The Tempest

After the Collins family purchased Mountain Park, they expanded the midway with mostly kiddie rides. But one of the adult thrill rides they added was a ride called the Swinging Cages. It was located in front of the office, north of the Ferris wheel. There were two steel cages, side by side, with grab bars on the inside. The cages hung from counterweighted steel supports, like a giant porch swing. The object was to rock the cages back and forth, making them swing higher and higher until they made a complete revolution. It was a pretty intense experience requiring a lot of body english and strength. Usually it took more than one person in a cage to get the thing to revolve. The problem with the ride is that people didn't always use the grab bars like they were supposed to and would often fall, smacking their heads against the steel structure. So when ARASERV leased the park in 1971, they got rid of the Swinging Cages.

The replacement was a ride manufactured by Grover Watkins. It was called The Tempest. It was a portable ride made mainly for traveling carnivals. It sat on a trailer that angled upwards toward the back. A heavy canvas skirt around the trailer hid the wheels and supports. The ride consisted of four large steel tubs that could each seat 12 people. Each tub had a floor and sides made of steel mesh (which was important). Each had a grab bar that encircled a centerpost on the top of which was a large mesh umbrella with colorful lights attached.

Two tubs sat on each end of a hollow steel I-beam. The tubs were free-spinning. Since the whole ride was tilted, the weight distribution in the tubs mattered. tubs with slightly unevenly distributed weight tended to spin more violently. If the weight was too lopsided, the cab wouldn't spin as much. There was a larger hollow I-beam underneath the tubs' I-beam. The other set of tubs had a similar arrangement at the other end of the big I-beam. The hub of the big I-beam had a gear system connected by relatively small chain to the motor. Each of the smaller I-beams was also connected to that gear system by longer chains. The chains were the ride's weak point.

The ride's movement was synchronized by the chains. When at rest, the arrangement looked like a giant capital "I" with the large beam being the vertical part of the letter. The smaller I-beams would rotate as the big I-beam rotated around its center. It was like a carefully choreographed dance. If the ride got out of synch, there was a danger that the tubs could crash into each other.

To control the ride, there was a rheostat to govern the rotation speed and a small brake handle. The ride had to start slowly, gradually building up speed, and had to slow down just as gradually. Unfortunately, there were a few ride operators who knew the ride's weak point. They would apply the brake when the ride was going relatively fast. There would be a deafening snap as the small chain broke. The ride would then get out-of-synch. The ride operator would call Roger over. Roger would curse a bit and then proceed to repair the ride, which would take a good part of the day. The ride operator meanwhile would wander off down the midway and relax. Roger caught on to this mischievous behavior, and began telling the ride operators to check out if they broke the ride.

Like the Tilt-a-Whirl, this was a fun ride to operate because there was so much control over the movement. Depending upon the weight distribution in the tubs, by subtly speeding up and slowing down the rotational speed, a good operator could make the tubs spin mercilessly. On most other rides, teens would scream at the operator to "make it go faster!" But the Tempest was one of the few rides where teens would beg the operator to slow it down or stop it from spinning altogether.

Naturally, with all that spinning after kids had downed french fries and cotton candy, there were consequences. This is where the mesh floor and sides came in handy. When patrons threw up, all the operator had to do is fill a five-gallon bucket with a nearby hose and then douse the ride. A minute of spinning the empty cab would dry it off, and then the operator was all ready to load the ride up again. Most other rides required the operator to apply absorbent granules (basically scented cat litter) and then sweep it up. With so little work involved in cleaning the ride, the operators had no compunction about making the riders sick.

One of the operators for a few years I knew only as Lucky. He was a tall muscular guy with dyed blond hair, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. When the Merry-Go-Round was empty, I'd stand by the fence across from the Tempest and watch the action. I remember Lucky hurrying over to me, excited. He had broken the record for having the most people sick on his ride in one day: 186.

Eventually, the "umbrellas" above each cab were removed. After the park closed for good, the Tempest was bought by Fannelli Amusements and can still be ridden at carnivals around the northeast.