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August 08, 2014

Orlando: A Gator haven!

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Last year Orlando, Florida welcomed 59 million visitors, an all-time record for U.S. destinations. A key magnet, of course, is the area’s concentration of awesome theme parks.

Interestingly, Gator’s history is intertwined with Orlando’s growing popularity as a tourist destination. Dating back to the company’s founding 45 years ago, Gator has built hundreds of aluminum structures for theme parks.  In fact, if you have been to a Florida amusement park, chances are you have walked on a Gator structure.

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Stories abound of Gator’s projects for famous theme parks.  To share some of those stories with blog readers, we asked Jon Fleischman, General Manager of GatorDock and a part owner, to reminisce.

Jon joined Gator in 1980.  It was a perfect match, since Jon brought Gator six years of aluminum and steel welding experiences from the Navy. And today, many of his first Gator projects can be seen along America’s coastlines and lakes.

OK, here’s the first of Jon’s stories!

The “secret” swiveling bridge

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What could be a better place for Gator structures than an aquatic park?  Years ago, for one of Orlando’s most famous aquatic parks, Gator built a large floating platform for a stunt ski show. The platform, measuring about 50 feet by 50 feet, had three varying-height ski ramps.

That project led to a much bigger one that’s still in use today:  a long meandering aluminum-and-wood walkway crossing an inlet.  You’ve heard of draw bridges? Well, this is a walkway with a swiveling bridge in the middle—unbeknownst to thousands of visitors who cross it daily.  During the park’s open hours, the bridge is almost undistinguishable from the conventional walkway. After hours, hydraulic pumps can lift a section of the walkway and rotate it 90 degrees.  Park personnel, contractors, engineers and Gator created this “secret” passage to enable boats to transport supplies and materials. 

Aluminum played a key role in the project’s mission.  Why? There are several reasons:

  • Aluminum’s light weight made the swiveling bridge section practical. For a wooden or steel structure, much more powerful hydraulics would have been required.
  • Theme parks don’t just have high traffic – they have incredibly high traffic on all of their visitor paths. The worst place for rot when accommodating heavy traffic is in the supporting structure. With its all-aluminum frame and supports, the walkway structure will not rot and wear like wood and it certainly won’t rust like steel.
  • The park wanted wood decking, which requires occasional replacement because it wears and rots faster in high-traffic environments. The walkway’s aluminum frame, however, makes it far easier to replace individual deck boards as needed, without replacing any of the supporting structure.

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