The Guy that Paints Coasters for a Living.

You must have heard of the recent Silver Bullet repaint… One of the main guys behind it all, is Steve Hickey. Steve Hickey has been working for Baynum for a long time now, and is currently Baynum’s Lead Foreman. 

Steve Hickey has been so friendly to let us interview him, and sent us footage and information of projects he worked on. We really appreciate it, and to personally thank him for the great interview, we’d like to dedicate this interview to Derek. As Steve himself stated; ‘Derek, one of my best guys and very close friend was shot and killed’. He also implied; ‘It was one of the darkest days of my life and we miss him very much.’.

A picture of Derek working at Kings Island.
A picture of Derek working at Kings Island.

In memorial of Steve’s good friend and colleague, we thus dedicate our first interview to Derek Garland.

Interview

What is the most difficult project you’ve ever worked on?
Hands down X2, many times a coaster will have its unique challenges. That’s what gives it it’s own personality. Due to its overwhelming size, X2 had them all. The end result was worth the effort.X2 & Viper

Which/how many different countries have you worked in?
I have worked in China and Mexico. These projects are some of the best memories of my career. In China we rode bicycles to work just as the locals did. I rode the rice fields that I’m sure no outsiders had ever seen. If the locals did it we did it, including the where-and-what we ate. I worked there under the direction of Chuck Hendricks. Mr Hendricks is now building the Grand Texas Theme Park outside Houston TX.

Is there a difference in color from up close versus where the public can see it from a further distance?
No, but, what the color does do that you don’t think about is effect the expansion of the steel. Dark colors absorb heat and increase expansion. This can be somewhat offset by the the gloss level. Some rides are very sensitive to this and thus it’s a major factor in color selection.

Were you interested in being a professional painter of any sort before getting into this industry? 
I remember being a kid and having to help paint our house. I hated it. Thinking; I don’t know what I will do when I grow up, but, I will not be a painter. How’s that for irony.

What are the different techniques you use when painting a wooden coaster versus a steel coaster?  As I said earlier, each coaster has its own personality. Woodies are no different. Because of their tiered blocked construction they’re not as difficult to access. They do have challenges you don’t see on steel rides. In the high stress areas the board fasteners sometimes break and it may not be manifest until you step on it. Then you know real fast it’s loose. With that said, the carpenters know where these area are and constantly monitor and rebuild these high stress areas. When you visit a theme or thrill park you simply cannot imagine how much effort and money goes into making sure your visit is enjoyable, and above all, safe.

What is your most frequently visited theme park (work)?
This really varies as parks go through cycles and many times a ride will be repainted because it or the area around it is being re-themed. For instance last year I worked in 5 different parks and that’s just my crew. Baynum Painting has other crews they utilize and each has its own specialized skill set that determines what crew will best fit the upcoming project. Many years ago I painted a ride at California’s great America then on to Astroworld in Houston then on to Six Flags in New England.  I remember thinking, working on West Coast, Gulf Coast, and East Coast in the same year was pretty spectacular.

What is your most frequently visited theme park (outside of work)?
Kings Island, Cincinnati Ohio. I live very close to it.

On average how many people work on a paint job for a coaster?
Although it varies depending on the scope of work and the schedule. I have seen as many as 30 men on a Wooden Coaster. Some small flat rides may only require a few.

What is the worst weather to paint in?
That’s a great question. Coatings can be formulated and modified to accommodate almost any environmental condition. For instance a moisture cure urethane designed to be applied in a cold wet environment simply will not cure in a hot dry environment. A traditional urethane would be a better choice in that scenario. Now as for the painters, cold and wet is the worst!BTRAnd when bad weather takes over, it’s time for yet another repaint. Lucky Steve, not everyone gets to climb a Batman Clone! (Batman The Ride, Six Flags Over Texas)

How do parks approach /contact you?
Baynum has a great marketing team and is in contact with their clients continuously.

What are some techniques for painting rides over water?
This is one of the things that gives a ride it’s personality. We have work baskets called ‘Spiders’ that allow us to work from the top down verses from the ground up as you would in a man lift.

What are some techniques for painting rides in thicker vegetation, such as in forests?
We have has some instances where extensive clearing of the vegetation took place. Typically we are limited in working around heavy growth. It must be cut back to allow access.

What are some techniques for painting rides that are tougher to reach due to the terrain?
This would be treated the same as if it were over water. Get the spiders out. HH2 As Steve told us; ‘Getting this equipment to the top of this hill was a real challenge.’ To get the equipment there, he told us; ‘I had to use this 10,000 lb forklift to get this all terrain man lift in place. We have to do some extreme things at times.’   HH

What is the toughest inversion to paint?
That’s a tough call, but, there sure are some fun ones out there to ride.

How do you paint the inside of a wooden coaster’s structure?
We kind of touched on this earlier, on a Woodie you work from the structure itself. The real trick here is fall protection. From a steel structure or a man lift this is very straight forward. On a wood coaster you need literally hundreds of anchor points. Life lines are run vertically in each bay, as we call them. When you climb into a bay, a life line is there waiting for you. This can be very costly and time consuming. Just one of the things you don’t think about when you pay the gate price and enter an amusement park.

Do you paint water rides, and if so, what coat do you use to keep the paint on as long as possible?
Yes, I have painted many water rides. They face a greater challenge than typical rides, and the water and chemicals added are very aggressive from a corrosion standpoint. Further complicating the issue is water rides always have vibrant colors and these are prone to fade quickly due to the chlorine. Although we do have some tricks to help prolong these, water rides will always require a disproportionate amount of maintenance.

