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Old December 21st, 2004, 08:04 PM
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Default River Boat Q&A

Q: Were the boats actually driven by the guides or were they on an underwater track ?

Underwater track. The pilot wheels did nothing but add atmosphere to the spiel. It seems like sometimes one would be completely broken off and no one cared. The boats were actually in a track. They can't be on a track, cause as the water level rises, they would jump off, and a heavy boat would sink against the track, slowing it down. The track was a channel inside the river bottom. Two rod descended from the bottom of the boat into the channel. One at the front and one at the rear. A car tire was mounted on each rod sidewise, so that it rolled against the sides of the track as the boat moved. The track was like this:


rod - |

river bottom ~~~~~~~~~~~~~| -+- |~~~~~channel with wheel.

Even with this design, it was possible after a heavy rain, with a light boat (few passengers, or one just being put on the river for the first time that day), for the boat to jump up out of the track and the wheel to get jammed on the bottom of the riverbed.

What to do? If the in-charge on dock wasn't too bright, you blew and blew your emergency whistle until they came running. You then explained the situation and advised them they would have to get in the water and push the boat back onto the track. All the while, all the other boats were just backing up behind you.

If they were smart, or you were kind, you simply backed the boat up, putting the front wheel back in the channel. (the back wheel would guide the front of the boat back into the channel.) You then had whatever guest you had on board to all move to the front of the boat, to put additional weight on the front rod area. Then, you went very slowly around the curve. Shouldn't be a problem.

A smart foreman also would have a long rod around for you to push the boat in the right direction when it jumps track, especially if it were empty. Due to a high spot in the river, this usually happened at the curve just past the Indian village. Usually after a heavy rain. In fact, I think that is the only place I ever knew it to happen. (-Davis)

Q: I noticed a trip wire across the water and an antenna on top of the boats. Were these to queue the animations or just to let the control booth know of the wherabouts of the boats.

The antenna's would actually touch the wires. I understood that these only activated the animations. (-Alan)

Control? we had not Control! For spacing, you left the dock when the Cannons went off on the boat in front of you, or when the cross fire went off on a slow day. It you got stuck, you blew your whistle. We did have a boat go out one time, and never come back, apparently, they took the other fork, just before the waterfall and found the alternative route to the Mississippi.

The trip wire on the top of the boat did trigger each animation on the river. And no, I never EVER bent the wire down and stuck the end into the roof of any boats with any female workers on their first day so that none of the animations would work as they went around the river and the WATERFALL wouldn't open. That's a lie. Who Said that? It never happened. Not even with the intern river rats. No way, not me. (-Davis)

One bit of obscure info for regarding the trip wires for the animations. As I recall, the wires only STARTED the animations, with one exception -- I seem to recall a trip wire just inside the cave which returned the waterfall/cave doors to their original position. I believe this was done this way in order to prevent the animation from timing out and pouring water on a boat that was too slow to make it through the cave opening. As you may recall, when everything worked properly, the boat would apporach a waterfall with a rock face behind it, as it got closer, the waters would split into two side channels and the rock face would open revealing the cave. The problem was that if boats became backed up on the ride for some reason (a slow boat out in front of everybody or one that had come off the track and had to be put back on) there was a chance that an unwary riverboat captain following too closely behind another boat could have his or her boat just exactly in the wrong place when the animation cycled and the waters started up over the top again. This usually happened to somebody who was new on the ride and didn't have a clear sense of how these things worked, but it also happened to us old-timers, too -- usually because of deliberate sabotage by a crew member hiding in the cave and tripping the wire manually. There was a terrible pause in the way the water flowed that gave you warning when this was about to happen: The water would suddenly stop flowing down the side channels and you then knew that you had only the amount of time it took for the water to fill the tank on top of the hill before the water started flowing over the waterfall agin. This was about 10 seconds, and the alert riverboat captain would use the time to shout to his passengers, "Everybody stand up and get in the middle of the boat right NOW!" With luck, the water would only pour into the back half of the boat, but you'd be surprised how much water to dump in so quickly -- It'd be a couple of inches deep, at least, and the spectacle of a boatload of soaked passengers standing there as the boat pulled up to the loading dock was quite a memorable one. (-Craig Heenan)

Q: Tell me about the animations and how they worked. Like the indians in the canoe, how were they activated? On a track or pulled by a chain or what?

