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Home > Haunter's Lbrary > Outdoor Attractions & Events > Pressure Switch for Hayride Effects

Pressure Switch for Hayride Effects
by Phil Miller

Due to limited space, exposure to the elements and lack of readily available power, hayride trail design is an art and a science. At Frightland, in Middletown, Delaware, the hayride trails twist and turn like a madman's roller coaster. This design provides the best use of a limited area, and keeps the sets in close proximity to each other (no actor likes to be isolated out in the "north forty" alone). Our attraction is located on a 1,300-acre farm, but only about 10 acres are wooded, and the nearest power is 1/2 mile away. Bringing power to the location is no easy task, and as many as five generators are utilized, along with hundreds of feet of power cord.

With electricity at a premium, we try to cut down on power consumption by using motion sensors and manual switches to turn sets on when the hay wagons are in the set, and off when they are not. This also allows for a more professional looking show, as it prevents oncoming patrons from seeing the sets up ahead. However, the problem still exists: how do we turn the sets off and on consistently? A manual switch for an actor or tech is a solution, but they tend to get caught up in the moment. They may turn on the lights at a different time for each wagon, or forget to turn off the set after a wagon passes. And asking them to work the lighting for a static set before or after their live-action set is almost impossible. Timing is everything for some of our sets; the answer has to be an automatic system to operate the lights in each set.

Motion Sensors
The first thing that comes to mind is using motion sensors to control the sets, but the timers are not very adjustable and seem to either stay on too long or go off too soon. Another major problem with some motion sensors is an undesirable "power override mode" which is activated when power goes off for a second or fluctuates. This function bypasses the motion sensor and leaves the switch on constantly to show that there was a power failure, and can be quite annoying at times.

Wandering actors and swaying tree limbs can also trip the sensors at inopportune times. Hayride actors are usually by themselves and tend to walk around or sneak off to other sets between wagons. This can cause the motion sensors of other sets to trigger, and there is nothing worst than patrons seeing actors scatter in the light like mice as the wagon rounds the bend. There are many types of sensors, including the beam splatter type used for garage doors, and photoelectric switches, which can be very expensive and usually aren't recommended to be used outside.

The Solution
Two years ago we started using air hose-controlled devices to trigger lighting and effects at each set, and the results have been very good. The hose is placed across the trail where you would like the set to be triggered. When the tractor runs over the hose, the device will transfer power from one outlet that is normally on to the other that is normally off. The unit will remain on for the selected time (usually 3 to 60 seconds), then it will switch back. Actors and  techs can step over or go around the air hose without activating the set., and the air hose controlled unit is very reliable, which means no false triggers.

We have found many ways to implement air hose-controlled switches into our attraction. In one instance, the wagon approaches a set; the lights and soundtrack are on. The wagon inches up, and once it runs the hose over the lights go out, the sound changes to scary noises and the actor jumps out. It works very well and you don't have to worry about the actor messing up his cue.

This past season we made a static set come to life. We took a budget Bucky, dressed him in a shredded tux, top hat, put an umbrella in his arm, and tied his hands together, then put him 12' high in a tree right over the wagon trail. Next we made a whistling "Singing In The Rain" loop tape. When the wagon arrived the riders heard the whistling and saw him up in the tree; as the wagon crept up, the tractor rolled over the air hose, which gave singing in the rain a whole different meaning &endash; the Bucky began to pee on the wagon. We had eliminated a control actor/tech position, did not have to worry about any timing issues, and created a set that went over really well. Even the tractor drivers loved it; they got to control the speed at which they moved, soaking who they wanted; especially those hecklers who said, "What does Gene Kelly have to do with Halloween?" Once our friend whizzed on them they quieted down. For this set,  timing was everything. It would not have worked with a motion sensor, as a false trigger may have given the joke away, not to mention all the water that would have be wasted because of false activations (we only used 30 gallons all month).

The air hose device can be used for indoor effects too. For a little entertainment in our queue line we built the "Man Eating Chicken" gag. We constructed a 2' x 4' x 4' wooden crate with a small peephole and painted "See the man eating chicken! .25 cents" in red bloody looking paint. Then we bought a 25-cent coin drop mechanism from an old video game that already had an electric switch on it and hooked up device (minus the pressure switch). We added a light to the normally off side and plugged a tape player with a loop tape of mad chicken sounds to the normally on side of the device. Patrons heard the noise but had to put a quarter in to see through the peephole; once they did the light went on for about 4 seconds, just enough time for one person to look. Usually they would not tell their friend what they saw and let them put their money in too. It was a pretty good gag and no one ever complained. It got a lot of laughs, and made a whole lot of quarters.

When building this device our priorities included safety, cost, ease of use and repair, and near foolproof operation. We built the prototype in a much larger box than was necessary; this allowed us to build it quicker and provided easier access to any parts that needed to be repaired. The main component is the solid-state cube Dayton time delay relay. There are three time models: .5-10 seconds, 3-60 seconds, and 15-300 seconds. The output is only 1 amp, so you must use a separate relay to transfer the power to increase the amperage of the load you use.

