Thorpe Park at Chertsey in Surrey not only boasts more thrill rides than any other theme park in the UK, it has also been using John Deere Gator utility vehicles for as long as anyone in the country.
The park bought its first 4x2 model soon after the vehicle's launch in 1993, and is now one of the UK's first customers for the new XUV 550 S4 Gator, a petrol engined model and John Deere's first to offer seating for up to four people.
The landscape team, led by landscape & conservation manager Dave Hill, runs two of these vehicles, plus two HPX 4x4 Gators and a TE electric model. The Gators were supplied by dealer Godfreys Golf & Turf of Wokingham in Berkshire, as part of an overall fleet deal that also included a 1565 front rotary mower, which is used with an additional flail attachment, a 4520 compact tractor equipped with a CX400 front loader, and a 5090R utility tractor that is used to operate a trailed composter.
"The lease hire agreement on our previous four TX Turf Gators had finished, and it was time to upgrade," explains Dave Hill. "With 10 full-time staff plus three or four extra seasonal staff in the summer, we have a lot of bodies to move around the site, and the time to do this is often very limited. Starting at 7am, we have to complete all our daily routine work before 10am, or 9.30am in the summer, as no vehicles are allowed in the park after these times."
The maintenance buildings are situated on the far side of a new conservation area consisting of a lake and wildlife habitat, hidden behind the park. It's around a mile to the far side of the park from the landscape team's base, so before the arrival of the XUV 550 S4s, staff had to do a lot of walking or standing around waiting for lifts from one part of the site to the other.
"The main advantage of the new four-seater Gators is that we can now legally transport more people more quickly in and out of the park, and this saves us a lot of time," says landscape team leader Dan Doherty. "We have a pre-programmed maintenance regime, and the staff have to look after a set ride every day.
"The 550s can drop them off at their allocated rides, and we can split a team of four across two jobs if required, depending on what needs doing. The Gator's rear seat folds down to provide extra carrying capacity, so we can fill up the load bed with tools from our private lockers on site, or with plants and landscaping materials. We can even carry a walk-behind mower on the drop-down rear seat if required - with the handlebar folded down, it fits perfectly, and still leaves room in the main load bed.
"We have a large number of bamboo plants in the park, for example, and with this year's weather patterns they've been growing like mad. They needed cutting back several times a week rather than just the once, to keep them from growing up through the rides. Before the new Gators arrived, this was leaving us very little time for any other jobs before we had to leave the park in the mornings, but now we can keep right on top of everything. Timeliness is the key, and the new Gators are a big help."
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