Interview The Gravity Group – Chad Miller and Korey Kiepert – EAS 2018

I’m Cory and I’m one of the engineers and owners at the gravity group and we formed in 2002 and here we are in 2018 still making wooden roller coasters so you know they’re both I mean there are hundreds of years of wooden roller coasters and now we’ve got a nice chunk of that yeah with the gravity group but I’m Chad Miller also an engineer one of the owners of the gravity group I always loved amusement parks and roller coasters when I was growing up my parents they would take me to Cedar Point which was the largest amusement park near Detroit Michigan where I grew up and I also when I was young received this dart a– brand racetrack it was one where you pulled back the cars and I could go through loops and you could make all of your own designs and you know that combined with the little Legos I built a little model amusement park in in my closet so no I did I it was parking a whole lot more it was my brother the true story is this my brother he had a bigger closet so originally the we partnered it was called Barkley rides and then he grew you know he was older than me so that he didn’t want to play with toys anymore and so he kicked me out and then we moved to a new location and parks do that today too though to relocate and we didn’t take week because we made cereal boxes and different things and had like a haunted house dolphin show I was the time I had the haunted house in the dot that the Dolphins my brother had this like balloon on a string oh I’m dead serious yeah anyways he grew too old and didn’t want to have anything to do with it and so we moved to a new location and called it Park in a whole Apple will pour which it was it wasn’t just parking and I that’s when I’m not in marketing because if we were parking a whole lot more you think oh it’s a parking lot but it wasn’t it was an amusement park and a whole lot more is then I went to school and studied engineering and math and was lucky enough to be hired by custom coasters and meet this guy and the others and we formed the gravity group we actually met with the folks from Park st. Paul back yet the EAS that was in Paris I think that was the very first time we met them and at the time they were just kind of starting the dream about a wood roller coaster they’d heard about the wooden warrior that quasi amusement park and the wooden warrior was a is a relatively small roller coaster maybe nine ten meters tall but it still had a really good ride experience where it was suitable for younger guests but it had nine spots of airtime and not just like faint airtime it was good strong air time and I mean that that’s what we loved at our company and so they’d heard about the wooden warrior and they just started thinking about how wooden roller coaster might fit in their Park last year they really wanted to move forward we looked at a couple of different sites for a ride and ultimately the the owner he settled on an area across from where they have a tent for their Tiger show and across from the Formula One rollercoaster we created a ride that filled that entire space they wanted something that had a lot of good airtime but they also wanted something with some fun curves some twists and turns and some nice crossovers as well there are 13 spots of airtime and you you know the whole ride is just action-packed and it it has 70 degree banking as you’re going through one of the curves as well so we we took a ride that is 15 meters tall and we made something that I believe is a top 10 rollercoaster so you don’t need to be the largest you don’t need to be the tallest fastest it’s all in how you use the forces and the design and that’s something when we’re designing rides at our company we just really care about the overall ride experience because we like we like designing rides I mean you heard last year about the passion that Chad had you know about roller coasters and I mean I had a little amusement park in my closet so we like amusement parks we like rides and so that that passion that we’ve had since we were you know really small I don’t know where cuts off but since we were small children it’s still alive in us today and we like to just have a chance to unleash that at the different amusement parks it all started with wooden lawyer ed quasi that was the the project I think that opened the door for us in terms of selling these small you know 13 14 15 meter tall rides or less even 10 meter tall rides and and people realize that just because it’s small and may be geared mostly towards younger children doesn’t mean it has to be only for younger children and doesn’t mean that adults and teenagers can’t enjoy it and ever since 2011 when they opened the wooden warrior at quasi we’ve had a lot of interest in the smaller family ride I mean when we started looking at these small rides it’s also suspiciously around the same time that we started having children young young children and going to amusement parks and so the experience changed right from something where you know I want to spend my time at Holiday World riding the Raven or the legend or something to something more like you know we have these children and we think these yeah these children children and the weird things they’re what they want to do in an amusement park is different and so you know when we had the opportunity to do the wooden warrior I you know we tried to look at it from the perspective of what what would be the absolute best ride like in my case for my daughters because they were super young and I hope that this would be their first wooden roller coaster and I wanted it to be the best ride and have everything that I knew they would love and so that’s when we really started talking about the the level of airtime that we put in the rides or some of the other forces and so you know that passion that we had about rides kind of was combined with our the love that we have for our family and wanting to make a really genuinely awesome family experience and it turns out that we’re not the only people that think that way that everybody that goes to the amusement park as a family would prefer to experience a roller coaster together as a family rather than well the little kids have to ride the little coaster and everybody else has to ride this one but the little kids can’t write that one and and it’s better if you can just all enjoy the same thing and so maybe we back off a little on their time but not much you know compared to the big rides yeah we back off a touch but we leave plenty of airtime in kids kids love airtime there’s you know evidence for that now we you know we cut down on the maybe the