the Amusement Ride Hall of Shame

Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up. Step inside and see a collection of some of the more egregious errors witnessed by this wandering webmaster and his ever-present digital video camera. Remember, it's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt...

The Wacky Worm

Here's a perennial favorite. It's the Fajume' Wacky Worm kiddie coaster. A check of the database at saferparks.org indicates that it has been implicated in a bunch of incidents, usually involving kids coming out of the train in unusual locations. Probably in most cases because the operator doesn't enforce the requirement that riders under 42" tall must ride with a parent.

None of those incidents matches up with this concern, though, demonstrated here by Dave Althoff, Sr. The openings on that fence are all less than 4" wide, so it would appear that the ride fencing complies with the ASTM fencing standard. Except that it doesn't because, as you can see here, the fence does not form an effective barrier.

This particular ride was a brand-new unit on display at a trade show (hence that goofy looking badge hanging around Dad's neck), and it appears that every Wacky Worm has this problem when it comes from the factory in El Salvador. Fajume' claims that the ride complies with ASTM standards.

Not EVERY Wacky Worm, though! The one pictured in this second photo is nearly identical to the one Dad has his hand on. It's located at Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City, Missouri. While the angle is a little different, the photo is of the same part of the ride...and you can see that somebody has identified and corrected the problem with the fence. In this case, for Worlds of Fun it's no shame at all to be included on this page...they're here as the only example I've seen so far where this ride is set up "right"!


Push, don't pull, you fool!

I watched this happen several times before I actually caught it on videotape. The ride in question this time is a Chance Toboggan, a strange little roller coaster where single totally enclosed cars like the one shown here are hoisted straight up a tower, then spiral down on a track surrounding the tower. The operator has released the brake from under that loaded car, and is now pulling it by its front bumper in order to get it moving. What you can't see in this photo is that while there is a bit of space between the car and the lift hill, the lift motor is, in fact, running.

This happened at a small park in Pennsylvania. Ironically, the same park was featured on an episode of the classic reality-documentary television program, "Rescue 911". The accident in that case? A ride operator on the kiddie coaster had been pulling the train to get it loose from the station brakes, and it ran him over, dragging him up the lift hill. You would think that once would be enough for any park!

Ummm, I think that chain was a little too long...

This one was a simple mistake. It's the kind of incident you can make jokes about first of all because nobody got hurt, and second because it can happen to even the best park operators in the business. In fact it DID happen to one of the best park operators in the business. This is the transfer table of an Arrow looping coaster that is about fifteen years old. As on most Arrow coasters, the brakes on the transfer table (and everywhere else on the ride) are applied with air pressure. When the air is released, a leaf spring pulls the brake caliper open. It is standard practice on any ride with air pressure systems to drain the air tanks and lines daily so that moisture doesn't build up in the system and corrode the tanks. So when the train is parked, it needs to be held in place with a wheel chock or a chain attached to the back axle, since draining the air system will make the brakes go away. In this case, the train had been secured with a steel chain, but the chain was just a few feet longer than it should have been. Whoops!

It's a good thing bumper cars don't bump real hard...

Bumper car seat b...er, no, how about safet-no, that's not right either...let me try again...Bumper car rider securement belts have long been a pet-peeve of mine, as, in my opinion, very few are configured so as to be both effective and safe to use on a bumper car. Of course, in this particular case, the belt is probably not safe, and hopefully is not effective. Because if it were effective, draped around the rider's neck like that, it would probably take his head clean off.

On this particular bumper car ride, riders were given no instructions as to the proper use, mis-use, or non-use of the belts provided. Even so, the operator should have prevented this, don't you think?

 

I don't quite know what to make of this one...

This one is at Six Flags St. Louis. Take a look at the rider restrictions on the sign pictured here. This sign refers to a Zamperla kiddie train ride.

Now read those rider restrictions again. You see it?

It is quite clear:

Okay... So if I want to ride the kiddie train, does this mean I have to be accompanied by an adult who is under 54" tall?

Perhaps in this case it is a good thing that most people don't bother to read these signs...!

I actually like this one...

