Slow Ride, Hard Work

Michael Beckman (not pictured) makes sure fairgoers stay safe if they’re going upside down or high in the air. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Compared to the sky-scraping Zoogvogel (a 90-foot-tall swing tower) and the 360-degree Moon Rocket rollercoaster, the slow and steady chairlift aka Sky Ride — it slowly skims the length of the midway on elevated cables — ranks right up there with the merry-go-round as a fair ride meant for all. But, mild as it seems, an out-of-state version of the chairlift made national headlines earlier this year when a 14-year-old girl slid out of her seat, dangled over the midway, and eventually dropped into the waiting arms of strangers. With the NC Mountain State Fair in full swing in Fletcher, safety-minded fairgoers who caught the story in their newsfeed might wonder if the local Sky Ride is as safe as it seems. Enter Michael Beckman with the traveling James H. Drew Exposition out of Augusta, Georgia, the man in charge of safety, who this year oversaw the maintenance and refurbishment of the classic ride, including a new paint job.

What’s your official title?
I don’t actually consider myself to have a proper title. I wear many hats. I do everything and anything Mr. Drew tells or asks me to do that I am qualified and capable to do.

What are your duties with the chairlift?
My job as related to the “Sky Ride” is yearly maintenance of every component and set up. I perform an extensive list of safety checks and preparations prior to service and operations. I am responsible for putting the seats on before the fair and taking them down for storage after the fair, and I am present at the state inspections for the ride. I have been doing this since 2001.

How safe is the Sky Ride, then?
This is a very safe ride. There are many off-season inspections, such as sending the grips to the manufacturer and having them X-rayed. There’s a load test that is done using 55-gallons drums filled with water and placed in every seat while running the ride … and an inspection performed on all 105 seats every day before it opens.

What do the NC State Inspectors do?
They do the final inspections before it’s open to the public … many safety features are checked. Some examples are [they] run back-up motors, check emergency stops, check every seat including lap bars. A fair employee rides it before the gate opens to do cable and wheel inspections.

What should fairgoers know about this ride?
It’s the best of the best. All [Drew rides] are. The most common problem is patrons not following instructions. People should pay attention, read the safety guidelines and rules posted, always listen to instructions given by employees, and sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Mountain State Fair runs September 8-17 at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher. For more information, see wncagcenter.org or call 828-687-1414.

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