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All Things Shockwave

All about the rides at Marriott's GREAT AMERICA and post-Marriott rides, too

All Things Shockwave

Postby NotBill » Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:27 pm

Okay Shockwave fans, I'm about to unleash a whole boatload of musings on your favorite ride because it was mine as well. My first year in Rides was '89 and while I started out on Dive/Cajun I got transferred to Shockwave pretty early in the season (May or June I think) because I started dating someone on Dive crew and we were not at all discrete about it (it was quite ridiculous actually but, hey, I was 17). Anyway, I spent the remainder of the year up until the very last day of the season on Shockwave, I came back in '90 before I got transferred to Iron Wolf mid-season and I think I tried going back again in '91 as I recall, but I know that I spent at least some time at Shockwave every year from '89 to when I left mid-season '92.

Crew Positions

Shockwave could have a massive crew during the height of the summer and during days like Memorial Day and the 4th a fully staffed crew was usually in place. This included a person at controls ("driver" or "driving"), two unload, one loading, one at "enable" (the position at the back of the train on the load side was called "enable" since this was the person who pressed the "enable button" allowing the driver to dispatch the train), one at turnstyle (top of stairs, assigns seats if needed or just monitors the platform), and someone in queues.

Shockwave also had a lot of Aiphones ("Aiphone" was the brand name of the intcom phones the crew used) - controls, enable, base lift (I think), top of lift, block brakes (the brakes after the 3rd loop, before the boomerang), queues and in the maintenance room. The one in queues was tough to hear so the person would often have to be paged to pick it up ("Will Bill please pick up the white courtesy phone? Bill in queues, please pick up the white courtesy phone, thank you" and other such mic abuse!).

Crossing the track was not supposed to be done through the cars but people would do it from time to time. Instead the crew member was to go to the back of the train, signal "time-out" to enable and controls and then cross by stepping on the rear axle. That was definitely hairy if you were scared of heights the first couple of times because there was nothing behind the train to hold you, you usually grabbed an upright harness and stepped.

There was an e-stop (emergency stop) at enable and controls. Controls, if the situation warranted, had the option of doing a lift stop. This led to some serious issues though. When an e-stop was pressed no one could reset that except for maintenance, the button had to be pulled out by them, etc. However, if someone hit the lift stop you could start the lift again but this was not supposed to be done. Note I said "supposed". I recall at least one time where there was an "accidental" lift stop and then restart followed by the lead pressing the e-stop, calling maintenance and some disciplinary action being taken! More lift stop fun below.

Wheels, Wheels and More Wheels

Shockwave had its share of problems that kept the maintenance guys busy and the #1 issue by far was the rate at which it went through wheels. Crew members became very adept at identifying the tell-tale sign of a wheel that had it. I'm not sure what the wheels were composed of, some hard resin compound I would assume, but they got very hot and parts of them would literally just melt and peel away. Usually the wheel would start coming apart in chunks and you would hear the trademark "ga-wump-ga-wump-ga-wump" and after visual inspection a call to maintenance was made.

Most of the time we would run that train until maintenance got there unless it was really bad, then we wouldn't load that train (which irritated people greatly). Once maintenance arrived you'd send two more empty trains and take the ride down. They got very efficient at changing them, could be done in about 10 or 15 minutes as I recall.

First Loop Fracture

Before too long there were mumblings among the crew of a first loop fracture, I believe this started in '91. That's when, if you were AM crew, you might show up and they would be up there working on it. Exactly what they did - I have no idea but the crane was always there. Sometimes they would forget to take the thing down and here's the ride running with that crane up in the air. Someone figured out that probably wasn't a good idea though and would make sure it was put down before the ride would be run.

Because of the crane I believed this story was true as opposed to the ever-popular "Iron Wolf is sinking" and "they replace a palette of wood on Eagle every day" rumors.

Obviously this "wheel flying off" incident was long after my time but I would be of the opinion that Shockwave's demise had much more to do with its structural issues like this fracture and the wheel maintenance issue than anything else.

Computer Monitor

Shockwave was the first coaster (at Gurnee anyway) I am aware of that had a monitor in controls. It was one of those old amber monochrome ones with a very rudimentary readout showing status of a couple of systems and where the trains were on the tracks. If the ride "set up" (when an error occurred and the ride shut itself down this was called "set up") it would usually display an error code that you could give to Operations to pass on to maintenance so they would know how many hands to bring.

