E-One Factory: Helping Heroes with the Right Stuff

Every kid wants to be a hero. One of the best things about being a hero is all the really cool gadgets a hero gets to use, the technology that is a part of their everyday existence. The E-One Factory makes vehicles for heroes. They engineer and build the complete vehicle - chassis, cab, body, tank and aerial devices. Every machine is built to precisely engineered specifications because there is no margin for error when heroes are at work.

The E-one Factory, right off Exit 350 of I-75 in Ocala, builds fire trucks and rescue vehicles. Ninety minute tours of the 42,000 square foot factory are given at 9 and 11 am on Tues and Thurs. Closed toed shoes are required for safety and comfortable clothing is recommended.

Founded in 1974, E-One turns out about ten new vehicles per week. They build everything from the most basic hook and ladder to the most sophisticated, specially equipped rescue unit, complete with exterior access to medical equipment, all suitable for use under the most adverse conditions. Their product line includes custom and commercial pumpers and tankers, aerial ladders and platforms, rescues vehicles of all sorts and sizes, quick attack units, industrial trucks, and aircraft rescue firefighting vehicles to meet the needs of fire departments, rescue/EMS squads, airports and Homeland Security agencies. They supply government, private and volunteer agencies across the country, including Hillsborough County, Florida.

Sheila Williams greets guests in the reception area, where disclaimers, protective wraparound goggles and earpieces are distributed. After hopping on the golf cart, Ben Davis drives past the trucks in front of the administrative building. One of the units is the Hybrid Energy Command Center, combining electric and diesel for power, built for Homeland Security, the FBI and other protective agencies. It was used by the Superbowl security team and ran 24 hours a day for eight days, but used only 38 gallons of fuel

What makes E-One vehicles unique is that they are made of extruded aluminum, which is much stronger than aluminum sheets which have been pounded into shape. Extrusion is a molding process. The molten aluminum is poured into specially made casts. After it solidifies, the molds are removed. The pieces are slotted together and all seams are welded for strength. E-One vehicles are so strong that they have files of accident reports, vehicles which have rolled down cliffs or off bridges into ravines or creeks, where the occupants are unhurt and sometimes, the vehicle can still be driven.

Imagine working in a mirror, but the reflected view is also upside down. That is how E-One vehicles are made. The interior chassis framework is built, then the electrical and plumbing is installed. As much as possible, the electrical/computer systems are modular based, neat snap together units, very sophisticated in their purpose, very simple in their execution. After the infrastructure is laid in, the exterior shell is attached. The chassis is sanded and painted. Vehicles can be ordered in any color determined by the municipality; there are over 350 shades of red alone. A total of one coat of primer, three coats of paint and two coats of clearcoat are applied.

The stairs and flat surfaces are prefinished with texturing. Swirls are pressed into the flat vertical surfaces to provide a slight amount of traction and reduce reflective glare. The swirls also hide minor scratches, keeping the vehicle looking good longer. The swirl press is the only fully automated machine in the factory. Horizontal surfaces may have multiple holes punched in them, looking like ground that a golf shoe has walked over, to induce skid resistance and help water [from rain or the pumps] flow away from the truck. This trademarked design is called “Gator Grip.” The hole puncher is a die, with the actual holes punched by a person. Interiors may be further finished with a faux concrete or faux granite look, strictly to be eye-pleasing in looks and comfort.

Tanks are made of polyurethane, which is weather, rot and mold resistant and light weight. These may hold water, but more often are used for chemical mixing to make the foam which smothers oil, car or chemical fires. Oil and chemical fires can spread if water is thrown on them.

After the vehicles are fully assembled, they are ‘third party tested.’ Independent inspectors test that the vehicles do what they are supposed to do. They test the pump rate (depending on the vehicle, 1280 to 2000 gallons per minute pumped), the balance of partly and fully extended ladders, the rotation ability of the ladders and cherry pickers, flexibility of the artifical arms. The balance of a hook and ladder is very precise because a fully extended ladder may extend 75 ft away from the truck and has to be counterbalanced by the truck chassis and front to prevent tipping.

