"The previous year I had worked both Summer and Christmas at Minehead, but I was abroad until late July in 1964 and when I applied for a job there was nothing I fancied, so I tried Bognor and was offered a job as an operator in the Amusement Park (click here to read John's memories of working at Minehead in 1963).
I was quite fortunate in my accommodation at Bognor: some of the other staff were accommodated in old railway carriages, whereas I was not only in a sound and relatively comfortable, if old, purpose-built chalet, I also had it to myself for a while!
My first job was operating a little train for young children. While in principle quite a simple job, in practice it was rendered much more difficult by its users and their parents. The occupants were supposed to leave immediately upon arrival and those waiting in a queue were supposed to board when a train stopped in front of the boarding point. They did not always do this as expeditiously as they should have done, thereby exposing themselves to the risk of another vehicle arriving and colliding with the back of the one they were boarding. If this happened, it would inevitably occasion much excitement on the part of the parents but, because of the way the system operated, once a train had been released, there was nothing the operator could do to stop it except turn off the whole ride.
At Christmas 1964 I went back to Bognor and was again employed in the Amusement Park, but this time I got to operate some of the bigger rides. Before we opened, I was given the job of cleaning the Gallopers (merry-go-round). By far the hardest part of this was trying to get the rust off the spirally-fluted vertical bars. This was done painstakingly with steel wool and water. Operating the Gallopers was, however, a joy, being largely just a matter of waiting for the riders to get on and then gradually turning up the power – not too fast, or the drive gear might jump a tooth.
Next I found myself on the Big Wheel. This involved moving it on one car at a time until all the cars were filled, or there was nobody else waiting. The snag at Christmas time was that there were not always enough people to fill the wheel evenly and it could not be run at speed, if it was not balanced. There were usually two of us operating the ride – one at the controls and one steadying the chairs and opening and closing the bar to let people off and on – and the latter might have to get on himself to balance the wheel. Normally this would have been a pleasure, but in sometimes sub-zero temperatures the pleasure soon wore off. There was, of course, also a little fun to be had. Steadying the chair was done by placing a foot on it and pressing down, which tilted the chair forward slightly. Taking the foot off suddenly would produce an unexpected oscillation, which could induce a satisfying scream from most young female occupants. One less pleasant duty for the operators, however, was maintaining the central bearing. Every morning someone had to climb up each of the pillars and operate the greaser. No doubt there are all sorts of rules nowadays about doing this safely. They probably even wear a safety harness. We were just told to watch our step and not let go!
The Wild Mouse rollercoaster was generally considered to be our pièce de résistance. It seemed dangerous, but was perfectly safe for the occupants if they stayed seated. The same could not always be said for the operators. The cars are drawn up to the highest point by a moving chain; they then proceed the rest of the way by the force of gravity. Now for safety's sake the ride is equipped with brake pads at all the highest points. These are operated by compressed air from controls on the operator's console and in normal weather function perfectly well. When the temperature drops to near or below freezing, however, the pads seem to swell with the result that the cars tend to stick, leaving the occupants stationary many feet above the ground. The only way the car can be made to move is to send up another one containing an operator and a pot of thick oil. The operator first has to reach forward and push off the car that is stuck. He then has to get out of the car on to the track, dip an old paintbrush in the oil, paint it liberally on the brake pads and climb back into the car, before pushing it off and riding on to the next point where the preceding car has inevitably also got stuck. This may have to be done several times on a really cold morning.
While there is fun to be had operating these rides, by far the best is to be found on the Dodgems. While one of you stays by the power switch, the other has a roaming commission, making sure people are correctly seated and know how to operate the car, and that the car itself is in a position where it is clear to move. Once the power is turned on, you can have the fun of riding around on the back of the cars, leaping from one to the other as you make your way to sort out the ones that have got themselves stuck where they can't move."