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 November 2005 People

Photo Courtesy of IAAPA

Billions of Happy Screams

by Richard Wilhelm

Three billion.

It’s a rough estimate, but T. Harold Hudson says that three billion is somewhere near the number of times people step into and out of amusement park rides in the United States each year. Hudson ought to know — for the last 26 years it has been his job to make sure those rides are as safe and fun as possible.

Hudson, one of the first members of ASTM International Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices and the current president and CEO of a consulting firm called AAPRA Associates, LLC (All About Parks, Rides and Attractions), did not begin his career in the amusement industry. After serving as a radar technician in the U.S. Air Force, Hudson first worked for Hickok Incorporated, an electronics company headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. He worked in their Mississippi production facility from 1961 to 1967, at which time he transferred to headquarters in Cleveland and soon advanced to chief engineer of the company.

Hudson switched gears professionally in 1978 when he took an engineering position at a Six Flags amusement park near St. Louis, Mo. This began Hudson’s 21-year association with Six Flags Theme Parks, from which he retired as senior vice president of engineering and design in 1999.

Hudson’s time at Six Flags coincided with an important era in the amusement park industry. New standards being developed by Committee F24 met the need for a greater emphasis on safety within the industry, while a series of technological advances paved the way for an exciting new wave of amusement rides.

Hudson cites the inverted roller coaster invented by notable Swiss ride designers Bolliger and Mabillard as being one of the most innovative rides of all time. Hudson says that Six Flags worked closely with Bolliger and Mabillard in the development of the first inverted coaster, Batman the Ride, which made its debut at the Six Flags Great America Park in Gurnee, Ill., in 1992.

These days, some signs seem to point to a decline in the amusement park industry. Opryland USA, a music-themed park in Nashville, Tenn., was sold and turned into an upscale shopping mall in 1997; a similar fate may await Astroworld, a recently sold park near the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. However, Hudson remains optimistic.

“Amusement parks create a seamless fantasy land and take people away from their everyday existence,” says Hudson, who feels that interactive rides will play a large role in the future of the industry. “Rides where you control your own destiny, so to speak, will become more popular,” says Hudson. Although he feels that participatory rides and “rides that tell stories” will gain prominence, Hudson doesn’t see the roller coaster going away anytime soon. “Roller coasters will be with us for a long time. They’re fun and exciting and they get your adrenaline going.”

Hudson currently lives with his wife Betty Lynn in Southlake, Texas. He enjoys spending time with his three children and four grandchildren when he’s not traveling on AAPRA business. Hudson says that, when they were growing up, his kids enjoyed the perks of their dad’s job and even helped out when they could: his son, Hal, rode the Colossus roller coaster at Magic Mountain 36 times straight during its testing phase.

As one of the first members of Committee F24, Hudson has worked on every standard the committee has developed. Most recently, he has been involved in the task group that maintains ASTM standard F 2291, Practice for Design of Amusement Rides and Devices. The committee honored Hudson’s commitment to the amusement industry in 2004, when it presented him with the Jimmy Floyd Award.

Hudson believes that Committee F24 is an integral part of a quartet of organizations (the other three being the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the Amusement Industry Manufacturers and Suppliers International and the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials) that have served the public well by working toward the continual safety of amusement parks.

“Committee F24 is so important to the amusement park industry,” says Hudson. “The industry made the decision back in 1978 to start creating standards through the F24 committee, and we’re proud of the work we’ve done through ASTM. We’re happy we embarked on this process back in 1978 and expect to refine and expand the F24 standards well into the future.”

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