A surreal-looking amusement ride from the 1970’s called the Turbo has hundreds of devoted fans ready to schedule their vacations and travel to distant places for its comeback. Though only 23 Turbos were manufactured by Chance Rides from 1970 through 1976, and none are currently in operation, two are being lovingly restored in California and Australia. The 635 members of the Turbo Amusement Ride Fan Club, a private group on Facebook, are eagerly awaiting the chance to go for a retro spin.
A few days ago, when an ad for a Turbo for sale in Zhejiang, China appeared on usedrides.com, excitement ensued. The price: $49,000. No sooner were the pros and cons of a crowdfunding campaign to buy it being discussed than ATZ learned from the seller that the ride, which had been brought from Australia a decade ago, had sold to a park in Canada. “Playland in Vancouver,” seller Jack Su told ATZ via email. A call to the park seeking comment has yet to be returned.
UPDATE, November 14: ATZ just received confirmation from PNE Maintenance Supervisor Peter Tremblay that Playland Vancouver has indeed purchased the Turbo from China and expects it to debut in 2016. Will the PNE modify their plan to replace the iconic buckets as the overhaul of the ride moves forward? It is always controversial when a park announces updating an old ride with new cars: “Yes, we have purchased a Turbo ride. This Ride is coming from China and will be shipped directly to Chance rides in the States for a full make over in line with today’s strict safety standards. The Ride will also be receiving new open style tubs limiting 2 passengers per arm to make this ride more modern with today’s new rides. The ride will also be renamed. I can not tell you any more until the ride has undergone its new release and park marketing. I kindly ask for you to be patient into the future on further updates about this ride. However this is still very VERY early days, we have had to wait for Chance rides to fit this machine into their calender. I do urge you not to get too excited just yet, as ride is not expected to be open to public until early 2016.”
What’s the enduring appeal of this nearly 45-year-old ride? ATZ asked Ohioans Mark Hackett and Derek Wise, who founded the Turbo group on Facebook in 2009. “The ones who have ridden it regard it as a legendary thrill ride,” says Hackett. “Those who haven’t ridden it yearn to experience the ride because it is so unique and alluring. It is a piece of amusement history that will eventually be a preservation success story.”
The Turbo is the creation of Jerry Barber, who is best known in the amusement industry as the inventor of the Free Fall ride. He has registered more than 38 U.S. patents in a variety of fields, 22 of which have been produced commercially. The Turbo was one of Barber’s earliest successes, patented when he was still in his 20s. Asked how he felt about the Turbo upon learning of efforts to restore and bring it back, Barber told ATZ, “I’m proud of it, it’s one of my many children.”
“Though the Turbo was seen at many carnivals when I was younger, I was too small to ride it alone,” says Derek Wise, who first rode the Turbo in 1996 at Old Indiana Amusement Park in Thornton, Indiana. “In a book called White Knuckle Ride, author Mark Wyatt described riding the Turbo as being the marble inside a spray paint can when it is being shaken. I am not sure if I agree with that statement completely, but the motion is similar to the Turbo’s cousin, the Zipper.”
Mark Hackett, who rode the Turbo for the first time– 12 times in a row!– in 1991, says it rides completely different than how you would imagine it watching from the ground. “At the top of the wheel, riders are facing the sky in their circular cage. The motions of the cages range from flipping in circles, to diving face-down toward the ground. The wheel rotations provide a swooping sensation as well.”
Hackett’s obsession with the ride began when his local amusement park, Idora Park, debuted the ride in 1971, but he was too young to ride it at the time. “It looked like some sort of space-travel machine from a science-fiction movie. By the time I was of age to ride it, it was gone from Idora Park.” Fast forward to 1991, when Hackett learned about an operational Turbo at Maple Leaf Gardens on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. “I was a bit disappointed in the ride experience, only to find out later that it was not performing as it should,” said Hackett. “This model once again slipped into obscurity after being moved to Indiana and Pennsylvania.”
One of two Turbos in the world currently undergoing restoration is owned by Jerry Baque, who operates a traveling carnival called Classic Rides Amusements in California. He and his crew have spent three off-seasons working on the Turbo. It is a labor of love. “We bought the Turbo about four years ago with the intention of restoring it in a couple years,” Baque told ATZ. “It had been sitting for twelve years rusting away and was in very poor condition. After spending some time working on it we realized it was going to take a lot longer.”
According to Baque, the ride was previously owned by the Johnstons who bought the Turbo brand new from Chance for $75,000 in 1970. It was the fifth one built. Sam Johnston played the fair route with it in California and perhaps Arizona through the 70’s and early 80’s. After that it spent the next few years on Ken Johnston’s show until 1998 and the next twelve years rusting away in Johnston’s yard until Baque bought it in 2010. “I am able to get parts from Chance but they’re not cheap of course,” says Baque. “We plan to do more this winter and will post more pics of what we do. We appreciate your interest in our pet project.”
UPDATE January 21, 2015:
This week, ATZ learned that Playland Vancouver will re-sell the rare 1970’s Turbo ride purchased last year from China via usedrides.com instead of having it refurbished as planned. “Chance has given us an extensive report on the machine’s condition that has shocked us,” PNE Maintenance Supervisor Peter Tremblay told ATZ, referring to the Turbo’s manufacturer, Chance Rides.
Related posts on ATZ…
June 4, 2014: Astroland Rocket Finds New Home Beside the Wonder Wheel
August 8, 2013: Rare & Vintage: Looking for Artifacts from Idora Park
January 21, 2013: Rare & Vintage: 1960s Chance Skydiver Car