Questions about operating a Ferris wheel

Monday, September 12, 2011 6:34 PM
obxKevin's avatar

Still sounds cool. Hit us with a link when available.


The poster formerly known as 'Zcorpius.' Joined 2004
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Monday, September 12, 2011 7:27 PM

janfrederick said:
Yep, let us know when it's published!

Does anyone know if the wheel at Santa Cruz is an Eli 16? My guess is yes.

Yes, it's a #16 "Aristocrat". It has recently been converted from cable to dual rim hydraulic drive.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 2:21 PM
janfrederick's avatar

OK. I *thought* there was something a bit different about it the last time I was there.

Althought the cable system looks neat, it sounds a bit unforgiving. Why didn't they design them with wheel drives initially? Portability? Power consumption?


"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 4:39 PM

The cable drive system was relatively common when Eli Bridge first building wheels in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Cable drives were used in mass transit (the iconic San Francisco cable cars being a prime example), elevators, ariel bucket systems were used in mining operations as well as early examples merry-go-rounds built by the Armitage Herschell Co and C.W. Parker. Hydraulic power as we know it was in it's infancy then and had not reached a point of being efficient enough to be used in this application. Also, the showmen of the era weren't too keen on embracing the latest technology being used to attractions that required more strong backs than education. The only other means of reliably driving a wheel of that size would have been pinion and ring gear arrangement, which works fine on large stationary wheels (Denos Wonder Wheel uses a pinion and gear drive). Eli Wheels were designed to be light weight for easy setup and tear down. Wire rope drive was a proven technolgy that met all the criteria needed by the traveling showman, and it was the standard in this particuar application for nearly a century. With the advent of trailer mounted rides and the advances in compact hydraulic power units and motors few if any Big Eli's are built with cable drive anymore, although it's still listed as being available.

Last edited by Dutchman, Tuesday, September 13, 2011 4:58 PM
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 2:07 AM

Perhaps the most important factor, which Dutchman touched on but didn't, in my opinion, emphasize enough, is portability. There is no rim on a cable drive wheel, and there is no need for any alignment of the drive rim. Eli wheels are not, in fact, round[url][url]. The drive rope wraps around the drive sheave and then goes around the elephant ears on the ends of the spokes. The elephant ears keep the bends in the rope large enough to not kink the rope, but the actual shape Of the wheel is a dodecagon or a hexadecagon, not a circle.

The rope drive has one more interesting benefit, too. The same drive sheave that operates the ride also serves as the winch to operate the crane for erecting the towers. Have a look at this YouTube video that shows a crew putting up the towers with lots of muscle, a stout rope, and a little help from the cable drive unit.

I suppose Eli could have done what Schwarzkopf did and fabricated a flat rim for the wheel, but imagine how much easier it is to handle the smaller straight pieces.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

Last edited by RideMan, Wednesday, September 14, 2011 2:07 AM

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 8:28 AM

Portability has come a long way since since "the goood ole days". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY5vZF-TcV0&feature=related.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 1:07 PM

Thank you Dave for fleshing out the advantages of the cable drive. That was going through my head when I was writing the post, but per ususal my brain works a whole lot faster than I type and sometimes stuff gets left out. Oh, I don't have to imagine how much easier the pieces of a #5 wheel are, I know ;)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 5:56 PM

No, no, not between the Aristocrat and the #5, I'm talking about compared to, say, the Schwarzkopf 44m portable Wheel, which has a curved rim. Think how much smaller the Eli parts are, not just because it is a smaller Wheel, but because all the parts are straight and flat!

(I know of two portable Schwarzkopf wheels operating in the United States, both in parks because it isn't really practical to move a Wheel that requires 12 trucks. Anybody know where to find these beasts, or know of any others?)

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 9:35 PM

Anything that Schwarzkopf built is heavy. Along with the 12 containers that those wheels were transported in they traveled with a truck mounted crane with a 20m boom. Of course a lot of the fairs in Europe last for several weeks, so the need to get the pig iron up and down in a hurry is less of an issue there than here.