This fence is non-compliant according to current ASTM standards, but it's probably been there long enough that it pre-dates the standard. But take a closer look at how it is implemented here. This is a Hampton combo ride at Adventureland Park in Altoona, Iowa, just outside Des Moines. Notice the fence line is about eight feet out from the edge of the ride, and the park has thoughtfully provided benches INSIDE the fence line. The way this works is that the parents wait in the queue with their kiddies, and when the kiddies get to ride, Mom and Dad enter the fence line as well, help to place the kids on the ride, and then "ride" the benches surrounding the ride. Perhaps there are some issues with who should be inside the active ride area, and perhaps that yellow line should be a second fence. But I find the idea irresistably clever, and it seems to work for Adventureland. Pity it isn't standards compliant! Technically, it's wrong, and therefore belongs on this page. Dave the Amateur Ride Inspector says it's WRONG. But Dave the Ride Enthusiast thinks it's a really neat idea.

Fence? What fence?

In this photograph, Steve Elliott is standing on the midway. That's an active Go-Kart track to his right (to the left in the photo). I suppose if the top of that guard rail is at least 42" high relative to the midway surface, it meets the fence rules. Except for that annoying little clause that suggests that the fence has to form an effective barrier to keep patrons from coming into contact with the ride. That's the same clause that causes problems for the Wacky Worm up at the top of this page. The fence is there, but it is clearly inadequate. But wait! There's more!

This track is at the same place, right across the midway from the one Steve was showing us. There's no way that guardrail is even close to 42" high. See the kids nearly playing in traffic there? Actually one of them was on the track a few moments before I got the photo, but I was too late rolling the camera.

 

Electrical: Safe, but wrong...

This is a sodium-vapor lighting fixture hanging from the ceiling over a roller coaster loading platform. This is one of those things that isn't really "unsafe"; it's no worse than some of the things I would permit in my own home. But it's not code compliant.

Initially, I thought this was a 2-for-1 deal. It's hard to see in this photo, but the grey wire is "nonmetallic sheathed cable" that provides power to the "flexible cord" attached to the light, and that didn't look right to me. The connection is made with a couple of wire-nuts, which are securely taped. Amusement parks and carnivals are governed by Article 525 of the National Electric Code. NEC 525.3(B) indicates that in permanent structures, Articles 518 and 520 apply. So I looked up Article 518 and found--

NEC 518.4(A) General. The fixed wiring methods shall be metal raceways, flexible metal raceways, nonmetallic raceways encased in not less than 50mm (2") of concrete. Type MI, MC, or AC cable containing an insulated equipment grounding conductor sized in accordance with Table 250.122.

Hmmm...That must be where I got it. The usual rule is that in "places of assembly" (which is what Article 518 covers) the wiring needs to be in metal conduit or needs to be armored cable. Therefore, what I see in this photo is wrong, right? Wrong. I read further--

NEC 518.4(B) Nonrated construction. Nonmetallic-sheathed cable, type AC cable, electrical nonmetallic tubing, and rigid nonmetallic conduit shall be permitted to be installed in those buildings or portions thereof that are not required to be of fire-rated construction by the applicable building code.

In other words, if the building code does not require fire-rated construction (this is an open pavilion; I'm guessing fire rated construction might not be required) then the use of the nonmetallic sheathed cable in this case is OK. But that doesn't mean this ride is off the hook. Because the rest of Article 525 still applies, specifically the part about splices:

NEC 525.20(D) Splices. Flexible cords or cables shall be continuous without splice or tap between boxes or fittings.

So there really ought to be a box up there for that light to connect to!

(If you've been watching this page: See, I told you I'd look up the code...!)


A Musik Express 2-fer-1:

This one isn't quite so shameful, I guess, but it is interesting...

The ride in question is a Mack Musik Express, and yes, its lap bars have been modified with the standard Mack spring-loaded revolving-pin secondary latch. Which makes this guy's behavior that much more interesting. He's almost obscured by the bystander's head. One of the five (!) crew members on this Musik Express is standing at the edge of the ride, pulling and turning the secondary lap bar latching pins as the tubs go by. The ride isn't moving very fast, but it is moving. Further around the ride, not visible in this shot, another operator is swatting the lap bar latch handles to unlatch the lap bars as the cars go by. You know, the Mack lap bar design is pretty fool-proof without the secondary latch. I thought the secondary latch was added to prevent this from happening. Either I am mistaken, or it doesn't work very well. But wait! There's more!

Seconds later, the ride moved around a bit, and what do I see? Why, it's a snowboarder, of course! Well, he must be a snowboarder, as there isn't any surf in the Himalayas. Yes, that ride is still turning, and yes, that second operator is standing on the running board. You can tell that the ride is turning because the guy on the running board wouldn't be holding on if it weren't.

