An Inside Look at Off Season Maintenance at Carowinds
Many theme parks around the country are closed for the season, but just because they are closed on the outside, doesn’t mean that anything isn’t going on inside. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The off season is the one of the busiest times of year for theme park maintenance staffs around the country.
Carowinds’ Ride Maintenance Manager Bob Patosh points out the seat-locking mechanism on Afterburn.
We sat down with Carowinds‘ Ride Maintenance Manager Bob Patosh, and learned about just what happens during the off-season as it relates to park maintenance.
C101: How did you get your start in the theme park industry?
Bob Patosh: When I was 16, there was a small park where I grew up – [the former] Chippewa Lake Park, in Ohio – where I worked as a Ferris Wheel Operator. That was in 1971. I worked there for two summers. My second summer, I left – I was in maintenance by then – I left and joined the service and spent 20 years in the Marine Corps doing Aviation Maintenance on jet aircraft. I was quality assurance the last 8 years. That, combined with being a gunnery sergeant, combined with aircraft mechanical experience when I applied for this job when I retired from the marine corps — I was hired pretty quickly. I was a ride mechanic at first and I guess within 11 months, I was promoted to assistant manager, and I’ve been in management ever since – for the last 22 years, all at Carowinds.
Afterburn’s Red Train, temporarily stored near the ride’s entrance.
C101: What is your favorite part about working at Carowinds?
BP: Seeing the enjoyment on people’s faces, honestly. I know it sounds pretty tacky, but its true. That’s what we’re all here for. Sure the pay is good, and the perks are good, and you get to ride rides for free, but the big deal is seeing people happy. They don’t come here to eat, although they do eat. They don’t come here to play games, although they play games, they come here to ride rides. That’s why my staff and I are here – to maintain those rides, and keep them safe, and have them for park guests to enjoy.
C101: Do you have a favorite ride at Carowinds?
C101: What is the most challenging part about your job?
BP: It’s probably two-fold. One is dealing with people who aren’t happy – that happens quite a bit. People do have high expectations, and when something isn’t exactly as they expect it or wanted, they do get pretty irate. Other challenging issues are trying to enjoy a home life, because I’m here a lot.
The iconic “S” that precedes Carowinds on the park’s entrance sign during Halloween, stored in Carowinds’ warehouse. In the background, you can see the crate that was used during Carowinds’ Carolina Harbor announcement.
C101: How soon after park closes does off-season maintenance begin?
BP: Immediately. Our first goal is to break down SCarowinds. We have a lot of scare zones, a lot of props, and a lot of stuff out in the park that has to be pulled down and put up in storage. That takes about 3 days, maybe longer. Then, if there’s a crew available, or if it’s raining, we’ll send them immediately to start separating [roller coaster] trains and uncoupling them. Every train that’s in the park comes into the shop. Every ride that has a train, that train gets torn down and disassembled.
C101: What is involved with off season maintenance?
BP: A lot of times when people see that we’re part of Carowinds, with our shirts or uniforms, they ask “What do you do in the winter?” That happens every day. People have no idea that that’s our actual busiest time. During the summer, that’s when we keep rides going. We do our morning inspections, minor maintenance, fix them when they break, but our goal in the summer is to keep them maintained. In the winter time, every train comes into the shop. We uncouple them, take them off the tracks, clean them up, disassemble them all the way down to the frame. Once we get them disassembled, all of their parts are cleaned, different things and components are taken to inspection and non-destructive testing. We have a third party inspector who assists with that. That’s basically what we do all winter – tearing trains down, getting them cleaned and inspected, putting them back together with new parts and hardware. On good sunny days, we’re out doing track work, brake work, and station work – things we want to get done before the cold sets in.
C101: What do you mean by “Non-Destructive Testing?”
BP: We have a few different methods. There’s “Magparticle” inspection where you put a solution on a part, magnetize it and hit it with a black light. Cracks will show in blacklight. There’s also “liquid penetrant” inspection, which is used on aluminium. You spray with a solution, hit it with a strong light, and see cracks that way. If there is a crack we’ll either replace the part or repair it, based on the manufacturer’s recommendation.
