Jet Star - R.I.P. 1972-1991

Boardwalk Memories from the 80s

Dantes Nametag

From the summer of 1981 until the fall of 1984, I worked for the Santa Cruz Seaside Company. In case you didn't know, they run the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

I used to operate the Jet Star. It was a small metal rollercoaster. The Jet Star was installed on top of a brand new concrete structure that housed the Bumper Cars in 1972. The Jet Star was made in West Germany and was designed to be portable. During it's lifetime several modifications were made to the ride, and the cars were refurbished. The Jet Star had 8 cars total, however there was usually never that many up at the ride. After the ride was modified, the amount of cars the that could be run at one time was decreased. The ride ran with 5 cars during normal loads, and on busy weekends and holidays a 6th car was added. Several times I tried to use a 7th car, but it was never very effective.

Rumor had it that the German firm that sold the Jet Star to the Seaside Company came out and installed the Jet Star in one day.

Here is a link to a picture of the Jet Star platform being constructed in 1972. Here is another picture from 1979. If you've know the Boardwalk from many years ago, you will notice the Casa Del Rey hotel still standing behind the Casino just to the left of center. It was severly damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be demolished. The Casino still sports it's domes instead of the Sun Room, and a few more small items are to be found. Compare it to this picture.

Worn out, the Jet Star was disassembled and sold. It was replaced in 1993 by the Italian-made Hurricane.

You can see a quick picture of the Jet Star in a couple of scenes of Clint Eastwood's movie Sudden Impact, partially filmed at the Boardwalk. The Star may also show up in Lost Boys, but I'll have to watch that one again to make sure.

Have any Jetstar stories? Know me from the Boardwalk? Love to hear from you!
E-mail me at dante @ the-kgb . com

This page is dedicated to the memory of my friends:
Mike Fitz-enz 1962-1995
Michael Triplett 1964-2004

While surfing the web today, I found out a little more about the Jetstar. It was designed by Anton Schwarzkopf, and built by his company.

Take a look at this wonderful site about Schwarzkopf and the coasters he produced:

The Jet Star rusts away

The Jet Star's second life was at Thrill-Vill USA, a small amusement park in Salem, Oregon.

I'm saddend to find out that Thrill-Ville USA has closed. I never got a chance to visit, and regret that! I understand the Jet Star still stands in Salem, Oregon though - rusting away.

Here's some pictures from around 1982:

Vince at back brake

Vince throws the seatbelts out of car number 7 at Back Brake. The cars would come to a stop on a tank tread looking thing called the moving brake. This would move the car up to where Vince is standing. Vince would throw the seatbelts out, and then push a foot pedal. This would cause the car to move up to loading where new riders would get in.

Just over Vince's shoulder is the warning bell that would signal a car is coming in to back brake. Right below the bell are two buttons. The first button rang a buzzer at the board, to get the board operator's attention. The second button was "the mushroom". Pressing it activiated all the brakes on the ride, stranding riders high up on the track!

The diagonal pole just to the right of Vince's head is the hand brake. Before the ride was modified, operators had to stop the cars coming off the track at full speed with the hand brake. Girls were not allowed to work on the "star" until after the ride was modified sometime in the late 70s.

You can also see athe modified car body. These look much different than the original "open" car bodies supplied with the ride. I assume the cars all had the original frame and trucks.

Back brake was where you found most of the items that guests left behind. Interesting items found in the cars:

Joe and Paul at the board

Joe and Paul having a good time at the board. Joe (to the left) is working "the board". The board is the nerve center of the ride. Notice Joe is sitting in a chair. Shortly after this picture was taken, all chairs were taken away from operators on all rides. It was supposedly to make us more alert looking. Paul (on the right) is working "loading". Paul has one of two "loading wheel #1" buttons that will move a car from "tickets" to the "dispatch" position. Paul's job is to make sure the occupants of the car have seatbelts fastened. Joe will make a second check, and when it's time, he will push the "dispatch" button which will send the riders on a thrilling ride!

Just to the right of Paul, you can get a glimpse of the board. The lights on the very top indicate that the track "blocks" are ready and the brakes are in the down position (cars will pass over them without stopping). The second row of lights show when a "block" is occupied. The first light from the left is lit, indicating "B" block is occupied by a car. The lowest amber light is "the mushroom". Pressing it shut down the whole ride.

Behind Paul and Joe you can see the "Booster Wheel" the lift "chain" and a spare car on the storage track. A new car could be added by use of a switch track, just out of the picture on the left.

The "lift" was a long loop chain that was driven by a large electric motor. A spinning tire gripped the brake skid under a car and shot it up the lift far enough for a small fork to engage the chain for a ride to the tower. This whole process was started when the ride operator pushed the "lift start", "booster wheel start", and "dispatch" buttons on the board.

