by Peter Takacs
Isn’t it every kid’s dream to have an amusement park all to themselves? No having to wait in line for any of the rides, being able to ride roller coasters over and over again without stopping. Well back in November of 2009, I was given the opportunity to fulfill this life long fantasy. I was dispatched with the rest of our crew to Santa Claus, IN, a small mid-western town which not only prides itself on celebrating the Christmas Spirit 365 days a year, but also is home to one of the first amusement parks in the United States. The kind folks at Holiday World invited us to come out and help finish construction on their newest ride, the Wildebeest. While we were there we needed to find some side stories to include in the episode, so we were given the task of helping repair some of their other rides including their big wooden roller coaster.
Imagine spending two weeks in an amusement park which is closed for the season. On the first day I thought I was going to explode with joy when we were told that we would have to drive our production vehicles through the empty park to get to the locations where we would be working. I couldn’t believe it, I was actually being allowed to drive an SUV through an empty amusement park. I’m sure it doesn’t rank high with other people’s dreams, but this was exciting to me. It got even more exciting when I found out that we would have to ride the big wooden roller coaster several times. I believe it was during the 6th or 7th ride when I thought to myself, “I’m getting paid to do this?”. Sometimes in TV Production repetition can become a little cumbersome, but not when you’re filming a functioning roller coaster. Once we concluded the test-rides we had to get down to the serious work of fixing a small “pot-hole” on the track. We joined Holiday World’s Coaster Cats ( the guys whose job it is to keep the roller coasters in working order) and began the work high off the ground on the scaffolding which holds the tracks up. During the course of the fix, I was sent to climb the first hill on the Voyage to see if I could get some shots of the guys working below. Once I got to the top of the first big drop I was taken aback at how peaceful and quiet it was. How often do people who do not work for the park get to walk up to this location? Again, how lucky am I to have the experiences I do? The repair took roughly two days to complete, but once it was done guess what? We had to ride the coaster again to make sure our fix smoothed out the ride. Being that the Coaster Cats as well as Riley and the rest of our crew are all perfectionists, we had to ride the Voyage several more times before we were satisfied the fix was complete. Sometimes you just have to go the extra mile to make sure everything is working properly, and while it may have been tedious the job had to get done.
Once we wrapped up the coaster location I was in for another surprise. We were given a couple golf carts and let loose to cruise around shooting a segment through the entire park. This was very much like joy-riding on a closed roadway, riding around turns and straight-aways with nothing & no-one to get in our way except each other (and believe me, we had a couple close calls). In all honesty the entire day flew by because time flies when you’re having fun.
During the final day of production I was tasked with making my way around the park shooting several of the rides. Over the course of these few hours I continued to think to myself how great this shoot was. I was walking along imagining what the park would be like with thousands of paying customers and an army of staff there. The sights, the sounds, and the smells of a fully functioning amusement park. A few months later we returned to shoot those sights and sounds, and I have to say that to me it was a little bit better when it was just us.
Video Preview: “Riley Rides Rails” — This park has an injured roller coaster — and Riley is along for the ride as the engineers attempt to nurse it back to health.
World’s Toughest Fixes “Ultimate Water Ride” premieres October 21st at 8P et/pt.