Sunday, November 10, 2013

It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow…

*Author's note: Since this is fairly long I have divided it into three sections to make it slightly easier to read: "Wayne's Background", "Immediate Future Changes" and "The Long Term Future"*
I might just have dated myself there, but I figured no tribute would be better for our interviewee this go around then a quote from supposedly Walt Disney’s favorite attraction (Carousel of Progress).  Plus it seems to fit.

As many know Worlds of Fun’s head of maintenance, Larry Hurst retired about a year and a half ago, to the dismay of Worlds of Fun fans everywhere…  A year ago almost to this date his replacement arrived.  Wayne Meadows.  To many of us he was an enigma.  True, we had heard he was from Disney (never a bad thing), but we all had to wonder would it be the same old, same old at Worlds of Fun or would we finally witness a little bit of the shakeup we had hoped for when Matt Ouimet was first announced as CEO of Cedar Fair.

Wayne’s Background:
So our first question, who is Wayne Meadows, and what does he bring with him in terms of experience?  It turns out quite a bit.  Not only did he come from Disney, he had 30 years to be ingrained in the Disney way.  He started at Walt Disney World in 1971, not in his dream job as Monorail Driver, but instead washing cars.  In 1972, he transferred to maintenance, and like anyone with a drive to learn, read just about every maintenance manual he could get his hands on, and as Wayne himself states, he would go out and take a look at the ride or attraction and think “Oh Yeah, that’s how it goes”.  It was a very hands-on learning experience. From one learning experience to another, he went head first into developing WDW’s first ride preventative Maintenance (PM) program.  As if that didn’t keep him busy enough, at the same time he was completing his degree at the University of Central Florida and graduated with a degree in Engineering Technology.

Just getting his feet wet, he would go on to be involved in the design and construction of EPCOT, working on the project from conceptual design to opening. Six months after opening he was offered the option to be sent to Tokyo Disney to set up the maintenance program there, and while doing so developed a well-earned respect for the Japanese work ethic.  In 1984, he went back to Florida.  A few years later Wayne was offered the opportunity to be a world traveler once more, this time to set up the maintenance program at Disneyland Paris (known as EuroDisney at the time).  If Tokyo was fascinating, Paris seems to have been exhausting as Wayne talked about traveling to Paris every two weeks for about a year.  At EuroDisney he was in charge of setting up the 200,000 square foot maintenance shop, (that’s about the size of a Super Walmart) “Fully staffed, fully equipped, machine shop, metal shop, paint, fiberglass, wood all the way down the line” complete with 687 maintenance personnel.  In 1989, he moved with his family to Paris and was there from ground breaking to park opening.  In 1992, he moved back to Orlando once more, and moved into general management, and more importantly became directly involved with the resorts trouble spots, and began working on turning those around.  (sound familiar?) In 2001, WDW began to look to reduce staff, and offered to quite a few of its managers, including Wayne Meadows, severance packages.  Thinking this would be a great time to start up his own business; Wayne took the buyout option and started his own consulting business entitled “Facilities Management”

In 2007 at IAAPA he was approached to work on Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi (capital of the UAB, located on the Persian Gulf) were he again worked up the maintenance for all the various operational groups (food, merchandise, operations, entertainment etc.), he got the park to opening in October 2010 and discussed the difficulties of working in a desert environment of 125 degree heat and 70% humidity, with that being said many rides here at Worlds of Fun would just not make it over there with the environmental extremes (Mamba comes to mind)

Wayne made it back to the US in 2011, for the birth of his first grandchild and in the summer of 2012 received a call from Ann Todoroff at Worlds of Fun. The rest as they say is history.

Immediate Future Changes:
So one may ask, what was the first item of business?  After getting Halloween haunt cleaned up and out of the way, the first order of business was to ask what the trouble spots were.  Of course Timber Wolf was the first item on the list, which was already slated to receive its new control system, but then came ThunderHawk.  It’s amazing how little one really understands without being involved in the inner workings and seeing the whole picture.  ThunderHawk’s problem as Wayne stated was that it kept blowing fuses, and like so many things in the park the fix up to this point was to replace the fuse, aka patch it up and let it go until the next fuse went.  We all remember this from a guest’s perspective, as ThunderHawk was up and down repeatedly from almost its opening day.  This wasn’t going to work under Wayne’s management though, it was time to find out the real, underlying issue and get it fixed, once and for all.  Wayne states, that while working at Disney the goal was 99.8% operational readiness. Obviously, as Wayne stated Worlds of Fun is currently nowhere near that, but as he stated its achievable, and that is one of his goals. Today, it appears the REAL issue with ThunderHawk has (finally) been resolved, and we are hoping for fewer “this ride is currently closed” signs in that region of Americana.

Another goal and quite frankly as Wayne states the most important goal is safety, “our #1 priority is safety always will be we will never compromise” He talks about how he talked with the guys (in maintenance) and made what seems a very obvious and simple comment to them.  He stated that if you would not let your own family on a ride, why would any else’s family be any different?

