The Bravest Man on the Pier

Joseph O'Brien

© Copyright 2022 by Joseph O'Brien

Photo by Wendy Wei at Pexels.
Photo by Wendy Wei at Pexels.

In the summer of 1961 the weather was beautiful in Seaside Heights, New Jersey and I landed a job running the Ferris wheel on the pier. At night you could see the bridge from the land to the island where Seaside was located. My boss used to come up to the wheel and look at the line of headlights coming across the bridge and say, “That's fresh money.”

The Ferris wheel sat on the portion of the pier still on the sand. Out over the ocean were the Octopus, Roll-O-Plane, and Wild Mouse. The Octopus had a central metal column with eight metal arms radiating out, each with a car holding four people. Dan, the operator who ran it, was about 40. He was five feet, ten inches with a medium build, and black hair just getting flecked with gray. He had been working on the pier for some years and thought he was better than the rest of us because he made a buck and a half per hour while the rest of us made a buck and a quarter.

The Roll-O-Plane was a machine set on a tower equipped with a motor and chain drive on top. There was 20 feet of triangular truss on each side of the tower top with a gondola at each end capable of holding eight people. It went round vertically and could be sent to a horizontal mode around the top of the tower. Regardless of position the gondola never rolled over, everyone inside always rode upright.

The ride was run from a console set on a pedestal. The operator had a rheostat knob to control the ride speed electrically and a brake handle for slow and stop. To keep the brake set, the handle had a triangular bottom that fit into a set of teeth molded in top of the console. At four inches longer than the pedestal the handle hung over the edge.

One weekend night we were going full bore. High school kids packed the pier, along with a sprinkling of families. I was doing well with the unexciting ferris wheel that gave a view of the pier and boardwalk. The Roll-O-Plane was very busy with a line of people waiting. Jim, the operator, stopped it fully loaded on top in order to change people in the bottom gondola. A family was about to get in and the father sat his three or four-year-old boy in the door entrance with his feet dangling outside. Someone getting off the ride walked by the control pedestal and accidentally hit the break handle knocking it out of the teeth. Immediately all of the weight in the upper gondola drove it down leaving the kid sitting with his feet dangling in the doorway 40 feet in the air. The crowd on the pier were all looking up at the kid including a group of high school students on a weekend frolic.

The father went berserk yelling at Jim, who calmly said, “Tell your son to get into the car, and I will bring him down, as he got the people out of the lower gondola.”

The father yelled up to his son, “Get in the car."

Not understanding the danger, the kid looked down and said, “Daddy, I’ll jump into your arms.”

One high school clown started a chant--“Jump kid jump, jump kid jump,”--which was picked up by at least half of the others. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, it was surreal. Along with that chant and with other people yelling and hollering instructions to Jim and the kid the sound was getting to a volume that hurt my eardrums.

While I wondered what could be done Dan had stopped the Octopus and ran over to the Roll-O-Plane. He pulled the door open on the lower gondola put his foot on the jam and pushed himself up over the roof, then grabbed the truss going up to the tower.

The ride was brightly lit with fluorescent lights on all of the bars forming the triangular truss, the horizontal bars held electrical nodes of wiring which were bare. If Dan touched one of the nodes a 115 volt shock would hit him, throwing him to the pier. The crowd finally quieted as we all watched Dan climb. I was trying to help him with intense concentration and hopeful prayers.

Somehow Dan pulled himself up using his hands and feet on the horizontal bars avoiding the wiring and nodes. He climbed to the tower top and over the chain and gear mechanism to the other truss. He continued up the second truss, missing everything electrical and in less than a minute was underneath the gondola.

He reached around the car and pushed the kid inside. Then he reached up and grabbed the sides of the open doorway and athletically pulled himself in. Dan closed the door and waved a hand to signal Jim. Everyone on the pier started breathing again.

Jim closed the lower gondola door and brought them down, the father retrieved his son. He asked Jim what had happened. When he was told someone had knocked the break off the father wanted to find them and punch them out but with the excitement over everyone had drifted off.

I went back to my Ferris Wheel and let people off who had been going round and round the whole time. They had enough of the ride and were glad to get off but they had had a ringside seat to the excitement and the rescue.

The next day a metal lever was positioned to stop the break handle from moving when the operator was not at the console.

Dan was a hero to we operators but he never received any other recognition. I don’t think Dan cared, he had acted when the rest of us were standing around with our teeth in our mouths, in his mind he had proved he was better than the rest of us. He may have been right.

 Joe O’Brien is a first time fiction author. He has published numerous technical articles, technical manuals and proposals and has received the Prize Paper of the Year award from the Society of Logistics Engineers. Early in life he spent four years in the Navy three of them on Submarines. After Joe went to college and worked as a Ferris wheel operator, bartender, gas station attendant, etc. He has an AA degree as an electronic technician, BS in Industrial Technology and MS in Management. He was a field engineer working on electronics equipment for two major companies in many places including Viet Nam, Iran and Israel, then worked thirty years as a logistice engineer and manager. Joe has been around, seen much and learned much. A lot of his real world experience and the experiences of others as told to him are in his writings.

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