Every year, Dollywood gives coaster enthusiasts a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the park and some of its most popular attractions. Last year, as part of the 10th-annual event, attendees had the chance to tour the park’s large rides maintenance shop, where many of Dollywood’s roller coaster trains are inspected, cleaned and rebuilt.
Dollywood’s growing operating season has presented the park’s 85-employee maintenance team with a unique challenge: how to continuously ensure that rides are operating in the best condition possible without closing rides.
Dollywood Rides Maintenance Supervisor Mark Bacon took time out of his busy schedule to give us a tour of the park’s rides maintenance shop and the role it plays in keeping Dollywood’s rides safe and in pristine condition.
Below are just a few of the interesting tidbits I took away from Mark and the tour:
1. The rides maintenance shop is separated into three bays: one for Thunderhead and Lightning Rod; the middle bay for Mystery Mine; and the third for Tennessee Tornado, Whistle Punk Chaser and some of the smaller rides.
2. Each of Dollywood’s attraction is subjected to daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual, quarterly and annual inspections. Some of these are mandated by the ride’s manufacturers and others are required by the state.
3. Blazing Fury and Wild Eagle are the only roller coasters that have their own maintenance shops on site.
4. The park is building a 2,500-square-foot facility just for spare parts.
5. Since safety is, of course, the top priority for Dollywood’s rides, all the park’s roller coaster trains undergo an “annual rebuild,” where each of Dollywood’s roller coaster trains (and other similar attractions) are taken apart — all the way down to the base frame — for a thorough cleaning and inspection.
6. Thunderhead is unique in that the roller coaster has a spare chassis (the frame where the wheels and seats are attached), so the maintenance team can always rebuild a train at any time during the year without having to remove one of the two built trains from the track. This keeps the lines short! And with Dollywood’s “off-season” becoming shorter and shorter, being able to perform this type of work year-round is a big advantage.
7. Mystery Mine’s “carts” are removed from the track and are hauled all the way to the shop for servicing. Using a modified car lift, each car is lifted into the air so that the mechanics can work under the car with better access to its frame. Small sections of track outside of the shop allows for the roller coaster’s carts to be brought into the shop for its seats, floor pans and fiberglass to be reinstalled. A modified fork truck removes the cart from the actual ride itself.
8. All the roller coaster trains are subjected to “nondestructive testing,” which uses a variety of technologies including x-rays and ultrasound to detect any cracks or other problems with the ride’s materials or structure. Should any issues be found, Dollywood turns to the ride’s manufacturer for a repair or replacement procedure. If a part or component is given the all-clear, it is repainted, rebuilt and returned to its track.
9. Since it isn’t feasible to take each individual piece of coaster track into the rides maintenance shop, Dollywood employees walk every section of track daily to check for any abnormalities.
10. Have you ever noticed how comfy those coaster seats are? Well, that’s all thanks to the upholstery work that happens in the shop! Upholstery is often replaced when roller coaster trains are rebuilt to ensure that your ride is comfortable.
I’m always amazed at how much work goes on behind the scenes at Dollywood to make guests’ experiences so unforgettable. Thrills in the Hills is an awesome opportunity for you, too, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the park!