vertical and the lateral forces a little bit but kids will always love every time so we leave that in and it seems to be a formula that’s working for us Marc trains the timber liners of course allow for children as short as 40 inches or one meter to write safely and comfortably and at the same time there parents who you know you could be the dad is six foot four and 270 pounds can also ride safely and comfortably in that same Beach in the same vehicle and and so they can experience it together and I mean especially if it’s a little kids first roller coaster the last thing that little kid wants is to have to ride by themselves yeah we’re in a different row from mom and dad or where you like to have your parents like uncomfortable so they don’t really enjoy the ride so that that’s really the benefit of having the full-sized train like we have that that can fit both adults and children small children and a lot of parks I think have concentrated on their kiddie areas and they’ve concentrated on their major thrill rides but I think it seems like a lot of parts have a have a space in between that isn’t quite filled in it I think our our small family-style coasters filling that void pretty nicely [Music] we’ve tried to use every every every foot or every meter of track as best we can and hey you know and a lot of times that the layout of the coaster the site that’s available to build it on you know sort of predefined certain aspects of the coaster and sometimes that responsible for some of the kind of cool little quirky things that go on in a coaster and that contributes to the pace of the ride as well and and yeah some things happen by accident and it’s our job to recognize that it’s a good accident and use the site listen to the owner observe the park try to see what what’s best for each place I mean like its EDT going through that building was something that was really cool that was a feature on the ride but that I mean through talking with the owner of the park yeah and just going backwards I mean it’s all about listening to the owner and also trying to just come up with a way to make things work I mean we’re not about saying no we’re about saying yes and figuring out how to do it I mean that’s the joy of engineering so yeah we like the challenges yeah we’re I’d rather we’d rather put a coaster in a spot where there’s no no room at all rather than try to put a coaster in the middle of an open parking lot yeah I mean it’s just no offense to those parks though well we have nice open parking lots for us but we like a challenge we’re engineers we’re we’re not a construction company that’s looking for ideal conditions or the best place for the ride we’re looking for the best ride experience and whatever we can do and and park owners they know their parks better than anybody they know where their foot traffic is they know where they need to draw people and so if they say they want to here it’s up to us to make that work yeah and I mean like its st. Paul like you have the myth you know you’re walking down the Midway and you’ve got the Tigers on the one side the 10th and you’ve got some nice airtime Hills right there close to the guest and then you also you cross under the ride into the queuing area as well that gives you a nice visual where you have the ride all around you and you can see what’s going on twister was an amazing experience and it’s it’s an example as an engineer of just saying yes and then figuring out how you would do it afterwards and you know and I when I first think about walking around the site there were certain things about the site that you know like these two columns they help define the area of the station and it was the perfect length for the size train that we were we were talking about and then just looking you know where could I fit a lip fill where could we bit big they wanted a boardwalk area with maybe some food stands and if what would there be a way that we could incorporate things underneath it or you know as you remember there are some columns on the yet line and we wanted to see if we could kind of thread the needle which I mean that was a bigger deal as well the only reason a ride like this is really possible was just the cooperation that we had with the park you know they they knew how complicated the project was and they provided us with all the materials that we needed they had a complete 3d scan of the park of the area so you know I knew exactly where Boston the the bakoma jr. suspended coaster was I knew right where yacht lines columns were and the rock yet ride I knew where everything was and that that that’s what allowed us to really design a ride that could fit in this dead space there there was no guessing we knew you know within just like centimeters of where everything when you’re that close to everything you have to know you really did yeah can’t guess it that kind of stuff [Music] from a design standpoint I like medium-sized twisters there’s more to do out in backs I mean out and backs some incredible out and back rides and but but the curves left and right curves you know adds a little bit more interesting from a design standpoint I’m more of an out and back guy is and no I that’s where you know Park Saint Paul was just an opportunity to just harken back to some of the classic out and backs and and just do something that had the feel of a classic out and back but also had some of the modern twists and turns I mean I think like like Chad saying like I it wouldn’t be our intent our design and out and back that has like high flat turns you know what I’m trying to recreate sorry but you know an out and back and then like some good twists and turns just disorient they got a little bit a good head chopper yeah it has an example of timber that wallaby run outs in France kind of take there’s a little the out and back portion of that ride kind of has a little twist not let me sort of literally a twist yeah you know instead of just two hills like this they Bank and then the next one comes up banks that it’s still airtime but it’s kind of different airtime yeah and and so there’s there’s we’d like to throw in things like that that you know sometimes the park will ask for certain features yeah ever and other times we just have some kind of crazy ideas and and it seems interesting to us and we wanted new things that are different I mean we’re not making the same rollercoaster every time like sometimes we have curving drops sometimes we have straight drops sometimes we do out and back sometimes we do twisters where it’s kind of like if you’re a rock band and you’re playing the same song every night it gets old after a while right so when we’re designing