It seems to me this very issue came up in one of those ride safety seminars I attended. Something about not letting Himalaya operators walk the running boards because Bad Things™ happen when they fall off. In this particular case, I didn't get to see any operators fall off. But it was fun to watch them run the ride, as they were all over the thing. Lots of violations of standard practices, but sure was fun to watch!

Is this really a good idea?

Apparently, the answer is "no". This is the connection between the end-of-sweep turret (green, to the left) and the seat on a Tivoli ReMix ride. The seats on the ReMix appear to be identical to those used on various KMG rides. If you look closely at the white tube, you can see that there is a weld running around the center of that pipe. It seems that Tivoli opted to attach the seat by welding this tube together. In the Summer of 2002, on this particular ride (but not this particular seat), this weld failed, causing the seat to shear off and to go flying through the air with the greatest of ease. The State of Ohio has declared this a "design flaw" and will not allow the ReMix to operate in Ohio without a redesign.

A redesign might not be too terribly difficult. This photo (right) shows a very similar seat on a KMG Fireball. Notice that the KMG ride has a steel plate welded in across the whole space between the seats. A similar plate on the Tivoli ride might have been enough to strengthen the welded joint and prevent the cracking that led to the failure. Note: I Am Not An Engineer, so don't take my word for it.

Update: Tivoli has redesigned the seat connection, and both ReMix rides (now nicknamed by some, ReWeld) in the United States have been repaired, modified, and permitted to re-open. I have heard that this particular ReMix has been sold. I have also learned that the ride's owner, instead of applying the repair that Tivoli specified, hired an engineer and applied a fix which exceeds the specifications of Tivoli's fix. He also shared that correction with the other ReMix owner. So if you see a ReMix on a midway someplace, you can be reasonably confident that the seats will not come flying off. Personally, I still like the Orbiter better, but that's just me.

This Just Doesn't Look Right™...

There is a park out there, somewhere, which shall remain...nameless...which has more than once left me in fear for my own safety. I've seen bad instructions given to riders, rides unloaded when not entirely stable, and at least one ride which was moving in a way that it most certainly shouldn't. I haven't been there yet this season, but Paul Drabek from Negative-G caught this photo, which I think kind of speaks for itself.
photo supplied by Negative-G

There is something fishy going on here...

I didn't expect this one. Not that I expect any of these, but this one I almost didn't even notice. But I just happened to be videotaping the ride when it happened. There is a possibility that there was something going on here that I didn't know about. But it still Just Doesn't Look Right™. This is an easily identified one-of-a-kind ride in a park which, in accordance with the standards of the Hall of Shame, shall remain nameless.

The person walking through that open gate while the ride is operating is, in fact, a ride attendant. If you look more closely, you can see that the gate is equipped with a magnetic lock. I don't know if the operator unlocked the gate mid-cycle, or if it never got closed properly after the previous cycle. In any case, I checked it during the next cycle, and the gate was locked.

Do as I say, not as I show on Cable TV...

I have a whole page dedicated to a little advertising piece that Six Flags put out a few years ago. If I can howl at them for doing a comic book with their characters standing up on roller coasters, then Disney isn't immune either. The image shown here is of one of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coasters, and it is a frame-grab of a clip that appeared in a show on the Discovery Channel, as you can see by the bug at the lower right-hand corner of the frame. From the camera movement, I'd say the shot was also hand-held. This is worth noting because of something else obvious in this frame. Take a look at that lap bar. From the looks of it, I'd say the videotape is being shot by a cameraman who is completely unsecured in the train. Now I've shot a fair amount of on-ride video, always with the +blessing of someone affiliated with the park (usually a ride operator), and I can tell you from experience that when you're trying to shoot video, the last thing you want to do is concern yourself with trying to stay inside the coaster. And even if this isn't quite what is going on here, it would be better PR to at least make it not look like the lap bar is completely open in the camera seat! With all the things that have happened in Disney's parks in recent years, I didn't expect this one, either!

Okay, what is this operator doing wrong?

Okay, it's hard to see in this photo. The photo is linked to a larger version, but it's still hard to see. But to understand it, you need to understand a couple of background facts.

1. The operator is the one on the left, sitting down, behind the operator control box, with his foot on the deadman switch.

2. The person standing next to the operator is not employed by the carnival. In fact, I don't know who that person is, standing on the ride deck, inside the fence line, chatting it up with the operator.

