Archive for the ‘Inspirational’ Category

First Glimpse Of Z Nation Ep101

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation Season 1 Episode 01, “Puppies and Kittens”, which aired Friday, Sept 12th on the SyFy Channel.  As a second disclaimer, I am somewhat biased to the Z Nation franchise having spent my time as a Zombie in the tv series, however, I like to think that doesn’t overly affect my opinions expressed below.

To set the mood, I liked this first glimpse of Z Nation.  While it didn’t contain top notch writing or acting, it was fun and enjoyable and of a higher standard than we’ve come to expect from The Asylum.  Closer to The Last Ship and The Strain than Sharknado 2.  It may have had its plot holes, and its moments of being “over the top”, but it wasn’t camp, and they didn’t jump the shark.

Mack, Garnett, Addy, Warren, Doc, Cassandra, and Murphy - Z Nation

I really enjoyed Michael Welch’s Mack and Russell Hodgkinson’s Doc – not only great characters, but backed up by some really solid acting.  Both actors felt like they already had a handle on their character, and brought that out.  Anastasia Baranova’s Addy has potential, but I feel a lot of that is the ability to play off Welch’s character.  Sketchy and Skeezy, played by locals Mark Carr and Doug Dawson, made an all too quick appearance, and I hope to see more of them as secondary characters, but given the storyline of travelling across the US, I doubt they will reappear.

Sketchy, Skeezy, and Doc - Z Nation

On a behind the scenes side of things, I’m partial to Nat Zang’s 10K even though there isn’t enough exposure for the character in the first episode to validate this opinion – not only is he a nice guy on set the couple of times I’ve run into him, but also the character development that occurs in future episodes really fleshes out his character into a great member of the group puzzle.  I thought it was also a bit early to really make a call on Pisay Pao’s character given this appearance, but as an actress, she did a good job in her first television appearance.

Nat Zang as 10K - Z Nation  Pisay Pao as Cassandra - Z Nation

I think I was hoping for more from the veterans – Kellita Smith, Tom Everett Scott, and Harold Perrineau.  I felt their characters were over-dramatic, but then, that may stem from the expectations I put on them as actors.  Harold would jump in place for about 10 seconds prior to each scene to get pumped up, so his breathy, hurried delivery was a definite decision either on his or the director’s part.

The special effects weren’t over the top, but had a nice level of zombie gore without appearing cheap.  Zombie extras in episode 1 agreed to possibly wearing contacts, but the episode was filmed without them, and all our eyes were CGI enhanced in post-production.  Same with the blood splatters from gunfire, truck collisions, claw hammers, and the infamous Z Whacker!  I say infamous, because having died by Z Whacker is one of the things that is well known among the Zombie extras on set.  As far as status goes, death by Z Whacker or Claw Hammer ranks WELL above gunfire, yet it’s still a gruesome possible ending obtainable by Zombie extras as opposed to something like Death by Automobile which was reserved solely for the series’ stunt team.

Z Whacker - Z Nation

You’re going to hear about the plot holes (What made the baby suddenly turn zombie?  Why did turning zombie instantly dislocate and shred the inmate’s jaw?), but the plot holes in movies such as X-Men 3 weren’t enough to keep me from seeing future X-Men movies, nor keep those films from being better.  Similarly, I enjoyed the first episode of Z Nation enough to continue watching to see how the characters and storyline play out.

Z Nation – Diary Of A Zombie Extra

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

It’s early April, and I’m talking to the Building Manager, Tony, about the 12th man prank and whether or not we want to build another Christmas Elevator this year.  We start discussing my plans for this year’s Haunted House when Tony asks, “Are you going to try out for the new zombie movie they’re filming in Spokane?”

“Wait… What zombie movie??!”

“It’s called ‘Z Nation’ or something.  Like ‘World War Z’ or ‘The Walking Dead’.  Google it – someone’ll have all the details on the web.”

