Final Lessons

By , May 12, 2014
Manny Esteves

What just happened? I swear it was January last week and now it’s freaking May?! What gives? Well, sadly this will be my final post for Great Coasters International as an intern. I can’t even fathom the amount of information I learned about roller coasters, the amusement industry and even myself in the past 5 months. I transitioned from that nervous kid who had Dan watching over his shoulder to taking the initiative to get things done independently and surprise, the more time I spent here the less hiccups that occurred. I felt like I’ve grown as an engineer and I’m looking to take the knowledge and experience I have with me to the next level, whatever that may be. So here’s my wrap up and my final lessons.

Last August I decided to quit my job as a ride-op, drove out to Conneaut Lake Park to go help out with a TV show with a group of people I had barely known. I made a great impression, which turned into a professional connection and eventually a position with Great Coasters.

So Lesson 9: take those risks, it’s what this industry is built on.

I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity had it not been for the Penn State Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG), the connections the older members made allowed the younger members to get their foot in the door and pick up where they left off. Also, I was elected President this semester, so hopefully I can continue the great work we’ve done.

Lesson 10: There’s strength in numbers, and it’s a lot easier to engage professionals when there’s a group behind you.

You never know who will end up associating with what project and will have a need for a someone with your skills and passion. So put yourself out there, go to conferences, get that job in your local park, network!

Lesson 11: Any experience is better than no experience in this industry.

Lesson 12: Go to IAAPA (plain and simple).

And my final observation is, this industry is tough. It’s a field that has a lot of prospects and not many spots. You’re going to have some periods of doubt along the way, so you have to really ask yourself “how badly do I want this? Am I willing to risk putting all my effort in with a chance of getting no result?” I’ve asked myself this question every day at work, and the answer is always the same. I’ve wanted this more than I’ve wanted anything in my life and I’m going to give it everything I have to make it. So…

Lesson 13: Don’t follow your dreams, chase them.

Thanks to everyone at Great Coasters International for making this amazing opportunity an awesome experience and a special thanks to Chris for giving me the chance to achieve one of my dreams. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better company to start out with.

Hershey and Knoebels

By , May 12, 2014
Manny Esteves

Finally! Opening day! I’ve had some serious theme park withdrawal and decided to head out to Hershey Park and Knoebels’ opening weekends to get my fix. I always found Hershey to be sort of an underrated park; you never realize how many awesome rides they have until you’re actually inside the park. Also, Great Coasters has 3 rides at Hershey, Wildcat (our first coaster) and Lightning Racer (which counts as 2). Interestingly enough, Lightning Racer competes with Great Bear as one of the most ridden coasters in the entire park annually. When I got on, I was shocked to feel how smooth the ride was after 14 years and my eyes were drawn to so many different elements of the ride I never really paid attention to before. I chalked it up to GCII coaster recognition until I started enjoying other attractions like Fahrenheit, Stormrunner , Great Bear and Skyrush. When the ride pulled into the station, my eyes immediately focused on aspects I had been working on the past 5 months. I identified the guide wheel weldments, the brake fins, where the upstop wheels were supposed to be. Chris said it’s part of the job, “you start to see them as these powerful machines.” They’re more than that, though; they’re artistic creations. Too often we associate art with paintings and sculptures when we forget the aesthetic nature that goes into the design of these things. While you’re going down that drop or taking that banked turn you don’t realize it, but take a step back and you may see the beauty behind these massive structures, it just enhances the experience.

