How "computerized" are flat rides?

Not sure what got me thinking about this, but do the ride-ops on rides like Matterhorn, Monster, Troika, Scrambler, etc. just press a button to start a cycle and then the entire thing is automatic, or is there some manual/subjective element involved on when to stop a cycle and how a cycle is timed?

Rides like Skyhawk or Maxair are pretty obviously computer-driven from beginning to end, but what about these simpler, older flat rides? Put another way, if the apocalypse happens midride and all the ride-ops run away, would the cycle actually finish, or is manual intervention required to stop them and those riders would be stuck spinning until Edison shuts off the power?

I swear I saw two levers on Monster that moved the ride forward or back, so do they just mash one of the levers down when a cycle should begin, start a stopwatch, and slowly move the ride arms back to stop it, or is everything done via computer once the cycle starts?

Last edited by firefox15,

So I do know that Scrambler got a brand new computer system, but there is still a manual brake lever used by the operator.

jimmyburke's avatar

I like the question you posed firefox15, and am interested in the responses you get from those that are knowledgeable regarding the operations.

I am also curious about Cedar Downs. I haven't been there since May 2021, but in the few years leading to that date it was very inconsistent as to the length of the ride. They would play that Belmont Stakes race call and sometimes the ride would end prior to the finish of that call, other times well after we heard that the winner was the largest long-shot ever in the history of the race.

Matterhorn those years would also fluctuate between good, long rides & sometimes a few laps and that was it.

Super Himalayan would sometimes go rogue & really extend the ride time.

The Sky Rides length of ride is determined by the number of buckets running at a time. On less busy days, the number of buckets is less than on crowded days.

Monster is still manually controlled. The operator uses those two silver handles you mentioned to manually control the speed/direction for the 6 main arms’ two motions: rotation and vertical up-down motion. The electric motors that rotate the cross sweeps at the end of each arm are manually turned on and off as well. Here’s a really great write up on the operation process for Kings Dominion’s former Monster, which is the same model as the one at CP.

Computerization for Monster would be incredibly difficult because the up-down motion is permanently built into the ride. In other words, there’s always going to be two arms near the ground and four other arms in the air at any given time. Since this means that only 2/6 arms can be loaded at a time, the operator has to use those levers to manually jog the main arm motions to line up with the loading area, both for height and rotation, and it would be difficult for a computer to automate this loading process consistently every time. I’ve heard operators at ride control panels be called the “driver” of the ride before; in Monster’s case, the operator quite literally is the driver of the ride.


The Sky Rides length of ride is determined by the number of buckets running at a time. On less busy days, the number of buckets is less than on crowded days.

You are incorrect on this. The length of the ride is exactly the same as the stations don't move closer or farther away from each other. The speed of the cable is also a constant.

The only variable is the timing for release of the cabins, which is preset depending on the number of cabins.

June 11th, 2001 - Gemini 100
VertiGo Rides - 82
R.I.P. Fright Zone, and Cyrus along with it.

This is an interesting question as it seems rides have changed quite a bit since I operated them back in 1989. I remember Geauga Lake's Rotor being completely manual as we had to make sure the ride was spinning fast enough to lower the floor and also make sure we didn't crush anyone's feet by bringing the floor back up to high. Then we had to line up the door by matching a piece of yellow tape on the barrel with one on the outer shell. It was sort of a challenge, but fun as well. GL's Musik Express was mostly manual as I remember switching through the 5 "gears" (there was a nail driven into the console so we couldn't run it backwards!), but the ride would shut off after a pre-set time. We could override that too if the line wasn't long and give a longer cycle. These days, it does seem like everything is preset though.

I did see an operator having a rough time with a Dartron/Battech Zero Gravity at a recent festival, which gave me a good chuckle. He kept misaligning the exit ramp and would have to give the ride a quick "power nudge" while the kids on board were walking around thinking the ride was over. This happened about 3 times. The 4th time he missed again but it was close enough for him to grab on to the ride and pull it into place. Perhaps a computerized program would have helped... :)


because the up-down motion is permanently built into the ride.

I have never paid attention to the up-down motion - is it a constant, repetitive motion that is created by the mechanics of the ride or is it random?

No, it’s mechanical and operates exactly as its cousin, the Octopus. The arms are hinged near the center but each is attached to a rod that leads to a revolving piece that is offset from the center piece. That causes one side of the ride to go high while the other is low. As the offset center revolves it causes the wavelike motion. I wish I knew more technical terms.
I’ve been a fan of flat rides since I was a kid. Over the decades I’ve seen changes, and most of those center around computerization. These days the best place to observe manual operations is on the fairgrounds. Traveling shows generally employ a person or two as the driver. Sometimes it’s the owner of the ride, or a family member in on the business. The sit in the pay box (in Europe it’s common for them to sell tickets or tokens as well) and control the ride on an elaborate electronic board with levers, knobs and buttons. They watch the ride carefully and control the various actions to give the best ride. In doing so they become skilled in causing the best spins or flips depending on the ride. A good example is the Top Spin where a good driver at the controls makes all the difference in the ride experience.
There are many YouTube videos of European rides shot from the vantage point of the operator. There’s no description and it can be a little boring, but it can also be fun to watch how talented they are. Almost like a pilot in the cockpit.

I too struggled with the right words in my question. Is the up and down controlled by the ride itself (meaning as it rotates something mechanical inside of it moves it up/down automagically) or does the ride operator control the up/down?