After the working parts and mechanicals are tested, the vehicle is inspected again to make sure nothing got missed in the ‘trim-out.’ This also entails putting the truck through a high-pressure car wash, to make sure it is fully water-proof. If there is even an infinitesimal leak or seam open, it could short the electrical or computer systems, rendering the vehicle fully or partly inoperable.

At the end of the tour, we were allowed to sit in cabs, press buttons, blow sirens, make lights flash, climb through the various parts of the vehicle and have a blast.

E-One is a delight for children of all ages. Take I-75 North to Exit 350 (Hwy. 200 / College Rd.). Turn left on Hwy 200 and then right onto S.W. 38th Court. Proceed to the stop sign and turn right onto S.W. 38th Avenue. This road runs parallel to I-75, follow it to the light and turn right onto 20th Street. Go under I-75 and turn left on S.W. 37th Avenue. The phone number is (352) 861-3524. They can be reached on the web at http://www.e one.com/index.asp. Cost of the tour is $8 for adults, children ages 6 to 12 and senior citizens (over 55) are $6. Firefighters are admitted free. Children under six are not allowed as a safety precaution.

Florida State Championship 2008 Road Race: EAT MY DUST

Leaning against a tree by the side of the road, camera at ready, you notice the quiet. In the field across the way, a handful of horses nibble at the grass. It is a pastoral scene reminiscent of a 19th century painting.

The horses lift their heads, their ears flicking back and forth. Peering down the road, you hear a faint swoosh-swoosh. And then he is past, faster than the shutter speed of the camera, followed by a second and a third rider. These three lead riders, who have broken away from the pack earlier, are a half mile down the road before the lead car, a white pickup, appears, escorting the main group of road racers. Its lights flashing, the lead car maintains a steady pace followed by the twenty or so riders in their moisture wicking nylon/spandex shorts and jerseys.

Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh, the soft whistle made by the air passing over the racing wheels shifts to a higher pitch as the forty legs move in syncopation. As each rider passes you at 30, 35, perhaps even 40 miles per hour, the pitch drops again. While the riders are not huddled together, as they were at the start line, they are still close enough to touch. They know just how far apart they have to be for safety and how close together to minimize wind resistance.

The end car trails behind, with its cargo of spare tires, screws, clips, allen wrenches and other emergency accouterments which might be needed on an eighty minute, thirty-odd mile road race.

A few stragglers follow, those who are having an ‘off’ day, who are not as well trained or are just plain tired, but they too will find that small spot of pride which gives them the final push to finish, even under the most adverse conditions. The stragglers get caught full-on in the sudden Florida downpour the leads avoided and the huddle flew through.

It is the Florida State Championship Road Race 2008 (FSC) and it is beautiful. The combination of man (or woman) and machine coming together to achieve a level of speed and artistry, using the greatest muscle of them all, the brain, to plan strategy for a race against other road racers who are as well or better equipped and trained is impressive.

The FSC covers two days and includes races for individuals from the age of ten to seventy-plus. Races are segregated by age and sex; the teens are broken into four groups and the adults into five year age groupings for the men and ten year brackets for the women. There are two teens, two women and five men’s races on Saturday, some of the age brackets having been combined. On Sunday, only the adults race and they are divided by category and sex, category being determined by results of previous races. Most of the adult road races are 21 to 49 miles in length and run about 90 minutes. The espoirs, males ages 19 to 22, who presumably are at the peak of their youthful strength, have a 56 miles race and on Sunday, the category 1 and 2 racers, the professional contenders, will clock 75 miles.

They line up, on their carbon or titanium machines, thin racing wheels, jazzed up with the latest gear cassettes. The Cat 5s (minimal or no previously recorded racing experience) cast longing looks at the Cat 3s (some experience, having achieved reportable racing results) who, in turn look to the Cat 1s and 2s (professional level racers). Meanwhile the ‘Freds,’ those who think spending enough money on their gear will compensate for inadequate or desultory training, cannot figure out why they are not the leaders of the pack and remain bemused by their lack of success.

