Another in our regular series looking at amusement ride builders throughout the world. The Italian company of Zamperla S.p.A. based in Vicenza, Veneto, is a little different to many of the other big names out there. There range not only encompasses the giant roller coasters of many of their competitors. It also included more funfair orientated travelling rides, again matching others in their market, but they also build a range of tiny coin operated rides. The kind you find in a supermarket or shopping center.
Their history dates back over a century, to when, like many ride manufacturers, they were actually operators. Originally travelling an equestrian circus, before becoming one of the first operators of a street cinema in Italy.
Mr. Antonio Zamperla, founder of the company, realised that many of the larger amusement rides, such as the dodgems, could be recreated in smaller versions for the children. Indeed the ‘Mini Scooters’ or bumper cars for kids was one of their early successful lines. Leading to a host of repackaged attractions for the smaller clients visiting fairs.
Of course they have a range of adult rides to complement the children’s attractions.
In 1976, the company arrived in Montreal, before moving to New Jersey to establish a sales office and spare parts warehouse operation.
The company provided some seven, out of the initial 12 rides that were installed in Euro Disney, a feather in the cap by any yardstick.
In 2005 the founder of the company, Mr. Antonio Zamperla, became the first Italian to be inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame
The company also boasts an impressive resume in roller coasters. Though they did tend to specialise more in attractions that could be dismantled and travelled. Over the years they have built some 368 coasters and counting.
Started by three brothers Luigi, Ferruccio and Marcello Bertazzon in 1951. They quickly moved into producing dodgem tracks and go-karts.
By 1963 the company was formally established, as Bertazzon 3B (for 3 brothers).
The company now is a major player in the ride production world, with Carousels, dodgems, dark rides, the Matterhorn, flying chairs and rail rides amongst others.
The company is, to use a modern buzz word, vertically integrated. All this means is that they pretty much produce everything they need in house. Some small stuff such as galvanising is done by outside contractors, but pretty much everything else they design and build themselves.
One thing that Bertazzon do seem to stand out for is the breadth of dodgem cars they produce. Not just a couple of different styles with a range of paint jobs, they have some pretty unique stuff available, and seem open to the idea of building custom cars for clients.
They also produce a ‘drifting’ car, which as the name suggests drifts like a rally car when a button is pressed.
10 March is national popcorn lovers day in the UK. The legendary snack which is a mainstay of cinema’s the world over.
The earliest evidence of fossils in Peru suggests that humans have been popping corn since 4700B.C. Which must make it one of the oldest continuous snack foods in existence.
In the modern era they were popped on stoves, until the creation of Charles Cretors steam powered popcorn cart in 1880, which commercialised the process.
During the great depression, popcorn was so cheap that it became a massive seller. Indeed many farmers switched production to corn to take advantage of this. When WW2 rationing cut down on candy production, popcorn sales tripled. It’s initial introduction into movie theatres wasn’t welcomed by the owners, who felt it distracted from the films.
This changed however when they realised the profitability of it. The 1938 installation in to Dickinson’s theaters by the owner Glen W. Dickinson Sr. of popcorn machines led to the realisation that he could earn more from selling corn than tickets for the film. He eventually began buying up popcorn farms, and reduced the price of his tickets to get more people in to eat his corn.
In 1926 Hendrik op het Veld formed Veld Koning Machinefabriek (Veld Koning Machine Factory). This was abbreviated to Vekoma, and another legendary Dutch ride builder was created.
Only inline with many amusement ride manufacturers, it actually wasn’t. Originally it built farm equipment, and equipment for the mining industry.
After the 1956 closure of the Dutch mining industry, the company switched to producing pipework for the petrochemical industry.
1970’s And The Move Into The Entertainment Industry
The US based roller coaster manufacturer Arrow Dynamics contracted Vekoma to build the steel work for their European rides in the 70’s. As demand in Europe increased Vekoma eventually licensed the technology from Arrow and began building rides in their own right with 3 coasters being produced in 1979.
Named the Super Wirbel the first coaster was an inverted double corkscrew installed in Holiday Park, Hassloch Germany. Two of the first riders were the German Formula 1 drivers Rolf Stommelen and Harald Ertl , eventually they produced 7 examples. They went on the produce the Invertigo, Boomerang and Whirlwind coasters.
Alliance With Chance Morgan
In 2006 they formed an alliance with the USA based manufacturer Chance Morgan, with Chance building the steelwork for the coasters. They produced four in total during this period.