Next stop was Knoebels for opening day. It’s a hidden gem over in the middle of Central Pennsylvania as it holds the title of the largest free-admission park. With that family-friendly feel to it, it’s got quite a few great rides and I decided to bring my mom and brother to see what they thought of it. Mom, in particular was someone who I wanted to get a read on. She swore off wooden roller coasters after some rough (and that is probably an understatement) experiences on some less than average classics. When I told her that the GCII specialized in wooden coasters, I saw the painful wince that brought her back to the pains and jolts she now associated with every wooden coaster. She insisted on buying tickets saying she was going to be done after the first one and didn’t need a handstamp, the challenge was issued and accepted. As we went up the lifthill for the Phoenix, I saw the tell tale signs of muscle memory and painful flashbacks. Her teeth began to grit, she clutched the lap bar and shut her eyes, counting the seconds she would have to endure before she said “I told you, I don’t like them.”  Then came the first drop, and her eyes opened like she woke up from a bad dream, “wow, it’s actually smooth.” I chuckled as we went through the rest of the ride, her hands raised and screaming like a little kid. “Well, I gotta hand it to yah. I was wrong,” she said in that heavy Long Island accent. “What else ya got?” We went on Twister afterwards where we had done some track work on my first day on the job and then took a ride on Flying Turns. It was great to see that even though we didn’t build it, the work we did on those rides were enough to bring someone back from the dark side. Maybe next time we’ll bring Dad, although he’s still mad at me for taking him on Sheikra last November.

While GCII did great jobs with their work in both parks, I have to give a shout out to the maintenance crews. We can build and design spectacular structures all we want, but the daily task of keeping the rides smooth and making sure it is a safe and enjoyable experience falls upon the maintenance teams and after experiencing both parks, it’s clearly evident that these people care about their park. So props to you guys!

Lesson 8: True learning is taking what you learn out of the shop, lab, or classroom and seeing it work in the real world

GCI 101: Intro to Trains

By , May 12, 2014
Manny Esteves

So this blog is going to consist of the random facts I’ve picked up throughout the whole assembly process of the trains. I’ll start with some basic Millennium Flyer facts and then go into some more detail.

So Millennium Flyer trains have been a big selling point for Great Coasters, except for the first three coasters; Wildcat, Gwazi and Roar. A lot of people like them because they embody what GCII is all about, creating rides with that classic feel to them. However, they were created with the intention of entering and making turns with a much smoother transition and that’s why you’ll see some parks swap out their original cars for Millennium Flyers (after we modify the track a little bit). The technical term used is “roll”, “pitch” and “yaw.” Basically in terms of mechanical physics, roll is the movement in the x-axis, pitch is the y-axis and yaw is the z-axis. They’ve been called the “gold standard” in the wooden coaster industry and are something Great Coasters takes a heavy amount of pride in.

Our coasters are in a transition period in terms of brake systems. We carry the brake fins and supplies necessary for the traditional system, however all new rides use a copper-zinc alloy magnetic brakes we now carry. Magnetic brakes basically use eddy currents when entering the brake run to slow it to a gentle stop. For the younger readers, an eddy current is basically a current that is produced by changing magnetic fields to repel the brake fins and slow it down. It’s cool because it’s directly proportional to the speed of the ride coming in and therefore makes it a lot safer.

I’ll finish with restraint systems, which is what I consider the most important part. Even though we make zero G coasters, GCII still goes the extra mile with safety by including seatbelts in addition to the traditional, single person lap bar. I spent two whole days the other week just assembling the lapbar mechanisms and getting familiar with every individual component. The lapbar mechanisms are attached to the gear hubs (which are shown in one of my previous blogs and responsible for that clicking sound you hear when you pull it down) and if you buckle up, you’ll have me to thank for enjoying the comfort of our awesome trains! …Okay I guess Dan gets credit for making sure I’m doing everything correctly too, but you get the picture! So, class dismissed, don’t forget we’ll be taking a field trip in the next blog and finals are coming up soon!

Lesson 7: Despite what people will say, roller coasters undergo strict safety inspections and regulations. If they’re operating, the company and park has done a massive amount of work to ensure your safety.