Of course people come for the rides, so let’s talk about the rides.  Our first point of discussion was Viking Voyager.  As some now know it is the target of a lot of work for this coming off-season.  The first decision when the topic of Voyager came up is cringe worthy for a lot of fans, and that was “does it stay or does it go?”  Wayne went to Frank (Wilburn) on the topic and it was decided that Voyager was an iconic ride, an original ride and that it needed to stay.  So they started at the bottom and worked up, starting with the footers, checking for structurally integrity, for problems and condition and what needed work.  It was decided at the time that the trough needs work, as does the water storage pond as the control system (which hasn’t changed since 1973).  Seems like a lot of problems?  Not to worry about this 40 year old classic, though old, and having a few bumps and bruises its overall safety was never in question.  If it was, Voyager would not have been operating.

Of course what is a ride without its operators?  As many who have worked at the park in the previous years can attest, until recently there has been a lack of communication between maintenance and park operations (to put it nicely). It was Wayne’s plan to change that.  It would no longer be “no that’s a maintenance problem” or “no that’s an operations problem”, there are different responsibilities true, but Wayne talks about the importance and need to work together.  Things have already started to change in that manner.  Case in point Cosmic Coaster (aka Wacky Worm) which has required manual launch from its beginning in 1993.  What this means is that the ride operator literally has to push the train out of the station.  Over the years this has created a lot of problems with rider operators backs, ankles, etc. leading to workman’s comp issues.  For 2013, twenty years after its debut, Wacky Worm/Cosmic Coaster will have a kick motor.  And hopefully a lot fewer sprained ankles and sore backs.

Wayne visited the operations kick off this year before the start of the season by letting everyone know that THEY were maintenance eyes and ears, the first responders so to speak.  Instead of the nuisance that ride operators were seen as in the past, operations became an important tool in keeping the rides operating safely and the rider’s safe. Now if paint is flecking, or if there is a squeal, or a bad wheel, or some other unknown, unusual occurrence, rider operators are no longer afraid of calling maintenance to report it as they might have been in the past. As Wayne states he would rather get five calls that end up being nothing, then let one real major issue overlooked.  Wayne brings up the accident at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain to bring the point home; it was in this case that a rider lost their life due to simple maintenance negligence. 

So how about another original ride to the park, ELI? or more commonly known as the Worlds of Fun Railroad.  ELI operates by 100% steam power and must be certified as a high-pressure vessel.  Though a bit of a handful for both its engineers and maintenance, Wayne talks about its importance to the park as he states “probably 95-99% of guests see that (ELI) it’s a show piece and it needs to be treated as such, and it’s in rough shape”. There is a trend of wear and tear with ELI’s boiler, which should receive some work over wintertime, along with ELI’s paint, which at the time of interview was out for pricing. 

Same thing with Autobahn, even Wayne admits “it’s embarrassing”, he brings up that they have gotten in touch with Majestic Manufacturing (the company that manufactured autobahn’s cars), and have been quoted $4500 per car, and there are plans to build up the Autobahn fleet for 2014 and beyond.  However Wayne did respond to the question regarding returning Autobahn to its full-sized floor, stating that currently there are no plans to return the floor to its original configuration.

Ride vehicles as a whole are sometimes difficult to replace Wayne goes on to talk about.  Case in point the old Arrow cars on Le Taxi Tour (Arrow Development/Dynamics), which as some know went out of business several years ago.  Due to this situation the park is now dealing with a whole other issue, that of obsolescence.  There is no way to get parts from the original manufacturer, so the plan for now is to scrap the parts from the existing cars.

Another fixture of Europa since we are talking about that section of the park is the Moulin Rouge that has been sign-less for quite some time… So replace or enhance the old sign?   Wayne states:

“Replace, much enhanced replace, the old sign, kind of created a hornet’s nest there, it was about ready to fall in, it was so rotted, I was concerned if it would even make it through the season without falling through the canopy.  I know the temporary little sign, that’s not what we were expecting, but what Debbie Strong has been working with Missouri Neon are some jam up, redo of the front entrance of the façade basically.  So, we are working through the costs situations now, and what you will see is a much improved marquee coming up.”

So nice new sign, for Moulin Rouge in the future… and possibly more.  Not just another Worlds of Fun patch job.

The Long Term Future?
So what are the future plans for the overall park? In Wayne’s words they are “to bring up all the structures and buildings to the standards we think it should be”, Wayne states though this isn’t the old Cedar Fair anymore.  He goes on to say “we have found that what works in Sandusky, may not work in Kansas City, or Richmond or Toronto or wherever”.  It’s a new Cedar Fair, he talks about Matt Ouimet (Cedar Fair CEO) coming from Disney and his new expectations for the company and its parks.  This includes moving beyond simply investing in new rides, but also investing in the entire park experience, such as overall park infrastructure.

Case in point the pavement.  As Wayne so enthusiastically stated “you don’t need a technical degree to see the pavement looks like crap” When he came at the end of the season last year he noticed how worn out it was, and then when the sealant is laid down this spring he stated that it brings it up to a much more “less despicable” appearance.  But the “less despicable” appearance doesn’t last long with daily wash downs and foot traffic.  Wayne specifically comments about how he noticed that the sealant in places (not the asphalt just the sealant!) was up to ¼” thick! That’s from the sealant being applied, year, after year after year.  He states that replacing the asphalt is part of the park’s 5-7 year integrated services plan.  