Acquisition Of Bussink Wheels Of Excellence
Vekoma acquired the Wheels of Excellence range from Ronald Bussink, whereby Bussink would continue to build the 100 metre wheels and Vekoma would build wheels in the smaller 40-80 metre market. They terminated the agreement with Chance in 2012, but licensed the R60 metre wheel to a new offshoot of chance called Chance American Wheels.
Madhouse And SkyShuttle
Vekoma also manufacture a couple of other attractions. The most curious in the aptly named mad house. Designed to give the riders the illusion of weightlessness and spinning upside down. In actuality, it is an updated version of the ‘Rib Tickler’, a ride that graced British fairgrounds in the 80’s, though never presented as well as the Vekoma version.
The other is the SkyShuttle. Raising riders upto 50 metres into the sky with a gently rotating gondola, the ride allows spectacular views over the full site.
Acquisition By Sensei Technologies
In 2018 Vekoma was acquired by Sansei Technologies a Japanese based company who specialises in both Amusement rides and elevators. The agreement was that Vekoma would continue to be run as a separate entity, so hopefully the brand will continue.
The golden years of fairgrounds in the UK, pretty much the Victorian era really. Saw numerous home grown companies providing the ever expanding scene with rides and shows that were works of art. Sadly like much of British industry, few ride manufacturers still remain. The legendary names of old seem to limp along in various forms until about the last third of the 20th century before finally fading away. Orton, Sons and Spooner Ltd was one such name, responsible for some of the most ornate switchbacks, arks and shows ever to appear on the fairground, they ended as equipment handling manufacturers before ceasing to trade around 1977.
Originally they were two separate companies. The first being the Lion Carriage Works. Set up by George Orton who manufactured gypsy wagons as well as drays and carriages for other industries. Based in Burton upon Trent, he received his first commision for a Showman’s wagon around 1883. At that period in history, showmen not only lived in their wagons, but they tended to be highly carved and ornate and formed the front part of a travelling show.
A young man named Charles Spooner, owner of the ‘Swan Works’, in Burton was one of Orton’s suppliers. A wood carver who had been apprenticed to Walter Gifford Hilton he supplied drays and carts to the thriving brewing industry in Burton.
Orton contracted him to provide carvings for his showfronts and wagons. This symbiotic relationship flourished to the point that the two companies were amalgamated in 1925 as Orton, Sons and Spooner Ltd.
They soon expanded their range into the full scale building of rides and showfronts and came to dominate the market. Their highly ornate, exquisitely decorated constructions were far in advance of the plainer, less impressive offerings from competitors, indeed the breathtaking scale of their offerings haven’t been matched since.
The picture above is a typical example taken from one of their scenic railways. Superbly detailed and robustly constructed, these cars were said to weigh around 1500kg’s each, with a complete ride in the 35-40 tonne bracket.
They built their first scenic for Holland Brothers in 1912, some 57 feet in diameter and powered by no fewer than eight electric motors. Over the next twenty years they completed over 30 of these rides.
World War I
The first World War, saw the company requisitioned to produce aircraft hangers, but successfully re launched into the fairground market in 1919 with another scenic railway.
Their final scenic was delivered in 1925, with the type coming to the end of its popularity. Smaller and lighter attractions now ruled the roost, with Noah’s Arks, Waltzers and Speedways being in demand. They also turned out an estimated 50 dodgem tracks, along with ghost trains, shows and side stalls. They built the first skid ride for the famous Midlands showman Pat Collins in 1928.
Sadly George Orton passed away at the age of 81 in 1924. The company now being in the hands of his sons, and Charles Spooner, who had married his daughter Anne.
From the onset the business employed only the best artisans and artists. The father and son teaming of Albert and Sid Howell being responsible for some of the stunning art gracing the fronts and rounding boards of these rides.
The Ben Hur front for Edwards ark was considered to be Sid Howells greatest work. The image above doesn’t do justice to the sheer size and scale of the work which was around 15ft high and over 40ft long.
Charles Spooner gained a reputation as being amongst the finest wood carvers in the business. Creating examples of pretty much everything required on rides at that time. The company was quick to respond to current affairs. Producing animals carved as Generals during the Boer war, and armoured cars and tanks during WWI.
They successfully transitioned from their early Rococo style creations, as the country moved into the Art Deco period. They produced modern, for the time, decor with curves and swooping forms. Decorated with modern airplanes and train engines, mixed in with bright colours and influences of the exotic from the far east and Egypt.
