Part 23: Kings Dominion’s Monster: Queasy Fun in Forward; Repellent Nightmare in Reverse
(Pictured: Not Kings Dominion's Monster)
Two mechanics kneel crouched in ready position, watching the Monster ride and the single empty bucket tied with a black trash bag. The second the ride finally rotates to a stop and the offending bucket lowered to the ground. The two mechanics race out to the disabled bucket, armed with a black heavy-duty spring, a ratchet, a 9/16” deep well socket and similar-sized end wrench.
They have one chance to get it right, because an entire impatient Q-line is watching.
They work quickly and efficiently in tandem. One reaches through one of two small holes on either side of the bucket. He loosens the nut on the bucket latch adjustment then removes half of a broken bucket loading spring. Once the second half of the broken spring is removed, the second mechanic reaches the new spring through the hole and attaches both ends.
The springs assist in closing the bucket after loading – if even one is broken the operators have to struggle to get them latched. If both are broken it is impossible.
If the first mechanic loosened the bolts far enough the spring slips on easily, but if not, the second may have to extend the spring just enough to slip it through the eyes on the bucket body and the footrest. This is tricky – the spring is extremely strong, and there is the risk of catching the skin between his thumb and forefinger in the spring once it is attached.
And that hurts like hell.
Once the new spring is attached, the first mechanic quickly reaches in and tightens and locks down the adjustment nuts. They jump up, close and open the bucket to make sure it works, then cut off the trash bag – just in time for the next passengers, and with zero recorded down time.
“Are you sure this is okay?” tentative passengers would sometimes ask the mechanics as they walked away. Most would reply “yes, it’s fine, enjoy your ride!” but sometimes a wiseacre might say. “We’ll see” – then laugh at the horrified expressions.
The Monster was one of the original rides at Kings Dominion. Operating from 1975 to 1988, the ride had been built by the Eyerly Aircraft Co. of Salem Oregon. It was called the “Bad Apple” its first two years but park officials renamed it the Monster more to reflect its original manufacturer than a piece of spoiled fruit on its famed “Candy Apple Grove” midway.
The Eyerly Aircraft Company was founded in 1930 to manufacture two inexpensive ways to train pilots during the Great Depression. The first simulator was called the “Whiffle Hen.” The second was a ground-based flight training device first called the “Orientator,” then the “Acroplane.” Each consisted of a small airplane suspended in what looked like a giant fork. Air from the electrically driven propeller passed over the wings and rudder, and the operator controlled the movements of the plane in a manner similar to a real aircraft.
After noticing several Acroplanes stored on the lot outside Eyerly's shop, an enterprising salesman approached company president Lee Eyerly about selling them to carnivals and parks as an amusement ride. A skeptical Eyerly agreed to a deal which led him selling 50 of the trainers to various parks – a success rate which led him to abandon airplane trainers altogether and solely manufacture the devices as amusement rides.
That success led Eyerly to patent several other amusement rides which in the 1930s and ‘40s which would especially become fixtures of carnival midways around the country, including The Loop-O-Plane, the Roll-O-Plane, the Fly-O-Plane and the Rock-O-Plane. Their most popular design was a ride called the Octopus, which spawned later the Spider and of course, the Monster, which first went into production in 1936.
“Being a pilot and knowing what the thrills of being in an aircraft were, he designed them with that in mind,” Lee’s grandson Jon Eyerly, told the Argus Observer in 2008. “He did things that were advanced for the time.”
The mechanical concepts behind the ride were simple but produced remarkable effects on riders’ equilibrium. Resembling a spider with 6 arms, the loaded ride turned 8 rpms in a counterclockwise rotation. At the same time, an “eccentric” would turn 11 rpms clockwise, raising and lowering the six individual arms. At the end of each of the six arms (or “sweeps) were four red fiberglass buckets, which turned via electric motors at 15 rpms, giving the rider three separate rotations and a serious test of their corn dog-holding abilities.
Loading was time-consuming. Each arm had to be brought around to ground-level and the four buckets loaded (400 lbs. maximum per bucket). After loading the ride was advanced to the next arm and the process repeated until all six sweeps and 24 buckets were loaded.
This ride and the Time Shaft were only two rides at the park not on timers. The Monster had a button to start the bucket rotation motors and two levers – one which controlled the eccentric, and one the center rotation. Once the ride was fully loaded and the riders reminded to stay in their seats at all times, the operator started via the board the bucket motors and they started rotating. Once they were up to speed the operator simply pulled back on the two levers, starting simultaneously the rotation and the eccentric. It was up to the operator to time the ride, because the ride continued as long as the spring-loaded levers were held back.
This arrangement led to some wickedly dirty tricks played on seasonal maintenance assistants during weekend operation. Once, when the park was closed, they got two high school lubrication guys to get on the ride so they could do a “balance test,” which was of course, completely bogus. They lowered a sweep so one could get on, then they raised him up so the next guy could get into a bucket on the opposite sweep. Once they were loaded, one of the guys pulled back on the two levers, hooked a bungee cord around them and simply walked away, leaving the two helpless lube crew guys to ride endlessly until it was decided they had enough.
Fifteen minutes was about all anybody could stand, but there was something even worse than that – 15 minutes backwards. All they had to do was push the levers in the opposite direction and all three rotations went in opposite directions, creating for some reason the most nightmarish ride from hell anyone ever experienced. Of course, Eyerly Aircraft warned the ride was never supposed to travel more than 50% full speed in reverse, but that didn’t matter to the Darth Vader at the controls, who watched, cackling in glee, as the ride spun two green, nauseated seasonal employees around and around and around until spectators got sick just watching and told the insane mechanic to “let them off, they’ve had enough.”
It is difficult to say why riding the Monster backwards was so much worse than forward, other than the various rotations were not naturally occurring. Scientists call this phenomenon “aberrant vestibular inputs” when the eyes, touch and ear canal fluids do not agree, causing nausea. We just called it “15 minutes backwards on the Monster.”
Around 1981 there was an accident in Florida with a Monster ride, when one of the sweep arms snapped off during operation and severely injured three riders. It turned out close inspections of Monsters around the country revealed cracks in critical joints, mostly due to excessive loads, lax inspections, lack of lubrication or shock from imbalanced passenger loading (maybe the “balance test” wasn’t so bogus after all).
Accordingly, in June 1981 Eyerly reported the problem and built a supporting “gusset kit” which was to be welded onto all operational Monsters around the country, including KD. In addition, extensive magnetic particle inspections of all joints and welds was mandated, including re-inspection of all those repairs to ensure the repairs were complete. Also, Eyerly produced many more parts to be installed to lessen the cracking, including new mudsills, hinge pins, shock pads and other parts with have absolutely no meaning or significance to anyone reading this in 2018.
After 1982, all Monsters came from Eyerly with these modifications already in place.
Also, after this modification kit was installed, operating speeds were reduced from 8 to 7 rpms counterclockwise and the eccentric from 11 to 10 rpms. The bucket rotations remained the same.
On August 3, 1994 at the Estrill County Fair in Kentucky a bucket latch’s tubular frame broke and dragged then dumped two passengers onto the ground. It turned out rainwater had collected over the years under the fiberglass, and could not readily be seen during daily inspections. Inspections for degradation included removing a section of fiberglass under each bucket and performing magnetic particle inspection on the tubular frame. If severe corrosion was found the tubing was replaced, and a drain opened to allow collected rain to escape.
Kings Dominion’s Monster ran fairly maintenance-free until the summer of 1988, when it was removed from its location on Candy Apple Grove and sold. I do not recall who bought it. The Sky Pilot was erected in its place.