Z Nation promo teaser poster

Sure enough, The Asylum, the film studio that produced such B-Grade movie classics as Mega Piranha, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, and Sharknado (surprisingly, NOT called Mega Shark Hurricane), is looking for extras to be zombies in their upcoming TV series, Z Nation for the SyFy Channel.


Multiple websites have published the same press release and links to Casting Agencies being used to supply extras for the series.  There are three of them that show up again and again.  I apply to all of them, and start texting and emailing local friends to see who’s interested in coming along.


It’s late April, and one of the casting agencies emails me about their upcoming “Zombie Camp”.  They have different sign-up times for fast and slow zombies, and to come out and meet with the series’ various directors, producers, and casting director.  There aren’t any other details than location, dates, and times.

I start checking to see who else has gotten a notice, and forwarding it to anyone that hasn’t.  Turns out that while many of my mates are interested in the idea, no one is really interested in making the trip to Spokane except Wren.  We book a fast zombie time slot in the afternoon.

Lincoln Center Spokane


It’s early May, and Zombie Camp actually turns out to be tryouts.  Every 45 minutes, from 8am until 5pm with a half hour break for lunch, the production team from The Asylum takes a group of approximately 70 zombie hopefuls and puts them through their zombie paces, looking for that undead “something” that catches the director’s eye and sky rockets the potential undead poster child into fame and stardom.

zombie extras wannabes hopefuls

Wren and I show up at The Lincoln Center in Spokane soon after lunch where we write down our contact details, receive a number, pose for a photo, and wait as other potential extras wander in.  You can hear muffled groans and noises coming from behind the closed double doors behind the sign-up table, and while no one explicitly says we aren’t allowed in to watch the other tryouts, no one attempts to open the doors and watch the competition.  Wren wanders through the building and finds a back stair case to an upper level that oversees the auditorium where the tryouts are being held, and we quietly find a place to sit and watch the other candidates.

Tryouts are “simple”:  After everyone files in and takes a seat, the first five applicants line up perpendicular to a table where the directors and production team sit.  30 feet in front of them stands a woman with a tambourine while a guy with a bodhrán stands immediately behind them.  The woman shakes the tambourine, and the zombie wannabes shuffle towards her in their best, slow zombie impersonation.  As the closest one gets near her, the guy with the bodhrán starts tapping out a beat.  Extras are to stop; look towards the new sound, and when the director shouts “NOW!”, ‘fast zombie’ towards the guy until he stops banging his drum.  The process repeats, and the next five applicants have their turn.

zombie tryouts for Z Nation SyFy channel

Here’s the problem – if you have a higher number, you’re able to sit and watch everyone else, gauge the responses of the production team, and get a better idea of what may work to get you in as a zombie for the Z Nation series.  Lower numbers don’t have that luxury, so they’ve got to go “all in” from the start and hope for the best.

zombie tryouts

My slow zombie sucks.

I’m kind of a moderate shamble (more like “Warm Bodies” than “Walking Dead”), and I reach the tambourine lady WAY before everyone else.

As the casting director shouts “NOW!” for fast zombie, I dead sprint at the drummer, screeching and passing everyone else which has him suddenly screaming, “DON’T TOUCH THE CAMERAMAN!!  DON’T TOUCH THE CAMERAMAN!!”  I reckon the poor guy got tackled by some overzealous zombie wannabe in at least one of the previous auditions.

And then that’s it.
3 minutes, and you’re done.
“Thanks for coming!  We’ll be in touch.”

No coaching or even suggestion of what they’re looking for in their zombies other than the reactions you can glean from the casting group if you happen to have a later number.  Hope you left your best on the floor.

We watch higher numbers shamble and screech and moan and run across the auditorium floor, and I think of so many things I could have done different… better…  I drive home in a mild state of depression.

So it’s surprising to receive a call-back on Monday.

The casting agency asks about “any skills you may have, any previous acting you may have done, your measurements (height, weight, shoe size, shirt size, etc)”, and whether or not I’m available in two weeks time to come back and “do your zombie” in wardrobe in front of the production team again.  Heck yeah!!