In some ways, a bike race is like any other race and in others, it is totally its own beast. There is a start and a finish line, a course to be run, rules to be followed, which will vary according to the type of race, timers to be collected and distributed. However, there are no cars crashing, no revving of engines, no ‘snaps’ called out to opponents. During road races, except for the announcements at the beginning and end, and the counting of laps, almost total quiet pervades, the concentration a palpable thing, not dissimilar to a chess match or surgical suite. As much as the bikers are racing each other, they are racing against themselves, striving to achieve whatever level of perfection they are capable of obtaining, taking something home from each race that they can use to improve their skills in the future.

Racing breaks down into three segments: road racing, time trials and criterium. Road racing is speed racing against other bikers, distance determined by the catagogy of racer. Time trials are run with a computerized chip, a kind of stop watch, tracking the rider’s individual time, irrespective of anyone else racing or the skill level of the other racers. Criterium races, which are street races and highly technical, are generally a set time and so many laps of courses that generally vary from .7 to 1.5 miles. The racers may have five or six closely spaced turns to handle and crashes are not infrequent. To the unintiated, crits look like bike messengers run amok. Racing requires dedication: training, time, money, love, ambition.

Practically anyone can ride and enjoy the experience, whether you plop yourself on an $80 special from a variety store or a specially made model, which can cost upwards of $10,000. Custom Serotta frames alone can cost $7,000. Add brakes, derailleurs, wheels, seats, computers and you're well into the double digits. Having a bike fitted properly, getting a helmet comfortable enough that you will wear it and cycling shoes suitable for riding (with or without clipless pedals) will enhance your ride. Devotion, training, enthusiasm, group rides will improve your skills and teach road safety as well.

Group rides are useful training tools. In addition to the enjoyment of riding with others, they are an efficient way to improve your knowledge and skills. Road safety, how to ride in a huddle, maintaining safe distance, communication cues can all be learned during group rides. While traffic can be daunting to a solo rider, a group offers protection and community, keeping vehicular traffic at bay.

As gas prices soar, bike riding becomes more than a pleasant afternoon, more than a competitive sport; it becomes a viable alternative means of transportation. This two-wheel solution, in addition to not requiring the use of fossil fuels, promotes strong muscles, aerobic conditioning, weight loss and improves the temperament. The endorphins released during exercise and the increased metabolic activity last long after the cycling shoes are packed away.

Bicycle riding, at whatever level you choose to ride, can change your perception. Whether you are a dilettante clocking a few miles now and then, a critical mass biker parading down the avenue, a racer devoting every weekend to the sport, an avid cyclist pulling down 200 to 300 miles a week or a triathlete combining cycling with swimming and running, there is a level of equipment and group to support you in your quest for fitness, fun and fatigued satisfaction.

For more information on riding and racing, go to www.floridacycling.com, www.floridafreewheelers.com, http://floridawomencycling.blogspot.com, www.probicycle.com/mainnet.html, http://alansnel.blogspot.com, www.tbfreewheelers.com, http://oliverscycles.com, http://stpetecm.cjb.net. A calendar of upcoming races may be viewed at http://www.floridacycling.com/calendars/racing.asp

NB: If any readers catch “the bug,” the paper will deny any responsibility for that occurrence.

Disclaimer: Robyn rides an $80 junker four days a week. Every now and then, she is forced onto a Cannondale Six13 Feminine 6 (compact) in the hopes that she be infected and train for the “Bike MS150" to be held on September 20-21, 2008.

UPDATE: Robyn has recently upgraded to a 1994 Cannondale SuperV900 and joined an "urban assault" group.

Interview with a Vampire

For our readers who wondered about the prolonged absence of our “Day Trippin’” correspondent, Robyn Weinbaum, here’s the low down: not only was she swamped with tax work, but she and her friend, Gene Hodes, finished and released their mystery/thriller, Mastermind (available at www.52782.authorworld.com, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com)

