May 2012

A Rush for Speed: Aycock and Local 404 Installs Skyrush, Hersheypark’s Newest Coaster

By Paula Ward, Martin Public Relations

Lifting an 82-foot long piece of arched track 200 feet into the air is a feat of massive proportions. Combine that length with a weight of 118,000 pounds, and it seems inconceivable.

Yet, with the help of a 300-ton crane and 260 feet of boom earlier this year, Aycock, a division of Enerfab, Inc., and ironworkers from Local 404 (Harrisburg, Pa.) were able to not only lift that biggest piece of Hersheypark’s new Skyrush roller coaster into place, but they were able to set it in just 30 minutes.

“It could have gone real bad,” said Brian Peiffer, Aycock’s general foreman. Instead, “that piece fit near perfect. Within a half-hour, we had bolts in it.”

For generations, Aycock, a Hummelstown, Pa. company specializing in difficult steel erection, has partnered with Hersheypark each time it plans the construction of a new thrill ride at its 110-acre property. Over the years, Aycock has proudly employed ironworkers from Local 404.
Kerry Zettlemoyer, business manager for Local 404 adds, “We are very thankful for our working relationship with our signatory contractor Aycock and extremely grateful for their long standing relationship with Hersheypark.”

“They’re a great partner,” said Kathy Burrows, the park’s public relations manager. “They’re not just a contractor, they’re our partners. They’re fabulous at what they do, and they’re as excited about the ride as we are.”

To get the new mega coaster built about 20 people worked on the project, said Butch Campbell, Aycock’s superintendent. He gave two general classifications to the crew that worked on the job—the “connectors,” and the guys “responsible for hooking on the chokers and chain falls.” He describes “connectors,” as the younger, more limber workers, who “hang up in the air waiting on the piece.”

“It’s the best job you can get, you just have to be young to do it. The guys responsible for hooking the crane up to the massive sections of column and track are a little older and a little wiser,” Campbell said.

Out of all of them and the 15,000 man-hours on the job, he bragged, no one got hurt. Zettlemoyer added that the local is actively engaged in the International Union’s Countdown to Zero Fatalities in 2012 campaign. “You’ve got to think about [safety] all the time. It’s constantly with you—to be careful. If you think you shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t do it,” Campbell adds. “It’s common sense.”

When executives at Hersheypark started talking about their next big ride two years ago, they knew it would be a roller coaster, Burrows said. “Our guests are always telling us, ‘We want this. We want this,’” she said. “It’s always a roller coaster.”

The park had 11, but in 2012, it will expand to an even dozen.

Chosen from among three bids was Skyrush, designed by Intamin Amusement Rides in Switzerland.

“It was the design that gave us the most bang for our buck,” Burrows said. The $25-million, 3,600-foot mega coaster with winged seating uses cantilever geometry and contains both floored and floorless seats. The outer, winged seats offer riders a 270-degree panoramic view of Hersheypark, and the feeling of weightlessness during the 63-second trip.

It will reach speeds of more than 75 miles per hour and move about 1,350 riders per hour. “People who like roller coasters like them for the thrills­—for the extremeness of it,” Burrows said.

After Hersheypark decided on Intamin’s design, the crews had to wait on the parts to be made and shipped. They arrived in late July, shipped from overseas in 100 sea containers, Campbell said. The structural steel and track arrived in October, and erection began in mid November.

It’s not unusual when erecting a roller coaster to have some difficulty maneuvering in the often tight spaces where they are to be built, but for Skyrush, it was even worse, Campbell said.

“Logistically, it was a nightmare,” he said. “Access to where we had to put the crane was in a creek. The big crane sat down in the creek the whole time.”

At the start of the project, Spring Creek had to be diverted. A dam was constructed, and diversion pipes ran the water around the site. A raised roadbed was built in the creek to give the crews a strong enough foundation for the crane to sit on. “It wasn’t a pleasant job, I’ll tell you that,” Campbell said.

But crews did have a few things go their way during the several-month project. Winter was mild. There was only one snow, and temperatures remained generally workable. “We were fortunate,” Campbell said. There was only one major weather mishap—a flood in September that saturated the whole site. The time that was lost was made up during six Saturdays on the job.

There were also delays when it was too windy to be working up off the ground.

The biggest challenge for crews was ground stability and accessibility. To start, 180 different foundations had to be poured for Skyrush’s light blue columns. Crews then set the columns and structural steel track, which came in sections of 30 feet or more and weighed 6 to 8 tons each.

“There are so many angles, turns and twists. It’s a very exacting process because nothing is level. Nothing’s plumb,” Campbell said. “Amazingly enough, it fits pretty well. The fabricator did a wonderful job.”

The crews had to use a protractor to figure out the angles each time they placed a new one to ensure they would match up exactly. “The pieces look like a twisted pretzel,” Campbell said.
Peiffer, the general foreman, said on their best day, crews set 12 track sections. “That’s a good day,” he said. “Some days are worse than others.”

It could take two hours to set one piece when workers accounted for elevational changes and angles.

Rigging the track sections, which often are long and heavy, can be made more difficult if a piece does what is called a “judo flip” or “tuna flop” while being lifted by the crane, Peiffer said.

Then the crew must get it back into position. “That’s not easy when the section weighs anywhere from 12,000 to 16,000 pounds,” he said. All of the galvanized bolts—which range from 20 to 27 millimeters—are left loose as each piece is set to ensure the connections will fit, Peiffer said.

As of early April, the structure was going through the inspection process, at which time the bolts will be torqued to specification, and then additional nuts will be attached, as well.

The lift included 8,000 bolts, and the total project has about 20,000. The crews were also responsible for installing a 1500-horsepower winch, with an 8-foot diameter drum. The drum uses a 1-1/2-inch hoist cable that’s strong enough to pull the trains, which weigh as much as 30,000 pounds when filled to their 32-rider capacity, up the steep, 50-degree
incline. And the speed at which that’s accomplished? A remarkable 25 miles per hour.

One of the unique factors of Skyrush is how it is integrated through other rides in Hersheypark. The track leaves Spring Creek and then weaves through the Comet, the park’s oldest wooden roller coaster built in 1946. “It’s funny to think about,” Campbell said. “At that time, that was the premier ride at Hersheypark. We’ve put in a lot more since then. That’s like a kiddy ride now.”

He has worked on every steel roller coaster in the park. The last one Aycock erected was Fahrenheit in 2008, which has a 100-foot vertical drop.

“We’ve been at this a long time—since I was a kid,” said Campbell, 59.
Now, he’s looking forward to taking his grandson there someday to explain to him the role he had in making the park’s newest thrill ride. For now, he has to be satisfied with a picture of that same grandson sitting inside the big crane, pushing the levers.

“My kids will be able to see it and know we took part in building it,” Peiffer said. “It draws a big crowd when they put one up, and a lot of people enjoy it. They love it.”

New roller coasters, generally, contribute to a bump in visitors that can be seen for two or three years after they have been introduced, Burrows said. “There’s just something exciting about a roller coaster that draws people to it—the energy, the excitement,” she said. “It’s danger that’s safe.”

Campbell is proud of the work.

“We changed the skyline in Hershey again,” Campbell said. “This is the most fun there is. In our business, this is the ultimate, because it’s something completely different. It’s not just beams and bar joists. Every piece hooks on differently. It’s fun and it really doesn’t produce anything other than a smile.”