Goodbye laddies!

By , August 30, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Well, I never thought this would come so soon. My time at Great Coasters has come to a close. By the time this comes out, I’ll have made my trek back to California to finish my final semester of school.

In my previous blog post, I talked about what I learned about getting into the amusement industry, so for those of you interested in having a career working for roller coasters or theme parks, I recommend giving that a read.

Before I move on, I just want to say thanks to so many people who made my journey here possible, from my friends and family who believed in me and supported my passion for the amusement industry, to of course all the awesome people I’ve met at GCI, who have taught me and shown me more than I could have possibly imagined. This is certainly not a typical internship by any means, and I think that’s what made it special for me.  It offers a variety of challenges and learning experiences that I probably wouldn’t have gotten in a typical engineering internship.

 


5 Lessons I Learned About Getting Into The Theme Park Industry

By , July 22, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Hi again everyone! Today I thought I’d give you a different kind of post, one that might be useful to those of you who love theme park rides and want to join this amazing industry. I’m just beginning my journey myself, so I’m no expert, but I think I’ve seen a lot of things already that differentiate this from a typical career path. So here’s everything I’ve learned so far in 5 points, starting with Lesson 6 (Lessons 1-5 can be found in my past blog posts):

 

Lesson 6: Find your specialty and run with it.
By all means, if you find some aspect about the theme park experience that you love and want to work in, then go for it. However, I don’t recommend picking a major/field just because it appears to relate to theme parks. Choose a field that you like first purely because you enjoy it, then figure out how you can apply it to theme parks. Most fields have real-world theme park applications, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

There’s so many different ways you can go with a career in this industry, and there’s never a wrong answer to the path you should take, in my opinion. Everyone I’ve seen make it to some point all came from different, unique paths, even sometimes completely different majors and fields. I always found that fascinating because then everyone has their own different perspectives and experiences to bring to the table. I’ve met people in the industry from backgrounds like engineering, hospitality, architecture, interior design, technical theater, you name it, somebody does it.

Lesson 7: Put yourself out there, attend IAAPA!
For the most part, I believe your passion for theme parks will shine through your past experience/projects and skills. Show people why you are a desirable candidate and what you have to offer first, then explain your passion. I know it’s hard getting into contact with people  sometimes, but I can tell you the best way to do so is to attend amusement industry related events. The best place to meet anyone and everyone in this industry is the IAAPA (International Association for Amusement Parks and Attractions) Expo in Orlando, FL each November. It’s basically a large tradeshow where every amusement manufacturer and park displays their latest work, and meets with other companies. I highly, highly recommend attending IAAPA, it’s what brought this adventure full-circle for me, giving me opportunities to learn, connect, and at the least have fun looking at all the cool stuff. I mean, it’s basically a pop-up theme park for a week.

IAAPA even has a program for students and young professionals (the IAAPA Ambassador Program) where you help put on the show and gain so much personally and professionally, and it’s worth applying to.  If you need more information, I was previously an ambassador so let me know!

Lesson 8 : Take risks, find opportunities.
When you take risks, people will notice. And with an industry like this, it’s a must. I know for some of you it might be hard to travel to Orlando for the IAAPA Expo, or travel across the country for an internship, but start small. Find the companies and people whose work interests you, and start by getting in contact with them. Don’t bombard them with emails, but just give them a reminder every once in a while of your continued interest and dedication, you never know where it could lead. That’s how I got into contact with GCI. When the opportunity arises, do your best to take advantage of it. From getting the courage to start a conversation with someone, to finding your way to IAAPA, you’d be surprised how much people are willing to support you in your endeavors. I personally crowdfunded my trip to interview with GCI, which completely surprised me in how generous and insightful people can be when you share your story and your goals.  Efforts like these further demonstrate your persistence and passion where it counts, where people will notice.

Lesson 9: Relationships are key. Make friends, not connections. 
I can’t emphasize this point enough, as I believe it to be one of the most important. The cool thing about this industry, is that it is so big that there are people doing amazing things in every field, yet also such a small world where everybody knows everybody. I find that when I meet new people, they also happen to be connected to others that I know, and over time you can make a great network of friends, colleagues, coworkers, etc. This is essential and can be mutually beneficial for everyone if you make sure to begin and sustain these relationships.

Lesson 10: Don’t give up.
Just about 2 years ago, I was finishing my sophomore year in college and looking for a summer job. I applied to anything from internships to ride operator positions at my local parks, and didn’t get any of them. Let’s just say I lost a little bit of momentum after that. “How could I design and build theme park rides if no one wanted me operating theirs?”, I once thought to myself. Little did I know that it was the best thing for me at the time for several reasons.  It takes a lot of patience and persistence to survive and thrive in this business, and those were personality traits I once thought I didn’t have, but developed through this process. Use your passions in theme parks and your chosen field to push forward through everything, to ultimately achieve your goals.