I send in my measurements.  Fill out some paperwork.  And the day before I’m to appear on set, I get a call from the agency.  “You’re really this tall?  These are your actual measurements?”  I’m not THAT tall, but it seems there aren’t a lot of extras over 6’ that tried out.  So when I confirm my measurements they simply ask, “Can you just show up on Monday instead for the first day of shooting for episode 1?”

And I have a slight break-down and go nuts!

And the reality is, the only people that pay attention to the extras in a film are the extras themselves, their friends and family, and the directors who don’t want them to screw up the actual talent being filmed.

(“See that arm hanging out from behind the tree that just flashed past?  THAT WAS MY ARM!!”)

But it’s cool!  And you can’t have a zombie apocalypse film without lots of zombies, so I’m more than happy to be one of them!  And this takes my desire to build and be a part of something big that entertains others to a whole new level and audience!

In 1996, I sat on the roof of the Regent Theatre during my lunch break, watching Jackie Chan film Mr. Nice Guy.  They reshot the same scene over and over and over, trying to get it just right; changing choreography and camera angles.  I thought then that the reality of filming was much more boring than I had imagined, and throughout the 2014 summer, I learn first hand that there is a LOT of standing around, doing nothing on the set of a TV series.

But it’s all worth it.

The first Z Nation TV commercial airs on July 30th during the premiere of Sharknado 2.  It’s the first glimpse I have of the finished production of the show, and it looks MUCH less campy or B-Grade than I had expected it to be – it actually looks GOOD!  A TV series that I’d like to watch!

I catch a flashing glimpse of ME on screen, and have to grab the remote to rewind it and watch it again… and then freak out a little bit when we confirm it is me.  On screen.  As a zombie!

Yes.  One of dozens of zombies that only flash across the screen in the time it takes you to blink.  But there I am!  And for one, brief moment, I think “life doesn’t get much better than THIS!”

 What we all want is to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission.
~ Graham Weston

Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

This one’s about to explode.

Fun’s lead guitarist Jack Antonoff has a lot going for him:

His band, Fun, won the 2013 Grammys for Best New Artist and Song of the Year
His girlfriend, Lena Dunham, is a famous actor and television writer
His new side project band, Bleachers, has attracted some famous and massive social media fans such as Taylor Swift

Not bad.

Bleachers’ first release, I Wanna Get Better, debuted last week and is slowly gaining momentum.  Although the recently released lyric (and official video) version of their song on YouTube is currently hovering at just over 6,000 hits, I expect to see this song scream up the charts within the next two weeks.

Fast paced, driving tempo mixed with off-beat, slightly-retro sounding lead vocals will suck you in until the anthem chorus hooks you, and drags you from the edges of the crowd, headlong into the fist-pumping, head-bopping fanbase and singing along.
Then you’ll press repeat.
And then you’ll do it again.

Antonoff has found the perfect progression from Fun’s music style, evolving it and adding his own touch with Bleachers.  And while “I Wanna Get Better” didn’t scream onto the chart scene, it’s quickly gaining fans and momentum.  The album is scheduled for release this spring, and Antonoff will kick off his concert tours in April after making an appearance at SXSW in March.  While the currently announced venues and ticket prices are still small and affordable, I expect that to change quickly as their fame grows.  Grab yours now while you still can!

So I put a bullet where I should have put a helmet, and I crash my car ’cause I wanna’ get carried away… I didn’t know I was broken till I wanted to change.  I wanna’ get better!
~ I Wanna Get Better, Bleachers

Triumph Of The 12th Man

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

The Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos yesterday 43-8 to win Super Bowl XLVIII (48).  Both the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos had better odds to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season than the Seahawks, but that didn’t stop Seattle from beating both teams on their way to claim their first franchise Super Bowl trophy as one of the youngest teams in the NFL both age and experience-wise – quarterback Russell Wilson has only been playing in the NFL since the 2012 season, and the average age of the players on the team is 26.5.