We began seeing this process just a bit last off season when Pizza Pier/Gyro’s was completely gutted and replaced.  Maintenance with Wayne at the lead is going through every structure with a fine-toothed comb… Asking questions, When was the roof replaced last?  How’s the flooring, the electrical, structural? What needs to be replaced? Then the job is to prioritize and replace what can be replaced during the off season.  Wayne quotes an old FRAM Oil Filters Slogan, “you can pay me now or you can pay me later”, and that if you pay me now you won’t have to pay me as much later… Take care of things and actually REALLY take care of things, and you won’t have to be replacing things as much.  The goal as Wayne put’s it is continuous improvement, including making the park look better, this includes landscaping….

Wayne had noticed the forgotten liberty bell shell of a topiary left abandoned near the greenhouses, and figured that’s something easy to get back in the park and replace.  So those of us that remember the Liberty Bell from Bicentennial Square may be seeing it again sometime soon.  Thanks to Wayne and a lot of help from landscaping.

Landscaping, pavement, signage… many seem insignificant reading it here, but as Wayne states so eloquently its all about the details “it’s the details that will make you or kill you, its frustrating for me that we can’t do more quicker, I want stuff to happen and I want it now.”

Which brings us to our last major point…Bicentennial Square.  What’s in its history?  No one really plays midway games anymore, atleast not like they used to thanks to all those hand held smart phones and angry birds… So either rehab the buildings or convert the area to another use.  Even Wayne talks about the area being a massively underutilized area.  So what is its future? Wayne has some ideas for the area, and they are quite a departure from prior Cedar Fair thinking.  He leaves us all with a parting though… Look around at all the other theme parks in the world, really there are some elements here that we are really missing if you think about it…” 

I do have to say after not so silently grumbling about Worlds of Fun calling itself an “amusement park” over the last few years, it’s a breath of fresh air to have someone on the inside so to speak refer to Worlds of Fun properly as a “theme park”.  Wayne goes on to further expand on the differences between the “old” and “new” Cedar Fair, about how it’s not just important to add the next great big thrill ride and slap a snake on the front and call it theming (referring to Mamba) but that’s its also about the big picture the whole story…

“you walk into any of the Disney parks, and stories being told, you walk down main street, and it’s turn of the century type and everything is seeing that, and then you go into tomorrowland,  frontierland, whatever, everything has a theme and a story behind it as well.  Something I think over the years here was lost and I guess and I remember early on, a lot of the live entertainment, like the robbery of the train, that sort of thing.  That’s what helps make an entire park, different lines of rides, atmosphere, food, whatever you want to say, there are certain things we can tweak to improve as well, without just throwing in a thrill ride.  To me you are missing part of the market there”

So is this the new vision of Cedar Fair? One that instead of catering exclusively to the thrill rider, now focuses once again on every guest young, old and everything in-between that crosses through the gates?  Will we see future rides added that everyone can enjoy together?  Also, will we see an increased interest in the intangibles, theming, landscaping, atmosphere? Only the future will tell us.

One thing is for certain, the desire is there to make the park better and provide an overall improved experience for guests.  One key point that indicates this is his obvious frustration, frustration in the way things are, frustration in wishing change could be faster, frustration in even the small details.  However, in this case frustration is a good thing, it means that things will be changing. As Wayne states “when I don’t care is when I will quit” and I don’t foresee that being hopefully for a long while.

1 comment:

Rena Peterson said...

Thank you Wayne for accepting the job for Kansas City! I have been attending WOF since 1978. I feel that WOF has lost some of it's original Luster and shine. It has strictly become a thrill park, and not a family park. I myself love the fact that we will once again see the theming return to the different areas of the park. I would love to see some more family classic rides added in the future. Such as another dark ride, a Tilt A whirl, etc. Anything fun that families can create memories on together, as we did there when I was a child. I would love to see the train robbery brought back as well, it made the ride really fun. I would also like to see some solar powered, modern trams built, so that they are energy efficient. They could plug them in and charge them at night, somewhere up by the entrance to Scandinavia. The main issue with the trams before was cost of maintenance. This made entrance into the park easier and more fun for elderly and children, and also made it easier after walking such a large park all day. Me being diabetic, I have had to call the EMT's to take me out of the park up that hill, after walking all day long. They are also the last ride and fun going out of the park! P.s. Thank you for helping to save Viking, and improving the Fury of the Nile, which my father helped to build! It was great for this season to actually get drenched again, after walking around in the heat! Only difference, I would make to that area, is a smaller hill to have to climb, or a conveyer belt to take you up to the ride instead of it being so hard on the knees. LOL It is treacherous after walking half way around the park! :) Looking forward to all of the improvements, and being a park patron all these years and more to come! Wouldn't miss purchasing a season pass for nothing! Yours truly, Rena Peterson