By , March 31, 2014
Manny Esteves

Viper is now in full swing! The rest of the chassis have arrived and I’m starting to see all the tasks I’ve been working on become more essential to the project. From the guide wheels I made on my first day, to the gear hub weldments I finished making a couple of weeks ago it’s becoming apparent where everything fits into the grand scheme of things for this ride. We’ve got the first 3 containers of hardware and construction supplies ready to ship out, but the logistics behind getting everything sent out is going to take some more patience. We also have to hold off on setting up six of the cars so that the inspectors hired by the client can have a good look at the structure of the Millennium Flyer.

The park Viper is going to wants to be very thorough throughout the process, so we want to make sure that we’re providing them with as smooth an experience as their guests will when the ride officially opens in 2015. I find it hard to believe on certain days how much work has already gone into these trains and we’ve still got a lot ahead of us. I’ve included some pictures showing a bunch of things ranging from the hardware we’re sending out to the aspects of the trains I’ve been working on, feel free to check them out.

Also, I figured I’d include some fun facts about Viper. It’s going to be our biggest project yet, as it’s just short of being a mile long (and if you’ve seen the video from my first blog, you can see that the momentum carried on the coaster could easily allow it to go past a mile), and 160 feet high. Our tallest and longest wooden coaster to date and it will feature a top speed of 62.1 miles per hour, giving us the trifecta of personal bests. Upon the initial conceptualization and design, Great Coasters wanted to utilize the landscape of Nanchang to help shape the ride. Okay, I know you could’ve Googled all of that info so here’s some inside scoop found only on THIS blog; the trains of the ride are going to feature 3-D scales to really accentuate the snake theme behind the coaster. It’s definitely going to be interesting to add this type of artistic element to a ride that already has so much going on. Til next time guys!

Lesson 6: There are way more hoops to jump through for an international park.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 12.03.50 AM

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 12.04.32 AM

Gear hub weldments with hardware installed

Gear hub weldments before hardware

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 12.04.08 AM

This will be one of the inspection chassis for the park

By , March 31, 2014
Manny Esteves

So Viper is finally starting to gain momentum. We’ve got our first container prepped to send out and the first train’s worth of chassis are ready for yours truly. I started out with taking the guide wheels from my first day and installing them into the weldments. Dan was actually telling me how some parks order the weldments with the wheels inside as opposed to just the wheels so that park maintenance can swap them out quickly if a problem occurs and minimize the delay for riders. After the weldments were assembled, I got my first chance to work on these trains. It’s amazing how simple sets of hardware can determine which coach serves which purpose and how interchangeable each part of a coaster is.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.58.04 PM  

While this is going on, we’ve still got park orders coming in and a lot of our guys are putting the finishing touches on the repair jobs around the world. In addition to that, the staff from the Kentucky branch has been keeping in touch with me to make sure everything’s going well. I know it doesn’t have much to do with the building of coasters, but I figured it was important nonetheless. Also, here’s another piece of trivia, Great Coasters International has been involved in some capacity on over a quarter of the world’s current wooden coasters. From retracking, to Millennium Flyers, to rides we’ve built, I think it’s fair to say our company is pretty… great! Haha sorry for the bad pun, check out my next post where I’ll be giving you more details on Viper.

Lesson 5: It’s all about quality, precision and making something you’re proud of here.

By , February 24, 2014
Manny Esteves

Sorry for the long delay! We’ve had orders flying in left and right recently, and it looks like things are finally starting to slow down.  Half of them seem to be the reason for the “I” in GCII (the first one) as a lot of the European parks we’re serving are starting to repair and update their rides for the upcoming season. Sometimes it seems like delivery trucks are waiting behind one another to pick up the pallets we just wrapped. I never realized how enormous a portion of Great Coaster’s services were maintaining the rides they built. Some of them aren’t even ours, which poses a challenge in itself! While it may not be the most direct way of working on roller coasters, it really is an important part and if you remember the lesson from my last post, there’s a lot to learn from it. By preparing orders, I’ve been learning what parts of the coaster take the most damage during a season and also a typical park’s approach in terms of maintenance procedures. The sheer quantity of parts still surprises me, like how a park could need thousands of one piece of hardware for a single ride, it’s crazy to think about.

