by Gary Radice
: Added October 2003
The Ian Beech Interview
themagiceye: What exactly was your involvement with The Virginia Reel?
Ian Beech:  My job was that of an electrician but, since Green Star Rides (GSR) had a small team, I also operated rides when the need arose.
The Reel's electrical work during the season mainly involved the maintenance of the two DC drive motors for the chain lift and their face plate starters. The motors were housed below the top of the pull-up in a small room reached via a steep wobbly staircase. Only one motor was used at a time (the other being in stand by). The motor was driven by flat belts, two sets of reduction spur gear and the top chain wheel. The face plate starters (again two for redundancy) were sited in a small room on the operator side of the platform next to the bottom of the pull-up.
Other jobs included the replacement of lamps from the decorative lighting - these often failed due to the vibration as a car traversed the track. In the winter all the deck lighting was removed and stored under the ride or within the boarded up Whip. A lot of time was taken up with the cleaning up and re-lamping of these lights.
Who are/were Green Star and how long did you work for them?
GSR were, as far as I can recall, part of the Border TV family of companies. They were concessionaires on the Pleasure Beach, running their own machines: The Enterprise, The Grand Prix (not the Grand Prix as is today in 2003 - rather a circular undulating ride with carriages - see box below) and The Tidal Wave, along with Blackpool Pleasure Beach's (BPB) Whip and Reel.
I worked for BPB for a few years, being a member of the first team to operate The Revolution, including the "Scouts eating cake day" - I was in the control box during the filming!
I joined GSR in 1979 and stayed to mid winter of 82/83
The Grand Prix (pictured, right) was situated next to the Tidal Wave and consisted of a group of cars linked together in a train being powered by drive motors positioned between the rails with two small tyres driving a blade mounted under each car.
The cars also had a motor under each which, via a screw jack drive, tilted the cars inwards as they gained speed.
The ride was delivered new in its most minimal form and GSR staff added crash barriers and a tunnel with flashing green "go" lights and fixed red "stop" lights. It was also the intention to fit a video projector to the tunnel and add in-car race pictures. This did not stay in position long as during daylight the light level was too high to allow the image to be seen. 

Did you operate any other rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach?
During my time with BPB I operated The Monster, The Revolution, Roller Coaster, Big Dipper, Grand National, Turtle Chase (some skill required), Cable Way (a lot of walking required), Swamp Buggies, Ghost Train, Space Tower, Steeple Chase, Monorail plus all five of GSR's machines as mentioned before.
On the whole, are your memories of operating The Virginia Reel happy ones?
Yes, we had a good crew who all worked hard but also had some good laughs. Like the time we found a dead rat at the rear of the ride and set it up with a cigarette in its mouth in the tool cupboard just at eye level. We all had a great laugh as our most nervous member opened the door and leapt three feet in the air! We didn't see him for an hour!
Hours were long - starting with walking the track at  9am and not locking up on illumination weekends until around midnight. We worked 6 days a week and never had a weekend day off during the season.
Despite this, my memories of those days were generally positive.

Do you think that The Reel would be a popular ride today if it was still operational?

Yes I do!
By the end it had become a rough ride which just added to the excitement. Arrow show a modern version of the ride on their website, although they show a train of cars rather than individual units - this minimizes the number of block sections required whilst maximizing throughput.
Arrow normally know a good ride when they see one.
Did the ride require much maintenance?
During the season the track was walked first thing in the morning. We looked for any damage and for loose bolts which either held down the plate track to the timber or attached the top rail to the frames (performing the same job as the up-stop rail on a coaster.)
We sometimes had to grind off these bolts if they would not tighten. It was probably a spark from this operation which started timbers smouldering causing the fire...
During winter the cars were stripped down and bearings, etc, replaced or repacked with grease. Any problems seen during the summer with the floor (on which the track was laid) or the supports for this floor were replaced or repaired. The ride had its own joiner who had a workshop complete with circular saw, etc, at the rear right hand corner of the ride alongside the first left hand bend in the tunnel.
I can't remember his name but he retired around 1980 and looked as old as the ride that last day.

General view of the Reel. Photograph: Ian Beech

The lift hill. Photograph: Ian Beech

The Grand Prix. Photograph: www.fairart.co.uk/www.fairground-heritage.org.uk

Looking down the lift hill. Photograph: Ian Beech.

View across the Reel towards the Auto Skooters (Dodgems). Photograph: Ian Beech.


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