I used to work in the Little Sausage house there down by the river. I was directly behind the Caddo War canoe that came out from behind the reeds. I remember it being on a track. I assume it was hooked to a chain drive of some sort. (-Alan)

Very good, they were on a track. Weight changing, like with the passenger boats wasn't a problem, and I don't recall that the water ever rose so much that they jumped off. I suspect it was pretty heavy. Maintenance you say? Yes, I remember that well. How do you work on the track. Well, it was actually in a little cove separated from the rest of the river, with a small opening where the water flowed in. For maintenance, we sand bagged the opening closed and drained the cove. Yes, we did get wet doing that. Yes, we were in the water. Yes I was not as bright then as I am now. More ASCII art:

***************************trees****************** **********

land |.ending pt.........(canoe].......starting point | land

finger of land [....opening.....].......finger of land




Looking down at the war canoe area.

The Indians started behind one little finger of land with some light trees. As the boat moved by, they passed through the open area where you could clearly see them. They then went behind another finger of land with trees to "disappear". They were sort of on a parallel river. (-Davis)

Q: The fires, how were they fueled? How were they lighted ? Did someone go and light them up at the start of the day?

The fires were gas, I don't remember what kind. They area around them was cleared away well. I don't remember lighting them, or turning them off. Some maintenance guy was paid to walk around the park turning of all the lights. I bet he did it. (-Davis)

Q: (my favorite) The whirlpool, how did they do this ? And what about the arm, what was turning it and how?

The arm was the whirlpool!

The arm was holding a branch at an angle. The arm was on a motor that turned it around constantly. As it turned, the branch stirred up the water, creating the appearance of the whirlpool. Simplicity. (-Davis)

Q: That tree that fell, what triggered it and how was it pulled back up? I missed something because of turning around to watch it go back up all the time.

The antenna on the roof trigger the tree. and yes, if you bent the antenna back and stuck it in the roof, the tree would not fall, but that never happened, remember?

It was pulled back up by a motor at the base of the tree. It was actually a very long and thin tree, so it did not weigh much. It did not have any kind of wires or strings to pull it back. It went up pretty fast, and I don't remember having any problems with it regrowing.

Occasionally it wouldn't fall, which was only a problem if you actually said, "look out that trees is falling", before you saw that it was going to fall. (like if someone bent down your trip wire.)

The tree was real enough for a squirrel to climb up on it and get a toss into the river. And I saw a tree land on an armadillo. No harm came to any of the creatures, however. (-Davis)

Q: (my other favorite) The canons and ball splashes. Were those real canons or fakes ?

How do you define real? and how fake? After all, a cannon is only a hollow piece of iron. They did not shoot real cannon balls, but they had to be heavy enough not to melt from the constant explosions of gas that were passing through them. They were real enough. There is still a cannon on display at the watchtower in the French section (what is left of the French section.) It is longer than the others, but probably made the same way. (-Davis)

Q: Where are the rest of them now??

no idea.

Q: As for the fire blast and splashes how were they timed?

I am not sure what timing mechanism was used, but when the cannon was set off, it would explode, (more gas) and at virtually the same time, an underwater air gun shot a blast straight up making the splash. There were three cannons and they went off three times each. If the gas was not properly adjusted they would just sorta thud, with no flame, it were too high, you could feel the heat.

There was a very distinct pattern as to the timing and it repeated exactly three times. sort of a bomb pause bomb bomb, or maybe it was bomb, pause pause bomb pause bomb, whatever. (-Davis)

Q: What caused the splashes? Air?

Compressed air.

Q: Was it important for the boats to be in a certain place? What would happen if they were over the splashes?

They would never be over the splashes because of the track. (-Alan)

Very good answer. And if you study the two photographs I have posted (on the River Spiel page) you should be able to see that the river was actually very wide at the area of the cannon blast, there is almost a little pond to the right and in front of the boats. Of course the boats turned to the left, so this was a free area with no danger. Two blasts went off to the right.