In common with much of industry, they gradually moved away from the one off hand crafted work. To a more standardised production line using stencils and patterned parts. To keep up with increased demand and competition this was a necessary evil. It did mean though that we would never again see the wonderful fronts and carvings for which they had become famous.
World War II
Charles Spooner died at the beginning of WWII. The bulk of the companies efforts being the manufacturing of military vehicles during the war.
They recommenced work in the fairground industry after the war. But it was a changed world, demand from the showmen was dropping off, and they began to diversify into other engineering work. 1954 marked the final break with fairground manufacture, and the company soldiered on until finally falling into receivership in 1977.
Orton, Sons and Spooner Ltd will be remembered as one of the greats of the last century.
Some of the ride manufacturers out there are universally known throughout the world. The big boys, Mack, KMG, Chance are all household names (well within funfair and amusement operators households).
Our name this week isn’t one we have heard much about. Possibly because it was folded into the Chance rides organisation in 1986.
In 1945 Dave Bradley and Don Kaye purchased Beverley Park in Los Angeles from the Frock and Meyer Amusement Company. Aiming for the family market they filled the park with children’s rides, believing that the park should be spotless, and that the customers needed to look like they were enjoying themselves.
Dave Bradley was an economics graduate who held an impressive catalogue of career changes. He worked as a reporter, managed the big bands of Freddy Martin and Russ Morgan, worked as a production manager at a radio stations, and a toolmaker for Lockheed Martin.
The park is credited as the inspiration for Disneyland, with Disney and his daughters being regular visitors, indeed Dave Bradley assisted Walt Disney in the planning of the original Disneyland, travelling throughout Europe to photograph rides for him, and working as a consultant on the original Disneyland. Dave’s first wife Bernice had worked in the Disney Studios research department, before leaving to help run the park full time.
Throughout the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s most of the major Hollywood stars visited the park with their children, with Errol Flynn, Lana Turner and Carol Burnett being regulars.
Don Kaye decided to return to his roots in the music business, leaving the company in the hands of his partner, who decided to leave the name unchanged.
1947 saw the company designing a mini roller coaster for kids, called the little dipper. This was licensed to the Allan Herschell company, one of the countries biggest manufacturers. This was a portable ride which could be carried on a 20ft trailer.
The Red Baron
A popular aeroplane themed ride was introduced in 1972, being delivered to Opryland. Based on the WW1 German Ace pilot of that name, the rides were themed with red triplanes and on some white planes decorated up with the British Flying Corps roundel.
Dave Bradley realised at this point that a full time manufacturing facility was needed to keep pace with the orders they were receiving. this was set up in Long Beach California.
During the first half of the 70’s Bradley & Kaye built Red Barons, Jeep rides, Dark rides, stunt rides and more. The company seemed to quite happy with custom commissions, and introduced an innovative small coaster for Storeyland. Called the ‘Ice Berg Coaster’ it followed the contours of the land through the park, skimming across a lake, and dropping down a cliff.
One highly advanced ride the company came up with was the Barnstormer. Kind of like a modern starflyer, but instead of seats the riders were in aeroplanes, which circled 100ft off the ground. The advanced part was the ability of the planes to dive 50ft under the riders control. The ride only operated a few seasons, never quite agreeing with the winds encountered 100ft up.
Dave Bradley was an acknowledged expert in Carousel working on this genre of ride as far back as 1951. He was employed by the great Alfred Hitchcock as an adviser for the carousel scene on the film ‘Strangers On A Train.’
Bradley took moulds from a number of classic carousel horses present on historic rides. He developed new fabrication methods and became highly regarded for these. Indeed this was one of the reasons that Chance Rides took over the company, to access this ‘stable’ of horse designs.
A log Flume was produced in 1978 for Hot Springs Arkansas. A1200 ft model with two lifts, based on an unusual chain lift mechanism, rather than the normal belts. They also produced a number of custom rides for Canada’s Wonderland, and dual swinging boats for Little England in Florida.
1986 saw the Bradley & Kaye draw to a close as it was taken over by the Chance Ride group. They wanted their elaborate collection of horse moulds, and another innovative name faded into relative obscurity.
Our look today is at one of the larger ride manufacturers on the States. Currently producing a range of amusement rides, roller coasters, people movers and giant wheels. Chance Rides operate from a 40 acre site with around 310,000 sq ft of buildings in Wichita Kansas. The area is regarded as the aviation capital of the world, and provides a large pool of highly skilled workers, along with many specialised manufacturers.
The C.P. Huntington Train
The original C.P. Huntington was a locomotive purchased by the Central Pacific railway, the third of their loco’s in 1863. When it was sold to the Southern Pacific railway company it was named in honour of Collis P. Huntington, their third President.