Knowing that, you can perhaps see that the operator has the wrong foot on the deadman switch. That is obvious because the ride is behind him. He is sitting there chatting it up with the person standing next to him, and with a person on the midway a few moments earlier, apparently oblivious to the kiddies on the ride.

Mind your head!

Okay, here's an interesting one. I shot this on a carnival midway in 2001, less than 36 hours after the show took delivery of their shiny new Moser Rides "Spring Ride." You see how the ride is laid out. In the center of the ride is a tower, some 25' tall, with a passenger carriage on either side. It's an all-ages bounce/drop ride. The poles serve multiple purposes...first, they house leveling jacks for the ride platform, second, they demarcate the edges of the platform, and indicate the ride envelope area...that is, the space occupied at intervals by the ride while it is operating.

The ride has no deadman switch. The operator loads the kiddies into their seats, and presses the start button. Then this particular operator begins to wander. He walks back and forth along the edge of the platform, putting his tickets into the ticket bag, watching the people go by on the midway, and standing at times directly beneath the raised passenger carriers.

May I remind you that this is a drop ride? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to stand there!

What does this green button do?

This is in a park. The ride in question is a Zamperla Kite Flyer, which is a fairly decent ride. Notice that there is carnival fencing all the way around the ride, with gates for entry and exit. Note also that the ride's control stand is sitting on the midway, meaning that the operator is forced to be outside the ride's operating envelope in order to operate the ride. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of that. If you look really close at the top photo, you might notice that there is no 'deadman' pedal on the control stand. I don't know about you, but in all honesty, I don't have a problem with that either. For what it's worth, the ride has a solo operator; he's that neat-looking guy in the green shirt standing behind the green tub, mostly obscured by the umbrella. So far, so good. Now look at the second photo...

Here's the problem I noticed. Again, the guy in the green shirt is the ride operator, helping to load people into the ride. The restraint on this particular ride is constructed so that the operator has to individually open and close each of the tubs. You see that keyring hanging off the top of the control stand? That key energizes the ride, allowing it to operate. With that key in place, it is necessary to press two buttons to get the ride moving (three to actually start the complete sequence, but only two will make it start turning). All of the buttons are clearly labelled, not to mention color-coded. So if I push the blue button, then the green button, the ride will start turning, which will surprise the heck out of the people standing around the ride's infield!

One of these days I'm going to have the guts to shut the ride off, stick the key in my pocket, and take it to the park operations office. This time I merely remarked to the operator that if I were him, I'd shut the ride down before entering the motion envelope.

Update: A year later, I returned to the same park. The operator is still leaving his keys in the control stand, but the midway has been re-arranged a little so that the control stand is no longer accessible to just anybody walking down the midway. That imperfectly solves the issue Good for...ahem...that park! I'm leaving this entry up, though, because this isn't targeted at any particular park or operator. Operators leave enabling keys in unattended consoles all around the world; this was just a good opportunity to get a photo of it.

What is the dumbest thing you can do on a Wheel?

I spotted these idiots at a local carnival in July, 2005. Even worse is that when I shot the video, there were at least two other tubs on the ride that were also in motion. Only days before, I had read news accounts of two separate accidents involving riders falling from Ferris wheel seats, and just a week after I shot this, I saw a news story where a man fell from his seat on the top of a Ferris wheel even as a camera was rolling. Friends, Ferris wheels don't just randomly pitch people out of the seats. This is without a doubt about the stupidest thing you can do on a Wheel. Yes, I yelled at them to knock it off. Yes, the operator also yelled at them. They did stop, but another rider didn't, and the operator had to take him off the ride.

I like that seat better...

I was in a Major Amusement Park with my Mom and Dad. We were walking past a Shoot-The-Chute ride, and I noticed something unusual. Strangely enough, I didn't have my ever-present video camera with me, so I grabbed Mom's still camera. I had missed photographing the kid...or should I say, the would-be monkey...in the orange shirt standing up on the drop, and I didn't catch him climbing from his original seat in the third row of the boat up to the front row. But he didn't disappoint. As the boat rounded the bend, he was on the move again, this time climbing from the front row to the second row, as you see in this photo (you can click it for a larger view; Mom has a nice camera). I snapped the photo and took off down the ride exit ramp hoping to get to the station before he did. I didn't make it, but the operators did tell him to take a hike and not to return to their ride. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the kid take a hike all the way out the front gate, escorted by his parents and a couple of park security guards.

It's a new season and the shameful conditions continue...

Last updated 08/03/2005

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