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A cylinder with star power

White City plant's hydraulics take center stage at Vegas hotel

WHITE CITY -- Most days, there's not much glamour or flash in the work done at the Vickers plant off Pacific Avenue.

The plant makes industrial hydraulic cylinders, most of which are used in manufacturing processes out of the public's view.

Not so with one of the plant's current projects.

— — — Photo from AP

When the two ships stage a live — battle nightly, the hydraulic cylinder tilts the losing ship. Other cylinders add to the — illusion, dropping the ship a few feet into the water. — —

It doesn't look much different than others produced and refurbished at the plant, but the 88-inch-long cylinder with the 14-inch bore is destined for perhaps the world's flashiest spot: the Las Vegas strip.

The cylinder is a key piece of the Buccaneer Bay attraction at Las Vegas' Treasure Island hotel, in which two ships stage a live battle every night that ends with one sinking. The hydraulic cylinder tilts the losing ship. Other cylinders done in White City also help create the illusion that the ship is sinking by dropping it down a few feet into the water.

The cylinder was built five years ago at Vickers' hydraulic plant in Jackson, Mich. But it's being refurbished at the company's White City plant as part of its regular maintenance. Workers started taking it apart to blast off any corrosion and replace any worn parts last week and will continue for a few more weeks.

There really isn't too much difference, says plant manager Steve Moore, between this cylinder and others. We still go through the same process.

But the star power of this cylinder isn't lost on the plant's 19 employees. It's something to talk about and wish that we could go down and see it work, says John Hughey Jr., an assembler who is taking the cylinder apart -- and will put it back together.

It makes it interesting for everybody, says Moore. You get to see how it's used.

Jesse McDowell, one of the plant's machinists, says he's always curious to see what the cylinders are used for -- and it's especially interesting when the piece is put to some entertainment use.

It's kind of neat that it's going to somewhere that well-known, he says.

The plant's biggest brush with stardom came in 1993, when cylinders it produced were used in the dinosaurs for box-office smash Jurassic Park.

When the movie premiered, the company reserved part of the theater so the employees could see their work in action.

Cylinders made in White City are also in use on a number of entertainment rides, including the Star Trek attraction at the Hilton in Las Vegas and the earthquake ride at Universal Studios.

Vickers, based in Maumee, Ohio, is a worldwide leading manufacturer of hydraulic and electric products, and was acquired by the Eaton Corp. in April. The company has three plants devoted to hydraulic cylinders.

The White City plant supplies many industrial customers who use hydraulic cylinders in manufacturing processes or to open and close gates, pipelines and doors. Sixty to 70 of the plant's cylinders are bound for the Boise Cascade mill being rebuilt in Medford.

The plants also made cylinders used by U.S. Navy to open huge doors on its ships.

While industrial uses of hydraulics are still Vickers' largest market, the technology has spread throughout the entertainment industry -- from movie effects to motion-based simulation rides, to live shows on Broadway and in Las Vegas. That's a major area where hydraulics have really blossomed, says company spokesman Peter Parsons. It's not a large market for us in terms of dollars, but it's a growing market.

Hydraulics work well with the entertainment industry, Parsons says, because they allow large objects to be moved quietly and safely.

Whether you are at the Broadway show or the motion-simulator theater or the Las Vegas show or the motion-based theme park -- all of those effects are made possible by hydraulics, he says.

Vickers products, not necessarily made in White City, have gone into the King Kong ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., the Broadway productions of Sunset Boulevard and motion-simulating theaters by McFadden's and Eyeworks, to name a few.

What people don't realize, Parsons says, is that it's pervasive throughout the world.

Vickers machinist Jesse McDowell works on a hydraulic cylinder from the Buccaneer Bay attraction at the Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas. The White City plant's hydraulics usually are destined for industrial uses, but the entertainment industry also makes extensive use of the technology. - By DAVID PRESZLER