Richard Harold Chance, who had originally been building small trains for the Ottaway Amusement Company since 1946, designed a 2ft guage replica of the Locomotive. In 1960 he began to build these using petrol, diesel, propane or electric engines for sale to amusement parks, zoo’s and similar.
The very first one was delivered to the Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita. Replacing their original miniature train that had operated since 1933. It has been the most popular park train model since The Allan Herschell Company merged with Chance closing down the production line for their Iron Horse train. The company has built over 400 trains and coaches for customers around the globe. With prices running upwards of $200,000 for an engine and $60k or so for a coach.
Chance Manufacturing was incorporated in 1961 and by 1971. They launched their first carrousel (deliberately spelt that way by Chance) after they had acquired the Allan Herschell Co. At that time the largest Amusement ride manufacturer in the States. Their designs were modified to a more ornate decorative style. The company then acquired Bradley & Kaye in 1986, another carousel manufacturer to acquire their stock of molds. David Bradley had reproduced many of the historic carousel figures in fibreglass and had over 60 molds for them. When the D.H.Morgan carousel company was merged into the group it added even more unique figures for the company to use.
This wide range of ornate, highly detailed animals has become something of a trademark on Chance built carousels.
D.H. Morgan Acquisition
When Chance acquired Morgan, and formed Chance Morgan, they didn’t just get access to the companies line of carousel figures. But also its roller coaster manufacturing line up.
They had built coasters as early as 1969, producing the Walter House designed Toboggan. A portable ride where a train climbed up a vertical tower before spiralling back down the outside. They built 32 of these and also introduced a children’s big dipper coaster.
The integration of the D.H. Morgan line took their ability to design coasters to a new level. With their own track manufacturing technology and the ability to offer a range of designs.
1967 saw the first Ferris wheel from Chance, debuting at the Iowa State fair. Carrying 32 passengers in 16 cars. Their first park model was an 8-ft Giant Wheel for an amusement park in Minnesota. A tie up with Ronald Bussink, of Switzerland and Dutch Wheels BV, part of the Vekoma rides organisation saw the combine building observation wheels. Giant wheels that place the riders in cabins or pobs rather than seats. They acquired the rights from Bussink Design GmbH to build and sell the R80XL 76metre wheel in North America.
There aren’t a great deal of amusement ride manufacturers that started life building aeroplanes. The American Eyerly Aircraft CO. was initially set up to manufacturer training aids for pilots. The first was the curiously entitled ‘Whiffle Hen’, an airplane which only used two gallons of fuel per hour of flight.
The craft derived it’s name from a bird thought to be good luck that appeared in the Popeye cartoons, everyone thinks Popeye gained his strength from eating spinach, but in the early days he used to rub the whiffle hen instead.
Lee Eyerly’s dream was to make flight available to all classes, not just the rich. He was responsible for building Salem Airport, and ran a flight training school, as well as taking people up in his own plane at fairs and events.
His second great invention was the Orientator, basically and airplane fuselage suspended between what looked like a giant tuning fork. The wind from the propellor streamed across the aircraft wings and surface controls and allowed the pilot to bank climb and roll, just like in a real aircraft but without the cost and danger associated.
A few were sold (including four to the Cuban air force), but sales began to slow down. It was suggested by someone who remains unrecorded by history, that he take the device to a local funfair, or Midway as our American cousins refer to them. Allegedly he also sold rides in a real aeroplane that he flew, but soon noticed that the queue for the Orientator was far longer than for the real plane.
That lighbulb moment saw the focus of his company switch to amusement ride manufacturing. The trainer was re christened the Acroplane and was sold purely as an amusement device.
Line Of Amusement Rides
This was just the beginning. The ride was quickly followed by the Loop-O-Plane, Roll-O-Plane, Spider, Fly-O-Plane, all designed to give people a taste of what it was like to fly, just at that period in history when Aviation was beginning to take off, excuse the pun.
The Rock O Plane was invented in 1947, and the ride type still survives on many funfairs today. Some in the original style, others have been modified to create a slightly more thrilling and up to date ride.
Perhaps his most popular ride was the Octopus. Little seen nowadays on the modern fairground, there are still a few doing the vintage circuit at shows and rally’s, but it is considered a bit tame for the modern generation of thrill seekers.