Parts List

  • 1 - Dayton off delay relay .50 -10 sec # 6A857, 3-60sec # 6A858 & 15-300 sec #6A859 (Grainger) 800-323-0620 $21.40
  • 1 - 120 VAC coil, rated 15A at 125VAC (Radio Shack) Part # 275-217 $6.99
  • 1 - Pressure Switch N.O. AC/DC 30 V, (World Magnetics) PSF101 Series 8711-005 $12.95 (616) 946-3800, All Electronics Cat# PSW-7 $1.75 each (800) 826-5432 or Edmund Scientifics Part # U41, 623 $17.95 (800) 728-6999
  • 1 &endash; 4" x 4" heavy duty plastic junction box (gray) (Home Depot) $7.57
  • 1 - (LeOton) Decora Grounded outlet 15A (Home Depot) $2.38
  • 1 - 25-50 ft length of 3/8" air hose
  • 1 - 16Ga. grounded cord
  • 1 - 1/8" barb to 1/4" NPT
  • 1 - 3/8" barb to 1/4 female NPT
  • 1 - 1/2" x 2" Bolt (hose plug)
  • · 8/32" nuts & bolts (to hold outlet in)
  • · pc. 1/4" Quick-disconnect female insulated connectors
  • · pc. 3/16" Quick-disconnect female insulated connectors
  • 3' length stranded copper wire 18Ga. (Black)
  • 2' length stranded copper wire 18Ga (White)
  • l' length stranded copper wire 18Ga. (Blue)
  • 2" double face tape
  • 6 small tie wraps
  • Optional: Foot mat switch, rated 1A at 117VAC (Tapeswitch) # CVP623 6'x23' runs $24.50 (516) 630-0442


First, mark the side of the box for the outlet. Drill 1/4" holes in the corners of the marks, then use a jigsaw to cut your marks out. Now drill a 3/8" hole in the bottom back for the cord and a hole in the front bottom for the hose barbs.

Run the power cord through the box, strip off 8" of the outer insulation, and put a tie wrap on the cord to prevent the cord from pulling out of the box. Next, cut the 3' black length of wire to four 8" pieces and cut the white wire into two 8" pieces; strip the ends of all the wires. Twist the black power cord wire and an 8" black wire together and clamp a 1/4" connector on them; this connects to #2 on the Dayton relay delay. On the other end of that wire clamp a 3/16" connector; this all plugs into #5 of the relay.

Now take the white wire from the power cord and twist it together with one of the 8" white wires and clamp on a 1/4" connector; this will plug in to # 3 of the of the Dayton relay delay. On the other end of that wire, twist another 8" white wire and clamp on a 3/16" connector for B of the coil on the relay. Twist the remaining end of that wire clockwise around the screw of the outlet on the same side the ground screw is on.

Next, clamp a 3/16" connector on one end of an 8" black wire and a 1/4" connector on the other end; this will plug into # 1 of the Dayton relay delay and A of the coil on the relay. Take the remaining two 8" black wires and clamp 3/16" connectors on each end of those wires. Plug them in to #1 and #3 of the relay, and with the other ends, connect them to the screws on the black side of the outlet. Take a pair of needle nose pliers and break off the tab between the two screws of the black side only; this will allow the outlets to be independent.

Cut the ears off the outlet and connect the ground wire to the screw of the outlet. Take the two 6" blue wires and crimp a 3/16" connector on one end and a 1/4" connector on the other. These plug in to #6 and #7 of the Dayton relay delay and the other ends go into the pressure switch. Next, wrap the three wires to the outlet with tie wraps and the do the same with the relay; this makes for a neater job. You can now take some electrical tape and wrap it around the connectors on the relay, Dayton relay delay and the pressure switch. This is just an extra precaution to prevent any wires from touching or pulling out.

Bolt the outlet into position inside the box, then place double- faced tape onto the back of the Dayton relay delay and push it all the way to the back of the box, making sure you will have access to the timer dial before securing it.

Next, take the two barbs and screw them together through the other 3/8" hole in the box. Then take the 1/8" x 3" hose, slip it on to the inside barb and on to the pressure switch. Then, put the relay and the pressure switch into the box and close it up using the rubber gasket. You can put a little silicone around the outlet to prevent any moisture from entering the box.

Now, place the air hose onto the barb; you will have to plug the other end with a 1/2" bolt. Make sure it's a good seal to prevent any water from entering the hose or air from escaping.

Finally, you can test it out. One outlet should be on; once you step on the hose the power should transfer over to the other outlet, then return the power to the first outlet when the selected time runs out.

If you choose to make your unit control sound you can add RCA outlets to #2, #4 and # 6 of the relay. They are independent from any 110v power. You can either use two stereos or record two sounds, one each on the right and the left channels of the loop tape.


Phil Miller is the co-owner at the Delaware multi element event Frightland, www.Frightland.com and the Philadelphia's haunt, Fright Factory, www.frightfactory.tv. You can contact him at Frightphil@aol.com or (609) 685-6550

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