Since McCrevis’ Eagles won the NFC East but then lost to the Saints in the playoffs, and since my Buccaneers were never even in the running, we didn’t really have an iron in the fire but were happy to see the Seahawks beat the Broncos (actually, I have no idea if McCrevis was barracking for Denver or Seattle, but since Seattle won, I’m going to say he was on their team all along).  But for our mate Ty, it was a dream come true.

Ty - rabid Seattle Seahawks fan and proud 12th man

Being the only NFL team in the Pacific Northwest US, the Seahawks tend to attract a number of zealous fans, and Ty is no exception.  A proud 12th man since the team was formed in 1976, Ty approached us about a “publicly noticeable celebration idea” that we could help him setup at work “after the Hawks smash the Broncos!”

Despite the short notice, we thought we were up to the challenge.

Ty's office building prior to the Superbowl





Ideas are cheap, it’s the passion to make ideas real that’s rare.
~ Scott Berkun

Why not us?
~ Russell Wilson 

The Grammys? Byrd Was Right

Monday, January 27th, 2014

“You can call me Queen B for being so right!” Byrd texts me last night, referring to her prediction in 2013 regarding Lorde’s upcoming greatness.  “Royals” by Lorde took the award for Song of the Year (Byrd: WHO WAS SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT SONG?!  Though I wouldn’t have predicted Song of the Year) and Best Pop Solo Performance at last night’s Grammy Awards, beating musical industry big names Pink, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake.  Who’s a Royal now?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” meanwhile, may have lost to Lorde in the Song of the Year category, but that didn’t stop the duo from claiming the awards for Best New Artist (Byrd: Surprising win over Ed Sheeran), Rap Performance, Rap Song, and Rap Album (Byrd: Of course The Heist!  Why do you ever doubt?!) over R&B cornerstone nominees Drake, Jay Z, and Kanye West.  After the success of 2013, I’m looking forward to what 2014 brings for this duo.

With Daft Punk winning Pop/Duo Group Performance, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year, the top awards for the Grammys this year went to foreign or independently produced performers!  As we previously stated here at bighairmonkey, we believe we’ll be seeing more of this trend as the internet allows influences outside the US to be more readily recognizable and makes the world a much smaller place.

Regardless, props to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who were quick to point out the groundswell from their fans and the duo’s independent work which led to their radio/public “discovery”:

First and foremost, I wanna’ thank our fans, the people that got us on this stage.  Before there was any media, before there was any buzz about us, before there was a story, there was our fans, and it spread organically through them, so without them, there would be no “us”.  Shout out to everybody repping worldwide …and I wanna’ say, we made this album without a record label.  We made it independently, and we appreciate all the support!

That was to you, Byrd.


Weighted Companion Cube Christmas Lights Released!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Valve software weighted companion cube

For those of you who emailed us, asking how you could purchase our Portal Companion Cube Christmas Tree lights, they are now available via the Valve Software online store!! (SO awesome, right??!)

1.5" portal weighted companion cube of clear plastic

After some minor changes to our original 3D printed model, these plastic lights are cast to be lighter-weight and cheaper to mass produce for retail sale.  And even as I type, they are on sale at a 20% discount for the upcoming Christmas holiday!  You still have time to have them delivered (in the US) prior to Christmas!

Portal weighted companion cube Christmas tree lights – for those Christmases when you want to remind yourself of that time you escaped the Aperture Science Enrichment Center after it was taken over by a narcissistic and passive-aggressive Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System that tried to kill you give you cake.

I don’t see there really being a big enough market for this particular product to justify mass production, but it was totally cool to build and print and watch it come together!

We’re Awesome!

Monday, December 9th, 2013


Haters ignored.
Testing completed.
Requirements fulfilled.
Obstacles, doubts, and ridicule overcome.
Product shipped.
Customer happy!
We’re awesome!!

Spur-of-the-moment-type message outside the CEO’s window, and since I didn’t have my usual lawn sharpies, I had to spell it out in the frost on the lawn.

Not as long lasting, but it still makes the point, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for messages that you don’t want sticking around for more than a day or so.

Amazed me how many people took note and knew it was our team.
Some reputations are worth having!