 

This is a little long, but I hope this helps some of you, since I really believe each one of these points helped me, especially in the past year. This industry is tough, and will test you in a lot of ways. I’m not saying its easy, but saying its possible, if you put forth the effort. If you need anymore advice or information about different opportunities, I’m more than happy to help where I can. I feel obligated and honored to help, in return for the great advice and opportunities I’ve been given thus far.


Road Trip!

By , June 9, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Well, I’m about 5 months into working here, and it’s still surreal to me sometimes that coming to work here has become part of my every day routine. Of course, things around here are never routine, and I still kinda geek out on the inside when I discover something new and interesting at the shop. I was fortunate enough to be asked to continue my internship through the summer, which I accepted of course, so I’m excited to be learning an updating you all on some more happenings in the coming months.

Anyway, back to topic at hand, the title of this post. You may wonder what an intern does on the weekends, especially one not too familiar with this side of the US. I can’t speak for the other interns, but for me, I absolutely love traveling, which is why I’ve loved this adventure of coming all the way out to central Pennsylvania to explore and live in a place completely unfamiliar to me. On top of that, weekends have become my time to take some road trips and take advantage of my time here. Every major Northeast city seems to be within a 3 hour drive from Sunbury, which was an exciting discovery of mine. On top of that, there are theme parks galore here with some rich history, and I’ve been waiting so long for summer to come so these parks can open! I’ve gone a bit crazy trying to study the layout of the parks around here, trying to map out which ones would be nearest each other to do 2 in a weekend, along with figuring out their opening days. A few weeks ago, we actually had Good Friday off of work, so I did a big road trip to Virginia to conquer King’s Dominion on Friday, Busch Gardens Williamsburg on Saturday, and Six Flags America on Sunday. It sufficed to say that after that, I needed a whole recovery weekend after to relax and remember all the new coasters I had just experienced. The least I can say is that I’m really fortunate to be out here just to explore the area alone, let alone working in my dream internship.

Working at GCI has given me some fun road trip opportunities as well. I’ve spent a portion of my time here driving out to our nearby suppliers to pick up and drop off parts for our trains. Some of these places are fascinating, and it’s nice stopping by every once in a while to check out their shop/factory floors and take a peek into what’s going on. One of my favorites is the machining company that does many of our larger orders, in quantity and scale, such as machining/welding the chassis for each car together, on an order for one or more trains. Another is the company that foams the padding on lapbars, seats, restraints, etc. for many rides today. It’s interesting seeing how both of these companies grew to have specialty in amusement rides, yet also have a wide variety of projects they’re involved in.

Perhaps my favorite roadtrip experience of all has to be a mix of personal and professional. A while back, some of our guys were finishing up a repair for the legendary Coney Island Cyclone in Brooklyn, NY. Right when I got to work that day, Bob (our VP of Construction) told me that they need some bolts and hardware at Coney Island ASAP. This was as scary as it was exciting to me, as I had never driven to New York City (3 hours away), but who could say no to something like this? In minutes, the car was loaded, and I was off. Once I got there, I was also given instructions to take some photos of the work, which of course also meant taking some photos of me working. The guys think I spent more time getting the right selfie angle standing on the tracks then taking construction photos, they can believe what they want. Overall though, it was a great experience just getting to see one of our repairs going on in real time, and hearing the different perspective of onsite work.

Lesson 5: Keeping a relationship with effective communication between front line workers (those working onsite, in park, or with guests) and those working with them behind-the-scenes is key to an efficient and successful outcome.


To Build a Roller Coaster Train, Part 3

By , April 13, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

…continued from Part 2

Hey guys! I’m back with what I believe will be my last post on this series of building roller coaster trains in January/February. I’m sure at the moment, I’m forgetting a lot of major things I learned, but for now I feel that I’ve summarized some of the more interesting things. I figured this time I’d do more of a pictorial blog post because I thought it would be a neat way to show some of the different steps in the process of assembling the cars. Plus, of course, I know you all would love to see how awesome these trains look. So let’s begin!

Our train cars begin the assembly process upside down, as the lower and upper chassis are bolted together. Also, depending on the position of the car on the train, some cars get different parts than others (like chain dogs, anti-rollback mechanism, etc). I didn’t realize this initially, since I thought all cars were pretty much the same, but they each have their own purpose.