GN: So you’ve been a busy woman. Tell me about ‘Mastermind.’
Robyn: It’s a very nasty psychological thriller set in Boca Raton. BĂȘte Noire, the murderer, leaves a bloody trail of fabricated evidence framing Michael Case, a billionaire genius/inventor who can’t manage to match his socks. Since some of the murders take place in New York City, Hannah Gold, an NYPD detective with a PhD in psychopathology, is brought in as a consultant. She and Michael unite to figure out who the murderer is and why he is killing both specific and random persons, what the killer really wants. Each murder is well-crafted both in commission of the murder and in the orchestration of the publicity. It’s like dominos or chess. Every move has a choice of possible countermoves. Watching the persons in the book make various choices, why they do what they do, is fascinating. And the secondary characters? Everyone is in love with Ying. Ying is the eccentric butler, hardware and software wizard or Michael’s brother. Or all three or none of the above. Chiefs Tittle and Getz are just all around good guys. The murderer, BĂȘte Noire? He could be anyone, anyone at all: Michael, Van Dyck, Ying, Malone, Connors.. This is a guy who steals from the corner candy store after he kills the owners, who celebrates his high school graduation by burning down the family farm with Mom and Dad inside. Bete Noire’s twin sister, Emerald, is smarter and if possible, more evil than he is. When he burned down the farm, she wanted to make s'mores. These are some bad-ass dudes. Gene and I wrote this book and it scared us.

GN: A book collaboration is difficult. How did you meet Gene and work on ‘Mastermind’?
Robyn: Gene and I have known each other for a while, a few years now. We were introduced by some friends and hit it off. We knew there was something we were meant to do together. At first we thought we were destined to make the ultimate latke, but this is so much better. We get along great, we love each other, we love working together-as long as we are 200 miles apart. In fact we have three or four other book projects in various stages of completion right now.

GN: Wait a sec. Two hundred miles apart? How do you work two hundred miles apart?
Robyn: It’s easy with phone and Internet. We send things back and forth all day long. When we are in the same place, we get distracted by our different eating, sleeping and work patterns. I need quiet to work with long exercise breaks. Gene needs the TV with frequent cigarette breaks. Anyway, Gene wrote the first version of ‘Mastermind’ in two weeks or so and gave it to me to read. I told him exactly what I thought, that it needed editing and fact checking, but the plot was a real page turner. I’ve read hundreds of mysteries and I had to finish it, see how it turned out. So we sat down, I gave him a list of what I thought had to be changed. Next thing I know, twelve weeks, over 500 hours and 362 pages fly by and we have a book to release. At this point, we can’t tell who did what and we can’t wait to do it again.

GN: Well, it does seem to work for the two of you. Tell me about Gene.
Robyn: Gene is a semi-retired psychologist. The information on the psychopathological personality is based on his professional font of knowledge. He has worked with persons with very twisted, sick fantasies. Scary, isn’t it? Working with psychopathologically damaged individuals is not pleasant. The psychopathological personality REALLY does not give a hoot about anyone or anything except as it serves his/her purpose. You can work with them from now until doomsday, but they just don’t get it, they can’t get it. They are missing that piece of the soul which governs the super ego, the ability to put oneself in another’s place. Gene has practiced all over the United Sates, but mostly in New York and Florida. He specializes in high-risk intervention, substance abuse, sexual and psychological abuse. He prefers to work with the whole family because a person doesn’t exist in a vacuum nor were they created in a vacuum. If you get the whole family invested in treatment, the actual patient has support and reinforcement of new behavior patterns. It is a very tough field, very painful.

GN: This is very different from your usual work.
Robyn: Yes, it is. I like to create thought provoking pieces, romantic, wistful poems, and curious flash fiction and, I hope, add to the positive balance in the universe. Even a vicious murder mystery adds to the positive balance by giving the reader an escape and allowing the reader a catharsis, a release of tension and stress. You lose yourself in a good book-I hope it’s a good book, anyway! - and come away relaxed, and ready to slay another day’s dragons.

GN: How long have you been writing?
Robyn: I’ve been writing all my life, since before I could even write. When I was maybe four, I realized that I could put words together and make new stories or poems. I’d ask my mom to write them down for me, read them back, I’d make changes and then I’d draw pictures to go with the work. Lots of kids do that; only thing is I’ve never stopped doing it. As I’ve gotten older, my love of words and desire to paint with words has gotten stronger.

GN: Paint with words? That’s a lovely image. Can you explain that?
Robyn: If I could actually paint or sculpt or make music, create beauty in some other way, I’d never write. But I can’t. What I can do is put words together in ways that are lyrical, that pull an image from the reader’s being, recall an experience or emotion, open someone’s eyes, cause a frisson of desire, love, fear, recognition, make someone think. It is a great honor and responsibility to use words for good, for happy, to promote well-being. There is more than enough grief, anxiety and hurt out there. I want my words to heal. If that means ripping the scabs off my own wounds, fine. I do what I have to do. If one reader feels, then the work is a success.