Dave at the Board

Here is a better view of the board. Dave "Shaggy" Wilcox is operating the Jet Star on a typical day.

Behind Dave you can see the extreme track bank angles. We were about 10 feet away from the first sharp banked curve. The cars would come by at full speed and were VERY loud. I wonder how much hearing capacity I lost during those summers running the Jet Star? The ride would shake the whole concrete platform that the Jet Star rested on. The Bumper Cars down below would shake pretty good while our ride was running!

Click on the board to see a detailed description of it's operation.
Greg and Paul at Back Brake

Greg and Paul just back from a 15 minute break. The "star" ran with four people, back brake, loading, the board, and tickets. A fifth, "relief" person would be added and you'd rotate through the positions and out to break. "Regular" breaks were 15 minutes, and if you worked 8 hours, you'd get an hour dinner break.

Of course we all wore the coolest hats and sunglasses. We found them after they blew off the heads of the people who wore them on the "star". I was working back brake one day when a car comes to a stop and a little girl and her mother get out with wind blown hair. The little girl looks up at her mom and says, "mommy, what happened to your hair?" The woman reaches up to her head and realizes that her wig has blown off, and screams "oh my god, my wig!" I turn around (the track is to my back) and see her blonde wig laying in a puddle of Jet Star track grease! It's half black now. I tell her that I'll retrieve her hair. She tries to talk me out of it, but I'm already buzzing the board to not dispatch any more cars. Once the last car is off the track, I run out and snag the wig with a broom and carry it back to her on the end of it. She stuffs the wig in her purse (getting grease all over it). They run off down the ramp in humiliation!

Shaggy lets someone out

Dave "Shaggy" Wilcox lets someone out the back gate. There were several reasons for doing this. The reason you'd "let somebody out" is because:

  1. They chickened out and decided not to ride.
  2. A father ignored the "pelican" at the entrance and figured that his child met the height requirement. The pelican was supposed to be a guide for parents to check to make sure they met the height requirement. If the kid was one hair shorter than the pelican, they couldn't ride. We had a marker up at tickets. On busy days, there could be quite a line to ride the star. Parents would just ignore the pelican and push the under limit kids in line. Well after waiting 20 minutes in line, we'd tell them "sorry, your kid is too short, we will have let you out". The would start a round of yelling and threatining. I'd try to assure them it was for the child's safety, but they never listened.
  3. Two guys too macho to sit together. The Jet Star cars held four adult size people. There were two seats, and one person sat between the legs of the other. Since this was a little too close for comfort for most of the drunken macho Fort Ord (the local Army base) types, they would refuse to sit together. All over the loading platform and at the entrance to the ride were giant "two riders per seat" signs. If they refused to sit together, You had to kick 'em off! That would REALLY piss them off!

Paul at the board

Paul on the "board". In this picture you can see Paul trying to take my picture with a camera he found on the ride. On the other side of the poles to the left of Paul, you can see the loader's position. You can also see car numer 7 in the dispatch position. At the extreme right you can see a car on the track about to go over brake number 7. You can see the "ratchet" in the middle of the track the car is about to pass over. This kept a stopped car from rolling backwards. The ratchet had sensors that would stop the ride of a car fell back on it. The cars made a neat "ratcheting" sound when they passed over the ratchet. You can still hear the sound on the Giant Dipper. A sound I'll never forget!

The Star had an automatic brake system. If a car were to stop on the track (they sometimes did, like when a wheel bearing went out), sensors on the track would detect the car behind the one that stopped entering into an "occupied block". The rides relay logic would raise a brake, and the car would stop. The operator could also push the "mushroom" and the all the brakes would raise, stopping all the cars. We'd then have to don our climbing belts and climb up to the stopped cars to calm the terrified riders and push the cars off the brakes when the board operator would manually release them.

In the lower part of the picture you can see the extreme angles that the cars took when they went around the corners.

On top, at brake one

Paul Rebore, Greg Rice, Todd Morgan, Me, Vince Zieber and Paul Schofield on the catwalk at brake No. 1. This is about 50 feet in the air! Dave "Shaggy" Wilcox took this picture from the other side of the ride, known as the tower. The tower was the top of the chain lift that raised the cars to the top of the ride. At it's top was three rows of flashing lights that you could see all over Santa Cruz at night. The lift also had "runners" of lights going up the lift track. Usually about 30% of the lights were burnt out or broken at any one time. It looked pretty scummy. Nobody was brave enough to climb up to the top of the tower and risk life and limb just to change a bunch of lightbulbs.