It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to management than the creation of a new system.  For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.
~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Remembrance Day

Monday, November 11th, 2013

One day.
Every year.
Take a moment to remember:

laughing little girl in tutu

Remember to giggle and to laugh and to smile – it makes you feel better and lifts the spirits of those around you.  It’s okay to be silly occasionally.  In fact, it’s necessary.  Always remember time to be silly.

Remember to take joy from the little things in life – sometimes, it’s all we have.  Walk in the rain.  Splash in puddles.  Drink hot drinks with whipped cream or foamy milk or marshmallows on cold, foggy mornings.  Wear a tutu or new fuzzy socks or Uggs.  Lie in the middle of a quiet road and enjoy the feel of warm asphalt under your back on a cooling summer night.


Remember to be happy – happiness is a decision, just like anger or sorrow or irritability.  Choose to be happy.

Remember to take walks; to get up from your desk and leave the office, the building, when you take lunch.  Have lunch!  Take smoko breaks throughout the day even though you don’t smoke – why should you miss out on quick breaks from the work and chaos just because you’re not sucking down a nicotine hit?  And on that topic, remember to use your sick days to take time off from work when you aren’t sick so you can enjoy the day!

snowman in your office

Remember to have child like interest in new things; to make new friends and include anyone in the public things you do.  Little kids on the playground make games and create adventures instantly, and everyone is invited to be a part of it.  Share your day with others; talk to those you see constantly whether at work or school or home or walking in public – include them in your adventures.  Invest in people that make you feel of worth.

Remember to make fun and have adventures.

Remember to enjoy the scenery, even if you’ve lived and wandered there all your life.  Lie down in parks on warm, sunny days and read.  Take off your shoes and socks and walk barefoot on the grass – a year should not go by in which you haven’t walked barefoot on grass.  Run through sprinklers, especially if they’re not your own – if you haven’t run through sprinklers recently, you are missing out on one of the pure joys of life.

Remember to write down your ideas, your dreams, your passions so you can act on them when you have time – if you have a book of ideas, you will never be bored.  Make time to act on your ideas.  Make time for you.

no skateboarding

Remember to draw or paint or cook or sew or create!  Remember the talents you used constantly as a child that you haven’t seen in a while – dust them off; drag them out into the light and put them back to use.  They never left you – you left them.  Develop a hobby.  Believe in yourself again.

Remember to ignore the evil comments and criticisms of assholes and trolls – they have no value or sway over you unless you allow it.  You can’t have everything you want or always do everything you feel you should, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure or without worth.  When you make a mistake or things don’t work out as planned, make new plans; learn from the mistake and move on.  Don’t let the little failures drag you down.  Remember to focus on your successes!  Life hasn’t stopped so why should we?  Life is all about moving and progressing and learning and getting better.

memorial day

Remember to let go of the memories and moments that bring you heartache and pain; to let go of the things that have hurt you or continue to hurt you or drag you down.  Lose your sorrow by investing in others.  Be a friend to make friends.  And don’t be afraid to make new friends because old ones left or moved on or stabbed you in the back.

Remember to move and to dance and to sing, without care of the opinions of others nor the audience – you do it for you, not for them.  Who the hell are they anyway?  Ultimately, it’s your life, to do with as you wish, not theirs.

Remember to live in the present.  Good or bad, the past is merely moments gone from which you can learn and grow.  Millions of new moments are waiting to be created by you, for you.  Don’t miss out on what’s coming by keeping too tight a hold on what happened in the past.  Change occurs with every breath you take into your body, so why shouldn’t we expect it in the events of our lives?

One day.
Every year.
Take a moment to remember.

Strike The Tent

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Haunted House sign

Dumping rain when we built the house.
60mph winds when we went to take it down.
Not a drop of rain or weather problem while the house was open other than a couple of near-freezing nights.