When I’m not prepping a park order to be shipped out. Dan’s been sending me on runs with Bill to get an idea all the other companies Great Coaster does work with. From upholstery shops, to machining firms and everything in between, there are a lot of moving parts to maintaining coasters we’ve already built, I can’t imagine the work that goes into making a new one. (By the way, keep an eye out for my next post, I’ll be talking about Viper!) While most parks can contact the individual companies themselves, it’s a bit more convenient to have GCII take care of everything and coordinate all of the factors going into making everybody’s favorite wooden coaster running smoothly.

It seems like Great Coasters has this down to a science in terms of keeping a pace where I’m learning and not getting overwhelmed, but we’re still getting a lot done and keeping pace with the needs of our clients. I was actually reading on LinkedIn about how well they handle young professionals and cultivate talent while still running a successful company. Obviously this didn’t happen over night, but I can’t help but think that they’re learning from me sometimes also.

Lesson 4: Making something great is one thing, keeping it great is a whole new challenge.

By , February 24, 2014
Manny Esteves

So this past Saturday, Chris took me to an ACE convention called “East Coaster.” Going into it I had no idea what to expect, but the group was very welcoming and was glad to have me. Chris was one of the many parks and ride companies to give presentations on what to look forward to for the 2014 season. Being a child of the Internet, I found it cool that so many people showed up, especially because they probably could just as easily Google the new attractions and rides coming to the parks. But then came the socializing afterward and I realized that this was the chance to do what I had wanted to do for years, meet the people responsible for my life-long addiction to adrenaline. During IAAPA, Great Coasters had put together a social event to introduce White Lightning at Fun Spot, and I remember Jeff, Clair and Chris all taking the time to speak to anybody who had a question or comment about any aspect of GCII. You don’t really see that from many companies in general, let alone one in this industry.

I think it’s awesome that Great Coasters shows its appreciation to the people who experience so much joy and fun for their creations by attending these events. It’s sort of an acknowledgement that the most important part of the ride is the riders and without them, we really would have nothing to build for. On the way back, I asked Chris what convinced him and Great Coasters to be involved in these types of events and why he took an interest in young kids like me, who were just college kids who wanted to build roller coasters. The second part of that question is a blog in itself, so I’ll just answer the first part.

Chris has a philosophy of being personable to everyone he meets, if you’ve ever met him, you know exactly what I mean. He told me that he had been presented with the opportunity to be a type of unofficial spokesman for GCII and how everyone at that convention shared a passion for roller coasters just as great, if not greater than his. So he figured, why not share the awesome opportunity he has with as many people as possible? Besides, someday that person may be the next head of Cedar Fair or have the next amazing idea, and maybe they’ll share their passion with others. Not much about coasters, but it sort of made me realize what the whole point of this blog was. It’s to share with people who love this stuff as much as I do, and I hope I can give you an awesome perspective in the upcoming posts.

Lesson 3: The most important people in the industry are the riders

Week 1: Let’s get straight to business

By , February 5, 2014
Manny Esteves


Well I certainly hit the ground running and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As soon as I got into the shop and met the team, there was no time to waste. We had orders heading out in all directions, south to Tampa, north to New York, west to Minnesota, and east to Holland all in one week. And those were just part orders for repairs and maintenance. Dan started me off with working on the guide wheels for Viper, our newest coaster that is heading out to China. This is one of Great Coaster’s biggest projects yet as it currently stands to be China’s tallest, fastest and longest wooden coaster so we’ve certainly got our work cut out for us if we want this finished by 2015 and you can take a look at how great it’s going to be here! One of the things I’m really taking advantage of is the opportunity to see everything down to its smallest component and learn its purpose in the grand scheme of the entire structure. That’s what engineering is sort of about, knowing how things work down to the smallest detail so it can be fixed, improved, replaced.

