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Cache native breaks a speed record

By Jacob Moon
On September 30, 2002

Imagine a man standing at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas with his hands out-stretched.

Most people are familiar with Las Vegas, including the hotel and monument of the Stratosphere on the city's skyline. Among the other hotels and casinos, this rocket-like structure juts out of the desert, exposing itself to the world. Some people may even be familiar with the thrill rides that sit atop the hotel.

One of those rides, the Big Shot, was designed and built right in Cache Valley.

S&S Power, Inc. is a local company which specializes in tower-style thrill rides like the one on top of the Stratosphere. Stan Checketts, CEO of S&S Power, is the man who started it all.

A Cache Valley native, Checketts has always been known for his desire to find ways to get a bigger rush, he said.

"A long time ago, I used to tie ropes to trees and off of cliffs for my family to ride," Checketts said.

Because of this yearning, Stan and his wife Sandy, the second 'S' in S&S, started a company in 1989 called Sports Tower, Inc., which specialized in a safe system for bungee jumping. The company was later sold, and after a few other changes to the business, it ended up as S&S Power, Inc., according to a company release.

Currently S&S has installed more than 110 tower rides and two roller coasters in 24 different countries — including Japan, Sweden, Brazil, China and Spain.

"The company has been blessed to be worldwide," said Kathy Archer, S&S human resources representative. "It is amazing what that does for your geography and perspective on the world."

Among its creations, S&S currently boasts a record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest roller coaster in the world.

The Thrust Air 2000 debuted at Paramount's King's Dominion, a theme park in Richmond, Va., in March 2001.

According to S&S, the Thrust Air pushes the thrill ride envelope, accelerating from zero to more than 100 mph in just under two seconds.

Checketts said the idea for the Thrust Air came about because the company was already using the same technology in their tower rides, like the Big Shot in Las Vegas, which launches passengers 185 feet in the air at 40 mph.

"There will eventually be a faster coaster," he said. "But no one else will ever be able to say they broke the 100-mile mark."

Checketts said his idea of a fun ride is not one that twists and turns the riders, making the them sick, but rather something simple to give the ultimate adrenaline rush.

"If someone asked me to build a roller coaster with a lot of spins and corkscrews, I just wouldn't do it," he said. "My goal is to amuse, not abuse."

A ride gets most of its thrill from a feeling of exposure, Checketts explained.

"If someone is to take a ride in an airplane, they would think nothing about the fact that they are going hundreds of miles per hour 30,000 feet in the air," he said. "But if you strap someone to the wing of the plane, they would have had quite a thrill before the plane even left the ground."

Checketts said that even though his company builds so many thrill rides, he is terribly afraid of heights. This is hard to understand considering he makes an attempt to climb every one of the rides his company builds. He climbed 1,000 feet from the bottom of the Stratosphere to the very top before his ride debuted there, he said.

"When it was built, I told the engineers I wanted a way to climb from the dirt to the very top, and they made it possible," he said.

Archer said she can't imagine working for anyone else.

"There is a positive energy here," she said. "I can't imagine building another product that could possibly be so much fun."

Ryan Burlson, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Utah State University, also works for S&S as an engineer. He said he must have the best job in the world.

"Some of these rides scare the crap out of me," he said. "But I love it."

Archer said most of S&S' 45 employees are students or graduates from USU.

"It is a contribution of a lot of people's efforts," Checketts said. "I have a lot of wonderful engineers and hard-working people who have helped me develop and pursue my dream."

He said it is hard to be in the amusement ride business, though, because a lot of people are always watching what he does and making sure everything is safe.

"The truth is that someone is 23 times more likely to get hit by lightening than they are to get hurt at an amusement park," he said.

"Even though we already have to have high safety standards for the rides, you have to realize we are building rides our kids and families will be riding," Checketts said. "So, we obviously want them to be as safe as they can be."

Checketts said the best part of his job is bringing happiness to so many people around the world.

"If one thing brings me joy, it is to know someone has experienced a good thrill and walked away happy," he said.

S&S is currently demonstrating two of its newest rides in Logan. The Sky Sling is located at 2400 West on Highway 89 and the other, The Sky Swatter, is at the headquarters at 350 W. 2500 North in North Logan.

—jacobomoon@cc.usu.edu

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