With all the rain we got when we put up the façade (and in previous years), we built some roof panels and placed them throughout the maze for protection from the elements for both our customers and our volunteers.  They doubled as structural support, adding strength and tying walls together in areas where we couldn’t use the anchors.  It’s always nice to be prepared for emergencies that don’t occur (rather than the opposite), but yesterday when we went to take it all down, a windstorm blew in – once the roof panels were off, the rest of maze was ready to take flight!  Luckily, the crew was able to work quickly and get it all down and packed away with minimal damage.

building a roof

roof panels

Maze runners our first year were zombies, rednecks, and ghouls – your basic group of scaries.  We only had ONE guy that could even be remotely compared to a clown, but found from customers that he was the one that freaked them out the most.

The next year, we built The Freak Show into the maze, locking customers into a strobe-lit shipping container with volunteers dressed in black body suits who would throw back their hoods to suddenly “appear” in front of customers and chase them around the dark confines.  Panicked as they were, it was nothing compared to the hysteria that kicked in when we introduced a few clowns into the mix.  Again, feedback from customers ranked this as one of our scariest “exhibits”.

And last year, we had clowns above the maze, throwing things down on people and chasing/taunting them throughout the maze.

But not until this year did we really build the maze around the circus theme.

Big Top Daytime view Big Top Nighttime

The Big Top is the final room in the maze before customers exit, so it’s also the first thing they see when they walk in to buy their tickets.  The sight of that circus Big Top, rising above the maze with the screaming laughter of clowns and chainsaws coming from within, was enough to make many a customer pause at the façade, debating whether or not they really wanted to come inside.

pole Dancing setting up the Big Top under the Big Top

Instead of lions or tigers or bears (“Oh my!”), clowns caged within two circus animal cars “greet” customers as they make their way into the Big Top.  Within seconds, the clowns fire up their chainsaws and “break out”, chasing customers out the exit.

maze runners

maze runners

We dressed all our maze runners as clowns this year, with full access to the thruways to get in front of and around crowds in the maze, and popping their heads through the various wall openings and doorways, so by the time you got to the final Big Top room, you knew there would be chainsaws somewhere nearby.  One of our clowns carried a simple bike horn which turned out to be one of the scariest sound effects in the maze.  He didn’t even run through the maze – just walked slowly around corners, occasionally sounding his bike horn and sending groups into running panic.

drop panel drop panel

drop panel drop panel

We created a number of “drop panels” throughout the house – openings in walls and panels that could be covered by lifting a sliding panel into place, only to drop it with a loud “BANG!”, exposing whatever was hiding behind it.  Lots of fun and very effective!

grim reaper camoflague clown camouflage clown

We continued last year’s idea of full head-to-toe costumes for some characters so customers didn’t know if they were real or not, mixing them among props that weren’t people.  Our grim reaper caught lots of people by surprise.

three heads

dead head

Three heads on a table, and one of them is real.  This only worked so well because the fake heads were REALLY high quality and lifelike.  I don’t believe the scare on this one would have been as effective if the other heads didn’t look so real.

packing up the haunted house

Overall, the house had a great “feel” to it this year, and I was really happy with the maze – lots of switchbacks creating blind corners and very few long views or open spaces.  Dressing our maze runners as clowns and building around the circus theme did a great job of freaking people out!  It seems a LOT of people don’t like clowns… who knew.  The train turned out as good as I had hoped and scared so many people (thank you Zookeeper!)!  I’d really like to figure out the webcam so we can catch photos of people when they’re scared that they can link to on social media or pass on to friends via the internet.  The plastic clad panels worked out much better than expected, so we will probably use that idea again.  We’ll have to see how well they store.  145 total panels for the maze this year: 33 of them clad in plastic and 10 completely rebuilt with the heavier ply since we still need some structural strength and support throughout.  That means we lost over 50 panels from last year to rot and deterioration.  Part of that is that we need to figure out a better way to store them, but from the start, we didn’t really build them to last, so the fact that we still have so many originals is surprising.  Final customer count surpassed every previous year, so we must be doing something right!