I don't remember any of them but a couple of the errors were much more common and so the call of "Shockwave set up for XXX again" would go out to Operations.

Shockwave Down for "Guest In the Ride Area"

Shockwave had more e-stops for "guest in the ride area" than any other ride I can think of and it makes sense. It wasn't too hard to figure out how to get into the Shockwave ride area and the ride had a nasty habit for shaking things loose. SOP said if a guest entered the ride area that was an immediate e-stop situation. Crew was only allowed in the ride area when walking to the station from the break area or when they were doing track walks to pick up lost personal items. This required wearing a hard hat and lead supervision and/or approval.

Anyway, the train got pretty close to the ground and the potential for getting hit was there (the real low points were fenced off but I remember a couple of spots where it was still close) so that was an immediate e-stop. A crew member would then go try to detain the person in question, security was called and someone earned themselves a free trip out of SFGAm.

This happened all the time though, it was really quite ridiculous and I never understood how stupid people were about it. All you had to do was ask someone to go look for it and we usually had the crew to spare to send someone. It didn't stop a lot of people though for just deciding to waltz their way into the ride area to retrieve a 50 cent plush item. All I know is that I didn't smoke then (I do now) and I would have loved Shockwave crew because we produced more packs of smokes during "track walks" than anywhere else since our ride was sitting on a parking lot and not a landscaped area. I'm certain this probably had a lot to do with why people would enter that ride area as opposed to Demon or Eagle or something.

King of the Park

Because of the lackluster additions after Shockwave the Shockwave crew had the pride of being the premier ride in the park for some time. Rolling Thunder (or "Blunder" as almost everyone in Rides, even its own crew referred to it) was not a significant threat and during the heavy days in '89 we still had the longest queue in the park.

Iron Wolf came in '90 and I got transferred to Wolf mid-season (just missed being on the Inaugural Wolf Crew I guess!) but Shockwave was sitll a huge hit and the lines rivaled each other that year.

'91 was Condor and obviously that was not what anyone considered a "major" so it didn't rival Shockwave at all. It didn't really change until '92 when Batman hit. I distinctly remember the day that I knew Shockwave's day as King of the Park was over -- I think it was Memorial Day '92 and I was working Condor/Dodge. The queue from Batman was so long it went under the train tracks and was going around the corner where it started to mix with Shockwave's queue due, in part, to the fact that whoever was running Shockwave that day hadn't sent anyone to check on queues. Most of them weren't open so the Shockwave line and the Batman line were getting tangled with everyone else who was just trying to WALK get around them.

I was one who took matters by the horn and, besides, I had that Red badge now ya know! :P I went over to Shockwave's queues Aiphone and called controls, "Hey this is Bill, Condor lead, your queue is getting tangled in the Batman queue, you better send someone down here". I was given the "we can't spare anyone" response. So I opened up the remaining queues and started redirecting the two line so they would stick to the sides and leave the walkway open. I called the North Side Sup and let him know what I did and that he might want to get someone over to watch it, it was clogging up Orleans Place.

Bad Ride Placement

I'm sure when they put Shockwave where they did they didn't give a lot of thought about what it was near to in the park. One of the gravest mistakes in this regard was the proximity of such a featured ride to one of the few places you could buy beer at in the park -- Orleans Pizza.

Now, beer was served in special cups that said you weren't supposed to leave the restaurant area with it but that never stopped anyone. Navy Night in particular was a complete and utter fiasco in '90 as I remember and I was left wondering where the hell the SPs were because the sailors were consuming mass quantities at Orleans Pizza, and then grabbing two apiece for the line at Shockwave which made for a pleasant experience for the staff there.

Drunks at Shockwave became a regular occurrence and led to my very first lift stop. A couple of guys waited for the front and they were absolutely hammered. When they got into the train they stuck their feet out on top of the nose of the car right there in the station. Now, of course we told them they couldn't do that. Well, I was driving and I knew these knuckleheads were trouble. The train was barely dispatched before they stuck their feet out again. I got on the lift speakers and told them to get their feet back in which led to them flipping me off which led to me hitting the lift stop.

