Some signs are legendary, and the Banshee identity sign for the new roller coaster at Kings Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio lives up to the mythological creature it was named after.
Hardly a harbinger of doom, the Banshee sign actually proved to be a good omen for Exhibit 3 Fabrications, LLC (www.e3fab.com) of Erlanger, Kentucky.
E3 Fabrications was started in June 2012 by three partners/co-owners who all previously worked in the exhibit display business for over twenty years. Danny McDaniel handles the artistic, painting side; Larry Losekamp does metal fabrication and shop drawings; and David “Dude” Johnson has a woodworking background and runs the business.
“We are a full-service, custom fabrication shop. We are with the client from beginning to end,” says Johnson. “Most of our work that we do is built on the solid relationships we have with clients.”
One of those solid relationships is with Kings Island, which chose to continue working with the three partners after they left their previous companies to start E3 Fabrications. Kings Island contacted the shop about the Banshee sign, and E3 Fabrications jumped onboard the project.
The Banshee roller coaster features 4,124 feet of scream-worthy track and a maximum speed of 68 miles per hour, making it the world’s longest inverted roller coaster. The Planning and Design Team for Cedar Fair (which owns Kings Island) wanted an identity sign that was just as impressive as the new ride.
The Cedar Fair team created a sign design and provided E3 Fabrications with a drawing, a picture of a 3D model, and a document detailing the sign’s layers and sizes.
Rather than run wailing from this collection of pictures and drawings though, E3 Fabrications relished the challenge.
“What brings out the creativity in us all is being able to try and make something look like the picture,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing better than working with your hands and getting to see the end result.”
Losekamp agrees, “This was one of those projects where you went to bed at night, and you couldn’t wait to wake up and come back into the shop and get working on it again. It was a fun project.”
E3 Fabrications started weaving together the plan that would build the tale of this Banshee by brainstorming fabrication ideas.
“We probably talked about this job for three straight weeks before materials started showing up, and so we went through every detail,” says Johnson.
But a solid plan didn’t keep the partners from arguing over details as fabrication began.
“The three of us all like to fight with each other every day over every minor detail, but I think that’s part of the process that actually winded up making [the Banshee sign] look as good it did,” says Johnson.
The team began by building a skeletal frame made out of welded tube steel. The bottom of the frame was wrapped in exterior grade 3/4-inch plywood and then coated with a Sto 101 primer adhesive to create the tombstone the Banshee rises from.
The shop created a reverse mask and sandblasted a Celtic design out of fifteen-pound Precision Board HDU, which runs around the top perimeter of the tombstone.
They then sprayed Sto 156 free form limestone over the entire tombstone portion to give it its final texture.
E3 Fabrications used a heat knife to carve the rocks at the very bottom of the base from one-pound Styrofoam.
The shop then covered the rocks with Sto 101 primer, applied a Sto 919 detailed mesh, coated the rocks again with Sto 101, and sprayed them with Sto 156 limestone texture.
The fabricators then went back and airbrushed the finer details into the tombstone and rocks using Matthews Paint’s Acrylic Polyurethane paints. (Note: Matthews Paint was used for all of the painting on this project.)
The finished base measures five feet, four inches tall, and there is an access hatch built into the back for the park-supplied fog machine.
For the cabinet behind the letters spelling out “Banshee,” Losekamp started by fabricating a 14-inch-deep cabinet out of 1/16-inch-thick aluminum.
Inside the cabinet, Losekamp built a tubular skeleton with four-inch square tubes that slid into the sign frame.
He inserted another waterjet-cut aluminum panel eight inches from the front of the cabinet. This sheet had access panels cut into it so E3 Fabrication could get inside the cabinet and screw the letters in.
The face for the cabinet was waterjet-cut from 1/4-inch aluminum and painted pink. The cabinet is backlit with LEDs for a halo effect.
The letters themselves were CNC-routed from four-inch-thick Precision Board HDU.