There was also some extra space to the right behind the boat. One cannon went off there. If you had a fast boat, it was possible to be next to the closest splash to get passengers wet, but nothing like the roaring rapids, the log ride, or even the excess water at the waterfall. (-Davis)

Q: Did anyone ever fall overboard?

Guest? I don't know. Employee on a hot day, probably. (-Alan)

Not very easily. The boats were deep and had a high rope mesh wall. Loading was done right next to the dock, with no step over the water. The only way to fall in would be to jump. The water looked pretty gross to discourage that sort of thing. I am sure that many more people have fallen in the log ride, the cave ride and the Indian canoes. Of Course, the employees, jumped from the dock to the Front of the boat to crawl in around the guests. It wasn't far, but it was possible to miss that. (-Davis)

Q: How deep was the water anyway?

Probably about the same as the Canoes, 3 feet or so. (-Alan)

I recall from having to push a dead boat or two it being above the waist, and not quite to shoulders. Of course, if you stepped in the channel, you had another sudden two feet or so, and surprisingly, I lot of people that worked there didn't really know how the track worked. oops. Like a real river, it got deep towards the center, and in certain areas. (-Davis)

Q: I have seen pictures of the loading area with concrete sides on the river. Was the entire river fake with concrete sides and bottom or was it plastic with dirt or just natural/manmade red clay or what?

I seem to remember the river drained during the off season. I think it was all concrete. I remember concrete sides at least. (-Alan)

I agree, the track was definitely concrete, or the boats would get stuck in the mud. The dirt did come down into the water a bit and may in places have covered the concrete. One reason for draining was to clean the track out of debris. (-Davis)

Q: Getting back to the underwater track did it lead the boats to the loading dock and out to the river again or just what happened as the boat got near the dock ?

Uh... No really I'm pretty sure it remained on the track at all times. There was a way to put boats in a back area, which I think was behind the queuehouse. I'm stepping way out on this... Davis is going to count off for a bad answer I'm afraid. (-Alan)

The track extended into the loading zone, it was one complete circle. (-Davis)

Q: Just so I get this right, the boats were self propelled, right? Just on a track to guide them,right?

Correct. (-Alan) Yes. (-Davis)

Q: Could the rats/operator control the speed and direction/back-forward ?

Hey. Who you calling a rat? As I remember...fuzzy here... you could go forward and reverse, there wasn't alot of speed control though. (-Alan)

You could control the speed and direction. You had to use reverse to slow the boats when entering dock and at the waterfall. It took some practice. Just for grins, some of the controls were installed backwards, so what usually made the boat go forward actually made it go backward. This was generally funny when some new person was in dock trying to leave, but had the boat in full reverse. You could feel the engine turning, but the boat wouldn't be moving. Generally you wouldn't know it was in reverse because it would be pushing on the boat behind it which would be unloading. The Rat would be yelling to the dock crew (in a Scottish accent) "I'm giving it full power, but were not moving, somethings holding us back." (-Davis)

Q: I am a little confused on this one did the guides stand in the back or front, or did they sit on the bow?

Stood in the front, with the wheel and mic. A person that might be training on the ride, might sit at the back. (-Alan)

For certain. (-Davis)

Q: Lets now talk trip wires again. Did the rod trip in the sense of an electrical trip or did it pull the wire a little activating a mechanical reaction, kinda like the old mouse trap game.?

Electrical. (-Alan) For certain. (-Davis)

Q: Someone mentioned changed animations. Do you know some of these?

Nope. I don't know. (-Alan)

I have trouble remembering the changes. Of course, originally, the ride had real alligators and real flamingoes. Those didn't last long. Jacque and Pierre were changed for a new set. The Spanish fort with the cannons was completely rebuilt. It used to look like it was built from the side of a boat (a common practice in those days I believe, to reuse their wood) I have a shot of the old fort, but I don't think its scanned. The war canoe was added at some point. The first timber wolves at the cave before the fort, used to be just one lone wolf; Over the years they just would add some animal here, or an extra Indian there; it is hard to keep up. (-Davis)

Q: Can you tell me about what happened at the riverboat ride first thing in the morning, as soon as the first person got there what did they do in order to get ready for the day. How did they decide how many boats to put in the water, maybe a dry run to make sure all was in order?