GN: I know you do ‘open mic’ at least once a week. What is that?
Robyn: ‘Open mic’ is short for ‘open microphone.’ No reservations required no reservations about what you perform. You sign up and read or recite what excites you. I generally read a chapter from our book and a piece of flash fiction [short fiction, under 500 words] and a poem. When I’m on open mic and I get that pause at the end, that gasp of recognition which means my work ‘hit’ it is the best feeling because I’ve made something happen. Maybe, just maybe, someone will be inspired to go home and change his or her life. Or maybe try a new recipe for poached pears. Of course, sometimes, even though my work is edited and critiqued, I bomb. I fall flat on my face, which hurts. But I learn from it. I reread the work, consider my presentation, and most important, try to figure out where I was opaque instead of transparent, where I failed my words. I have a small poster that says, “Read it like a writer. Write it like a reader.” I try. I may not succeed all the time, but I try.

GN: Thank you, Robyn.
Robyn: Thank YOU, Gary.

‘Mastermind’ can be ordered at www.52782.authorworld.com. It will be available at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com in a few weeks. To experience more of Robyn’s world, visit her at www.wingedunicorn0205.blogspot.com.

UPDATE: Mastermind can be ordered through all retail outlets

Sally Factory: Seeing the Light at the Great American Dark Ride Company

“Draw, podner.”

“Give me a quarter and I’ll tell you your fortune.”

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stop the Intergalactic Confederacy of Ducks. Line them up and take them down!”

Interactive arcade-type rides and exhibits are the hallmark of Sally: The Great American Dark Ride Company. Located in downtown Jacksonville, about 3-1/2 hours to the north east, Sally has factory tours every Tues and Thurs, from 9 am to 1 pm, September through June. These tours are complimentary, although reservations are required. (http://www.sallycorp.com). This is not a closed, specially designed walk through where the highlight of the tour is a sticker and a candy bar at the end. This is an in-your-face, behind the scenes factory tour, where you can see abstracts, designs and working models of rides and arcade games, almost anything it is possible to conceive of, in all stages of development.

If you have ever been to a carnival, an amusement park or seen a parade, you’ve seen their work. Sally supplies rides and audio animatronics to almost all the major theme parks, movie studios, corporations and amusement parks. They built the sets for Disney on Ice: Aladdin and Disney on Ice: Hercules. Their clients include Universal Studios (the ET ride) Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, Ripley’s Believe it Or Not: USA, San Diego’s Legoland and Give Kids the World of Orlando, among others. Some of their more popular “shows” are the “Bubba Bear ‘s Badland Band” country-western bear band; “Magic Island’s” singing tropical birds; “Jungle Jamboree” a Broadway style musical with over twenty audio-animatronic animals. You may have seen these at the Florida State Fair in Tampa. They are also responsible for the terrifying Haunted House and the Great Pistelero Roundup at the Myrtle Beach, SC, the Olde Mill Ride at Rye Playland in New York. Jocco’s Mardi Gras Madness in Jazzland, NO, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina

Sally was founded 30 years ago by an undergrad student looking to pad a speech requirement for a final exam and avoid having to present and argue it in public. He designed a talking head which he named Sally to do this. That robot was the genesis of this company, which now has about forty employees and commands a factory of over 40,000 square feet.

The staff includes artists, programmers, costumers, construction crew, electricians, engineers, and hydraulics and pneumatics specialists, among others. The factory is divided into areas and the tour goes through each area except the administrative. This is a good thing because no one wants to watch bean counters at work, not even their fellow bean counters. They are a full-service entertainment provider, from initial design concept to maquette (detailed, scaled model of finished product) to software design to finished product, whether that product is an interactive dark ride or a single robot used to greet guests at a corporate meeting or convention center.

A dark ride is a fully enclosed ride where surprises wait around each bend. Every aspect of the environment is controlled to heighten the experience, light, sound, even scents and perfumes are included in the design to intensify the experience for the guest. An interactive dark ride is an enclosed ride where the guest does something to impact the ride, perhaps laser target shooting, choosing between paths or spinning to avoid falling debris.

