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Honoring the life’s work of Bruno Rixen – the inventor and cableway king of water ski and wakeboard facilities

22.10.2018 – On 01.10.2018, due to the handover to Dr. Söhnchen, a tribute to the life’s work of Bruno Rixen took place at the water ski facility in Aschheim. Customers, suppliers, employees as well as partners actively participated in the life of Bruno Rixen through the presentation of Dr. Söhnchen.

Bruno Rixen (87) the inventor of the water ski cableway described his life’s work as follows, which was illustrated with pictures and anecdotes in the presentation:

“When my father died in 1944, I had to take responsibility at an early age and help my mother with the many additional tasks.

My transition into working life took place with my secondary school leaving certificate. I managed to find an apprenticeship as a motor vehicle mechanic, in a small repair shop with two foremen and two apprentices. Farm tractors and diesel engines became my main field of activity, a very challenging apprenticeship for me. I was able to take the journeyman’s exam early and passed it with distinction. In my home village of Groß Buchwald and the surrounding area, I was able to advise farmers on switching from working with horses to using farm tractors, and thus occasionally received a commission.

In the 2nd year of my apprenticeship, I started a company to rake flax for the farmers, for which I bought a machine and redesigned it until it was functional. By selling tractors and raking flax I financed my studies in Kiel and could even afford a new BMW “Isetta”.

After graduation, I invited a fellow student to a European trip with my Isetta and discovered young people water skiing behind a motorboat in Holland. There I fulfilled a long-cherished wish. The start with pair skis worked immediately, and the experience was so impressive that I paid my friend for a round and also had to persuade him.

As an engineer at the Olympia typewriter factory (one of 13000 employees), I then thought a lot about how I could continue to have this water skiing experience without a motorboat.

The obvious solution was a cableway as a means of traction. I started to draw and calculate. My advantage was that I had never seen a cable car before. Thus, I was not prejudiced in my technical decisions, but also had no idea of the many technical difficulties that would await me. Otherwise, it would have made more sense to give up. But I had read the book “Mein Erfolgserlebnis” by Oskar Schellbach, realized the power of positive thinking, and learned that you only achieve your goals if you constantly believe in them.

Making a pair of skis unexpectedly took up half of my vacation of 14 days already. First of all, I needed a 460 m long-circulating rope of at least 4 mm ø. A friend bought this for me. I got the deflection wheels from a combined harvester of my brother. For their suspension at a height of 6 m, I was allowed to use trees, for which the forester charged 3 DM.

In the beginning, a borrowed farm tractor “Lanz-Bulldog” served as drive. For gliding from the 3 m long launch ramp, I used a small wagon. The start succeeded immediately and I drove across the Bordesholmer lake. Hooray, it worked! At the acute angle of the 81° turn, I suddenly got slack rope, and the immediately following acceleration made me land in the reeds. My first thought was: The dream of a round trip is over! But where there is a will, there is a way. Drawing I had found out to solve the problem of the deflection at the curves by the fact that the skier goes out before some meters to the right.

A little later, an even bigger problem became apparent. The circulating rope turns around itself! When the skier got slack rope by changing the direction of travel, the tow rope wrapped itself around the revolving rope. The connecting hook between the tow rope and the circulating rope levered it over the sharp edge of the next deflection wheel in 70% of the revolutions, it was squeezed off, and everything fell into the water.

How often did I have to rejoin the two pieces of rope by splicing for hours!

During the vacation of the 2nd year, my volunteers – and of course I – had the wish not to have to stop after each round, but to continue continuously. To do this, the circulating rope had to be driven over water rather than from land. The solution was to use a wheel with a double groove, the lower one for the circulating rope over the lake and the upper one for the drive rope on the hill Eckholm, which happened to be high enough.

The acute angle of 19° on this free-floating double groove wheel gave us no trouble at all. Since it takes us too long to fire up the glow head from the Bulldog, I connected my Isetta to the flat rake and used it as a drive.

