From Bond to Barry: CREATING Uncle Frankenstein's Scream Machine (PAGE 2 of 2)
by John Wardley
: March 2013
The cars went through a pair of double doors which formed a light lock, and took a sharp right-hand bend. Sinister laughter could be heard in the pitch darkness. A glowing skull appeared ahead and rapidly moved towards the car whizzing close over the heads of the riders, and screaming as it went. This effect (which can also still be seen in Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s fabulous Ghost Train) was achieved by suspending a long run of heavy duty overhead sliding door track from the ceiling, pivoted about a centre point, and tipped first in one direction then the other by a pneumatic cylinder. The UV painted skull was attached to a runner in the track, and, as the car approached, the track tipped downwards towards the approaching car, and after the skull had passed over the heads of the riders the track would tip in the other direction and return back to its starting point. The skull was within reach of the riders, but anyone with malicious intent would discover the whole thing was built like a chieftain tank and if they tried to grab it or punch it, their knuckles would be grazed or their shoulders ripped out of their sockets. The local yobs soon began to realise, you don’t mess with the Scream Machine!

The next effect was a skeleton prisoner chained to a brick wall, who writhed and yelled as you passed. This had to be protected by a Lexan carbonate sheet, which was always kept polished and the effect was lit in such a way that the Lexan sheet was not visible. Again, if you leaned out of the car to grab it, you got a very nasty shock (and a bruised forehead!).

After this were a series of dark bends where you then encountered a giant (4m tall) monster brandishing a massive club. He brought this club violently down supposedly on your head as you passed. This figure used the same fibreglass body moulds as Uncle Frankenstein, but with a different head.

The next effect was to my mind the best of the whole ride, and something which was completely baffling and disorientating. Many other park operators who rode the Scream Machine would ask us how we did it, but (with one exception) we never revealed the secret. (That one exception was my dear friend, the late Geoffrey Thompson, whose kindness and generosity to me meant I couldn’t deny him the secret). This is what seemed to happen … A skeleton appeared to leap out in front of the car and jump up and down. You swerved to narrowly miss it and were confronted by a second skeleton. You swerved to miss this and there was a third! But this time you didn’t swerve out of the way …. You hit it, and it blasted apart, with its arms and legs flying in all directions. The effect was amazing and something that people still talk to me about. How was it done? Simple…

You have probably seen that when things are illuminated by strobe lights, they appear to move even if they are static. As long as you (the observer) are moving, the object being lit by the strobe takes on a life of its own. I discovered that if you put a piece of special black glass (known in the trade as 'Wood’s glass') in front of a strobe light, it removes all the visible light and turns it into a UV black light strobe. The skeletons were low-relief fibreglass panels fixed to the wall. The mould which produced the three sets of panels had three sets of arms and legs, so that different poses could be produced by painting different limbs in fluorescent paint and leaving others painted black. Two of the panels were fixed to the walls that the cars narrowly dodged, but the third was irregularly cut along a zig-zag line down the middle and fixed to a pair of doors which the cars hit and burst through. But the real secret of the apparent animation was the use of the black light strobes, which gave about three or four flashes of intense UV light to each skeleton as you approached it. The effect was simple, vandal-proof, but very effective. And people were convinced the skeletons actually moved!

The doors on which the last skeleton was located were the first pair of the light lock leading out into the first exterior loop of track, so it was necessary to do something fairly diabolical to the riders to make them react as they emerged into view of the spectators … nothing sophisticated here … just a blast of water spray and compressed air from a spray nozzle at the side of the track at face height. It was guaranteed to make even the toughest visitor react in just the way we wanted. Everyone emerged with their hands in front of their faces looking very surprised or laughing helplessly. And then as soon as they had come out they were spun straight back in again for the second section of the ride.

The effect they then encountered was none other than Uncle Frankenstein who popped his head up from behind a low wall in front of the track. Then round a couple more bends a massive hairy caveman tried to roll a large rock over onto the track from an elevated ledge. Just before the second exterior loop, the reaction we needed this time was caused by a stack of four wooden crates, piled precariously on top of each other, which wobbled and toppled over in front of the car. This was obviously going to be a potential safety hazard, and the park’s resident engineer Len Marsh built a very solid steel articulated framework within, and heavy safety chains to restrain the boxes should they really fall in the event of the mechanism failing. During the ride’s life, this (and the other effects) operated over one million cycles, with never a problem.

And then it was back out into the daylight, and straight back in again for the final section of the ride.

The riders were assaulted by some loud noises, and then a hanging man dropped down from above in front of the car. The penultimate effect is one that I have racked my brains to remember. There was definitely something in this corner, but I’m blowed if I can remember what!

Then the final effect … Again we needed something that was guaranteed to produce an emotive reaction on the emerging riders. The car appeared to pass through a series of archways supported by pillars continuing on into the distance. Halfway along this colonnade the car appeared to derail, swerve first slightly to the left, then to the right, and crash into one of the columns and then through the brick wall behind. This was accompanied by strobe flashes and suitable very loud sound effects. In the ensuing apparent chaos a second brick wall was hit, and the car immediately burst into the daylight and the safety of the exit.

Uncle Frankenstein’s Scream Machine was a huge hit. It operated at full capacity from 10 in the morning till 10 at night all over the Easter holiday period, with long queues forming outside, and continued to thrill visitors to Barry Island Pleasure park for many years to come.