Just below the platform we're standing on you can see a brake actuator. This was moved by pressurized air. If there were any problems with the ride some or all of the brakes would activate, causing a huge WOOSH as the air was release from the brakes. If you were on a break somewhere on the Boardwalk and you heard this sound, you'd start running back to the ride. We had to climb up to these platforms to give the cars a push off the brakes when they were released. In some cases, if a car had fallen back on the anti-rollback ratchets, we'd have to use a come-along to pull the car off of the downslope of the hill to get it going again! I remember one incident where a car had a bad wheel, and couldn't make it up one of the inclines and fell back on the anti-rollback ratchet, but the when this happened, the bolt holding the ratchet lever to the bottom of the car sheared off! The car then rolled backwards down the incline! It was one of the strangest things I ever saw! It took 45 minutes for the mechanics to pull the car back up the incline with a come-along! And the car had a paranoid father with three scared kids in it!

1982 Jetstar Crew Photo

Paul, Donna, Vince, Greg, Dave, Becky, and Dante pose for a crew photo on a beautiful sunny day in 1982.
(Thanks for the photo Donna!)

1984 Crew Photo

Here's a crew photo from around 1984 submitted by a close friend.

Other Boardwalk Photos

When you started out as a ride operator, the first assignment was always the worst rides to work -- the kiddie rides. If you lasted through the torture, you learned the other "flat" rides like the Merry-go-round, the Sky Glider, Haunted Castle, Ferris Wheel and Bumper Cars. I worked in area 2, which started at the end of the casino building and ended at the far end of the Sky Glider. Later you graduated to the "crew" rides, the Jet Star and the Giant Dipper. Here's a couple of pictures from the flat rides: Mike stranded on the Wheel

Mike "Flatty" Fitz-enz stuck on the "wheel". Mike was a "dipper" dude. Despite this major shortcoming, he was one of my best buddies at the 'walk. Later, he specialized on the "flat rides", releiving the operators for breaks.

The Ferris Wheel was one of the worst rides to work, especially when it was busy. You had to balance the ferris wheel. If you put too much weight on one side, the Wheel's weak drive motor would trip a circuit breaker and the whole thing would start turning backwards.

The problem with the wheel was that in order to get a balance, you'd load the first car, then have to move that car to the top to load the car at the exact opposite end of the circle. Unloading would be performed in the same fashion. After loading up a full wheel, then giving everybody a two minute spin, you'd have to unload everybody. Well some kids don't like being stopped up on the top, and they'd be screaming and crying, wanting to get off. The parents would scream at you, "WE WANT TO GET OFF, NOW". You could not just let people off, or you'd get the whole wheel out of balance and you'd be screwed. I would say "you're off after the next car". But to unload the next car, you'd have to send the screaming kid up to the top. The bonehead parents would claim you did it just to scare the kid, or to get back at them for being demanding assholes. They'd go to the office to complain, and have the General Manager explain the whole thing to them.

To Mike's right you can see the standard issue boardwalk ticket can. The "guests" would either give you a specific number of tickets, or they had a "wristband" that would be good for all day rides. Sometimes some of Santa Cruz's homeless would find a wristband laying on the ground and try to tie it on. We usually let them on anyway. Sometimes you'd get the duty of shredding the tickets. All the tickets were collected and the end of the day and dumped in a big garbage bag. The next morning, the bag would be taken down in the basement where the shredder room was. It was a giant shredder with a conveyer. You'd slowly dump the tickets on the belt and hope the damn thing wouldn't jam. If it did, youd have to stick your hands up in the blades (i tried to use a broom as much as possible). Sometimes you'd find old tickets from the 60's that people would bring in.

Newbie Craig on the Kiddie Rides

Craig "Newbie" Fergason stuck on the "kiddie rides". This is where you'd start out as a ride operator. The "boats" were especially bad, since kids liked to stand up. If they fell over while standing, they could fall in the water and get run over by a boat. Besides running the ride and lifting the screaming little brats up into the boats, you'd get to clean up puddles of piss.

Craig is either on relief (I think this is the case), or it's early in his career as a ride operator. You can tell he's ashamed to have this picture taken (maybe I'll scan just his face you you can REALLY tell.

Behind Craig is the other kiddie ride in Area 2, "Autorama". Then the wheel. The big red and yellow colored ball was the laser show. It sits in the place of the Trabant, a ride that was taken out the previous season. You can see the Trabant in a Movie filmed in Santa Cruz, "Harold & Maude". The laser show only lasted one season. The Ferris wheel was eventually moved down to the other end of the boardwalk, the laser show was relegated to the Boardwalk's vast basement. A new ride, the Pirate Ship was put in this area.

When the pirate ship arrived, the Boardwalk made a huge deal out of it. Opening day, they invited the press, the Mayor, and even Miss California. Everyone got on and they started the ride. The ship malfunctioned, and the drive wheel started smoking REALLY bad. Everyone on the ride was hidden in a cloud of foul smelling burnt rubber smoke. It was funny!