Another thing that’s great are the guys I’m working with. They answer every single question I throw at them and are eager to answer more. I’m just trying to listen and retain as much as I can. While the guys are more than willing to tell me and show me how things work around the shop, they’d much rather let me see it for myself. One day some guide steel needed to be bent for Gwazi in Busch Gardens that and Bill pulled me away from the wheels since he figured I’d want to see this. Once they bent a couple of pieces Steve asked if I wanted to give it a shot. It was so cool to be able to see it up close and be able to control how the track bends.

Thankfully I’ve got Dan checking over my work as I made some rookie mistakes with the guide wheels. But hey, I’m learning. Week 1 is in the books and if the rest of my time here has half as much stuff to do, then I’ve got a lot to learn.

Lesson 2: Try to retain as much of the information of what you’re working with. It’ll all come together to make something amazing when it’s time

So…how’d I land the sweetest co-op ever?

By , February 4, 2014
Manny Esteves

Introductory Post:

            Hi guys! I’m Manny, the newest intern at GCII. I figured I’d give you a short intro about me along with how I managed to land the coolest co-op in the world. I’m studying mechanical engineering at Penn State University and I’m from Long Island, New York. I’ve had a passion and love for roller coasters since I was barely old enough to stand up and make the height requirement. From that point on I always kept a secret dream of being able to build one. And now here I am, doing just that! So here’s a story of how I got here.

One of the very first things I did at Penn State was sign up for their Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG). It was probably the best thing I could have done for myself in terms of getting my first look at the industry and if you don’t have one at your school, you may want to consider making one; there’s strength in numbers. Through the group, I got to learn more about companies like GCI, conventions like IAAPA and the amount of engineering that went far beyond basic mechanical physics. I was introduced to programs like No Limits, got to work on projects like the Kennywood Thunderbolt and met some of my best friends in college. The best thing about being a part of a group like this is being able to make a lot more connections through other members’ experiences, and that’s how I met Chris Gray.

Chris had contacted our member Jordan about a new TV show for the Travel Channel in which he was one of the hosts. The concept of the show was to rebuild theme parks past their prime, which brought our group out by Erie, Pennsylvania to see what we could do with Conneaut Lake Park. Seeing this as an opportunity to network and get some project experience, I put in my final days as a ride-op, caught a bus down to State College, and carpooled with some members of the group to make this park a little bit better. I met Chris that day and I was assigned to help him build the newest attraction he was working on for the park. As we got to work, Chris noticed my hustle and said “Dude, you’re a rockstar!” I responded with, “I feel more like a roady.” He laughed and told me that was what the industry was all about. Throughout the week we talked about rides and school and one conversation went like this:

Chris: Hey guys, I think the production assistant is around your age. What are you guys, like 22?
Group: 21,22,21.

Me: Silence.

Chris: That makes you the baby of the group doesn’t it?

Me: Yep. I’m 18.

Chris: 18?! And you’re a sophomore? Wow that’s young. How are things going with internships?

Me: I almost got a co-op with a helmet company; kinda fell through though.

Chris: Have you ever thought about working for a ride company?

Me: Of course I’ve thought of working for a ride company!
I’d love to. Nobody seems to be hiring though.

Chris: Well you’re talking to a guy who hires a lot of interns in the industry.

Me: Oh my God! Be cool bro. Don’t screw this up.

So, are you guys hiring, then?

Chris: Not for the fall, once we get some projects we’ll hire some interns. We love having that youth and energy around in the office.

Me: Ugh, tease.

A couple of months later I ended up applying and getting accepted into the Disney College Program. Then, as impeccable as his timing could be, I got a call from Chris, who gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I ended up dropping out of the Disney College Program to take the position at GCII as their youngest intern yet and I’ve been ecstatic for the stuff I’m going to be working on. I’m living my dream and I’m happy to share the journey on this blog with you guys. It’s gonna be a wild ride, oh and the coasters should be pretty awesome too!


Lesson 1: You’ve gotta work like a roadie to be a rockstar in this industry.

© 2021 Great Coasters International, Inc.