HEBRON — Harold Brooks, organizer of the Redneck Blank Pig Roast and Music Festival that has drawn some 2,000 people to his 200-acre farm in Hebron for the past five years, is now bringing something a little different — and a lot scarier — to his farm.
During the month of October, running every Friday and Saturday night, Brooks will transform his farm at 12 Harold Lane in to the site of a zombie invasion and allow those who dare come to the farm escape from the horror in military vehicles.
Brooks, a 48-year-old contractor and organizer of multiple mass-gathering events, said Monday that the Zombie Invasion Farm Ride will use six or more 5-ton former Army trucks, transporting 20 people in each vehicle over a trail to a “Federal Emergency Management Agency camp” where participants will disembark alive and safe from the zombies and other “crazies” that will roam the farm.
The buzz on Brooks’ Facebook page about Maine’s latest Halloween attraction is quickly growing.
“This is fantastic,” one person commented.
“Sounds like this is going to be done right and put the fun back in Halloween,” said Brad Kennagh of Norway.
Brooks is well aware there will be questions about the timing of this attraction’s opening, due to the shutdown of Harvest Hill Farm’s ride, the Gauntlet, in neighboring Mechanic Falls last year, when a runaway Jeep and a flatbed hay wagon jackknifed and careened out of control on a farm trail. The Oct. 11, 2014, accident killed 17-year-old Cassidy Charette of Oakland and injured 22 others.
Until that night, the ride that had attracted thousands of people from across the state and beyond had operated at the Route 26 farm without incident since it opened in 2010. Harvest Hill Farm owner Peter Bolduc Jr. was running about seven 20-minute rides using a Jeep, SUVs and tractors along a wooded trail the night of the accident.
Last month, an Androscoggin County grand jury issued three indictments for reckless conduct against two Gauntlet ride employees and a charge of manslaughter, aggravated assault, driving to endanger and reckless conduct against the farm.
Prosecutors did not seek an indictment against Bolduc, a resident of Poland, during grand jury proceedings.
“It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy,” said Brooks, who rode the Gauntlet with his own family during its five-year operation. “Closing it down created a void, but from that tragedy, we have to do something better. We just have to do it better.”
The Zombie Invasion Farm Ride, an idea that has been swirling around in Brooks’ mind for several years, is based on his love of zombies and childhood memories of Halloween hayrides.
In late July, Brooks bought six military vehicles at auction, each capable of carrying 20 people through a 13-set maze, constructed to terrify and challenge the senses. He expects to buy four more vehicles before the haunted attraction opens.
“I’m a big fan of ‘The Walking Dead,’” Brooks said of the AMC show that tells the story of a group of survivors who travel in search of a safe, secure home following a zombie apocalypse.
In Brooks’ zombie scenario, a meteorite crashes onto Farmer Harold’s farmland, uncovering an old cemetery and unleashing the walking dead.
Participants will be placed in orange or blue groups which will be transported to a safe camp, passing through the various zombie setups, including a zombie laboratory tent, where participants can walk around as they wait to be evacuated. The setups will be under construction by September, Brooks said.
Brooks said he expects to have at least 50 volunteer zombies who will act as extras, plus a yet-unknown number of actors who will be more prominent in the scenarios.
“You want to get through safely without being infected,” Brooks said of the ride.
The wheelchair-accessible attraction is family friendly and completely safe, assured Brooks, who cautions parents to use their own discretion in bringing young children. The cost of admission is $18.
There will be no physical contact between the actors and participants.
“This will be a visual thing,” Brooks said. “We’re trying to scare people who want to be scared. Everything will be safe and fun.”
Brooks said there is an important difference between the Gauntlet ride and the Zombie Invasion Farm Ride: The Gauntlet used hay wagons that were meant to haul hay, not people, whereas his vehicles were designed to transport military personnel.
The heavy, six-wheeled, fully automatic trucks equipped with air brakes will be driven at a speed of approximately 5 to 8 miles per hour. Brooks said he will ensure the drivers have active, clean Maine licenses, and the trucks will not be rushed to play catch-up or get people through, he said.
Alcohol will also be prohibited on the premises.
Although the track through the farm will be a mile or two long, Brooks said steep hills or very rough terrain will be avoided.
Brooks said he decided to begin his venture this fall, in part, to be prepared for new regulations that may come through next year.
Following the Gauntlet tragedy, several bills were presented before the state Legislature requiring various degrees of safety oversight for farm amusement rides. Only Rhode Island has any kind of regulation for hayrides. Though the state does employ a permit system, it does not inspect hayride vehicles.
In May, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to give Maine State Police and the Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal until February 2016 to study the issue of farm amusement rides. The group is expected to offer recommendations for ensuring the safety of those who pay to take a ride at a farm.
“I look forward to working with the state by being active now so I can do a better job then,” he said. “We want a safe ride.”
For Brooks, turning his farm into a land of zombies is just another chapter in his efforts to reach out and entertain people in a fun and safe manner.
“I already have the land,” Brooks said. “I love doing events. I love making people happy. … This is about family.”