NORTH WILDWOOD — The Great Nor’Easter is taking a pounding these days.
Morey’s Piers, the owners of one of the Wildwoods’ signature attractions, have brought in a crew to tear apart much of the 2,100-foot-long roller coaster piece by piece. But the workers are only doing that to rebuild the coaster in time for next summer in a $5 million project.
The job involves a 250 ton-capacity crane that dwarfs basically everything else around it. An official with Thackray Crane Rental, the Philadelphia-based company that owns the crane, said it can stretch up to 290 feet high. That makes it far taller than the 156-foot-high Giant Wheel on Morey’s nearby Mariner’s Pier, which normally dominates the Boardwalk skyline.
It’s not a quiet job, either. The crew comes from Vekoma, the Dutch company that made and installed the Great Nor’Easter in 1995. And to take that metal monster apart piece by piece, the workers have spent the past few weeks using everything from power tools to sledgehammers to cutting torches to their own hands.
And on an otherwise hushed November morning on the Boardwalk, there are times when you can hear the job going on from blocks away.
Tom Ostrander, Morey’s safety director, said the purpose of the project is pretty simple:
“We’re trying to create a smoother ride,” he said early Wednesday morning as the sun rose over Surfside Pier, the home of the Great Nor’Easter.
The job also involves updating the 21-year-old coaster, he said, adding that sections of track and frame waiting to be added to the ride are laid out now on the beach around Surfside Pier. Pieces that have been taken off and aren’t going back are in a staging area around the old Hunt’s Pier, now owned by the Morey family.
Any project on this scale naturally draws curiosity, and Cappy Capacchione and his crew of morning bike-riding buddies have been watching the job since it started last month.
“You should have seen what it took them just to get that crane into position,” said Cappacchione, who figures he rides past the pier every morning and passes regularly in his job as operations director for the Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District.
“Watching that machine work is just spectacular,” he said.
Sean McDermott has been an occasional spectator in his job, too, as a carpenter for the city of North Wildwood. But he also spent 15 years as a carpenter on Morey’s Piers, and he remembers working on the footings for the Great Nor’Easter back when it was being built. He said even the little pieces of the coaster aren’t so little.
“Some of the bolts were 4 feet long and 2 inches in diameter,” he said Wednesday on the Boardwalk outside the pier.
Members of the work crew didn’t want to talk about the project, but they reportedly speak in varying combinations of Dutch, German, Polish and English. They’re also regulars for breakfast at the Key West Cafe in Wildwood, where co-owner Jackie Mikulski said they’ve been a hit with lots of the other customers for the past few weeks.