This blog entry will not get many comments.. and it will bore the hell out of nearly everyone who reads it. Don’t say that you haven’t been warned.
My personality is strongly characterized in to two categories… The Redneck category and the Nerd category. For the past several days I have been in ‘nerd’ mode.
Let me explain…
When I was kid, around age 10 or so, I would love to go to Chuck E Cheeses Pizza Time Theater in Chico, Ca. It wasn’t the Pizza that I enjoyed so much, it was the animatronics. I love robotics, controls, automation, and industrial machinery. That is why I love my job as a “Industrial Mechanic” today; because I love working on that stuff. Oops, I leaped to the present, OK! Back to age 10.
At age 10, I would sit and stair at those animatronic puppets for hours while my friends were all off playing video games. I was fascinated by them. I wanted to know what was under those costumes. I wanted to know what the control systems looked like in the back room. It would have made my week if I could have been taken on a quick tour to the control room back then to see what made those boogers tick.
The Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater was founded in 1977 by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. It’s not doing so well today, in fact, I’m sorry to say that I don’t believe that there are too many of them left in existence. Up here in northern California there is still one in Chico, and one in Redding that I know of.
As of the last time I visited the Chico store it didn’t look very busy. I’m surprised that it is still open and I will be even more surprised if it stays that way very much longer. The Chico store used to sport what I believed was a 2nd generation stage of The Pizza Time Players, it could have been first gen, I’m not sure. They were some nice vintage animatronics. It has been a while since I have visited that store and they may have converted to the more modern Rock-afire Explosion stage of animatronics which I believe was made by “Aaron Fechter” a true animatronic guru. I spoke with him earlier today via email. Talk about a dream job.
I spent some time in the Redding store tonight after hearing a rumor from a friend. Rumor had it that the Redding store was closing and selling everything in the building because they were opening a brand new store with modern animatronics across town somewhere. I’m guessing that when they said “modern” animatronics that they were referring to the Rock-afire Explosion stage.
I also talked to the owner of that store tonight and confirmed the rumor, however, he is not aloud to sell any of the animatronics because of some contract with CEC. He said that he will likely destroy them… EEEK! I tried talking him out of it but he apparently isn’t hurting for money and he must fear the CEC people will chop off his arm if he were to let them go to a good home, such as my home!
RIP robots :-(
If I could, I would find the dumpster and salvage the parts :-(
You think I’m crazy huh? Well there are many more just like me. There are clubs and millionaires that buy out these animatronic stages and set them up in their houses. One man owns like 8 different complete stages with the lighting, curtains and all. Check out THIS WEB SITE full of nerds just like me.
One of my favorite machines was a 8 foot tall singing, guitar playing Elvis impersonator called “The King“. This scary looking beast could be found in the Chico store many years ago, but disappeared and was replaced by a big screen TV. The Elvis character was pretty cool because as the machine was dead and lifeless in between shows it would pop open one eye and look around for a second and then go back to sleep. I thought that was the coolest. I’m guessing that was an intentional tone in the programming, but it could have been a pneumatic problem also. Those machines were ran by air and the valves would often stick, I could hear the air compressor running in the back room between shows. Aaron Fechter created the control system for that machine also.
I found one on eBay about 8 months ago and it only went for about two grand. It was complete and in fully working condition. Identical to the one that used to be in the Chico store. I wish I would have bought it, but my wife wasn’t so happy about the idea of spending that kind of money on a 8 foot animated teddy bear. I should have done it anyway.
In the early 80’s, these pneumatic machines were ran by valves opening and closing, control boards, and reel to reel players for the music. I think they may have been upgraded to a bank of 8 track tapes that started on que, but don’t quote me on it.
Today, I believe that the more modern Rock-afire Explosion puppets are controlled by a controller called the “Chris Thrash controller” or “Thrash Controller”. Again, don’t quote me. This controller consists of a control board for each puppet in the show, a power supply, and an iPod. That’s right, they are controlled by an iPod. Aaron Fechter has created a way to put both the music, and the motion programming in to a MP3 player format that loads on to the iPod. Much more modern then a reel to reel or a bank of 8 track tapes. Very cool indeed!
So today I emailed Aaron and asked him why he chose not to create a pc software based controller in a time line format. This would make it easy to program the shows by just about anybody. I’m referring to software similar to the LOR (Light-o-rama) software that is used to produce modern xmas light shows.
His reply was that it is all about cost and reliability and specs. After all, his controller has two boards in it, why add a computer to that?
I guess that makes perfect since. Computers aren’t yet stable enough for most industrial applications anyway, that’s why we use plc’s (programmable logic controllers) instead. PLC’s are capable of performing the same task repeatedly day in and day out for years and years without a single error. They are reliable work horses and you can count on them. If you have ever visited a theme park then you have counted on them. Could you imagine running the drop zone on a pc running windows… EEEEK!!! You might as well jump. (lol)
Here are my last words..
SAVE THE ROBOTS IN REDDING… THEY DON’T DESERVE TO BE DESTROYED! They are vintage, they are history, they are cool.
I told you that you would be bored to death. Maybe next time you will listen!