Davis? (-Alan)

The foreman would be in charge of making sure the animations worked. None of them were critical, however, except the Waterfall and maybe the fort. Usually if there were a problem, they would be reported by the night crew. The Captains reported problems as they went around. The day foreman might take a test run, but probably not.

When I was there there were two boats in the water at all times. They would start out running those with the extra captains helping out loading and unloading, as the crowds increased, extra boats would be added from the dry dock. It it was expected to be a big day, they would start pulling the dry dock boats before opening. (-Davis)

Q: Now can you tell me about closing time like the next to the last boat and then finally the last boat, you know how did you close up?

Davis? (-Alan)

All we had to do was tie boat up, plug in the battery charger, pull the battery covers to let the gases vent, and turn the charger on. Same routine when you put the boats at dock. Maintenance came around and turn the animations off at some central switches. (-Davis)

Q: Tell me about new people to operate the boat what sort of training was involved, did someone train them or what?

Haaaahahahahahahahaha. Training....hahahahahahaaha. Oh. anyway. As I was just a dolt working a double, I had training like this. Here's a copy of the Speil...look at it. Here's how you drive a boat... drive it....Here's how you speil...(go around twice)... It's all yours... Oh by the way, you can't look at the speil anymore. My speils were alot like "see the bear" "see the indian" "got the point" "watch out" "howdy folks" "Geet off" with alot of silence in between. (-Alan)

If you were assigned to the ride before the park opened, you got a few days training and practice, if you were assigned to the ride afterwards, it was just on the job. (-Davis)

Q: I noticed most ride operators rotate to other rides in their section, did the riverrats rotate or just stay at river all day?

This is a "new" practice I've seen at Six Flags. In the past, at all rides, including River, you would stay at your ride all day. In some instances, cave for example, you would have one person relieve the person at the Red Baron ride. I don't like the moving around of personel at the park. This detracts from the employee learning a ride really well. (-Alan)

We worked the river and back then each ride had one person on the streets sweeping. We sometimes swept the southern palace between shows. (-Davis)

Q: Could you tell me a little about how the Riverrapids ride coincides with river boat as far as the river runs, like does it take the same course. Pretend you put a transparancy of riverboat over a map of roaring rapids, what would the changes be?

I don't know how it lays over the river. I still think there is some "back area" there by the old river queuehouse. I'll look next time I'm out there. (-Alan)

You know, I have a picture of this very thing. It is the last one of the river shots on my river page. It is a PR shot from six flags showing how the new ride is going over River and Skull. You can see the dry dock very clearly next to the Spanish fort. (It wasn't actually a dry dock, but we called it that) (-Davis)

Q: Do you think that if we were to drain rapids would we see any evidence or remains or riverboat??

Probably not. (-Alan) No, its gone. (-Davis)

Q: Did they ever drain riverboat river to do repairs on the track?? Could it have been drained??

Yes. (-Alan) Yes. Each year, not during the season. (-Davis)

Q: Oh, when the ride was removed, did they move the animations to somewhere else or just dump them??

Actually, quite a few are in use today. There is a display at the entrance to the River Rapid Ride that is made up of old river stuff. In addition, a lot of the Indians went to the Indian village that is part of the train ride near the engine house. I have seen some of the animals on the rapids ride, but I don't know if they are still in use. (-Davis)

Q: What happened to the boats after the ride was dismantled?

It seems it was these two brothers who were driving down I-30 and saw the boats sitting on the back lot. Thay decided to stop and ask about buying them. The SF contact was a man in maintenance named John Price that handled the sale. They only bought about nine boats. They were in fairly bad condition and maybe one or two had already rotted away.

Lion Country Safari bought about two or three boats also but couldn't make it work. The place got flooded and LCS abandoned the idea. They sold their boats to the brothers also. One of the brothers went to Natchadoes(sp?) Louisiana. The boats were painted over including the names of the boats.

As I said before the electric motors and inboard props were replaced with outboards. The roofs had to be extended because rain fell on passengers. There was also a pipe type rail down the middle so the boats could not get off track, this was also removed. The boxes in the middle of the boats housed the battery compartment and this is where most of the rotting occurred and due to the weight of the batteries, fell through. They are now used for life preservers.