The cars then get flipped, and more of the main body parts that you can see from the outside are attached. It’s still amazing to me that we got 18 of these cars done in such a short time (about a month if you ignored other projects we worked on at the same time), from ordering machined parts to the final product. Most of our work ended up happening in the last week or two, as one of the biggest lessons I learned through this internship, is that in this industry, things are always changing. New situations always arise in this line of work. You could be working on one project, but then a large repair order comes in that needs to be fulfilled. Or, our part suppliers might not be quite ready with the parts they’re making for the trains, as another example. Things never work out exactly according to plan, and that’s just natural. The best thing you can always do is to stay a step ahead in your work, always being prepared for what comes next. To me, that’s what has always been a very exciting and interesting part of this internship, just seeing multiple facets of industry work all at once, and learning how to be flexible shifting from job to job.

I never really got the scale of how much we had built until the shipping trucks rolled in.

Here’s a picture of some cars all wrapped up. We manage to fit about a whole train’s worth of cars, plus some extra parts into one truck. The pallet each car rests on is designed to crib the car chassis at the right points, and be able to slide together like puzzle pieces as shown below. It’s pretty neat, and definitely a result of multiple changes and iterations to best figure out how to efficiently transport these cars. Prepping these cars for shipping, as I’ve seen, is always a first priority before prepping them for the tracks.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this look into the process of building GCI’s Mini-llennium Flyers. Be sure to message me or leave a comment if you have any questions, and I’ll talk to you all in the next post!

Lesson 4: Things never go completely as planned. Always stay one step ahead


To Build a Roller Coaster Train, Part 2

By , March 5, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

…continued from Part 1

The big thing I noticed while building these trains, is that CAD drawings of parts never quite exactly match with their real-life versions. Not only do you have things like tolerances that make every part different, but often you will deal with manufacturing processes that just aren’t perfect either. The quality of welds on parts are where I’ve seen the largest room for error. Fusing 2 pieces of metal together can be very challenging, especially when they have to both be aligned in specific positions or angles for a part to fit right. Think of how a bolt would fit, if it had to go through two different holes, with each hole being on a different welded piece, attached to the main body of the car. Not only do these holed pieces have to be welded to the same exact angle, but they must also sit at the correct position for the holes to be aligned just right for the bolt to go through. This is just one example where a part manufactured for GCI might actually need extra work to be ready for assembly.

I never actually realized how important all these key design subtleties were to the assembly of the train, and the engineering that goes on before and after a drawing is made, by both engineers and mechanics, to troubleshoot in different situations. Paying attention to design subtleties such as ease of machining and assembly, are certainly things I hope to take with me. A famous phrase Dan (my boss) once told me was, “Mechanics: Because Engineers need heroes too.” I believe this is true in some aspect. Communication between both the designers and the builders is very important to making a great ride, and improving on a design.

Clarification: Dan doesn’t want to take credit for that quote, since he read it on a t-shirt. He says some pretty quotable things though (as some of the past interns know), so maybe I’ll add some of the good ones to my future posts.

Lesson 3: A design on paper, no matter how good, is never quite like the design in hand.

Keep your eyes on the blog, as I’m going to have my final, “Part 3″ blog post on building trains coming up soon!


To Build a Roller Coaster Train, Part 1

By , February 19, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Hi again everyone! Apologies for the lack of a blog post the past few weeks, things around here have really ramped up, and now I’ve got a lot to say.

Personally, I’m finally acclimating to the weather around here, since I never experienced anything lower than 40 degrees back home. It’s been fun to finally be able to appreciate the winter weather (mostly the abundant snowfall, and sometimes even the cold, when it’s not below like 10 of course).

Anyway, back to the shop. We recently doubled down our work on some of our junior/kiddie trains (Mini-llennium Flyers, as they’re called), that were just recently shipped out to be placed on an existing ride. Working on other park orders my first 2 weeks certainly helped prepare me for this, as I now know the basic location of most of the parts and hardware we have around the shop and our storage areas.

Working on trains has certainly been the highlight of my time here. Being part of creating a ride or experience to share with others, has been a life-long dream of mine (at least, as long as I can remember). I can actually trace it back to a 6th grade class presentation I made of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I have only refined my dream from there. I hope to be able to describe some of what I saw and learned in this post, and in future posts.

To start, its interesting to note that our junior trains are a fairly new product. They were only released a bit over a year ago, and this is our second ride that will use them. It’s interesting because they use many of the same parts under the hood as the full-size Millennium Flyers, or slightly modified/scaled versions, which actually is a good thing.It’s not just so we can keep efficient stock of parts (since many parks often ask us for custom modifications), but also to keep many of the great factors of the original car, such as double or triple-redundant fail-safes, lessening thicknesses and designing holes into parts to lower overall weight, rounding/curving certain edges to relieve known points of high stress, and other fine details that were only refined further for the junior cars.

Lesson 2: Good design requires looking at the past, to improve the future

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts and experiences in building trains for GCI!