The company continued in the business up until the mid 1980’s. Sadly in 1988 at a Florida fair, an arm on an Octopus ride snapped. The arm was suffering from metal fatigue. The crack was paint covered and unnoticed by both the ride owner and the State inspector. A 17 year old girl died from head injuries. In the wake of the lawsuit that followed, the company closed its doors in 1990.
The genesis of the Eyerly Aircraft Company was certainly unique as ride manufacturers go.
The star of our article today is a Gallic manufacturer. Gaston Reverchon, a young Parisian created a workshop in the suburbs of Paris to build coaches in 1929, having previously worked at Renault and also repairing luxury cars such as Rolls Royce and Bentley. At some point he ventured into the world of amusement ride manufacture by building dodgem cars. At that time a typical dodgem car was a wooden board on wheels, with a seat and a steering wheel. This led to the creation of Reverchon Industries.
Reverchon, inspired by the looks of American automobiles, designed a car with bright metallic colours on a metal frame, this was an instant success.
By the late 1930’s, Gaston realised that there was a developing market in not only building parts for rides, but in building the complete ride. 1937 saw the launch of the Telecombat, featuring small military airplanes similar to the Fabbri ride of the same name.
Gaston was joined by his sons after the war, and they diversified into producing a range of different rides. Continuing the development of their dodgem cars, pioneering the use of composites in the build of the cars to replace the heavy tin bodies that were prone to damage. They introduced the first token system for dodgems in the 1960’s, and were the first to install headrests in the early 70’s.
The Golden Years Of Reverchon Industries
By the 70’s the company was at its zenith. They were building around 50 rides every year, and upwards of 2000 dodgem cars. They had built the company up to employ 270 staff.
The late 70’s saw some exciting new developments at the company. They created their first fold up dodgem ride. Instead of their existing 2 day set up for 6 people, the new type rides could be set up by an individual if necessary.
They also built their first log flume ride. A ride consisting of flumes, where the riders sit in hollowed out log shaped boats and travel through the ride with the flow of water. Usually there are a number of drops on the ride which create spectacular splashes, the riders at the front tending to get rather wet. This was installed at the Bagatelle Park in Berck France.
The company created its first roller coaster in 1990. Built at the French theme park of Le Pal. Named the Siberian Tiger, it was a steel roller coaster, with a tiger’s head on the front of the train.
Reverchon installed the first version of its Spinning Mouse coaster in 1997. This became one of the companies most popular designs, and was installed at Dinosaur Beach in Wildwood New Jersey. The vast majority of coasters built by the company after this were of the spinning type.
In 2003 the design was licensed to Zamperla, a major Italian ride manufacturer to build and market Reverchon designs worldwide. this agreement lasted a little over 2 years before being dissolved, with Zamperla retaining the rights to design and market it’s own spinning coaster.
Sadly the original company encountered difficulties in the early part of the 21st Century. They were declared insolvent in 2002, but managed to recover from this. Their second insolvency however in 2008 ended with Reverchon Industries closing down.
A subsidiary company SAMC-Avia still manufactures rides and markets them under the Reverchon name.
A German entry into our manufacturer series today. This company can trace their roots back to 25 year old Paul Mack who began building wagons and barrows in the German town of Waldkirch in 1780.
His son took over in 1787, and diversified into building stagecoaches, as well as building pipe systems and drilling wells.
Mack continued to expand and build wagons, stagecoaches etc. By 1880 they began to receive commissions to build showmen’s living wagons, as well as parts for rides in the growing amusement ride arena and stalls for showmen.
In 1921 Mack built it’s first wooden roller coaster. Built for Siebold & Herhaus the ride first operated in Switzerland before touring Europe. It’s first car ride followed in 1936 and a bobsled ride in 1951. By this time the company had a steadily growing export business to the United States.
The company created a number of well known classics, including the Music Express (a caterpillar type ride), Sea Storm and Wild Mouse coaster.
Their client list pretty much covers the globe, with Mack rides both old and new operating both on travelling funfairs and fixed parks.
From Builders To Operators
The Mack family visited the United States in the 70′, seeing the amusement parks over there were inspired to build their own. They purchased the park attached to the historical Balthasar castle in Rust. The resulting park named ‘Europa-Park‘ opened in 1975. Despite scepticism, it actually had some 250,000 visitors the first year. Rapidly climbing to over 1 million annually within 3 years. The park is now the largest in Germany, and the second most popular in Europe after Disneyland. It now averages 5.75 million visitors annually. The park has also regularly been voted the world’s best them park.
In its 240 year history, Mack Rides has built a huge number of both travelling funfair rides, and 146 roller coasters, the vast majority of which are still operating.