Part Seven


April 12, 2002 - Thousands of pounds of raw steel stock for the track and car frames are scheduled to arrive today, and I get the privelege of wrangling it all by myself. (Hooo-ahh!) This material was supposed to arrive yesterday, but that's par for the course with the delays we've experienced thus far. Also, we should have a Cyclo-Drive in the new gear ratio for testing by the weekend - or early next week - along with our dual speed motor. Lots of testing will begin this weekend, starting with the hot rail for the prototype track. Once this is installed, we'll let the car cycle for several hours to see what weaknesses - if any - crop up.

At left: No, it's not a horde of robotic Louisiana crayfish - it's a box of home-brew sense switches for use on the cars and along the track layout. Similar devices, when purchased as industrial components, are very expensive. These, which I designed to rescue our budget, will likely work just as well, both as speed selector switches on the car frames and as effects triggers along the ride route. (Necessity - as always - is the mother of invention.)

The switch modules utlize an aluminum offset cam turned on our metal lathe along with a tensioner spring. They can easily be modified to suit varied uses by changing the length of the spring ams and their orientation. When used to trigger stunts, they will fire timers, which in turn will activate both the kinetics of a scare and sound effects that accompany it. These modules are easy to repair if they should fail. The white plastic backbones are made of Acetron (acetile), a variety of UHMW (ultra high molecular weight) plastics.

A Sharp Left Turn Is Really a Double Turn For the Left Casters

The image at right shows what must be the most unusual wheel tracking pattern of any dark ride car yet manufactured. You're looking at the insane 2.5' radius turn at the right rear of the test track. I've labeled the traces for the front and rear wheels to help you see how it happens. Along with the cars on Snow White's Scary Adventures and the latter-day Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disney, ours is one of a precious few dark ride vehicle designs that utilize caster wheels to support the car's entire weight. Our version leaves a unique and radical tire trail due to the 'wild mouse' setback in the wheelbase, and the 'mid-engine' positioning of the drive system. Just try to imagine how it feels to ride through this turn! In the Charon car, the drive will be a bit further back than in Lizzy.

You can see the marks on the rail where the cam followers travel as well. These little rollers showed no wear at all when inspected, despite the lateral forces that are obviously at work when the car makes the turn.

Step Up To The Bar - but Don't Lift It or You're Out of Here!

The photo at left shows the prototype safety bar mounted for testing on Lizzy's back seat, with its spring loaded latch bar. In the Charon cars, this bar will have a round button on the end of the stud nearest the camera, which the operators ar Dispatch and Unload will push to release the lock mechanism. At the far end is the safety switch - although it is hidden from view in this picture - which stops the car and lights a warning light for the Overhead Observer if it is accidentally released. The observer would then hit the 'all stop' switch and a reset proceedure would then go into effect. This emergency shutdown will be thoroughly scripted, and all ride operations personnel will rehearse it thoroughly in training simulations.

Here's what the ride staff would have to do if this occurred: First, both the Unload and Dispatch operators would also press their all-stop buttons, to lock the ride off as a fail safe. Then, the Troubleshooter - probably the on-duty engineer - would enter the ride, having been informed by radio where the offending car had stalled: "Condition red in Zone 3," for example. (The emergency lights would already be on, and a digital recording will have told the passengers to remain seated, and that the ride will be starting again momentarily.)

The Troubleshooter would reset the safety bar if the passengers in the offending vehicle are still seated. If it is evident that a passenger (or passengers) has exited the car 'with intent,' he or she woud be escorted from the ride on foot, and led to a security officer who would deal with the problem. With the safety bar reset, the Troubleshooter would exit the ride circuit, and the ride would then be re-activated as follows: The Overhead Observer would resume his or her position, and radio the others that the situation has been cleared, and verify that the fail safe procedure has been executed correctly. Upon confirmation, Overhead's all-stop switch would be reset, and this would be announced by radio: "Overhead reset." Unload would then respond, "Unload reset," and release that all-stop. Finally, Dispatch would announce, "Dispatch restart in 5 seconds." Dispatch would count down appropriately and reset the final all-stop switch. The ride would then re-start automatically. Yes, that's a lot of shuffling, but it's necessary for patron safety. (If you've ever witnessed an emergency ride shutdown at a Disney park, you know that their restart proceedure is even more complex than this.)

Frankly, we don't expect this to happen. Why? It's well known in the dark ride business that most people who attempt to exit a car are repeat riders who (a) know the ride circuit well and have become bored with repeat rides, and (b) are aware of how to exit the car by circumventing the restraint system (in older rides, these are often quite simple.) In our ride, the experience will be so intense that boredom and mischief will be far more unlikely. Further, signs will be posted in the queue line and at the load area informing patrons of the consequences of such behvior: 'You will be escorted off the premises and forfit your admission.' That should be enough in itself, but we know from the operation of our walk-through haunt that there is always an occasional drunk or 'macho' jerk waiting in the wings to cause trouble. Frankly, it will be nearly impossible to release the bar with the feet, and anyone who wishes to take the trouble of contorting themselves to reach the bar by hand - if they physically can - would also have to study the system thoroughly to learn how to release it. The great majority of people will be riding to have fun and enjoy themselves. In other words, it's not very likely to occur.

Trouble With Deliveries and A New Prop

April 19 - As I half-expected, the metal did not arrive during the entire period of Byron's absence. It is supposed to arrive this Monday, and it had better. (Harrumph!)

In lieu of supervising the welding of track, I continued to clean and organize the warehouse until Byron returned on Thursday night. By that time, I had the body built for my 7' tall Coffin Clock. It's intended as a nostalgic tribute to the Snake Clock dark ride stunts built by Bill Tracy, Funni-Frite, and other companies; as well as the one originally envisioned by Disney's imagineers for the haunted mansion.

This ghoulish grandfather clock is entirely a blacklight prop. Instead of a snake, a glowing skull will suddenly emerge from the clock face, and at the same time the area will go dark, leaving the phosphorescent death's head still glowing alone in space - 'in your face.' The other neat details can wait as a surprise for you riders (hint, hint.)