rides we want to design something that’s unique I mean it’s more exciting for us it’s more interesting and it also I think we want to give each Park a treasure you know and when you’re when you want to give them something that’s special that no other Park has that that comes from just making something different not following this like formula of like it’s gonna be this tall and have this style drop and then you know have this this money twist or this much airtime I mean if we go through the rides you look at timber wallaby run alts it’s a completely different ride experience than Park st. Paul me my kids they both wrote it both of those rides this summer and my daughter who’s 13 she got off of it and she’s like wow dad I mean timber is so different and would Express and it’s like yeah and she’s like I like both of them we always create a package of drawings depending on the size of the ride you know a couple hundred three hundred four hundred drawings to convey all of our design engineering information to the people that are building the ride we’re very involved we don’t just hand over the drawings and say good luck you know we’re very involved we’re on the phone with a project form and every day we’re on site quite often we send people to the site to take survey data and collect data about the ride as it’s being built to make sure that things are going the way they should go and that things are in the right place there isn’t necessarily a distinct transition like oh you know designs over now it’s time to build its you know a lot of times it happens concurrently like at Park st. Paul there wasn’t a big time lag from the time that we might have designed something until the time it was built it was maybe the amount of time that it took for it to be fabricated and sent over by boat which you know a couple weeks so stuff happens fast in our world and we’re good with that the people that have building the rides though they’re highly experienced and so it’s it’s not a very difficult process and they know when to ask questions and they’re good about calling and asking making sure that we’re on the same page or if something’s not so clear in the drawings you know the but we’re always there to explain it into that so yeah it’s definitely a team effort we’re as engineers we’re we’re also very involved in construction when it comes to the fiberglass fronts and the theming on our on our trains we are fortunate enough to have a relationship with a fiberglass artist in Cincinnati he’s extremely talented and we’ve worked with him on most of our really elaborately themed fronts all of them I guess all the really elaborate ones and we usually start with a 3d computer model and that that may come from something we download we you know might download something from the internet to get started then with some people on our team start messing with it and you know and then you know then all this is being run by the park to the you know the park proves this and suggest this and has ideas you know they always have the initial idea what we’re going for whether it’s a locomotive or a dinosaur or whatever our food : or or food : my muscles there yeah you look just like it and my hair that’s all and then we you know then we take it from there and usually have a foam plug cut out of a big block of foam by a CNC foam cutting machine and that gives us our basic shape we give that to this fiberglass artist and he takes it from there he creates the mold he creates the fiberglass piece and then he does the paint job and and he always adds I mean he adds a lot just just from an artistic perspective and usually it turns out more incredible than we imagined it would that he’s an amazing artist and does a really good job for us we’re we’re a small business and so as the owners of the small business like we’re we’re doing whatever it takes to get the job done you know if that means working at two o’clock in the morning we’re working at two o’clock in the morning if it means answering questions with the field because they’re in a different time zone anytime they’re working were available and so for us if that means finding out today that I leave for Shanghai tomorrow then we do it we have to do it but it’s the nice thing about about our work environment in our work situation though is while we do spend a lot of time sitting at the desk we also spend a lot of time not sitting at the desk and if I’m not sitting at the desk I might be climbing around on a coaster taking measurements or or going to a city somewhere in China on a sales trip or you know so a lot of Engineers are confined to their desks and that’s their job from 9:00 to 5:00 and artists live what a way to make a living ya know what what are the stars it’s definitely not like that and as engineers we’re fortunate to be able to do some of these other things there aren’t many wooden roller coaster companies in the world and so therefore there aren’t we don’t have a lot of competitors we just have a handful and I think we all respect what each other is doing and you know we we have we we know all those people and we have a good relationship with them we’re don’t we’re not hanging out on the weekends with each other and you know here at the show we’re not we’re not you know going out for dinner with them but you know we know them we you know if we see them here the expo will stop and talk to them for a little bit and you know we all respect what the others do and that’s the best way to say it I think is you know where we try to be fair you know when it comes to if we’re bidding on the same jobs and as they are you know or we want to be fair we want to always be professional and you know there’s never really hard feelings between the companies I mean Lou’s speaking for us like I can’t speak for them but yeah I think I think we’re all here to do kind of the same thing and we’re all pushing wood coasters and that’s what we really want yeah we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff in store both domestic in the United States and around the world and while we can’t go into the specific details about any given project yeah none of them none of them really but by the time you watch this video I’m sure that you’ll know about you know one of our projects that have probably be landing in a parka nearby soon you

Stephen Childs

One Comment

  1. Amazing answers from both Chad and Korey! It was an incredible opportunity to meet again for another interview. They manage to provide a particularly extensive level of insight, while keeping a down-to-earth and fun approach. Great guys and excellent pros!

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