Behind the Scenes at Dollywood’s Rides Maintenance Shop

With eight roller coasters and a ninth on the way, Dollywood is fast becoming one of the top coaster destinations in America.

During last month’s 10th annual Thrills in the Hills coaster enthusiast event, attendees were treated to a tour of the Dollywood’s large rides maintenance shop where many of the park’s roller coaster trains are maintained.

The park has a lengthy operating season that typically begins in mid-March and ends in early January. So the park’s maintenance team of 85 is tasked with keeping the rides in top shape without sacrificing efficient operations.

Enter the rides maintenance shop. The large facility is located northeast of the park, not far from the bus and preferred parking lots.

Dollywood’s ride maintenance supervisor Mark Bacon showed us around the large building, which is separated into three sections:

  1. Thunderhead and Lightning Rod trains are maintained in the first bay.
  2. The middle is reserved for Mystery Mine.
  3. Tennessee Tornado, Whistle Punk Chaser and others are in the third section.

Blazing Fury and Wild Eagle do not have dedicated space in the shop as they both have their own maintenance facilities on site.

So what all happens inside the shop? Each of Dollywood’s attractions is subjected to daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual, quarterly and annual inspections. Some of these are required by the ride manufacturers and others are required by the state.

To pass those inspections, the park must continuously inspect, repair and fine-tune the coasters’ trains, which are arguably the most important and most advanced component of a roller coaster.

Thunderhead is unique in that the coaster has a spare chassis (the frame where the wheels and seats are attached). Therefore, the maintenance team can continuously work on rebuilding a train at any time during the operating season without having to remove one of the two functional trains from operation.

With Dollywood’s “off-season” becoming shorter and shorter, being able to perform this year-round maintenance helps with guest satisfaction.

The Mystery Mine section of the shop features a unique contraption used for disassembling and reassembling the Euro-Fighter’s cars. Using a modified car lift (as seen above), each car is lifted into the air so that the mechanics can work under it with better access to the vehicle’s frame.

When one of the coaster’s “mine carts” is removed from the track for inspection, it is transported by flatbed to the shop.

Small sections of track outside of the shop allows for the carts to be brought into the shop for the seats, floor pans and fiberglass is reinstalled. A modified fork truck removes the cart from the actual ride itself.

All of Dollywood’s coaster trains undergo an “annual rebuild,” where each train is taken apart piece by piece all the way down to the base frame. They then undergo a thorough cleaning and inspection. Above, one of Mystery Mine’s cars has been disassembled for inspection and cleaning.

Each ride has its own workstation with replacement parts both big and small.

The upholstery section of the shop is stocked with seat cushions for many of the park’s coasters.

The park regularly replaces them to guarantee comfortable rides.

The coaster trains are also subjected to “nondestructive testing,” which uses a variety of technologies including x-rays and ultrasound to detect cracks or other problems with the ride’s materials or structure.

Should any issues be found, the park turns to the ride’s manufacturer for a repair or replacement procedure. Once the problem is fixed, the train is rebuilt and returned to its track.

Since it isn’t feasible to take each individual piece of coaster track into the rides maintenance shop, Dollywood employees walk each section of track every day to check for any abnormalities.

And even with the sizable maintenance shop, the park is still growing its behind-the-scenes infrastructure. As seen in the above photo, the park is constructing a 2,500-square-foot building just to house spare parts.

Stay tuned to Dollywood’s website for details about next year’s Thrills in the Hills events to get a behind-the-scenes look at the park.