrol the motor in the car. (Note that the photo of the finished board is reversed in relation to the schematic.) The relay to the far right in the schematic is the 'fail safe', a safety feature. It reacts to both the position of the safety bars and a compressible front bumper. If either of the bars are up, or the car contacts something, the motor will stop until the track power is cycled off, then back on. Given our gearbox, the car will stop very quickly with motor braking. (Low speed will probably be about 2.5 feet per second, and high speed twice that.) The other relay is the speed selector. When the car is powered up, it comes up in low speed automatically. It will not go into high speed until the proper roller switch is closed. (I will leave it to the curious to trace the logic. Yes, It has been tested. :-) )

Byron's Self-Clamping Drive System (SCDS)

Here is my elaboration on Byron's idea for a 'self clamping' drive wheel. The idea is that the driving wheel will pull itself forward and into the track, providing clamping force. The spring is there only to keep the tire in contact with the track when at rest.

The long, protruding lever is included to allow easy removal of the car from the track in the event of a failure. One simply pulls the lever into a latch (not shown) and then a crew lifts the car off the track and wheels it to the shop for repairs (it sounds so simple on paper!)

Here is Byron's simplification of the somewhat complicated arrangement I drew, which eliminates several parts - including a tire - and is more elegant. The small rollers are stainless steel cam followers with roller bearings. Unlike the original conception of the motor and gearbox shown in the first design, we currently plan to use a 'cyclo drive' gear reducer which is an in-line design. This will have the motor extending through the frame vertically, to be housed under the front seat next to the motor control relay logic board. A step-up transformer will raise the 24V supply to 110 V.
Well, that's where we are as of February 12, 2002. So much work has yet to be done, and we'll keep you posted. But we are quite confident in our design. When several people tell you 'it can't be done,' that's when you set out to prove them wrong. We now await the delivery of a metal lathe for use in the fabrication of several essential parts. When that arrives, we're off to the races. It's only 8 months to Miller Time, folks!