Many Iconic Rides Built by Former Local Company
Always Amused August 2018
By Erik Chalhoub
By Erik Chalhoub
Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Quicksilver Express at Gilroy Gardens, and Grizzly at California’s Great America are staples at their respective parks.
But you might not know that all three roller coasters are tied together by a local connection.
That is D.H. Morgan Manufacturing, a company founded by Dana Morgan in Scotts Valley in 1983 that eventually moved its operations to San Andreas Road in La Selva Beach in 1991, near the present-day Monterey Bay Academy.
Dana Morgan is the son of Ed Morgan, the founder of the famed ride manufacturer Arrow Development, known for building many of the original rides at Disneyland and coasters throughout the world.
After working as a ride operator at Playtown in Palo Alto, Morgan graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Morgan eventually became general manager of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk before he founded D. H. Morgan Manufacturing.
The company, which was bought out by Chance Industries in the early 2000s and moved to Wichita, Kan., was best known for manufacturing carousels, hyper coasters (those over 200 feet tall), coaster trains and other rides.
In 1984, Morgan manufactured the trains for Giant Dipper out of its Scotts Valley headquarters, which are still used on the coaster today. After the success of those trains, the company expanded their operations to build coaster trains, which also included manufacturing those seen on the Grizzly.
Quicksilver Express was manufactured at Morgan’s facility in La Selva Beach near Watsonville, where it sat for a number of years before finally being constructed at Gilroy Gardens in 2000.
Todd Manoff, the Boardwalk’s mechanical maintenance manager, worked at Morgan beginning in 1994 and later at Chance up until the late 2000s.
During his time at Morgan, Manoff took on a variety of duties, such as loading trucks with finished products, purchasing, attending trade shows and the like. But perhaps his favorite job was in manufacturing, crafting a variety of coaster track, trains, carousels and other rides.
“I loved manufacturing; it was a lot of fun,” he said. “You got to see all that raw material turn into this fabulous machine.
“The Morgans were great to work with.”
Morgan was also known for its antique car rides, one of which can still be ridden at Gilroy Gardens: South County Backroads, which features two separate courses. In addition, many of the park’s rides were Morgan-built.
The company got its first major from-the-ground-up hyper coaster project at Minnesota’s Valleyfair in 1995: a 200-foot coaster called Wild Thing.
“That was a big project,” recalled Manoff, who was in charge of the trains.
The small, local, family-owned company was also international. It manufactured Steel Dragon 2000, which opened at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan in 2000. Eighteen years later, the coaster, at 8,133 feet, is still the longest roller coaster in the world. It also stands 318 feet tall.
Manoff spent time in Japan prior to the coaster’s opening, training the park’s maintenance staff.
“I probably never would’ve went to Japan if not for that project,” he said.
Another memorable project Manoff worked on was the Caro-Seuss-el, a Dr. Seuss-themed carousel for Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla. Before the ride was shipped to the park, Mrs. Geisel herself came out to La Selva Beach to check out the ride, and took a spin on it herself.
Looking back on his time at the company, Manoff recalled the “beautiful setting” of Morgan’s La Selva Beach facility.
“It was a really special, unique place,” he said. “Nobody knew it was out here.”