Ferris wheels have changed a lot in the half century since Paul Courchaine last operated one.
They’re easier to control, safer and a smoother ride, said Courchaine, 67, the newly trained head of the Scheels Sporting Goods Ferris wheel operating crew in Billings.
But for Courchaine, who last operated a Ferris wheel in high school in Michigan, it’s still a thrill to take people for a ride.
“It’s such a neat job because you’re helping people enjoy themselves,” Courchaine, a Billings resident, said last week.
Courchaine was one of about a dozen Scheels employees finishing training on the 16-car, 65-foot Eli Bridge Co. Ferris wheel inside the new store at Shiloh Crossing.
Two representatives from International Ride Training LLC did the training for the eight operators, who work part-time and include retirees and teachers. Also receiving training were three supervisors: Courchaine and assistant store leaders Matt Cowen and Will Faber.
Store officials said they have nearly hired all 300 sales associates in advance of their planned Sept. 6 opening.
When the store opens, the Ferris wheel operators will be the only ones of their kind in town — except, of course, when MontanaFair rolls around again.
For Courchaine, who was hired as a Scheels sales associate in December, unusual jobs are nothing new. He was a Franciscan monk for 30 years in Wisconsin, a position that helped bring him to Montana to work at the school in St. Labre.
He later worked in Holiday gas stations in Billings before retiring last year. But Courchaine said he was getting restless.
“I thought to myself, ‘I got to get around people or I’m going to go nuts,’” he said.
It’s working with people that makes operating a Ferris wheel fun, Courchaine said.
“Everybody that’s gotten to work it so far loves it,” he said.