Part of Lewiston native Chris Ward’s job: making sure that the fire-breathing dragons appear on cue, that the Hogwarts train arrives on time and that the self-knitting needles in the windows at Spindlewarps Wool Shop keep on working the yarn.

Since last year, he’s been the associate project manager for control systems for Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express and the Escape from Gringotts ride inside Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It has him digging into and managing the finely-tuned behind-the-scenes technology.

“It was definitely cool when I first got into it, not knowing how everything works,” said Ward, 35. “According to the public, it is magic. It’s definitely fun to go out while the park is open and see everybody smiling. My office is right by the ride, so I hear everybody yelling and screaming.” 

Ward graduated from Lewiston High School in 1999 after having been in Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s electrical program. He went right into Central Maine Community College’s electromechanical technology program from there.

His original interest sprang from “tinkering around with things and not being able to fix them when I was younger — you want to learn how to be able to fix them,” he said.

After earning his master electrician’s license, Ward ran his own electrical company. It was busy, but work was really basic. Wiring condos. Installing outlets.

After almost 10 years, his heart wasn’t in it and his wife, a nurse, was no longer into the snow.

The sunshine and theme parks of Florida beckoned. 

In June 2014, as soon as their boys finished school, they moved to Minneola, 30 miles outside Orlando.

“Because of all the expansion going on down here at Universal and Disney, there’s job opportunities all the time,” Ward said. “I grabbed ahold of one of them and they called me almost immediately. I had the interview, they hired me that day.”

His first job: controls technician, maintaining rides.

“Once I came in for orientation they assigned me to the new Harry Potter attraction,” he said. “I thought I was pretty fortunate; at the time I was hired, the ride hadn’t even opened yet. I wanted to get in on all the new technology and there it was, the newest attraction.”

He was promoted nine months ago, now one of about half a dozen project managers in the theme park.

Most of his work happens when the crowds aren’t in the park.

“There’s a lot of technology,” Ward said. His job includes “making sure that when (something) shuts down, that it comes back up as quickly as possible, and that whatever shut it down, make sure it doesn’t happen again. Enhancements to make things run smoother, more reliable — that includes the train, all the animation out in Diagon Alley, the ride itself.

“When the crowds are there, we’re just monitoring, making sure things are going as smoothly as they should be, and if they don’t, then that evening, making those repairs,” he said.

With so many visitors each day, safety is always in the forefront, he said.

Work now is mostly on computers instead of pulling and running wires. He said he likes that it’s circled back to the high-tech work he went to college for.

Ward didn’t read the “Harry Potter” books growing up, but he’s seen all of the movies, ridden the Gringotts ride more times than he can count and jokes that he’s “certainly had my share” of Butterbeer.

He works with a team of about 100 people in the wizarding park. He plans to go back to school this summer to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering and to balance work and school.

“The technology that makes all this stuff work amazes me every day,” he said. “To think this is just beginning. Every new ride’s got new technology in it, there’s no slowing down. If the ride goes down, that’s a bad day for us. Most of the job is making improvements to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

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