Is it tough when painting rides that go over or through another ride?
What makes this so tough is generally park management would like the other ride, or pedestrian area that it goes over, to remain unaffected. Tatsu at Magic Mountain is the best example I can think of. It has not yet been repainted but it’s time is coming. That one will be a real challenge.

What is the tallest you’ve been while painting a ride?
The Eiffel Tower at Kings Island. It’s a 1/3 scale of the real one. I painted the needle on top just for the bragging rights. That was 25 years ago, I leave that kind of thing to the younger guys now. They need their bragging right too.

 Do you also paint scenery on more themed rides?
Personally no, I mentioned each crew has things that they excel in. Baynum has some guys who are real good in this situation.

Do you paint the track or supports of a coaster first?
Personally I like to start at the point where the ride exits the station and make my way around the ride. Logistically this is not always possible. I do try to keep my projects systematic, these things can spread out so much it is easy to get overwhelmed. It also helps me keep track of what is prepped and ready for paint.

What is your favorite ride that you’ve worked on in California?
Although I will never forget X2, my favorite in California is the Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. Working in that setting is truly special. I painted it 15 years ago, it was just repainted this past year by Walker Hopkins and his crew. Although I really wanted to be part of that project Walker and his guys did a fantastic job.

What coating process do you use for maximum color lasting?
In general terms polysolixanes and urethanes are the most common. Fluoropolymers are making some advances in the market share but their cost and limited ability to be field applied have kept their use limited.

Do you ride rides before and/or after you paint them? 
The crews love to. I have several vertebrate fused together in my neck as a result of a fall on a wood coaster many years ago, so my coaster riding days are over. The beast at Kings Island was always my favorite. That was also my first coaster to oversee the repainting of.

What Californian parks have you painted for?
Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk
Six Flags Discovery kingdom
California’s Great America
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Knott’s Berry Farm
I also got to visit Never Never Land. Baynum painting was scheduled to paint some of the attractions there. It just ‘Never Never’ materialized.

Do you paint rides that are in storage?
This type of repaint is called a ‘Lay Down’. A ride will be dismantled, repainted and reassembled at a new location. We have completed many of these.

Steve did the ‘Lay Down’ for Boomerang (St. Louis), after the original Flashback from Six Flags Over Texas was dismantled, and needed to be repainted.LD2 LD1

What ride would you like to paint the most? (One you have not yet worked on)    The project I want most to be part of is Superman Krypton Coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, TX. The way that ride incorporates itself into the landscape, running parallel to the rock wall and plunging over the rock wall toward the lake below is something special and I want to be part of it. It has so many features that would make it unique. Thus far it has never been repainted, when it is I hope to be there for it.SKC

What is the one park you would like to work in year around?                                        If I had to choose one park to stay at, it would be Fiesta Texas. It sits in an abandoned rock quarry. The lake under Superman Krypton Coaster has the best bass and bluegill fishing you can even dream of. In general I have a fascination with Texas and can definitely see myself calling it home someday. A very very close second would be Magic Mountain. I love the area and the people there.

Do you have any formal training?
I have been trained and certified by NACE (national association of corrosion engineers)  as a level 3 inspector.
I also hope to instruct the NACE inspector program in the future. I should qualify for this privilege in a couple more years.

Additional footage for the interview!

Chang

Steve has traveled to almost any major theme park you can think of, he told us the following about the above picture; ‘Chang at Six Flags Louisville KY (former SF Kentucky Kingdom, currently scheduled to reopen this Spring as ‘Kentucky Kingdom’). I painted this ride twice. This is the first repaint. Several years later it was relocated to Six Flags in New Jersey (SF Great Adventure). We removed all the old coating and repainted it to its current green and black, now the Green Lantern.’

Viper AWSteve also worked in the now defunct Astro World, he stated; ‘This goes 20 years back to the Viper at Astro World in Houston TX. We had to climb on and install rigging points on top of this structure. They just didn’t think about how it would be accessed when it was built. I was a young man on this one.’

Steve doesn’t only paint roller-coasters when he works at Amusement parks, he also painted Kuahuea at Six Flags Mexico. The first picture below will show you the crew he worked with while painting the triple S&S tower. (Steve is to be found in the middle of the men). The second picture shows the progress as one of the towers did not yet receive the repaint, and the others did. It also shows some techniques.SFMSFM2

Steve Hickey has worked on many Baynum painting projects, many coasters released in the Baynum video, have been painted by Steve Hickey and crews.

4 Replies to “The Guy that Paints Coasters for a Living.”

  1. Great interview! Steve, you did a great job recounting your past, present, and future with Baynum painting. I thought the interview had a lot going for it; humor, excitement of what you do, and the technical side of our pursuits. I felt I was bicycling thru the rice fields in China with you (a little Forrest Gump flashback)!
    Thanks for representing us at Baynum Painting so well.

  2. Steve Hickey is my first born son, and as his Mother, I have to say that I have never been prouder of him! He was a good child growing up. He helped me paint our home, and, one day he said to me, “Mom, I don’t know what I will do when I grow up, but one thing I will never, ever be is a PAINTER!!” And, I said, ” Well, Steve, being a painter is a fine thing to be, that’s a great profession. You would be doing good to be a painter.” Well, we all see how that played out, and that ole Mom was right! But, he was a wonderful young man, and worked, and went to school, and bought his first car when he was only 15 years old! He was always serious and responsible about work. Then he was fortunate enough to hook up with Chris Baynum, and they have been best friends and business partners ever since, and the rest is painting history.

    Steve you are the bomb! You are a son to be proud of! You have made a wonderful success of your life, your career, and your marriage. You have raised your family with honor and respect, and are well thought of wherever you go! It’s an honor and privilege to call you my son! My son, who was never ever gonna be a painter… TOO FUNNY! ;~)

  3. Pingback: California Coaster Freaks

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