None of the boats have the original equipment on them except one and it has just the rail down the bottom middle. The sale took place in the early 80's the man was unsure of the exact dates. At present there are 5 boats in Jeffeerson, 4 are operable 1 is on shore rotting. 2 boats are in LA on the Cane River Lake in Natchadoes(sp?).

The boats are 28 foot long, with an 8 foot beam, and can carry around 25 passengers. The boats were made either in Dallas or Louisville, someone said Willis Boat Co. Of Dallas but I could not confirm this. Well that's about it for those boats. (-William Elliot)

Some rides never really die...

A little about where the boats are now...

TURNING BASIN RIVER BOAT TOUR: 45 minute narrated tour of Big Cypress Bayou, featuring riverport history of Jefferson. Just below the old trestle, across Polk St. Bridge (US.59). For information 903-665-2222.


Mmmmore Riverboat stuff:

From Craig Heenan...

I was reading Dan Whittington's blurb in the Rides portion of your site and one of the comments he made struck me as the kind of factoid you might like to add to the River Q & A section. He made reference to a boat called "Fat Elizabeth." The thing about that boat (officially, just "Elizabeth," of course) was that for some reason it was different than all the others. It was a few inches wider, which meant that it didn't fit in the loading area very well and would get stuck there if it wasn't carefully balanced (or at least balanced more carefully than the average boat). It was also slower than average, and being in the boat behind Elizabeth on a busy day was a pain because you had to stop occasionally to stay out of sight. it was also a pain to spiel in Elizabeth because unlike all the others that had their PA system speakers mounted on the roof, that boat had them mounted under the seats, and in a full boat all the guests' legs tended to muffle the already questionable sound quality. When the crowds in the park began to decrease toward the end of the day, Elizabeth was often put back into the dry dock first, and I seem to recall that by the time the ride was shut down for good in '81 (or was it '82?), Elizabeth had been unused for some time.

Here's another trivia question: can anybody supply a list of the names of all the boats? I recall Elizabeth, Marguerite, Annabell, Nadine, Suzanne, and Belle (or am I thinking of the Disney movie?). I know there are more. Also, there were occasional attempts to set one-day spieling records while I was there. They involved jumping out of your boat as it entered the unloading area and moving up to the boat that had just been loaded and taking off in it. I don't remember what the total was, but the last heroic attempt I recall at making it was by a crew member named Ann Furtner just before she left to attend college. She started first thing one morning and went all day without breaks. It seemed like a classy way for a long-time river rat to depart.

Craig Heenan

More river info from someone that actually maintained the boats... Joe Kemp.

When I came to Six Flags in 1967 as a sound man in maintenance, one of my tasks was to repair and maintain the spiel sound systems on the boats and the sounds for the animations. At that time the boats were made of Cypress with Lap-strake hulls. they were powered by Kermath gasoline engines. They were built originally by the New York Boat Co. Later, as I recall 1970, they were powered by Grey Marine engines. These were both inboard drives with through hull prop shafts and propellers.
The first attempt to modernize to a low pollution drive was electric powered out drives. It was found that the boats were waaay too heavy electric motors. Fiberglass boats were built by a company in Lewisville (don't remember their name), and two outboard Swedish motors were put on the transom (rear wall of the boat). These worked pretty good but it fell to me to constantly rebuild the motors. We tried a couple of different power sources. The first was a Volvo inboard outdrive gas engine. Too powerful. You could ski behind them. Settled for Mercury 4 cylinder I/O drives. Worked OK for a few years but pollution came up again.
The last and final power plant was a 10hp forklift electric motor through hull shaft and prop. Four 12 volt 500amp wet cell submarine batteries were used to power the motor.
This may be waaaay more than you need to know, but I can tell you that it was a long and arduous struggle for us. I kind of take pride in the fact that we developed the system and now it is being used in a lot of places.

--- Joe Kemp
Old December 21st, 2004, 09:02 PM
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Default Early River Picture

Early Riverboat picture with fort in background
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Old December 29th, 2004, 12:58 PM
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Default picture of Riverboats as they are now...

Picture of Riverboats as they are/were used in South Texas...
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-Alan Reynolds - SFOT.NET site admin (Food Service 76, Ride Operations 77-79)

-Get your nostalgic Six Flags Fix here at SFOT.NET

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