Riding the Sky Wheel. Or Not.

sky_wheelsThe first time I saw the Sky Wheel, I almost wrecked my car.

It happened a couple of weeks ago when I was taking the back roads from the Putnam County Election Commission to Walmart. I drove right past the fairgrounds while workers were assembling the 80-foot tall double Ferris wheel. Wowie zowie, I thought. Who would be crazy enough to ride that thing?

But the next thought that popped into my head was “Why not me?” A spin on the Sky Wheel would almost certainly make for a fabulous column.

Yeah, but. I’m not a big fan of carnival rides. For one thing, I’m terrified of heights. The thought of getting on even a traditional Ferris wheel is enough to make me reach for the smelling salts, especially when I picture myself stopping and swaying way up at the top while other riders load and unload. I’m also prone to motion sickness. Many years ago, I rode the Viking Ship at a carnival—an error in judgment I still can’t explain—and tossed my cookies in such dramatic fashion that it astounds me to this day.  Then factor in the unsavoriness of some of the carnies who work at the fair and there’s every reason in the world to head straight for the livestock exhibits and skip the midway entirely.

Unless you have to come up with 52 column ideas every year, as I do. We haven’t had a double Ferris wheel at the Putnam County fair since the 1980s.  There are only five travelling Sky Wheels in existence in the whole wide world. It seemed a shame not to seize the chance to experience one right in my own back yard and then write about it.

Once the fair opened, I drove past the Sky Wheel on my way home from work every day. Before I decided whether to ride it, I wanted to see it in action. But, alas, it was never going while I watched, probably because it was still daylight. Such a ride is best enjoyed after dark. So I began asking my fellow election workers whether they’d ever ridden this or any other double Ferris wheel.

“Back thirty years ago, when I was a lot younger and crazier, I rode the Sky Wheel at the Putnam County Fair,” Ronnie Mayberry told me. “But I’ll never have the nerve to do it again.”

That was the consensus among pretty much everyone in the office, including the twenty-somethings you’d think were still brave or foolish enough to try it. “I’ll ride the highest, fastest roller coaster in the world,” one of them told me, “but you can’t get me on a regular Ferris wheel. Let alone a double one.”

I couldn’t find one person willing to ride the Sky Wheel so I could write about the experience. My only recourse was to search YouTube, which—not surprisingly—has plenty of clips of double Ferris wheels in action. What I discovered was mind-blowing. The upper and lower wheels don’t rotate simultaneously and then gently change places, as I had imagined. Nope. The little Ferris wheels spin constantly. The big wheel that joins them together spins constantly. A double whammy, interrupted only by the ride stopping and swaying eight stories up while riders load and unload. Could anything be more terrifying or barf-inducing than that?

So it turns out I didn’t get a fabulous column about the Sky Wheel after all. Unless, of course, any of my fearless readers rode it and are willing to share their stories with me. If you qualify, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t come up empty.

(July 7, 2016)