C101: How often do you talk to manufacturers about their products?
BP: We keep a very close relationship with all of our manufacturers – and something a lot of people don’t realize is that we have 11 parks in our system. We talk weekly, daily with them. I’ve been on the phone twice today with California’s Great America about comparing, doing the same thing to different parks. We have communication with Dollywood and Six Flags parks. It’s a small network. A lot of our folks get certified by NAARSO (National Association of. Amusement Ride Safety Officials) as ride inspectors. We talk to folks that way too.
C101: How many staff do you have during the off season?
BP: Full time, we have 24 Ride Mechanics, three in Special Projects/Automotive, one spare parts/maintenance coordinator. We also have 15 Seasonal Staff, and they’re getting ready to wrap up for the season.
Ride wheels, being stored during the off season.
C101: Is off-season maintenance a full winter process?
BP: Yes. In fact, typically we open the 3rd weekend in march. The first weekend, we’re training, and have rides available for operations to train on, and state inspections start two weeks prior to park opening. Both North and South Carolina inspect the rides, and wherever the ride’s control room is located is the state that has the jurisdiction on that particular ride. Both North Carolina and South Carolina come at the same time – I try not to do that, but it always happens. Everyone knows each other, so it all works out.
C101: Is it difficult working with the two states at the same time?
BP: Just from the aspect of spreading people out. North Carolina is on one side of the park, and South Carolina is on the other side of the park, and I only have four foremen, so one foreman will go somewhere and send his next best guy somewhere else in another part of the part. It’s a little difficult, but we handle it.
The trains for Lucy’s Crabbie Cabbie.
C101: Where is everything stored?
BP: The shop is packed. We put in a new picnic shelter a few years ago, and two of those are wrapped in plastic, filled with ride vehicles. We put things wherever we can. We don’t have the warehouse space we need in order to get everything inside.
C101: With so much going on, does it change the maintenance plan?
BP: Our job is always the same basically – even if we have a new project going in. We may help with unloading new parts for rides that are coming in. The construction folks handle a lot of that. Now, come spring, if there’s a new ride, we’re putting in a queue line system, queue gates, any pneumatics that go there, the brake systems, we help plumb those.
Carowinds’ Southern Star Swinging Ship, under a tarp for the winter.
C101: How does the maintenance differ between flat rides and roller coasters?
BP: The main difference is that the flat rides don’t have trains. The coasters, we bring the trains to the shop and rebuild those. Rides like Windseeker, we’ll do our maintenance out there at the ride. That requires a few specific items being sent back to the manufacturer for calibration, inspection, and cable inspections. Flat rides, we’ll pull cars or gondolas off to do maintenance to those. It’s all the same. We basically take anything off the ride that could be prone to failure. We get ahead of that by doing non-destructive testing and inspection.
After our interview, Bob took us into Carowinds’ Maintenance Shop, where there were several different projects underway.
Nighthawk‘s coaster trains took up a good chunk of space in the shop.
Cars for Carowinds’ Schwarzkopf Enterprise, Scream Weaver were lined up as well.
The frame and outer cabin for a helicopter on Woodstock’s Whirly Birds.
Woodstock Express‘ trains, upside down, and ready for inspection.
A car from Carowinds’ Ricochet, a Mack Rides Wild Mouse Coaster.
Rows of seats from Afterburn‘s “Blue” Train.
The B&M Standup Coaster, Vortex, looks barely recognizable when stripped down to just the frame of its trains.
A train from Carolina Goldrusher being repainted and refinished in Carowinds’ paint and fiberglass shop. (Note the wood grain pattern accents!)
A look inside Carowinds’ fabrication shops.
Thanks to Bob Patosh and Chris Foshee at Carowinds for helping facilitate this interview and tour of the Carowinds shop. For more information about Carowinds, please visit their website at www.carowinds.com, and stay tuned to Coaster101.com for more great Caroblogger content!