Part 6: Old Reliables - 2 Rides that Refuse to Break Down
With the enormous engineering and maintenance costs associated with amusement rides’ modern technology, especially as it ages, it is important to note that two of the oldest rides at Kings Dominion have run trouble-free for years, accrue almost zero mechanical down-time and accumulate relatively little winter maintenance costs. They knew how to build ‘em back then.
Carousel: Auchy and Artizans
The oldest ride at Kings Dominion is of course the Carousel (or “Carrousel” per the original manufacturer’s spelling). Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1917, the PTC Carrousel #44 is a four-row machine originally built for Riverside Park in Springfield, Massachusetts (Riverside Park is now Six Flags New England, and is touted as the largest amusement park in New England).
Around 1938 the ride was moved to Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island. Kings Dominion bought the ride in 1973 when offered for sale by Williams Park management Joseph Michela, Inc. A photograph of the Carrousel operating at Riverside Park prior to 1938 appears in the book “A Pictorial History of the carousel” by Fredrich Fried (Vestal).
This Carrousel features 66 hand-carved boxwood horses, arranged in an outside row of 16 stationary horses and three inside rows of 50 “jumpers”, which are presumed to have been carved by apprentices, as none of them sport the PTC logo. Only two horses have their mouths shut.
Originally, the ride came with 68 horses; however, one (possibly the “lead” horse) was donated to the Smithsonian Institute. The other was given as a gift to Lew Hooper, a former Kings Dominion General Manager.
Also included with the machine are two carved chariots, which seat four persons each. The center decorations of the Carrousel include 10 large mirrors and 22 large oil paintings by local Philadelphia artists of different pastoral scenes and portraits. Eighteen water-colored garlands of flowers, each topped with a crest are also featured. Thirty-six angelic cherubs, eighteen ornately framed oil paintings and eighteen mirrors decorate the filigree rim. Approximately 1800 electric lights highlight the decoration.
The ride was in terrible condition when it arrived in trucks to Doswell in late 1973, and Kings Dominion’s Paint and Utilities department took the task of restoring the ride upon its arrival. The condition of each horse and chariot was painstakingly documented, down to the tiniest chip and scuffmark. Approximately 20% of the horses were held together by nothing more than old paint – 16 to 18 layers in most cases. Once the old paint was eventually removed, the horses were reassembled and reinforced with steel or wooden dowels and automobile body putty.
The Carrousel has inside a 66 key Artizan band organ with a continuous playing, double-track Wurlitzer system driven by electric motor (According to PTC, Artizan organs were not original equipment in their Carousels, therefore the whereabouts of the original organ is unknown). Also originally included with the ride was a matching ticket booth. After extensive renovation the ride opened in Candy Apple Grove May 3, 1975.
The ride rarely, if ever breaks down. It is balanced on a center “tree” with a bronze bushing known as a “cheeseblock” on the very top. The weight of the entire carrousel rests on that 4”-diameter cheeseblock. The ride turns via a huge bull gear driven by an interior spur gear which is tied to a vertical driveshaft down to a 3-ft diameter steel disk that is driven by two rawhide drive cones, powered by matching electric motors. This is called the “Auchy friction drive”, a device patented in 1909, and it is probably one of the only PTC carrousels operating that uses the original drive. The horses “jump” by means of tapered spur gears meshed with a horizontal main gear at the top.
Of course, there is a secret to being able to step off a moving Carrousel without killing yourself. Want to know what it is? Read my eBook “Bad Day at the Amusement Park” to find out!
Flying Eagles: An unstoppable Cajun import
The second-oldest ride at Kings Dominion and one with the most spotless operating record, the "Flying Eagles" ride was originally introduced at the 1939 World's Fair by the Bisch-Rocco amusement company under the name “Flying Scooters”.
Kings Dominion’s particular machine (purchased from Ponchatrain Beach Park in New Orleans in 1975) is estimated to have been built in the early 1940's, and has been running virtually trouble-free since it opened under the name “Spirit of '76” in 1975 in the Candy Apple Grove section. Its name and theme were changed around 1979 to “Parrotroopers” and it ran uninterrupted in Safari Village out over Lake Charles until 1991, when it was disassembled to make room for the Anaconda Coke machines.
The opening of Wayne's World in 1994 heralded the return of the ride, repainted and refurbished under the name “Screamweaver”. Then, in 2003 it was moved and named once more to its current incarnation of “Flying Eagles” in Old Virginia.
Nostalgia is not the only reason for keeping this ride running; it is fun as all get-out and the damn thing refuses to breaks down. It is powered by the biggest, scariest looking gearbox in the entire park, with a hellish vertical drive shaft that is probably 10 times what is needed to power the ride. Other than minor electrical glitches that may have shuttered the ride for mere minutes at a time, the ride has registered almost zero mechanical downtime since opening in 1975.
Take that, Volcano.