May 2012

Virginia Members Help Build Busch Garden’s Flashy Roller Coaster
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When he joins his grandchildren aboard a soon-to-be-completed world-class roller coaster that will thrill almost 1,500 visitors an hour at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., electrician Jim Farkas will proudly tell them, "Pop worked on this."

Bloggers in the roller coaster fan world are already buzzing about Verbolten, the German-designed multi-launch, multi-media sensation that will replace one of Busch Garden's favorite rides, the Big Bad Wolf, thanks in part to the work of Richmond Local 666 electricians and signatory contractor Chewning and Wilmer.

The latest project at the theme park which Farkas, the local's COPE chairman, says is "impeccable in both landscaping and the quality of the rides," is good news for members, more than half of whom have faced their own scary drop into unemployment. Nine local members began installing underground pipe last October and up to 40 will have worked on the coaster before it opens in late spring.

Robert Zahn, Chewning and Wilmer's president, says, "Coasters get more complicated every time. They are not jobs for the faint of heart. They take a good skill set."

Older roller coasters have a chain that takes riders to the top of their hills, says Zahn. Verbolten's motors will propel riders the whole way — dropping them precipitously through a simulated Black Forest, cork-screwing through sharp curves in a building with a 62-foot-high roof, sending them into weightlessness amid reverberating sound and wind effects, then careening over a bridge toward a water channel representing the Rhine River.

Chewning and Wilmer have built five rides at the park since its opening in 1976. Farkas remembers working on the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster as an apprentice back in 1978. But, this time, intensified competition from nonunion contractors meant new staffing measures were needed to compete for the $2.5 million electrical portion of the project.

To win the bid for the job, including supplying electricity to buildings through which riders will be introduced to Verbolten's storyline, the parties agreed to deploy the Maryland-Virginia-D.C. Recovery Agreement, a regional agreement providing for more competitive staffing, dispatching construction electricians and construction wiremen to lower composite costs.

Larry Giles, Busch's vice president for design and engineering, says Verbolten is the park's largest project in his 24 years of service. The electrical contract is progressing well, he says. "There are four times as many electrical cabinets on this coaster as on other rides," he says. "We need to make sure the electrical work is top notch. It's paramount that we get that right," Giles says, noting that Verbolten will safely apply gravitational force sideways — a feature all other rides try to avoid — to make the three-minute trip more exciting.

"I go through the Verbolten project with a sense of pride," says Farkas, noting that many of the contractors are local and several are signatory with the building trades. In an area where out-of-state contractors frequently dominate construction projects, hiring local contractors, says Farkas, "means this ride will start paying off immediately as workers spend their money here."

A Richmond, Va., Local 666 member at work on the new coaster at Busch Gardens.