Julie Cornell, our tour guide, greets each group at the back entrance to the facility. Behind a glass wall, crew members are putting the finishing touches on a life size robot, testing the movements and fine-tuning the hydraulics (air pressure powered joints which allow the robot to bend and flex its body parts). In the auditorium, Julie explains the history of the Sally Corporation, tells us that there will be multiple exit points to the tour if anyone feels it is too intense and promises us that every one will have a chance to test an interactive device. After this short orientation, safety goggles are distributed and the tour begins.

The first area is the sketch and design area. The walls are covered with sketches, paintings, posters and the tables littered with maquettes. Artists work on the look and flow of the ride here, whether the mummies will be 8 or 10 feet tall, how far apart, how sharp the turns are, if the spiders drop down from the ceiling at the entrance to an area or in the middle of the room

From here, we go to the modeling room. For the detailed body parts (head, hands, feet or other exposed areas) clay sculptures are made. A mold is made of the sculpture. A silicone and latex mixture is poured into the mold to form a quarter inch thick skin. This skin goes over the robotics and creates the lifelike look of the model. While separate wigs are used for scalp hair, facial hair, eyebrows and exposed torso hair are individually pulled through the skin. Gluing hair in place looks…glued. The hair has to look rooted to maintain the illusion of reality. A beard can take a more than a day to pull through the skin.

The largest area of the factory is the construction area, where backdrops, supports and actual ride components are built. In the center of the room is a large ‘slush’ area, containing props, cornices, drapes, figures in boxes, doorways and other ride components. The work areas in the perimeter include a woodworking department, another pneumatic and hydraulic testing area, and a prop construction area littered with PVC and board lengths. Prominent in the slush area is a dog headed Egyptian prince, a set of talking birds and a life size T-rex head. Julie turns on the birds, which dance and sing. She makes the T-rex come out of its box and roar. It turns, fixing its beady eye on one of the children in our group, snaps at her. She giggles, knowing it is make-believe and that she is perfectly safe, here and now in the well-lit factory. The T-rex is one of Sally’s most popular figures and has been reproduced over fifteen times. It could be lurking anywhere…

In the backdrop room, artists paint scenery and sets for the large interactives and the smaller games. Many of the paintings are double layered. You may see a bucolic country setting, soft clouds and gamboling lambs, visible in daylight or under normal light. But if you flick the black lights on, the lambs are replaced by skeletons, the clouds by ghosts and ghouls. Julie turned the lights on and off a few times, then had us take photos with our digital cameras. No matter what was before us, what ghouls and nightmares were in the painting, the flash of the digital made the scene revert to its ‘nice’ version. It is an amazing technique to see the two paintings right on top of each other.

The final stop on the tour is a laser target gallery. Wheels spin, ducks pop-up, figures spin and peek out from behind each other. And yes, every person on the tour had a chance to ‘drive the bad guys out of Dodge City.’

The only complaint was that the tour was over too soon and when could we come back and do it again? Julie laughed, “Every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 to 1, except for July and August. Just call or email me.”

The tour is recommended for ages five and up. A few of the younger children were disturbed by some of the ghost sculptures in the outer area, while others giggled at the most horrific monsters. At each stop, you can leave the tour and rejoin the group later or in the laser target room. The tour is conducted under natural lighting conditions to control the shock factor.

Sally Corporation is located at745 Forsyth St. in Jacksonville (904-355-7100) Their web address is www.sally.com. Email reception@sally.com for tour reservations. To get to Sally, take I4 East to I95 North. I95 North to Acosta Bridge/Riverside (Exit 350A). Take Broad St ramp from Acosta, go one block, turn left onto Jefferson St. Go two blocks. The Sally parking lot will be on your right, just before the intersection of Jefferson and Forsyth. Estimated travel time from New Tampa is 3-1/2 hours.

Alternate: I75 North to US27/FL 500 South. Merge onto I10 East. I10 to I95 North. I95 to Forsyth St, Exit 352B. Right on Forsyth, right into parking lot. Estimated travel time is 3 hours, 10 minutes.