Part Ten

CHARON Undergoes 15 hours of testing, and gets a body -

or: Nickleback Rider

June 4, 2002

Looking back seven months to the car plans scribbled on a paper napkin, it seems surreal. So much has happened, and so much has changed. Only a year ago, I had given up the whole project for dead. Now, here it is staring me in the face, over half completed. If all goes well, we'll be part of the re-genesis of the dark ride as a classic experience every bit as important as the ferris wheel or carousel. If we do nothing else but get folks thinking about what they'd love to see more of, we've succeeded. I say we because my friends at House of Shock support this project, and want you to love it just as much as they do.

Charon ran nearly two weeks ago and has logged over 15 hours. It is can bear passenger loads in excess of 800 pounds without undue strain.

Riders love the car. We have a manual speed control which one passenger can manipulate for testing purposes, and we've been giving thrill rides to visitors without turning off the lights. Imagine adding thrilling speed changes to cold darkness and frignts. Woof.

By the way, we have tested ride control programs for both the master PLC, and the onboard car PLC's. That's one big worry out of the way!

Over May 31 - June 3, Frank Starnes assembled the new 'coffin' body for Charon. It will be stained, finished and upholstered, and then fitted with 'genuine' coffin hardware. For some, the phobia will begin when they see what they are about to climb into. Lovely notion, hmmm?

Two members of the band Nickleback - along with a lot of other tour personnel and a celebrity or two (including Sabrina the Teenage Witch) - came by for a tour of House of Shock, and ended up riding the Charon car. Once again, four thumbs way up, per trip.

[AT RIGHT: Two guys from Nickleback in front, with Kyle Turley (and wife) of the New Orleans Saints in the back. Ross Karpelman is in the background of the top image.]

June 6-9
During the weekend, I was a guest presenter at the Global Halloween Convergence in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It was the most fun I've had in four years. This is a convention intended for Halloween fanciers, and a lot of yard haunters attended, along with quite a few pros. This is the convention you should attend if you're a new phantasmechanic, because there's lots of opportunity to talk shop with more experienced folk.

One feature that you might be interested in was the Haunt-O-Lympics. The premise is like that of Junk Yard Wars, save that you're building a Halloween-themed dimensional decoration with animation (which can be hand powered or otherwise.) Six judges - three Artistic and three Technical - oversee the competition. There is a 'virtual dumpster' full of materials available, and each team has one runner who can legally fetch one item or a pre-packed container of items at a time. The time limit is 1.5 hours, and a few rudimentary hand and power tools are provided for community use.

The competition is 3/4 serious, and 1/4 fun and laughs. However, the judging must actually reflect the quality of the work. Teams are composed of experienced haunt pros, gifted yarders, and the occasional genius, so you can expect competition to be fierce - but also good-natured.

What did they build? One team constructed a giraffe creature of a toy stroller, a freon tank, and a long spring. This stunt, bearing a horrifying resemblance to Jar Jar Binks, had a moving neck powered by an oscillating fan motor ducktaped to a golf driver (yep, you read that right.) A second team utilized an inverted bicycle, a streetlight hood, tubing, traffic safety cones, and some tubing to build a bizarre alien creature with moving arms and capable of shooting foil balls from its mouth. (This counted as an actual non-breath-powered pneumatic, which earned them extra points from yours truly.) The third team - the winners - built a haunted bed scene with a skull headed creature which lunged forward under hand power. What won it for the third team was their artistic score. I've seen much poorer props in commercial haunts!

The return trip became an adventute when your humble narrator failed to ask which airport a shuttle was enroute to. I ended up in NYC at LaGuardia, and had to drop hefty cash on a New York cab for a ride north to White Plains. You can say what you want about New York cabbies, but this one saved my posterior with sheer determination (he didn't know where the airport was, but he bloody well found out) and patience (he actually found me a cash machine with the meter still turned off!)

June 10-15

When I returned, I found that Byron had been hard at work on Sunday 9. There on the welding table were a majority of the parts for the rest of the Charon cars. We proceeded to cut the rest during the week, and welded another complete frame. We also decided that the 'coffin bodies' were really too heavy. They eat up the weight of three passengers, and this needs fixing. This one car will probably stay as it is, but the rest will be lighter, and probably lack the hoods at the rear. Diplomacy will be required; one of 'the powers that be' really likes the coffin idea.

The warehouse will undergo cleanup soon, and we'll begin track-laying this week. It's far from over, but close enough to be exciting. House of Shock's Room Captains will meet on Sunday 23, and we'll be getting some volunteers soon - we hope.

June 17-19

On Manday, I discovered that all the frames had been welded. Byron borrowed a MIG welder from Joey Grego (remember our race car driver?) and launched into the project on Sunday, finishing 6. A nice surprise, indeed.

At this point, we have 3 more of the Charon frames wheeled and painted. We've laid 30 feet of track, and will be launching into track laying seriously next week. We now inrend to go with a single large step down transformer to get our 48 V. track supply - something our electrician recommended.