We sent a couple of crew members over and these idiots decided they were going to try to get out of their restraints at that point. Security had been called at this point (since we had to call the ride in as down) but they knew this was over their head, they called a "white shirt" security sup to get over there and it was decided they were going to hold these guys in their restraints until Gurnee PD got there. Gurnee PD showed up a bit later and the guys left the ride in cuffs, of course I couldn't resist saying "and enjoy the rest of your day at Six Flags Great America!" over the station speakers to the cheers of all the guests when they were being taken away.

Climbing Adventures

According to the manual the lead was supposed to test all the Aiphones at the ride every day. This led to two problems -- the Aiphone at the top of the lift and the one up in blocks. Most leads just skipped it but I remember one day I was lead for a day at Shockwave (I believe this was very early '92 when I was lead at Condor/Dodge but the Shockwave leads weren't back from school yet) I had to do the full tour. This included climbing the massive lift to check the Aiphone, multiple track walks, and a test ride every hour -- by the book and precise of course!

Earlier on I had remember a group of Sups undertaking the task once was well for some fun. Given the wind that day though they ended up regretting it and came back with some very wind-blown 80s hair!!

Back Seat, By Far

I have never tried to count how many times I rode Shockwave, I'm sure it's in the 100s. Without a single solitary doubt the front was a big let down on Shockwave and the best seat was the back by far. The reason was with the way the drop was -- the drop was pretty sharp and took that bank right away, if you were in the front you just kind of hung there while the rear of the train was still coming. If you were sitting in the back you got whipped over the top before you even came up to it and it was much much more exhilarating.

Blackouts and Stars

I rode Shockwave a lot its first year when I wasn't on its crew, only until I became crew did I figure out one of my great mysteries on the ride. Every time I rode I would start seeing stars by the time I got to the third loop. I had no idea what the heck was causing it because I've never dealt with blackouts or stars before.

One day taking a test ride I finally figured it out -- that ride was such a rush that you held your breath the minute you started going over the top, you held it all the way until you got to the block breaks before the boomerang. Once I figured out to breathe during the drop the stars went away.

I'm sure I'll probably come up with more but I hope you guys enjoyed as much as I've enjoyed sharing. Hopefully it wasn't too mundane.

--Guy
Last edited by NotBill on Sat Jan 21, 2006 6:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
W. Guy Finley
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Postby RLAiello » Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:37 pm

Wow... either you kept an EXTREMELY detailed diary, or you have an AMAZING capacity for memory. This is great stuff. Thanks for sharing it all!!!

I do remember a Shock Wave incident the first year I worked at the park (Which, I think, is the same year you started - 1988, when Shock Wave opened.) I was working Front Gate and somehow a dog got out of the Kennel and into the ride area underneath Shock Wave. They had to pull the E-stop and the reason was, of course, "Dog in the ride area."

That became a running joke for many years afterward.
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Postby NotBill » Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:41 pm

RLAiello wrote:Wow... either you kept an EXTREMELY detailed diary, or you have an AMAZING capacity for memory. This is great stuff. Thanks for sharing it all!!!


It's a memory that absorbs all sorts of crud and retains it! It drives my estranged wife crazy. :P

--Guy
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Postby that_guy » Sat Jan 21, 2006 3:43 pm

Such GREAT Memories, your posts are always so well written and entertaining, Thanks For Sharing!!!!
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Postby Great America Guy » Sat Jan 21, 2006 8:57 pm

Wow! Thanks alot for sharing!

Reading your post is the first thing that has really made me stop and realize how much I do miss that ride.
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Postby m11stephen2 » Sun Jan 22, 2006 8:21 pm

Wow! Thats more information than I even knew existed!
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Postby that_guy » Sun Jan 22, 2006 8:27 pm

Do you think the wheel and structual issues were the reason they didn't relocate it?
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Postby jonrev » Sun Jan 22, 2006 8:59 pm

I thought it was because it was rusting badly from sitting on that hill for so long.
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Postby NotBill » Sun Jan 22, 2006 9:11 pm

that_guy wrote:Do you think the wheel and structual issues were the reason they didn't relocate it?


My understanding was they tried to sell it and couldn't find a buyer. If this final wheel incident is true though I would bet that was the straw that broke the camel's back for Six Flags on this ride. Tidal Wave was also sold for similar reasons (reliability, mechanical upkeep issues).

