by Gary Radice
: Added October 2003
You mentioned a fire?
Just prior to the decision being made to demolish the ride, we had a fire which occurred over night, possibly due to a spark from a grinder used the previous afternoon.
This resulted in the destruction of two of the bends on the left side of the ride, when viewed from the front, about half way down the structure.
Approximately half of Green Star workforce of around 12 people, including myself, rebuilt these two corners within the space of 3 or 4 days.
Do you think that holding on to the bar behind you (as you had to do back then) would be deemed OK by Health and Safety standards today?
I suspect today you would have seat belts, lap bars and shoulder restraints. Having said this even at the end if you kept an eye on your position on the track it was no problem to ride from beginning to end without holding the rail at all. Not as easy with your eyes shut, but possible. I much prefer to ride in an older roller coaster car than its modern equivalent, as most safety restraints are only there to prevent people standing up or doing other things they should not. The Wild Mouse is a good example or this.
What happened to the cars, track, scenery, etc, after its demolition?
The larger items such as motors, gear wheels, chain, steel plate work and cars, etc, were weighed in at a local scrapyard. The timber was cut up and burned on sight.
I am unfortunately not aware of any piece that remains although I have a feeling that some of the car bodies, which were heavy steel fabrications ( these replaced the original wood and steel bodies prior to 1979), went to the Pleasure Beach as planters.
They could still be around the park today or in storage under the mountains at the south end of the property.

Was The Reel a popular ride during your association with it?

We were kept busy most of the time although this may have just been good management.
However on most high season Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays we would be faced with a full platform and people lining up to pay from the front of the Noah's Ark from around 12 noon to 8pm.

When was the decision made to demolish The Reel and why?

I can only guess at this since it was not a decision I was party to. We had a company trip to Hamburg to look at the Ranger as a possible replacement during October 1982 (after the ride's demolition had started).
I suspect that the Winter 81/82 survey of the structure was not good and a lot of work was put in prior to the ride opening at Easter 82 to have it fit to operate.
I think towards the end of the year the costings to keep it going any longer had been assessed and did not stack up.

Do you have any stories, funny or otherwise that you could share with themagiceye?

Two stories spring to mind.
Firstly during the first runs of the ride after the winter closure the cars would not make it around the track without a lot of pushing. Being full of bodies, the difficult bit was pushing the car onto the pull-up chain and then jumping on board a circular car without a door which would start to spin as soon as your weight landed on it.
I lost my footing doing this one day and ended up sitting on the outside overhand. Rocking to the lowest point I managed to drop off between the track and the chain just before the car crested the top of the lift hill. I never lived that one down with the boys.

Secondly: Once the last customer of the night had been cleared and the chain had been stopped we turned out all the lights and walked out of the ride in darkness.

Our normal route was over the track to the platform and out of the normal exit turnstile. This particular night I was in front of the group only to fall flat on my face over the top of a young lady who having been taken short was squatting in the dark.
I don't know who was most surprised but if either of us had any doubts about the condition of our hearts our questions were answered that night!
You and your team must have had your work cut out in maintaining The Reel towards the end?
No, not really.
A lot of work went in prior to the start of the 1982 season and other than day to day jobs there was no great change to normal.
Having heard Nick Thompson fondly reminisce about The Reel in the 1998 video: 'The Blackpool Pleasure Beach Experience', themagiceye contacted the Pleasure Beach in late 2001 asking if The Reel would ever make a return...
Credit to Mr Ian Hobart for very kindly replying but as he said at the time: "Unfortunately the answer  is no".
Did anyone famous ever ride The Reel during your time at Blackpool?
I am not aware of anyone famous riding The Reel although there must have been during its long history.
Ian, were you able to gauge whether or not the Blackpool Pleasure Beach management liked The Reel?
As far as I am aware it was like any other machine: liked when it was earning and despised when out of service.
I do know that the GSR's manager, Alf, had reason to have bad feelings towards The Reel after one of the cars hit him in the tunnel during early season running!
Although hurt he did not receive any major injury and was soon up and about.

I can assure you that if The Reel had not have been demolished it would have fallen down. It was still safe but very tired by the end.

Many thanks to Ian Beech for his interview and photographs that made this article possible.


High speed section of track. Photograph: Ian Beech

Reel cars on the storage track. Photograph: Ian Beech

The Virginia Reel station. Photograph: Ian Beech

Fantastic photograph showing the tight curves of he Virginia Reel, with the Fun House behind. The ride was looking tired when this photograph was taken in 1982. Photograph: Ian Beech.

Demolition of the ride commences at the top of the lift hill. Visit the Virginia Reel Photo Gallery to see the ride being demolished. Photograph: Ian Beech.

This atmospheric photographs shows the remaining wooden supports of the Virginia Reel after the top layer of track was removed. Behind can be seen the Water Chute, relatively new when this photograph was taken, but now itself long gone. Photograph: Ian Beech

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More on Blackpool's Virginia Reel
The Virginia Reel Gallery: Photo Gallery
Reeltime Memories
'Coney Island' Volume 2: DVD features Coney Island's Virginia Reel
'Whitley Bay' by Eric Hollerton: book includes a photograph of the Spanish City's Virginia Reel
'Blackpool Pleasure Beach: A Hundred Years of Fun': Book by Peter Bennett features the Reel
About Ian Beech
Ian Beech is employed by Lancaster and Morecambe College as the Programme Area Manager for Engineering and is a Course Tutor/Lecturer of Electrical Installations. He is married to Elaine to whom he has one son and who lives and works as a classical musician in Stranda, Norway.
Ian worked at Blackpool Pleasure Beach between 1978 - 1983. In June 2003, Ian agreed to an interview with themagiceye and provided great photographs to accompany his memories. The interview and photographs go some way to help paint a fascinating picture of the last days and times of The Virginia Reel all those years ago!


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