Q/A with GCI Intern Eamon Kelly

We have a special treat for you today here at Coaster101. We recently had the opportunity to talk to Eamon Kelly, currently an intern at Great Coasters International and a member of the Ohio State Theme Park Engineering Group. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Eamon is a third year mechanical engineering student at The Ohio State University. We really appreciate Eamon taking the time and sharing his experiences, insight, and passion of the amusement park industry with us. Now on to the questions!

Let’s start at the beginning. What got you interested in roller coasters and amusement parks to begin with?

Well, I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and with Cedar Point only an hour away, I went there quite a bit.  I also had that green K’nex coaster (Screamin’ Serpent?) which I enjoyed building.  In the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I went to a two week engineering camp at Purdue.  There we had to design a K’nex coaster, and, using equations that the students running the program developed, figure out speeds and forces on our tracks.  I remember being proud of myself because I figured out a way to make a banked turn, while no other group did.  For my senior year science project, I used that big K’nex educational kit that my school had to do collisions and momentum stuff (I really just wanted to build the big coaster, which was a lot of fun).  All these K’nex projects got me interested in coasters, but I didn’t really plan on making it a career until I found the Theme Park Engineering Group.

Eamon really likes air tools, but who doesn't!

I can relate to building thrill rides out of K’nex, we recently had a feature here on Coaster101 with pictures of several models I built back in the day. What’s your favorite amusement park?
Sadly, I grew up landlocked in Ohio.  The only parks I’ve been to while open are Cedar Point (CP) and King’s Island.  Our group doesn’t really take trips to parks while they are open (we try to keep our reputation professional so as to distinguish ourselves from enthusiast groups), so even though I’ve been to Knoebel’s and Kennywood, they weren’t open.  Honestly, I think it’ll be hard for any park to beat out Cedar Point for me, mainly because of my personal history in the area.  I’ve practically grown up on Lake Erie, and CP is a landmark.  I’ve actually got a funny story to tell too.  A few years ago, we went to a family friend’s place across the Sandusky Bay from Cedar Point to watch the fireworks (CP puts on an excellent show).  We had taken my dad’s sailboat, so we had to take it back to Catawba Island after words.  (Catawba is about a 20 minute drive from CP, and it’s actually a peninsula, despite its name)  On the boat trip back, we were having trouble seeing the shoreline, and after 45 minutes or so, we saw a huge, towering beacon of light.  I remember my dad asking “What the hell is that?”  After looking at it for a few minutes, I realized it was Top Thrill Dragster, lit up in the night.  We had inadvertently circled around Kelley’s Island, one of the islands out in Lake Erie.  It is stories like this that will make it hard for me to like any park more.  Now that parks are starting to open, I will be going to a lot more of them, since the guys at GCI obviously like coasters too.

If you like roller coasters Cedar Point is the place to be! For those who don’t know, what is the Ohio State Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG) and how did you become involved with it? What is your role in the group?

The Theme Park Engineering Group is a student-run organization at the Ohio State University.  We focus on interaction with the Amusement Industry, in both Engineering and Creative Design.  Our mission statement, “To enhance the experience in the theme park and entertainment industry through the application of technology and innovation,” reflects our desire to be involved with the industry and to become its future.  It should be noted that our group focuses on the creation of products for purchase by amusement parks, rather than the skills required to run an amusement park.

I became involved in the group as a freshmen.  I remember signing up for their email list, and then showing up to their meetings.  One of the first things the group did was get involved with Coaster Dynamix, so after building a Scorpion kit with some members of the group, I was hooked.  Since then, I have helped design and construct our model pneumatic launch tower, and have been involved with the group’s Executive Committee.  With the recent graduation of Dan Linden, our Vice President and Chairman of Engineering Design, I have been promoted to the position of Chairman of Engineering Design.  This role entails overseeing all engineering projects, which currently include finishing the Tower Project, working with the Creative Design committee on a pneumatic and animatronic bird, and continued collaboration with Coaster Dynamix.   As a member of the Executive Committee, I will help continue the development and growth of the group.  We are currently talking with the IAAPA Young Professionals program to help expand our group’s reach to a national scale, allowing students like us, who may not have enough people interested to form their own group at their college, to be involved.

