Acceleration is a celebration for Eric Voelker.
“High five!” said Voelker, 23, of Lake George, as he secured a teenaged girl inside The Comet. Seconds later, the famous roller coaster at The Great Escape theme park in Queensbury began its slow click and clack, steep climbs, sharp drops and assorted twists and turns.
Oh, what a rush! Voelker has been running rides as a supervisor at The Great Escape for the past six years and is one of the experts who makes sure kids and adults are prepared to challenge the majestic rock and roller. At 1 p.m. Wednesday, Voelker played safety representative and public relations officer as he and Mine Yetilmezsoy ensured riders were wearing seat belts and hugging the orange, vinyl-covered restraints that keep body and soul together for the three-minute Comet experience. Voelker has been having fun all summer long, but September means The Great Escape starts to wind down. After Labor Day, the park will only be open weekends in September and October.
Keeping things rolling
At 1:10 p.m., the ride’s red car rolled away from the platform staffed by three Great Escape employees. Fifteen seconds later, the Comet’s blue car pulled into the station and dizzy, smiling riders jumped out and walked to the ride’s exit ramp.
New thrill seekers took their places inside the car. Voelker and Yetilmezsoy slowly walked up each side of the car, checking belts and restraints.
“Are you ready? Awesome!” Voelker said, offering just about everyone a chance for a high-five hand slap. A minute later, the attendants were at the head of the car.
“Take five,” announced ride operator Charys Wright of Glens Falls into a public-address system, as Voelker and Yetilmezsoy took five seconds for a final look-around. They swept arms across their bodies during the check, finishing with a thumbs-up sign. “All clear,” Wright continued. “Ready for dispatch … enjoy your ride!”
Like a rocket leaving Cape Canaveral, the Comet moved out and prepared for lift-off.
Voelker, a 2006 graduate of Maple Hill High School in Castleton-on-Hudson, likes the routine. He wants to make sure people who visit the park have a safe and comfortable time on his watch.
“You can always tell who the first-time riders are,” Voelker said. “They’ll come up and stop, finally get up the courage to do it. You’re always trying to get them to do it, because it’s such a classic ride.”
The Comet has been around for 84 years. The first passengers boarded the 95-foot-tall coaster at Crystal Beach amusement park in Ontario, Canada, in 1927, when it was known as the Cyclone. Stories say a nurse was always on duty to revive passengers who had passed out during the ride.
The Cyclone was renovated in 1947 and renamed the Comet. When Crystal Beach closed in 1989, The Great Escape bought the big rig, spent $3.5 million to rebuild it and opened the rolling terror in Queensbury for the 1994 season.
Some riders put drink containers, purses, hats and camera onto wooden shelves on the side of the ride platform. “Everything they came here with, we want to make sure they leave with,” Voelker said.
Cars moved in, cars moved out. Voelker smiled for all departures, and most cars were nearly filled as they rolled away. “Are you ready to ride?” asked Wright, as passengers filled the blue car. The rocketeers offered tepid affirmations. “I can’t hear you!” Wright added, and he received expected energetic shouts.
At 1:25, Voelker tried to help a stout man with the seat belt. But it didn’t fit; attendants couldn’t get it across the man’s waist. The man and a young girl with him stepped out of the ride. “You can still go,” Voelker told the girl. The Comet left without her.
“You’re going to run into that once in a while,” Voelker said, adding he tells people who can’t ride the Comet they can always try other attractions at the park.
At 1:45, a man in a backward baseball cap, swimming trunks and sandals — covering himself with a large towel — worked his way into the Comet line. The swimmer never got the chance to meet Voelker, because Wright made a friendly announcement: “In order to ride the Comet, you must be wearing shirt, shorts and shoes,” she said.
The guy took the hint and walked down the entrance ramp. He told friends he would return with appropriate coaster clothing.
After another 15 minutes of walking, bending over, slapping palms and waving goodbyes, Voelker was ready for a quick break. He’s been used to the screams for a while now, and the constant tap dance of coaster car on wooden track.
“I love it,” he said. “It signifies it’s a classic ride. The clickety-clack going up the lift is one of those things you hear when you come into the park in the morning. It gets you started.”
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