Barges and Canyons: Part 10 of our look at River Rapids attractions

Barges and Canyons: Part 10 of our look at River Rapids attractions

In 1987, Barr Engineering was called upon to design their first River Rapids attraction, the Thunder River at Valleyfair! (Shikopee, MN).  It features smaller 6 passenger rafts and a beautiful course in the back of the park.  The ride’s main focus is on waterfalls and the ride formerly secluded location is now joined by Renegade, one of the park’s wooden roller coaster.


Negative-G provided us with this picture of one of the ride’s unique boat going through a rapid section.


In this other picture from Negative-G, we see the boat going under the overhead waterfall.  As you can see, the floatation collar is quite small and the boat rides quite close to the water.

In 1995, Barr Engineering refined their boat design and installed the next Thunder Canyon, this time at Dorney Park (Allentown, PA).  What make this installation particular is that it was installed between Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom, making it an attraction that was eventually shared with both parks when admission was merged.  The course is very wet for passengers as after the lift, the focus is simple: waterfalls!  At least 8 waterfall features punctuate the course and guests aboard the small 6 passenger vessels will end up soaked.  It is not a bad deal as guests are encouraged to wear their bathing suit on the ride.

Barr Engineering Thunder Canyon Dorney Park (7)

Just like at Valleyfair!, loading is done in a straight station where a few boats are stopped.  You can see here the boat design.  Notice the headrests as those are the original design.

Barr Engineering Thunder Canyon Dorney Park (6)

A raft going under one of the many waterfall.

Barr Engineering Thunder Canyon Dorney Park (8)

The ride features amazing rockwork and as you can see, a lot of water falls off this rock.

Barr Engineering Thunder Canyon Dorney Park (3)

Another rock with more waterfalls.

Barr Engineering Thunder Canyon Dorney Park (2)

The ride’s great logo was integrated in the course.

Barr Engineering Thunder Canyon Dorney Park (4)

The boat approaching the end of the ride.  As you can see, the park has also started to switch out the headrests to the Hopkins design like others we have seen before.

While designing Islands of Adventure, Universal Creative hired Barr Engineering to be their partner on designing Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.  Themed after the famous comic strip, the storyline here is that we are to take a scenic cruise to Paradise Island, but Bluto forces us to use his rickety fleet of Bilge-Rat Barges.  Those barges do appear quite ragged, seemingly built out of loose wood and doesn’t appear very seaworthy.

Bilge Rat Barges (3)

The waiting line building and various buildings around.

Universal Creative plans were quite ambitious, as they wanted the world’s wildest river rapids experience.  Some plans had to be scared back, such as a proposed freefall section after the boat wash, but for the most part: they succeeded.  A large fleet of 12 seat rafts were designed and then sourced by Universal to be used on the attraction.  Due to the very wild rapids and movements, individual seatbelts as well as net gates for the raft openings are in use.   The ride control system is quite advanced as it includes a wireless remote for the ride operator to control the turntable and place the raft properly for unloading.

Bilge Rat Barges 10

The turntable.  The ride boat storage area is behind the brown wall in the background and circles around the turntable.

Bilge Rat Barges (2)

On the right is the regular ride path where rafts leave the loading dock.  On the left is the exit of the maintenance/storage area.

The ride start with a fork in the river as it seems like Bluto is finally sending us to Paradise Island, but right after, he switches the sign over and it looks like we’re going down the treacherous Hurricane River.  The rapids in that section of the river are very aggressive and you could say no one else had ever been that daring with their river rapid before.  In a smart design move, the “Paradise Island” fork seen before has its water dropping down into the river and soak riders; it’s a waterfall like Intamin has done before at Kings Dominion and Great Escape.

Barr Engineering IOA (2)

A raft heading toward the River Fork.

Bilge Rat Barges (7)

A raft going down Hurricane River.

Bilge Rat Barges (5)

Another look at the impressive Hurricane River.

The river finally calms down and we think we are safe… but in a brilliant design move, this slow river section is used to bring non rider interactions and different water effects.  First, we passed by an old steamer that has crashed into the rocks.  A small filet of water escapes from its smoke stack and as we go by, in a toot of its horn it sends a large splash of water toward our raft.  We then go by Popeye’s ship, the Olive and guests on the boat can use water guns to send water at the people riding at the barges.  Watch out as those water guns have a kick to them and they will sometimes shoot crooked and soak the soaker!

Bilge Rat Barges (8)

The raft approaching the wrecker steamer.

Bilge Rat Barges (9)

The raft going by “The Olive”.  Universal still use the covered pouch in the middle of the raft for guests belongings.

Popeye Bluto Bilge Rat Barge Flex

Flex provided us this picture of the water pipe soaking riders before the cannonball assault.

After escaping the onslaught from onlookers, the raft goes by a water pipe that again sends water at the riders.  We then hear cannon fire and right behind the boat, a water air bomb goes off and soak riders.  Bluto has resorted to using its cannon to get rid of us and Popeye. We pass by Bluto’s and duck into a cave, where we see Popeye fighting a giant octopus and trying to get his hands on the can of spinach.

Exiting the cave, we approach the ride’s most unique feature: the boat wash.  The ride lift hill was cleverly dressed up as a boat wash.  An incredible number of brush’s, brooms and water hoses soak riders as they go up and as Pluto laughs at us from his control room above our head.  At the top, we see poor Sweet Pea trying to rescue Popeye from a whirlpool and as for our raft?  This was where the freefall section was to be installed, but the replacement idea is even more impressive:  an incredibly steep, seemingly vertical drop off the lift hill and into a long downhill ramp where the boat picks up incredible speed.  At the bottom, Popeye has finally gotten his hand on the spinach and the next scene sees him grab Bluto, hang him up by his pants to a tree and about to launch him into orbit.  The last show scene seems Bluto hanging by his pants from rocks above the riders and then Popeye, Olive and Sweetpea wave us goodbye.

Barr Engineering IOA (5)

As a bonus to our readers, here is a unique look at the attraction when it has no water inside.  In the section after Hurricane River, to keep boats stable and to provide the intended break in the action, the boats float on those guides in the water.