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"Pair-O-Chute" Tales

Our first story is written by former Riverview employee, Frank Lurz, who worked on the Pair-O-Chutes and the Bobs. Take it away Frank!
"Tales of the Pair-O-Chutes" by Frank Lurz

The Ride

The Pair-O-Chutes was, in my estimation, one of the best attractions in Riverview Park, second only to the Bobs. The ride featured a high steel tower from which park visitors were parachuted approximately 180 feet to the midway below. A maximum of six parachutes could be run at a time, each of which held two persons, hence the "pair" in Pair-O-Chutes. From the tower arms, nearly 200 feet above, guide cables extended to the ground where they were anchored through sets of tall shock absorbers standing some 13 to 16 feet high. Each parachute was attached to four guide cables by roller assemblies that kept it from drifting away from the tower as it floated down. The roller assemblies also served to secure to the chute, through an array of chains and cables, a seat, much like the seat on a child's swing, into which riders were fastened with a broad leather seat belt.

To get into the seat, riders ascended a small, moveable staircase which, mounted on a short set of rails, was rolled from beneath them once they were secured, leaving them suspended several feet off the ground. After the ride man rolled the steps away he then used a long pole to capture a metal fitting at the parachute's center which he thrust upward into a coupling device, suspended above by a long, central hoisting cable that descended from the one of the tower's arms. An "Up" button was then pushed and thrill-seeking riders were slowly hoisted aloft; the parachute forming a collapsed pyramidal shape as it was lifted skyward. On the tower arm above, a large metal plate served as a "stop" against which the coupling device would collide about a minute later.

The ride up was scary for some, a joy for others. Extending in every direction was a vista of the city, which, in those days, most Chicagoans had never seen since there were not many hi-rise buildings from which they could catch such a sight. There was little sound, save for faint noises from the midway below, and the gentle flapping of the parachute in the breeze on days when there was a wind. The ride man below, who soon learned to avoid a stiff neck by not looking up, sat in a fairly uncomfortable chair and waited to hear the familiar "ca-chick," that sounded when the coupling device, colliding with the stop-plate above, released the chute. Until the parachute opened, screaming riders plunged toward the earth in free-fall, sometimes for a considerable distance if a strong wind blowing against the sides of the parachute prevented it from opening immediately. In those days the Pair-O-Chutes was the best place in Illinois to get an serious case of the "butterflies." It was also the place where, in my youthful innocence, I took numerous "golden showers" when women overhead, overcome by terror (or laughter) had "accidents."

Once released, the parachute would plunge earthward, accompanied by the hiss of rollers in the roller assemblies as they spun against the guide cables. When the chute reached the ground the roller assemblies struck the shock absorbers with a loud "CLACK!" followed a second later by a "FA-LUMP!" as the chute, still carrying the momentum of its downward plunge, forcefully inverted. When occupied by heavy people, the seat and its occupants would hit the shock absorbers with such force that the huge springs would be stretched to their full limits, and then recoil with enough force to bounce the seat and its riders violently. The slow, tension-filled ascent to dizzying heights, the sudden, weightless fall, the exciting descent, and the wild bounce at the ride's end made the Pair-O-Chutes a spectacular ride. I would give anything - anything - to take that ride, just once more. Oh! Chicago - Chicago - What have you done?
Frank on the Pair-O-Chutes
Ride Maintenance

Roller Assemblies: Wear and tear made it necessary for certain maintenance procedures to be followed on a regular basis. Principal among these was the replacement of the rollers in the roller assemblies that secured the chute to the guide cables. Eventually, the rollers would begin to wear unevenly, developing flat spots, which caused them no longer to roll along the guide cable, but to lock and simply slide against it. The first sign of the problem became evident when the hissing sound of the spinning rollers changed to an unmistakable "zzzzzzzz" sound as the parachute plummeted downward. Imperceptible at first, the sound steadily grew more noticeable as the problem worsened until the air eventually became filled with the smell of "burnt molasses," caused by the heat of friction, which began to cook what was left of the worn roller. Eventually, a ride man would have to climb one of the shock absorbers and perform a high wire act as he walked on steel cables, over the heads of the patrons below, to dismantle the units, and replace the spent rollers. The process was a simple one that took only a few minutes, but anxious riders who watched this little show frequently articulated their misgivings as they wondered what part of the ride would "break down" next.

The Parachutes: The snapping of the parachutes as they forcefully inverted upon hitting the shock absorbers was quite energetic, and although they were made of tough material (silk, as I recall), the chutes eventually would rip. Usually the tear was initially minor, but with each subsequent drop the problem would worsen, and as it did the chute's fall to earth became a little faster. Changing a chute required a fair amount of time, so if the rip was relatively small, the chute was left in service until the opening became a little larger - and a little larger - and a little larger; until an entire segment of the chute might be torn open. Of course, the growing tear appeared quite dramatic, and people walking on the midway below would frequently stop to watch to see if the chute would suddenly rip apart and end its riders plunging to their doom. Of course, it never happened. Nevertheless, those who had already bought tickets and awaited their turn to ride often became uneasy and would frequently ask the ride men whether the growing rip in the fabric was a cause for concern. As I remember well, there was always a way to render reassurances for their safety that were a good deal less than convincing: "Oh, I don't think so - not yet anyway." To inspire extra confidence, all of us working on the Pair-O-Chutes wore a rabbit's foot that dangled from the button eye of our coverall lapels. In retrospect, I think it was a part of a code among ride men throughout the park that the public was to be terrorized as much as possible - although always in a "sensitive" way . . . naturally!
Close-up of Tower Arm

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