Very cool about the Young Professionals program. That is something I definitely would have loved to been involved with in college. What other tours has the group gone on?
We’ve been up to Cedar Point twice, King’s Island 3 times (we followed the construction of Diamondback), Knoebel’s once, Kennywood once, and some of the guys went out to HoliWood Nights at Holiday Park.  We sent a group to the IAAPA trade show in 2007 and last year in 2009.  We’ve been to the Columbus Zoo a few times, following their construction of their new polar bear exhibit.  I think that covers trips we’ve done in our 3 years as a group.

Sounds like you’ve been to all the best the Midwest has to offer. What projects has TPEG worked on?
Our first actual engineering project was in conjunction with Coaster Dynamix (CD).  I don’t know the details of who contacted who, but we helped them develop an educational kit, a simple drop to loop to bump layout, with a train with an accelerometer mounted to it.  We had to figure out how to mount the accelerometer, how to receive its signals, and how to graph the forces in real time.  This was the first project I got involved with, but it ended up becoming the focus of Dan Linden’s internship with CD (He just graduated, and is with them full-time now).  Also with CD, we’ve got some younger guys working on different layouts with the Phoenix kit, and I think the purpose is to show people the possibilities with the kit.  We are also working on a launch section, where we crank up the juice to the motor so that the spring (it’s what CD uses as a lift mechanism) rotates really fast and accelerates the train, similar to an LIM or LSM launch.  When I get back to campus, I’m going to try and see if we can use rare-earth magnets to make mag-brakes for the CD track.


Our big engineering project was/is the tower project.  I could talk for hours about it, but I wrote a nice synopsis of it here: http://rollercoasterdesign.webs.com/apps/blog/ (It’s the entry labeled ‘Project Altius- The Pneumatic Launch Tower’)

Right now, the Engineering Committee and the Creative Design Committee are working on an animatronic bird, similar to those found in Disney’s Tiki Room.  I don’t know much of the details (they decided to use pneumatics instead of servos after I left, so I don’t know the details).  Before, we were planning on doing a joint project, a water ride/log flume chronicling the Earth’s development.  That project is currently shelved, but likely to be brought back on once the tower and bird are done.

I can’t speak too much about the other committees, but the Education and Research Committee has made a PowerPoint presentation in conjunction with the tower, so that we can take it to area schools and showoff the fun of the sciences.  Honda sponsored our tower for this reason, so once we get it finished up we’ll be giving presentations.  The Creative Design Committee has been working on the bird and flume projects primarily, but they also have a project where we would place the rides we design into a park layout.  I really like this idea, because, like a park, TPEG will grow and execute many projects, and putting them in a conceptual park is a cool way to catalog them and will even create realistic design considerations for future projects, making our design process that much more realistic.

TPEG really has a lot on its plate! I really like the conceptual park idea too. So how did you become involved with Great Coasters International (GCI)?

GCI came to our group, informing us that they were looking to hire a new intern.  As a group we went out to their office/shop for a tour and an interview for those who had applied for the internship.  About two weeks after IAAPA, they called me and asked me if I wanted the job.

Congratulations on getting the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m sure others as well as myself are curious, what is it like working at GCI?

Working at GCI has been an invaluable experience.  Although not explicitly engineering, the job entails assembling the trains and helping with the shipments of materials to job sites where the ride is being constructed.  The industry is full of secrets, so being able to look at the drawings, and see what specific design considerations were used on a certain parts have revealed an important part of the engineering process to me.  It seems that college classes tend not to focus on certain, more subtle, aspects, like manufacturing, that come up a lot in engineering.  (Things like placing a bolt so that a wrench can actually reach it, or placing a weld on two parts so that the welder can realistically fit his welding tools into the area to be welded.)