--Guy
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Postby pattis » Sun Jan 22, 2006 10:15 pm

That is absolutely amazing, i loved reading all this..thinking back to those years i sure wish i would have thought about working there. I was living in Milwaukee at the time. Of course Shockwave was my favorite rollercoaster. Thank you for sharing, i am sure that all employees of SFGA have lots of interesting stories to tell. I do not know about any "whel incident" what was it that theoretically happened?? Just curious. I have always wondered about that with rides all the things that happen that do not get out. People might be afraid to go on them. I have worked for 2 major airlines, and hear plenty of things that make me not want to fly!!!
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Postby m_force_4_ever » Mon Jan 23, 2006 11:42 am

I wish I would've had the oppertunity to ride Shock Wave more then once...thanks for helping remember :D
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Postby pjm8071 » Sat Jan 28, 2006 10:31 am

I was a North Side Rides training lead, for the last few years I was there, when I worked there I do remember the ride being down for an extended period of time because one of the axles broke on the ride, and the trains had to be E-vacked from the lift, and out on the track just short of the first set of brakes, before the station. However I was off when it happened. I do remember the ride having plenty of problems, but was one of my favorite rides to work on.
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Postby SFGAmfreak4life » Mon Jan 30, 2006 10:44 pm

My first visit to the park was in 1990 at the age of 1 and a half years and that was when my obsession with roller coasters began. I've been going every year since and my parents would tell me stories of our trips. They told me that I wanted to ride all the roller coasters and cried because I couldn't. I actually remember this but when I was a few years older. When I was tall enough to ride Whizzer, Viper and American Eagle I was really excited and loved the rides. Being able to ride some roller coasters was a relief but I couldn't wait until I could get on the 54 inchers. ShockWave was the coaster I always wanted to go on the most. Every trip when the car was parked we would sit there for a few minutes just to watch it run. I was finally 54 inches in the summer or 1999 and ShockWave was the first coaster I rode. I waited about an hour and a half and I was really excited when I got in last car. My heart started racing when I heard the clicks from the chain. When I got to the top of the lift hill I couldn't believe the view and I was scared to death. Once the train went down the drop my fear subsided and I was then in a state of euphoria. From then on the ShockWave was my favorite roller coaster.

I rode the ShockWave for the last time a week before it closed. I waited all summer for it to open back up and was heartbroken when I heard it was going to be dismantled. I was at the park for the first day of dismantling and that night I stood against the fence talking to other enthusiasts. The part of the conversation I remember the most was with a fellow ACE member Ron. Part of what we talked about was that he was 5 rides short of hitting 5,000 rides on ShockWave. I still feel bad for him because he'll never get those 5 rides. I wish Superman: Ultimate Flight could have been built next to ShockWave like SFGADv did but thats life. Luckily the two sisters still exist and I got to ride Viper in March of 2002. I'm also happy I got on Flashback a few times and I hope to go back to SFMM soon to ride Viper.
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Postby RandyV » Fri Feb 03, 2006 9:11 pm

Great info, Bill! Thank you for sharing.

Shockwave was just amazing when it opened. I rememer hearing about the wheel problems. As I recall, originally the Shockwave trains used the same wheel diameter as those on the Demon. Due to the excessive heat buildup, the next season, the wheels were changed to ones with a much, much larger diameter.

As for the first loop, bracing was added to the top of the loop after the first couple of seasons. Not sure if I have pictures of this or not, but it certainly would make sense that the upper portion of the loop was under incredible stress due to the speed of the train coming off the first drop.

It's funny that Arrow didn't account for the structural stresses and the loads on the wheels. Seems like that would be basic engineering 101.

As for the ride -- I agree with you that the back was the best. The worst part of it, though, was the left turn leading into the boomerang. I could never figure out why Arrow made that turn so tight, given the first part of the ride had those big, sweeping turns. I always loved hwo the train flew into the left turn coming out of the first loop leading into the second and third.
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Postby SFGAmfreak4life » Fri Feb 03, 2006 9:50 pm

Arrow fixed the turn when Viper was built. Viper is a lot smoother than ShockWave because of the changed layout. I'm going to SFGAdv this summer and I can't wait to ride GASM. That will bring back a lot of memories.
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