Click on the newspaper article to find out how the Scream Machine was kept looking like new when John moved on...

I had intended to stay down in Barry to keep an eye on the ride for another week after Easter, but much more was to follow...the Whacky Goldmine, the Log Flume, Madame Tussauds, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers, Nemesis, Oblivion … but that’s another story.

But it was Uncle Frankenstein’s Scream Machine that really started it all!

14th February 2013

Many thanks to John Wardley for writing this article for themagiceye.

Right: The short home movie footage from 1977 shows the Scream Machine in the background, with cogs moving!

Uncle Frankenstein's Scream Machine in July 1975. Photo: Heather Spierling (pictured)

View towards the Scream Machine in May 1975, with park owner Pat Collins and his son in the foreground. Photo: Heather Spierling

A view of the ride from 1977. Photo: Heather Spierling

A summer 1978 view of the park looking towards the Scream Machine. Photo: Heather Spierling

January 1979 and snow covered Barry Island Pleasure Park. Photo: Heather Spierling


About John Wardley

John Wardley is a consultant who specialises in concept design and development for the Theme Park and other mass tourism and leisure industries.

He was instrumental in the master planning and detailed design of Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey, the considerable success of which led to its owners, the Tussauds Group, subsequently acquiring Alton Towers in Staffordshire. He was then involved in the Group's major development program at this attraction which included concept work on the Runaway Train, Haunted House, and the world-renowned Nemesis Roller Coaster. As a result, Alton Towers became acknowledged as Britain's number one theme park. He has subsequently created award-winning rides and attractions for theme parks around the world.

His current projects include rides for Alton Towers, Heide Park, Gardaland and Thorpe Park, as well as acting as consultant to Merlin Entertainments for the development of their other attractions. His autobiography is available from Joyland Books.

Your Comments
Heather Spierling, who provided many of the fantastic images for this article, adds:

"My first job on the fairground in Barry was to paint the Pick a Winner (1974) - it was a three week job to earn a bit of extra cash. My three weeks work turned into 6 years. Finishing the Pick a Winner, I was taken on full time - a short spell in the childrens park, and a quick apprenticeship on the Vampire Jets before running the machine until the end of the season. I worked on the Tele Combat jets (not a patch on the Vampire Jets), the Gallopers and The Scream Machine, but ended up running the 'People Mover' (A Twist - no platform) for 3 years.  I started on the fairground in 1974 and left in 1979." 

More from Heather:

"Back in 75, the People Mover (twist) was based alongside the Scream Machine. The summer season was almost over, August bank holiday just past and the seasonal summer staff returned to school or college. During the last few weeks of September I had to look after both the twist and the scream machine. Walking back and forth between the two rides running each one in turn.

This also meant that I had to do the basic maintenance on both rides each morning. I knew the twist maintenance by heart so that didn’t take long – greasing the centre, checking the bottle-jacks and checking all the safety bars and pins etc. I then had to prepare the Scream Machine for opening. The main chore was to sweep the metal track that runs the length of the ride. This is to prevent the build up of any dust/matter that may cause a fire. Putting the emergency lights on and armed with a sweeping brush I began my trawl through the ride. What I haven’t mentioned is that I have a real fear of the dark.

Now the end of season is a quiet slow time and you potter around catching up on small jobs you meant to when it was busy, but its also a time when people who’ve got nothing better to do play tricks/jokes on each other.

So here I am head down sweeping the track, first part done – out the door and back in again, sweep away, out the door and back in again sweep away –soon be finished –

and then the lights went out –

and I heard the sound of laughter.

I froze - its pitch black - I haven’t been paying attention and I don’t really know what part of the ride I’m at. I really could not move at that point – think ‘Most Haunted’ and you will get the idea.

I shouted ‘Switch the lights on’ but the response was more laughter. Then it all went quiet – I cannot see anything but I can hear and that was the worse part, as in the silence I heard the first car being pushed onto the ‘live’ part of the track.

So off it went, on its journey around the ride.

Although I am doing my best not to panic, I know I am stood in the centre of the track, somewhere in the ride and a car is coming my way. I hear the car crashing out through one set of doors and then crashing back into the darkness.

At this point ‘I am the screaming machine’ – I’m shouting /screaming ‘switch the ………….. lights on’.

The car is getting closer. I really am panicking now - I manage to press myself up against the wall hoping to be out of the way of the oncoming car. I hear the car crashing through the last set of doors and then………

The lights come on – I can hear more hysterical laughter – then the car comes around the corner. Breathing a huge sign of relief I follow the car back out into the day light.

The culprits have done a runner and to this day I still don’t know who did it.

But I did learn one valuable lesson – always take a torch with you if you are walking around the Scream Machine."

Do you have something to say about this article or perhaps some additional information? Please email us! (Please note that any comments or information sent may be edited prior to posting here).

More on Barry Island Pleasure Park
Creating my own Nemesis: the autobiography of the man who designed Alton Towers' big rides, and brought the theme park to Britain
The Beast of Barry: The Legendary Scenic Railway at Barry Island
World's Apart in Wales: Making Sense of the Phrase 'Chalk and Cheese'
More Welsh Wonders
Golden Oldies: The Haunted Mine at Barry Island Pleasure Park
Gallopers at the Amusement Park: Barry Island Pleasure Park
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