Most mornings by around 4:30, Zane Sturgill is working on a roller coaster. He starts by checking the massive electrical motor that carries the cars up the slope of one of Silverwood Theme Park’s four coasters.
He checks the air system and the brakes. On the park’s two wooden coasters, he keeps an eye out for worn boards. He inspects the restraint system. He replaces bolts and checks torque. Then, with an arsenal of tools and replacement parts strapped to his body, Sturgill ascends the tracks. This is not easy.
NAME: Zane Sturgill
JOB TITLE: Roller Coaster Maintenance
EMPLOYER: Silverwood Theme Park
YEARS ON THE JOB: 6
“You can imagine, hiking those things is rough. And if you strap on 30-40 pounds of steel, it gets really tough,” says Sturgill, a 28-year-old member of the park’s roller coaster crew, charged with keeping some of the country’s most gut-gurgling rides in shape — and more important, safe.
Yes, he rides the roller coasters just about every day. But no, he doesn’t get scared; not on the rides, and not when he’s perched 100 feet in the air working on the famed Tremors wooden coaster. Before coming to Silverwood, he worked in construction and faced no shortage of dangerous tasks.
“I was the guy who they would send up way in the air,” he says. “When I was a kid, I would be climbing trees to see how high I could get. Now they pay me for it.”
Although Silverwood is closed during the winter months, Sturgill’s work isn’t over. While the park is covered in a blanket of snow, Sturgill and the crew, headed up by Mike Vanden Heuvel, are charged with removing all the coasters’ cars from the track and taking them to a shed where every — and he stresses every — bolt is replaced, weld is tested and car is painted. A coaster like Tremors takes between 80 and 100 trips along its track each day. That adds up to some serious use — more than 10,000 miles of travel over the course of the year — so there is some significant wear and tear to deal with.
For Sturgill and the rest of the crew, the fruit of these labors is knowing that Silverwood is safe. Sturgill doesn’t take this responsibility lightly.
“I’m always thinking that my wife and kids could be riding these coasters pretty much any day,” he says.