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SANDUSKY — Cedar Point hadn’t opened yet on a recent morning, but John Hoiden was already on high alert.
Scanning the 364-acre grounds, his eyes shifted quickly from left to right, looking for anything that stuck out as unusual.
“I’m just looking for anything that’s out of place,” Mr. Hoiden, supervisor of ride operations, said. “Anything that needs to be painted, a broken sign, trash. Anything that doesn’t look right.”
After noting that all of the trim was painted, the trash picked up, and the gum was being scraped off the ground, Mr. Hoiden was just about ready to give his approval — until he noticed a measuring stick. It appeared to be less than a quarter-inch shorter than the others.
“Can we get a measuring tape over at Gatekeeper,” Mr. Hoiden called on his two-way radio. “If it’s the stick, we’ll replace it with another, but if it’s the base, we may need maintenance to come out.”
PHOTO GALLERY: On The Job at Cedar Point
The May debut of Gatekeeper, Cedar Point’s newest roller coaster, has made it one of the busiest in the park. The open-air wing ride carries about 1,700 passengers an hour.
Rider safety is the number one concern for Mr. Hoinden. He oversees a crew of about 400 men and women who operate the 72 rides in the amusement park that was visited by 3.2 million people last year.
“For the safety of the riders and requirements of the manufacturer, riders [must] be at least 52 inches tall,” Mr. Hoiden said. “By law we’re not allowed to let them ride [if they don’t meet height requirements].”
Each morning before the park opens, maintenance crews and engineers test the rides. Dummies filled with water are piled into the seats to test wind speeds. Wind gusts and cool breezes are present often at Gatekeeper, because of its location right next to Lake Erie.
Mr. Hoiden isn’t responsible for inspecting the rides. Instead, he supervises crews that operate them, ensuring that they’ve been properly trained, follow guidelines, and work in a safe environment. He also helps secure the safety of the riders by making sure that inspections are performed.
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Weather can be the most difficult part of the job. Many of the rides are inoperable in high winds and heavy rain.
“It’s one of the few things we can’t control,” Mr. Hoiden said “Sometimes guests are understanding, sometimes they’re not. It can be a difficult situation.”
Mr. Hoiden looks over charts to make sure an employee has signed off on each safety inspection. His staff can’t operate the ride if the checkpoints haven’t been signed.
Just before 9 a.m., Whitney Houston’s version of the National Anthem is broadcast on a loud speaker throughout the park. The applause at the end of the recording signals that the park gates are open for guests with early admission passes. Regular ticket holders can enter an hour later.
Visitors flood the park from all directions, some in an all-out sprint to get to its newest attraction. Within moments, Gatekeeper’s steps are crowded with excited riders eagerly awaiting a go on the coaster.
About a dozen ride operators man the ride, helping seat guests and enforce safety rules. Once back on their pressure mats, the operators give a thumbs-up, signaling the ride is ready for takeoff.
As the riders burst into screams of excitement and fear, Mr. Hoinden, confident that all is well, heads over to check on staff at Ocean Motion, a pirate ship in a small stream of water.
“I’ve worked every ride in the park,” said Mr. Hoiden, 28, a New York native. “I started on the antique cars and worked my way up to the job I have now.” He’s also ridden every ride in the park, minus those at Kiddie Land.
A seasonal employee, Mr. Hoiden, who now lives in Huron, Ohio, works April through November at Cedar Point and spends the winter months working at a local convention center. He’s been with the company for nine years.
“I never thought I’d be here this long,” said Mr. Hoiden. “It was supposed to be a summer of fun, living away from home and making some money so I could go back home and go to college.”
He never left.
“I really fell in love with this place,” he said. “As a kid I wanted to be a professional wrestler. I even trained for it for three years, but then this place took over. It grabs you in.”
Cedar Point is one of the most-visited theme parks in the nation. In 2012, the park had more than 3 million visitors.
For much of his eight to 10-hour work day, Mr. Hoiden walks from ride to ride, checking on his teams and filling in during breaks and shift changes. One lap around the park is about 2½ miles. He hasn’t counted his laps, but said he zig zags across the park several times a day.
“I try to get to every ride every day,” Mr. Hoiden said, noting that problems with rides and other issues can delay his progress. “When that happens, I try to hit most of the majors and some of the smaller rides. I don’t want them to feel left out.”
A call comes through over his two-way radio that Millennium Force has been delayed. He heads to the ride. His pace is quick, but not rushed.
Upon arrival, he finds the ride operators cleaning up a mess in one of the seats.
“Looks like someone got sick,” he said after assessing the situation. Crews quickly cleaned up the mess and ride was back open within minutes.
“You never know what to expect with this job,” Mr. Hoiden said. “Some days it’s this, other days I’m on top of a ride or in the water. I never know where I’m going to end up.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.