Wallingford continues haunted rides after inspection

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AUBURN — After one person died and 22 were injured at a neighboring farm’s haunted hayride Saturday, Wallingford’s Fruit House checked its equipment and procedures for its Nightmare on the Ridge ride.

Owner Peter Ricker said Monday that after the inspection it was decided Wallingford’s rides will continue Friday and Saturday nights at its farm at 1240 Perkins Ridge Road.

“Our rides are as safe as anybody can make them,” he said.

The tragedy at Harvest Hill Farms’ ride, The Gauntlet, at Pumpkin Land on Route 26 in Mechanic Falls was something nobody would want, Ricker said. “I know people who were there, involved. I can’t imagine being in their shoes,” he said. “It’s just devastating. It’s supposed to be a fun time.”

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The rides are only “supposed to scare you.”

Ricker said as far as he knew Monday, Pumpkin Land’s haunted hayride is the only one shutting down. “It caused everybody to take a second look at their operations. We did that. We felt pretty good.”

There’s one change at Wallingford’s haunted ride: They are covering one scene that he called inappropriate considering what happened Saturday in Mechanic Falls. The Auburn ride had a scene of a haunted hayride tractor that flipped over and bodies spilled on the ground.

“The very first thing we did Sunday morning was take it down,” Ricker said.

Ricker said he hopes the Mechanic Falls tragedy will not hurt agritourism, which is important to local farms. “It is a horrific case. It is an isolated case,” he said.

In the accident that killed Messalonskee High School student Cassidy Charette, 17, police said 22 patrons were riding on a flatbed trailer pulled by a modified 1979 Jeep CJ5. When it went down a hill, the Jeep lost control and was unable to stop the loaded flatbed. Careening downhill, the rig jackknifed, sending the wagon into a roll and hitting a tree.

That would not happen at Wallingford’s, Ricker said.

“The difference is a tractor versus a Jeep and the weight of what’s being pulled. Even in a tractor you have to be careful.”

It’s critical that the tractor or vehicle doing the pulling is able to handle the weight of the load, Ricker said. “If it’s not right, you need to upsize your tractor or downsize your load.”

Unlike a Jeep, a tractor has larger, “more aggressive” tires that can handle heavy loads, going over soft terrain without getting stuck, and has enough weight to help stop the load, Ricker said.

If a vehicle pulls a load that’s too heavy, when it tries to stop “all four tires can be braking. What will happen is the trailer says, ‘I don’t think so’ and will keep pushing, then jackknife,” Ricker said.

A tractor matched to the size of the load is able to stop, even going down a hill, he said.

Another difference is that Wallingford’s haunted hayrides don’t use flatbeds; they use wagons with sides. “We want our customers enclosed. We don’t want to chance someone falling off, or dangling feet. We don’t want stuff hitting them or go over a bump and have someone fall off.”

The Wallingford rides don’t use bails of hay. “There’s an increasing number of people allergic to hay,” Ricker said.

He employs a crew of 40 for the nighttime rides; two-thirds are high school students. His drivers are older and experienced, he said.

“Next to my manager they’re my highest paid people,” Ricker said. “They were the ones I put the most concern, thought, into hiring.”

And Wallingford’s haunted hayrides go at a slow pace and avoid hills, he said. “I chose a flat course, even though my equipment can handle it.”

Without giving away details, Ricker said his ride offers 13 different haunts, or scenes. Staffers in costumes pose using different techniques for sudden-impact scares.

“The crew loves it. It’s a great time,” Ricker said.

Asked if agritourism rides should be regulated, Ricker said no, but he would be open to safety guidelines.

“Most farmers are not in favor of regulations,” he said. “Common sense is important to us.”

He said he expects a call soon from his insurance company because of the accident in Mechanic Falls.

“We haven’t gotten a call yet because it’s a holiday,” he said.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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