Wednesday, April 27, 2011

There's Only One . . . Lagoon {part 1}

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. –Aristotle

The spring after I turned 16, I got my first job working as a ride attendant at a local amusement park called Lagoon. It was awesome. I got my first taste of freedom and independence, a really great tan {although now I wish I would have been a little more liberal with the sunblock} and made a lot of really great friends.

It was a 15-minute drive on the freeway to get there. So my mom came along with me for interviews. I remember it feeling like such a fun adventure and was glad to have a friend along to calm the jitters and share the excitement with me. We talked about where I should work and decided it might be fun to work in the bakery in Pioneer Village. Because it was still cold outside, interviews were held at a junior high school a mile or so from the amusement park. You filled out an application in the lobby and then went through a screening interview to see if, first of all, you were an acceptable candidate for the job and secondly, so they could direct you to your choice of department to work in. I discovered that it wasn't as simple as saying, I want to work in the bakery. The bakery was part of the foods department, so I went to stand in the long, long line for the foods department. As we waited for the next interview, the supervisors from the rides department called out trying to recruit applicants, because there was no one in their line. My mom conferred and I jumped ship on foods and was hired on the spot for rides. In hindsight, it was an excellent move. I was given a choice of ride groupings to work in, handed a manual of policies and procedures, several 'open-book, take-home' tests about the policies and procedures, instruction manuals for the rides I had chosen, a schedule of orientations and trainings and a list of documents to bring with me to these meetings. I was so excited I went straight home and ready my policies and procedures manual front to back.

Orientations and trainings began a few weeks later, in early spring. We weren't paid for our time and we didn't complain about it because we didn't know any different. It was just fun for us. At the orientations, we were issued an employee number {which I still remember} and ID card, instructed on check-in and check-out, shown where the employee 'kitchen' was located and where to buy meal tickets to use in the kitchen, given uniforms and generally introduced to our new working world. At ride trainings, we were given a run-down of all the safety checks and operational procedures for each ride in our group and then we got to practice running the rides. Then we had a test on everything we learned. If we passed the test, then we were authorized to work on that ride. The only thing to do after that was wait for the weather to turn warm and the park to open for weekends.

During my first summer, I trained in two different ride groups, learning the operation of a total of 10 different rides. They ranged from old-fashioned, manual-control rides, like a ferris wheel {which wouldn't run if you didn't balance out the weight of the riders properly}, rides with a more automated key-and-push start system, and rides with fancy computer controls. I swept ride enclosures, cleaned seats, did safety checks, took tickets, cleaned up puke {beginning with my first shift and periodically thereafter; kitty litter, dust-pan, broom and training on how to use them were standard at every ride} and had a really good time running rides, making friends and earning a paycheck all summer long.

This grand amusement park where I worked is little more than a stationary carnival. It is a very large stationary carnival, with beautifully manicured grounds and well-trained employees, but most of the rides are really just carnival caliber. But they did have three big coasters which were referred to as "crew" rides. To be invited to work "on crew" was a step up from your basic ride operation, and so I was really excited to be asked to work on crew my second summer. They split the crew rides into two groups and I was in the group that learned to operate the old-fashioned wooden roller coaster {which is now about 80 years old and still in operation}. At the time, it had a manual braking system and you had to throw a series of levers in succession at exactly the right time, or the train full of passengers coming in to the station would be slammed to a bone-jarring stop. Operators worked in teams and there was extensive training for each station on the ride. Needless to say, training for crew rides was a little more intensive and comprehensive. I loved working the Roller Coaster, with the clickety-clack of the chain as it pulled the train up to the top of the first hill, followed by the whoosh of air as it went down the other side. The wheels would hum, a sort of ringing, high-pitched hum as it ran its course, and then it would be back in the station to take another group of passengers.

In addition to the Roller Coaster, my crew included operation of a train which ran around the 'lagoon' in the center of the park. On the far side of the pond, the train passed through a little zoo. The neat thing about this train is that it was a steam engine; the fire was propane fueled {instead of coal}, but it ran on steam. And I got to learn how to operate it! I wore striped overalls and everything. It took about two hours to fire up every morning. First duties were to light the fire and get enough pressure built up in the boiler. While the pressure was building, you had to grease the wheels and add oil to the reservoirs with a little oil can. Then you'd polish the brass and clean out the seats in the cars the train pulled. By then, the train was ready to go so you'd call for your supervisor, who'd call a maintenance man and the three of you would drive the train around to the far side of the lake where the maintenance man would refuel the propane tank and 'blow down' the boiler, which basically means he would open a pressure valve and hot water from the boiler would come rushing out, flushing out any hard water mineral deposits. Then we'd pull into the station and begin operation for the day. At regular intervals throughout the day you'd have to grease and oil, and you had to make sure there was enough water in the tender so you'd have steam to go. It was a pretty awesome, albeit, somewhat hot and dirty gig. In addition to my two crew rides, I trained on eight other rides for that summer.

I have so many great memories of working at this amusement park. I worked there for five summers {and two winters}. I've only covered the highlights of the first two summers and I can't possibly fit everything else I want to say into this one post, so I'm going to break this up and post a little more next week and the following. If you've read this through to the end, thanks for taking a little trip way back when with me today, and I hope to see you next week.

Read more:
Part 2
Part 3


Mom said...

Such fun memories! and it only seems like yesterday and yet so many other things have transired in the meantime. Lets go ride!

Paulette said...

What a cool job! Sure beats the babysitting I did at that age.

Shay said...

Gosh that sounds like such a fun job! I was a checkout chick at that age and it was so boring. Good for making me want to get somewhere in life so I didnt have to do that job forever though!

An amusement park job sounds like the right job for a teen!

Nancy Near Philadelphia said...

I so enjoyed reading this post. You make me think of one of my all-time favorite books, James Michener's "The Fires of Spring." One large part of the book is about HIS high school summer experiences at an amusement park -- a park that was quite close to my home and where, in fact, my husband and I had our first date. I think you might like this book, too. It is very different from Michener's regular style.

Angie said...

I am pretty sure Lagoon is my first memory of an ammusement park. We had our summer comvention in Ogden every year and my parents would take us there on the following Monday. In fact, that was the only way my mom could get my dad to take a family picture so we have about 10 of those old fashioned dress up pics at my parents house still. Great place! Fun times!

Jennifer Lovell said...

You are great at remembering details to your past! Did you keep a diary back then? It was really fun to read some of the nitty gritty about how Lagoon is run. I have had my share of fun there. Next time I go, I'll think of you in your cute striped overalls.

Jill said...

It's funny to me that there wasn't a line for Rides when you went to the hiring. My time around, Rides was the place to BE!
Although I could have been influenced by our family's love for the department....
I have often thought that I would love to work there again. Even contemplated just taking in on for the summer because my hubby stays home for the summers...but then I remember that I'd never see my family again. And I'm not sure employee appreciation days would cut it. (Although the DISCOUNT would be nice!!) Unless I could get them to only work me 4 days a week and morning shift only... Like they want an employee so picky.
Any-who. Like I tell everyone... BEST JOB EVER!!!

Jen said...

great post, thanks for sharing! I'll be looking forward to Part 2!