Many coats of exterior primers were applied to the letters, and they were painted yellow and brown. A clear coat of Matthews gloss was applied to finish off the letters and to add extra UV protection.
Behind the letter cabinet is the background that makes up the shape of the Banshee and one of her hands. This was waterjet-cut in pieces from 1/2-inch-thick aluminum and then welded together. It was sanded, primed, and painted blue and white to match all color specifications.
What really brought this sign to life, however, was the sculpted Banshee’s head and outstretched hand that reaches for parkgoers.
This head and hand were sculpted from ten-pound Precision Board HDU that was layered up to the desired thickness. “We went with the ten-pound foam for a lighter weight and because it was easier to carve,” says Johnson, noting that his company brought in the “lovely and talented” Marge Adkins to handle the sculpting of these two elements.
Holes were cut into the Banshee’s eyes for the placement of Hanley LEDs, which were wired behind the pink cabinet.
E3 Fabrications wanted to coat these hand-carved pieces with a hard shell epoxy so they could better withstand the elements; because of this, both pieces were coated in ChemCoat’s Poly-spray, a fiber-reinforced plastic coating.
Next the head and hand were primed with several coats and painted blue. Then all the details were airbrushed by McDaniel.
In total, fabrication took about two months, and E3 Fabrications had to build welded steel rolling frames to hold the large sign pieces so that they could be more easily moved around the shop. They kept the sign pieces on these frames when it came time for the installation and rolled them right onto trailers.
(Note: The sign pieces were too tall to fit on tractor trailer beds, so lower truck trailers were used so that the signs cleared the bridges on the way to Kings Island.)
Before installation could begin, Losekamp had to make a construction drawing of the sign and get it engineer-stamped for wind loads and other factors.
Once the drawing was engineer-stamped, the footing was then excavated and poured by Century Construction of Erlanger, Kentucky per E3 Fabrication’s specifications.
“We had L-bolts set into the concrete that would fit the pattern we had on the base, so we could bolt it right down when we got there,” says Johnson.
E3 Fabrications returned to the site a week or two later with four installers for the first part of the installation—the base—which took about a day to secure in place. (Note: Installation was completed over two days because Kings Island was building an entirely new area for the Banshee roller coaster. E3 Fabrications coordinated with Kings Island to work around the schedules of all the other workers.)
The shop returned with six installers to work on the top Banshee portion. They rented an 8,000-pound forklift with a shooting boom from Sunbelt Rentals to help complete the install.
The Banshee was assembled in layers. Her head was attached to the blue Banshee background, which was then slid into place over the steel tubes of the sign’s framework.
The letter cabinet was attached similarly. It had four receiving tubes built into the back, and they aligned and slid onto the four four-by-four-inch steel tubes that protruded from the sign frame. Everything was then bolted together.
The Banshee’s outstretched hand was attached next. The hand has two two-by-four-inch steel tubes that were built into the layers of the hand before carving. E3 Fabrications welded mounting plates to the tubes, and they bolted directly to the 1/2-inch aluminum background.
The LEDs had all been placed in the shop, and onsite installers ran the wires from the LEDs behind the Banshee’s eyes and on the back of the cabinet to the junction box inside the base. Kings Island ran the power to the base and hooked it up to LED drivers.
The finished sign is almost as tall a tale as the legend of the Banshee. It measures in at 13 feet, 10 inches tall-by-18 feet, 6 inches wide at its widest point.
Cedar Fair management was so pleased with the final result that they have requested E3 Fabrications to bid on future projects.
The sign may be new, but it’s already the stuff of legend, especially for E3 Fabrications. “This is, to date, probably one of our biggest and best projects,” says Johnson. “It’s definitely the coolest.”
Jump into the front seat of the Banshee and take a ride: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkuCiRQNfHQ&feature=youtu.be
By Ashley Bray
Photos: (Top) Kings Island; (slideshows) Exhibit 3 Fabrications