Week 2: Finding my Bearings in the Shop

By , January 23, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Apologies for the punny title, though, I did take a look at some of the hitches we use to attach each coaster car together (which have bearings in them).

Anyway, let’s talk about one of the unique things about GCI, the shop! I’m working in the Sunbury, PA office, the headquarters of GCI, where our shop and materials are located. Since we design and build our own coaster cars (the Millennium Flyer and Mini-llennium Flyer), our company is unique in that we have this shop space for the main purpose of building and assembling our own trains in-house, which is really neat. At our Sunbury location as a whole, we have anything from multiple types of lumber, track steel, seat side cushions, wheels, multiple versions of car chassis, lapbar cans (the base of the system that locks your lapbar into place), hardware (nuts, bolts, etc), and much more all within several storage areas. Since this was my first 2 weeks here, I would say a lot of my time was spent observing, asking questions, learning where everything is, and then from there attempting to do as much work as I could. Luckily, Fall intern Sean was here for the last 2 weeks, which certainly helped speed up some of the learning curve for things, along with getting some major work done, even on my first day.

The one thing that I think I’ve learned quickly while being here, is that there’s so much more that goes on at a roller coaster manufacturer than just working on whatever the latest project is. There’s so much more that goes on often behind the scenes. Just in my 2 weeks here, I have done anything from assembling cars, to compiling/shipping part orders for certain parks, to sending out parts to our local machining partners, to collecting incoming part shipments.

In addition to the work going on in the shop filling orders and assembling trains, there’s also the work going on in our Engineering Office, which often interfaces with the shop as you can imagine. They handle the design work, and I know for our trains, there are always improvements being made to the finest detail to improve the rider experience, safety, and maintenance work. The Millennium Flyer itself has had numerous changes since it was first made, many of which can be seen on the outside. Even beyond that, there are improvements being made day by day for our cars that I’ve even gotten to experience myself, many that happen under the hood. An example of this is a part that we tweaked a tolerance on to the 1,000th of an inch, just so that several other parts could fit together better and allow for easier future maintenance. That attention to detail with these cars amazed me, and made me realize that there is so much more to building a roller coaster than I ever realized.

Lesson 1: The work that happens before opening date, is just as important as what happens after.


Week 1: Life is a Rollercoaster

By , January 13, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

My life’s been a rollercoaster the past 6 months (pun possibly intended). From first being invited to FREDx in August (“Future Ride Engineers and Designers”, GCI’s annual event where they invite students interested in working for them and the industry in general), to being picked to be a Show Ambassador for IAAPA 2014 in November, to now being chosen as the intern for Great Coasters for this semester, I am completely and joyfully overwhelmed with all the things that have happened to me in this seemingly short period of time. I’m overwhelmed in the sense that, I’m still trying to process everything that’s happened, and have begun to realize that my dreams are actually coming to fruition. It all started with a consistent, pursued passion.

Hi, my name is Matt Brueckmann, and I am GCI’s intern for the Spring of 2015. I couldn’t be more excited to work for such an awesome and dedicated group of fellow theme park enthusiasts and engineers. I’m also grateful to be talking to you, and will hopefully give you a perspective on what it’s like to work for a roller coaster manufacturer, along with how I got to where I am and my advice to those of you interested in working in the amusement industry. Along with that, if you have any questions for me, or want to know more about any of the things I talk about, feel free to comment or use the contact form, I’m totally happy to talk to you all and will get back to you the best I can!

First, let me start with a little bit more about my background. I was born and raised in California (“Yes, like, gnarly dude”), and have also lived in Henderson, NV (a suburb of Las Vegas) and now the San Francisco Bay Area for school. I’m a Senior studying Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley, and have loved this industry since my first visits as a kid to local parks near me like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. I was always curious to know how all of these attractions worked, and eventually found out that real people actually do have the fun job of designing these crazy contraptions. Eventually, I was directed by several people and places (including this blog) to do engineering, so I did, and while it’s been a real challenge, the reward is so worth it, if this is the field you ultimately find best suits you of course. The way I got to knowing about GCI, was actually by finding a list online of all existing roller coaster companies. I just began emailing each one about once every year or two since the beginning of college with a little bit about myself, my interests, and my resume. Then one day, I got an email inviting me to FREDx, which really was my big push of inspiration to keep pursuing this industry as much as I could, and essentially kickstarted my exciting, twisting, turning journey through this wonderful industry

I hope you all enjoy this, and once again, if there’s anything you want to know more about, or want to hear more about on the blog, feel free to let me know. I’m ultimately here to help you, so don’t be afraid to AMA (As Me Anything)!

See you next week, where I’ll be talking more about work in the shop!

-Matt