On a warm
Summer night, is there any one of us that can resist the honky-tonk
allure of a bustling carnival midway? No, I didn't think so. Here
and gone almost magically, like deep-fried, neon-lit Brigadoons,
these garish shantytowns of corn-dogs, kewpie dolls and Tilt-A-Whirls
make my pulse race with unfettered joy.
Along with the Skee-Ball palaces and funnel cake emporiums, a
large part of the midway's appeal is its charmingly low-tech collection
of mechanical rides. I'd be a liar if I told you that some of
those diesel-powered, hand-assembled whirligigs don't make me
a little uneasy, but I'd almost never let that stop me from taking
a trip on a carny favorite. Zippers, Himalayas, Tilt-A-Whirls,
Round-Ups, Scramblers... I love 'em all.
But in this brave new world of extreme thrill rides, the typical
midway attraction can't begin to deliver the kind of wallop that
more and more Thrillseekers crave. Sure, the Trabant is a hoot,
but would you honestly call it terrifying? Well, neither would
the folks at Gravity Works, Inc., and they endeavored to
create a portable attraction that would set a new standard for
midway thrills, a carnival ride that would indeed qualify as terrifying.
They have admirably succeeded.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, step right up and take a
spin on the tallest, fastest portable ride ever built... The Skyscraper.
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Works, Inc. actually started out as a company called Bungee
Adventures, Inc. in 1987, being the first commercial bungee-jumping
service in the United States. Their expertise became so well
known that when General Motors wanted to send a GMC truck
on its own bungee adventure over the edge of the New River
Gorge Bridge for a TV commercial, they called upon BA to make
sure the four-wheeled sky-diver didn't lose any of its resale
In 1993, Bungee Adventures introduced the infamous "reverse
bungee" attraction, a ride known as the Ejection Seat.
Rather than dropping you from a great height, the Ejection
Seat works like a giant slingshot, launching you straight
up into the sky. The Ejection Seat looks like a pretty intense
experience in its own right and has appeared at many fairs
and temporary venues including the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
But BA's engineers had ideas for attractions that went beyond
the simple mechanics of bungee cords and in early 1996, they
began to develop what would become the mind-blowing device
you see pictured to the left. The company changed its name
to Gravity Works to reflect its expanded product line and
on February 6, 1997, the first Skyscraper was unleashed at
the Florida State Fair. The carnival midway would never be
the same again.
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of stout-hearted riders boards the Ferris Wheel-style seats
at either end of a 160-foot-tall rotating arm. That's right,
one-hundred sixty feet, sixteen stories. Check out those
criss-crossing, over-the-shoulder harnesses... they look
pretty serious, don't they? That's because the seats are
free to rotate themselves once things get cooking. And you
wouldn't want to be inverted, 160 feet off the ground without something holding you in, would you?
Wave to Mom and Dad while you still can. A 75-hp, 3-phase
motor powers up and the arm starts to rotate. It might be
a slow trip to the top, if the opposing seat needs to load.
But once everyone is ready to rock, there will be no more
"slow." When I tell you to hang on, I mean it.
That massive arm begins to turn, faster and faster and
faster. From a standstill, it will take only half a
rotation before your hapless little self is traveling at
the Skyscraper's top speed: a godawful 70 miles per
hour. 'Round and 'round and 'round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows. Try to imagine hurtling over the top
of that 160-tall arch, craning your neck to look up at the ground and preparing for another fall towards terra
firma at 70 mph. For you G-force junkies, take note that
you'll pull 2 Gs at the top and 4 Gs at the bottom of the
Finally the arm begins to slow. It may feel like your torment
has come to an end, but I'm glad to report that it has not.
Yep, this Ferris Wheel-on-crack goes in reverse,
No prayer will save you now.
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true masochists among us will get a kick outta this: each
seat also carries a video camera with a live feed down to
monitors below. While you're hysterically laughing, sobbing,
spewing or performing any combination of the three, the
rest of us back on Earth get to watch and enjoy (forget
about Seinfeld - this may prove to be the funniest
show on television). And if you really want a special
keepsake of your day at the fair, you can purchase a cassette
copy of your voyage to treasure forever.
The Skyscraper has proven such a success that Gravity Works
has designed a permanent park model that possesses its own
special charms. Instead of the rigid latticework of steel
on the portable variety, the arm of the stationary Skyscraper
is a more streamlined, flexible monopole. The flexing
action adds another dimension of terror to the experience:
when the motor starts pulling the arm around, a whipping
effect yanks your seat into action, with suitably unpredictable
rotations. These extra-special Skyscrapers can only be found
at Planet Bungee in Panama City, Florida and at Fast
Tracks in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but don't fret -
many more permanent installations are planned.
This Fall, a Skyscaper is touring America's West Coast fairs,
and three traveling units will be hitting the fair circuit
in 1998. If there's any bad news, it's that these puppies
are "upcharge" attractions, meaning that they
require separate fees to ride, anywhere from $15 to $30
a person (like Skycoasters and their ilk). But if you can
find a better thrill value for yer dollar, tell me about
Keep your eyes peeled for one of these machines and don't
forget to smile for the cameras!
photography courtesy of Gravity Works, Inc.