The main rotation, the up and down, and the spinning of the sweeps are are controlled separately and operate independently. Think three switches. A common sequence is to start the sweeps then turn the main part for a time and finally send it up and down. I prefer turning the main, doing the up and down, then finally the sweeps. I think that allows for better spins.

OK, so there are three motions going on during a cycle, each controlled and powered by separate motors. Starting at the end of the arms, you have the cross arms connected to the 4 tubs at the end of each arm rotating with an electric motor on each arm (6 motors total). This motion’s motors are controlled with an on/off switch; speed is not controllable. Next are the main arms’ rotation and vertical movements, controlled by two separate motors. These two motors’ speeds are manually controllable by two separate speed levers, one for each motion. First, you have the main arms rotating in a circle with a rotation motor. Next, for the vertical, you have another motor inside the middle (the “eccentric” motor) rotating in the opposite direction that spins a crank in the middle connected to straight rods connected to the end of each arm, as seen here:

When that crank spins with the eccentric motor’s rotation, the off-center crank coupled with the short, fixed length of these rods causes the arms to move up and down as the crank rotates and pulls back and forth on those rods, which leads the arms to pivot up and down. Because these rods are a fixed length and do not expand or retract, the vertical motion is permanently built into the ride’s design. In other words, the operator can move the eccentric motor’s lever to stop two arms at the bottom and freeze the vertical motion, but even when frozen there will always be four other arms in the air because the arms’ vertical motion rods always have the same fixed length. Sorry for any confusion!

Also, just to note, the levers that control the arms’ rotation and vertical movements are spring-loaded; they must be held in position during the duration of the ride. If the ride operator lets go of the levers for any reason, they’ll return to the 0 position and stop the ride’s movements, like if you stop pressing down on the accelerator in a car.

Last edited by bootymix96,

Eccentric. That’s the word I was looking for. Thank you.

My understanding is that they did build a Monster for Dorney Park that had a push-button control, including an automatic "advance 120 degrees" function for loading and unloading.

The Eyerly Monster uses two hydraulic motors to drive the center rotation and the eccentric, which is why you can hear that distinct whine when the ride starts moving. The pump is located in the center of the ride. By comparison, the Spider and Octopus use a single electric motor connected to a counter-shaft with a pair of clutches on it to drive the center and the eccentric. The ends of the counter shaft are connected with belts (chains on the Octopus) to a pair of 1930's Ford truck differentials modified to have only one output shaft, and further modified to keep the grease in with the output shaft pointing straight down. The output shafts from the differentials drive the pinion gears that operate the drive chains around the bottom of the ride...the bottom chain turns the eccentric tube while the upper chain turns the primary rotation.

The Battech Black Widow is an update to the Spider which is designed so that it can be applied to existing Spiders. That ride has a folding load platform, a permanent trailer mount (no need to take the center cage off of the trailer), and an all electric drive employing two electric motors to run the ride rotations. They also have a square ride vehicle with a fixed nose and a step on each side for entry and exit, rather than the drop nose that we see on the older rides. That design isn't actually new, and was previously used on a few Spiders.

Battech, or whatever they are calling themselves with regard to the Eyerly catralog, is the current successor to the Eyerly Aircraft Company. The interesting thing about this is that Battech was previously the successor to Dartron, which was the successor to Killinski, Man-Co, and Hrubetz, which was founded by Frank Hrubetz, Lee Eyerly's business partner with Eyerly Aircraft. So when Battech bought the assets of ORI Industries (successor to Oregon Rides, JVI, and Eyerly Aircraft) it effectively un-forked the corporate family tree.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

/X\ *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _____

Kevinj's avatar

This just crossed my mind, only because they are older flats in the park.

Last week when the storm was rolling in, (the tornado warning with all the lightning) our kids were next in line for Atomic Scrambler. They got out of the line as the alarm went over the PA system, and we huddled trying to decide what we wanted to do. Another check of the radar and it was clear the park was going to get hit by something; at the very least the real threat of lightning strikes (which did happen).

We decided to walk over to the pavilion, and we noticed two workers running frantically towards their rides. One screamed out "I got Scrambler!" while the other screamed "I got Matterhorn!". I mean top-speed-like-their-lives-depended-on-it running.

I'm guessing they were most likely powering down the rides, and maybe they were just over-excited because of the storm coming in, but it sure seemed like it was something vital to the rides' life.

Promoter of fog.

djDaemon's avatar

Our company sells, among other things, industrial controls equipment that in some cases communicates with other equipment over a fieldbus. One customer in particular had our equipment linked to an industrial robot via DeviceNet, and their manufacturing facility was struck by lightning, which killed our equipment's DeviceNet port. This may have been a result of ground potential rise, but that's just a guess on our part.

So maybe they were heading there to isolate the equipment from the grounding and electrical network to prevent something similar? But it surprises me that they'd have to do this on newly-installed equipment, unless the mitigation for this is prohibitively expensive, and it's easier to simply remove the rides from the network entirely in the event of a lightning storm.


Vector drives are replacing timers,Hydrosheaves and manual clutches on a lot of older rides.

Vector drives are cool. 100% torque at 0 RPM can dramatically simplify the ride design, as you can now have precise control over the acceleration curve, and no holding brakes are required for loading and unloading.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

/X\ *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _____

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