Installing an upstop wheel on a Millennium Flyer car.

As a fellow engineer, I really appreciate the detail and insight into some of the things you mentioned, like manufacturing about the bolts and welds. Those are the answers you don’t get from a typical interview with a park representative, and those are the kind of details that really interest me. What do you do on a day to day basis? What are your roles and responsibilities?

My main role is to assemble the trains.  A secondary role is to help sort out and package things for shipments to job sites.  I spend a lot of time driving out to various vendors to pick up parts and pieces that we need to build the trains.  The trains themselves take a while to build, so most of my time is spent putting them together.  I can’t really give any details, but for more info, check out the GCI intern site at greatcoastersinterns.com There you will find blog entries from myself and former interns about what we do.

During my engineering co-ops I also had to play deliveryman and ship parts around. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere! Do you have any advice for others who want to intern at GCI or another similar company?

The best way is to just get in contact with the company, to see if they need anyone.  Most of the roller coaster design companies are small, so they don’t necessarily have interns or intern programs. (GCI typically only has one at a time, if any).  Keep in touch with them so that they know who to go to if they need help for a few months.

I assume the best way to get in contact with a company would be at IAAPA. What classes in school have benefited you the most in your work at GCI and TPEG?

As far as working for GCI, my work in TPEG has been more valuable than almost any class.  This is likely to change as I enter into classes that focus more on the design process, but so far most of my classes have been about things like fluid flow, dynamics, and statics (These certainly relate to coaster design, but not so much to train assembly).  As for TPEG, I’ve found that the classes teaching me how to use Inventor and MatLab as the most beneficial.  Our First Year Engineering Program was also very helpful, because our robot project progressed similarly to our TPEG projects, namely the concept – design – test – redesign process that underlies engineering.

Hear that kids? Take those classes seriously! Do you eventually see yourself working in the amusement park industry full-time?
Definitely.  My dream job would definitely be as a ride engineer, designing either roller coasters or their various mechanics.  I could also see myself in a position overseeing ride maintenance at a park.  I am fairly confident that I will be able to break into the industry, it just depends on how long it takes.

Good luck to you in your future endeavors, luckily it seems like you already have your foot well in the door. What do you like to do outside of roller coasters and amusement parks?

My other interests include: rock climbing, SCUBA diving, soccer, music, and a good video game when I’m not busy.

You’ve got a nice variety of hobbies there. And, of course, what’s your favorite coaster?

To be honest, I have to go with Top Thrill Dragster.  While there are rides that I consider more fun, I am amazed by its engineering prowess, and have been since I saw the inside where the hydraulic motor is housed.  Since the ride first opened, I had always wondered how it worked.  Two years ago, our group took a trip up to Cedar Point, and, after seeing that motor and its components, I fell in love with the ride.  Also, as a rock climber, I like heights, and being at the top of TTD and looking out over Lake Erie from more than 400 feet up is an experience that will never get old for me.

Top Thrill Dragster is one heck of a rush, albeit an exceptionally short one.

Well, that’s all the questions we have for today.  For any more information about Eamon, GCI or TPEG, check out the TPEG Blog: http://themeparkengineeringgroup.wordpress.com/ The Great Coasters Interns Blog: http://greatcoastersinterns.com/ or Eamon;s personal site and blog: http://rollercoasterdesign.webs.com/

Thanks again to Eamon for taking the time to talk to us. Hopefully he can make a guest appearance on That Coaster Show sometime in the future as well.

We’re always looking for new features ideas here at Coaster101 so feel free to contact us if you or someone you know would like to be interviewed or make a guest appearance on That Coaster Show. You can also make suggestions for the site in our forum! Thanks for reading.

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2 Responses

  1. John says:

    Excellent feature! Some very interesting questions were answered!

  2. Grandma says:

    Eamon, remember when you were scared to death to ride the Junior Gemini at Cedar Point? Aunt Molly remembers. Her left hand was bruised for a month.

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