fluorescent walls skeleton cemetery zombie graveyard zombies

ghouls ghoul dance party witches clown Car

scared waiting Capt America greeters

American Beauty clowning around zombies scared

kid friendly night kid friendly night

Glad it’s over for another year.
I need some sleep…

Your idea is your currency; what you’re buying is a few seconds of the [customer's] time, in which you must gain their trust, entertain or inform them, convince them of your message, and possibly get them to act on it.  But it also has to be currency for the user; it has to be funny, informative, or somehow valuable for them to pass on to someone else.
~ Matt Mason


Ghost Train

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

The idea is to shepherd customers down a dark, narrow hallway and into one of the shipping containers as if it were a tunnel, similar to the spider’s lair that we built last year.  However, once customers get half way through the tunnel, they’ll hit a chainlink fence that keeps them from going any further.  And then, out of the darkness, a train will suddenly appear, flashing its lights and blasting its horn, threatening to run them over, and (hopefully) scaring them back out the entrance.

revised Switchbacks train Path

One of our volunteers is planted at the back of each group to open and close doors for us as the groups pass through the maze.  This changes the paths and creates dead-ends if the group tries to back track to escape one of the maze runners.  Once a group enters the train tunnel, the plant swings a wall panel 180 degrees to block off the original hallway and open the next route along the maze for the customers as they “flee” the ghost train tunnel.

That’s the theory at least.

ghost Train Base

ghost train Finished

The train is basically a 2×3 platform on caster wheels, built to house an airhorn and foglights to mimic a train.  A crossbar at eye level holds the foglights, while a wooden box, mounted to the platform, holds the airhorn and car battery to power it all.  A small track, built from 1×2’s keeps the train moving straight towards the fence and the terrified customers.

ghost Train Lights Button

ghost Train Battery Horns

We originally planned on using two truck foglights, mounted about 4’ apart on the crossbar, for our train headlights, but found that normal car headlights, with the high beams hard wired, are cheaper and work just as well.  The train airhorn is a WOLO Xtreme Airhorn (Model 400 Airmite).  We researched YouTube videos of airhorns, and the WOLO is the cheapest model that still delivers a good punch!  We saw a couple of videos and reviews that said that the standard air compressor that came with it wasn’t loud enough, and suggested upgrading to a bigger air compressor.  So, we attached the horns to our shop air compressor, set at 220psi, and then compared that to the sound volume using the included air compressor.  The difference between them isn’t in volume but in pitch – the shop compressor delivers a deeper tone, but the volume is the same.  Since the standard WOLO air compressor that came with the horn is built to run off a car battery and seemed to work fine, especially in the narrow confines of the shipping container, we decided to keep it.

ghost Train Schematic

My mate The Zookeeper, an electrical engineer visiting from our company’s R&D Lab, wired up the whole ensemble for us, so it runs off a standard car battery, operated by a push button mounted on the handles of the train.

I would classify this as another one of our 100% kill rate attractions, similar to last year’s four statues.  While there are the occasional people who are not even fazed when the train suddenly appears, they’re rare – there’s always one group member that panics, but more often, it’s the majority of the group.  Reactions have ranged from “deer-in-headlights” to “running in panicked fear” to one group of teenagers who collapsed in a pile on the floor!  Mothers suddenly use their smaller children as shields, and teenagers are more than happy to sacrifice friends or younger siblings to get out alive!  It’s fun for the whole family.

The Zookeeper linked a webcam to a laptop running a Linux program that snaps photos when the majority of an in-camera background suddenly changes (ie: the darkened walls are suddenly lit by high-beams), so we could snap photos of victims as they reacted to the appearance of the train.  This gave us all sorts of great joy in the expectations of the resulting photographs, but due to funding, we weren’t able to come up with a laptop we could use during the actual haunted house (our proof of concept laptop wasn’t available for use in the haunted house *frowns*).  The good news is, we know it works, so we can plan for next time.  The bad news is, we’ve missed out not only on a ton of great reactions but also on an opportunity to gain more internet notice.  Now that the train is a known item, the surprise if we use it next year, won’t be as great.  But again, if we take photos, many people would come through just to pose when the camera goes off for their internet photo.

Air horn, car battery, headlights, switch and wires – we were able to build our train for about $100.