I had always thought that the Wheel that Great Adventure has was built specifically for the park. I have heard stories however that Warner LeRoy bought it off a German showman. I dug out a Schwarzkopf catalog I got from Mickey Hughes back in 1984. It appears that there is little difference between the park model and the portable other than the shipping containers. Now we all know the story about George Roose forgetting about the lead time when he ordered the Giant Wheel for Cedar Point's Centenial Year, which is why it was installed in 1972 and not 1970.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 9:50 PM

Yup, that's the two I was thinking of, Cedar Point and Great Adventure. I THINK the Great Adventure wheel is "portable" (i.e built on four shipping containers instead of a concrete foundation) and I know the Cedar Point wheel is (and not just because they moved it for the 2000 season!).

Don't flatter us too much, Dutchman...I was not aware of the lead time story. But it might explain why they got three major attractions that year ( I think...my first visit to CP was in '72 and I do not remember it!).

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____
/XXXXX\ /XXX\ /XXXX\_ /X\ /XXXXX\ /X\ /X\ /XXXXX
_/XXXXXXX\__/XXXXX\/XXXXXXXX\_/XXX\_/XXXXXXX\__/XXX\_/XXX\_/\_/XXXXXX

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Sunday, February 14, 2016 8:08 AM

Okay, I too am writing a story dealing with a ferris wheel. I know this thread is about five years old, and I already found it extremely helpful in writing my scene--but I have a question: If someone were to sneak into a traveling carnival in the middle of the night, way back in the 70s, would they be able to start up the wheel if it was, say, an Eli HY-5? Do/did those machines have their own gasoline engines, or were/are they run with an electric motor and an attached generator?

Any information would be greatly appreciated.

--Rob

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Sunday, February 14, 2016 9:46 AM

I suppose either would be possible, but these days energy to the carnival rides is usually supplied by large electric generators on the grounds nearby. If your story is old-timey (does that include the 70's?) or if the carnival is small and rinky then a gas powered engine would certainly be possible. I've seen pictures and have experience riding old Eyerly Aircraft rides (Loop-O, Rock-O, Roll-O-Plane, etc) that had small engines right at the base of the ride that just might've been gasoline powered and probably so.
Way back in the day I rode a ride (Hell Hole) at Brooklyn's Coney Island that I swear was powered by a motorcycle engine. At least that's what it sounded like when the ride started. It was frightening in more ways than one.

Edit to add:
Ooh! I went to Google and typed in "are carnival rides powered by gasoline engines?" and this interesting thread came right up. And there's your answer.
http://www.smokstak.com/forum/showthread.php?t=131559

Last edited by RCMAC, Sunday, February 14, 2016 9:47 AM
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Sunday, February 14, 2016 10:11 AM

Great find MAC, memories of the forty milers in Western PA that played the county fairs and fireman's carnivals. Every piece would have a gas engine on it. The power for the lights usually came from a trailer mounted transformer ( a "hot wagon" in carny speak) that was tapped into the local untility.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016 12:20 PM

That's perfect--exactly the kind of information I was looking for! And the information on the hot wagon works, too: in my story some kids have snuck into a carnival in the wee hours to get one of their number up in the Ferris wheel. If they could fire up the wheel engine and not have the lights/music come on automatically, that's great. And that picture was a terrific find for me, Mac, since I don't have any "actual" knowledge about the engines.

I have a follow-up question, though: I can't see in the photo, but would an engine like that have a battery and push-button start, or would it have some kind of pull-starter mechanism?

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Sunday, February 14, 2016 3:29 PM

No problem- As always, I live to serve. Especially my community. Even on this great national holiday.

The fun thing to me about that website/thread is that it's not Amusement Ride or Carnival Enthusiasts posting, it's the Engine Enthusiasts. Complete with links to YouTube engine channels. "I remember the sound of the engine getting louder and quieter as the ride spun you close to it and away from it. Great memories!" says Mike (a.k.a Junkologist), Engine Enthusiast. Ok, so my childhood recollections of Scrambler rides involve completely different sensations, but whatever floats your boat, right?

Something on the Internet for everyone, folks!

And Rob, (and maybe someone here knows better) but I'd feel safe allowing your character to start up the engine using a rope pull, lawn mower style. Let's have him give it a couple of good, yet nervous tries before it finally starts. I appreciate your penchant for authenticity and hopefully an Engine Enthusiast somewhere won't read your story and call you out on it if I'm wrong.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016 9:59 PM

Actually, they were started with a hand crank that was inserted through a hole underneath the radiator housing. That's how old farm tractors were started, and the power units were essentially tractors without wheels.

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