To multiply the capacity, more runners had to be connected and disconnected at full rope speed. This was the biggest challenge that kept me moving for months, always and everywhere. Finally, the redeeming thought came, but too good to be true: namely, not to start under the rope, as with all other ropeways, but sideways at a distance from the 18-meter towline.
The first drawings and theoretical calculations of the acceleration yielded fantastic results. A test installation of the ropeway on land provided practical proof. It also confirmed that the invention of the 2-rope system to compensate for the rope twist was the only solution. The decisive test, however, could only be carried out on the water.

In Ahrensburg near Hamburg, I found a suitable lake in the Bredenbek pond, unfortunately in a protected landscape area. I could not find an alternative this year. I built the railroad with my master locksmith and voluntary Ahrensburg helpers to operate it publicly against payment because we also had to prove the demand and the profitability.

With a small transport cableway, each towline was brought individually into starting position.

The now 4-cornered track was made with the least possible means. The 4 pulleys had a diameter of only 35 cm. The motor mast had no boom. Therefore it was set up with an inclination of 45°. The diesel engine at the top of the mast drove the two drive wheels, now 70 cm in diameter. On the 600 m long pair of revolving ropes, 4 drivers were distributed. Each driver had 4 wedge clamps. Each of the 4 wedge clamps connected 2 rope ends to each other and guaranteed absolute slip resistance of the carriers.

We were able to disconnect the towing lines while underway, but not yet mechanically return them. They fell into the water each time and had to be brought back to the launch site by a small rowboat.

We were able to maintain this temporary operation during June and July. Then came a demolition order because the runway was not authorized in the landscape conservation area. So again there was a big difficulty to get out of the way. When I was driving home in the evening, I passed a retirement home on the lake. There I saw 20 chairs in 2 rows. I immediately realized that the old people had been watching us water ski. I took a photo of this and sent it to the district administrator with a detailed explanation of the situation as well as the sporting value of water skiing. This brought the subsequent permission with the condition to dismantle the track every winter.

The next stumbling block was not long in coming. The two circulating ropes had different elongations. Their monthly compensation was essential to avoid rope damage, but with the 16 wedge clamps of the 4 carriers, it was too costly in the long run.

After the 2 years each in Bordesholm and Bredenbek, it was clear that water skiing with the ropeway and also starting at full speed was possible, which had been doubted for a very long time, also by the TÜV.

In the meantime, enough demand had been proven. Therefore, we were able to conclude a license agreement for 55,000 DM with a leading ropeway manufacturer in Switzerland. This company was known for special constructions and had a large design office with 60 engineers and technicians. The 1st ropeway “Made in Switzerland” was to be installed on Lake Neuchâtel. However, approval and construction could not be realized that summer. As compensation, the owner of the company supported me with 30,000 DM for my own ride in Niendorf on the Baltic Sea. There we already had the permit for a 1,200 m long square ropeway. The two circulating ropes were now 7 mm thick, 3 times stronger than before in Bredenbek, and all rope wheels now had a diameter of 700 mm.

The Niendorf ropeway marked the end of the prototype era.

Although the essential development of the water ski cableway was now complete, improvements have been made up to the present day on the basis of new findings. For example, the dragline automatic system, in which a catch fork catches the ball rope of the lines. A small transport ropeway transports it down to the operating stand, where the handle was held on the operating stand tube, and the ball rope is then deposited in the upper magazine. As is still the case today, a total of 12 towlines could be held there ready for launching. I set up the first runway with the dragline automatic and noiselessly encapsulated diesel engine with my Spanish partner Humberto Armas in 1966 in Benidorm in the Mediterranean. During its 75,000 hours of operation to date, 17 million water ski kilometers have been skied on this runway.

A few years later, I also developed a pneumatic control system for the dragline automatics.
For further ease of operation, the lanes are nowadays controlled by a frequency converter, which also ensures that the speed is maintained to within 0.5 km/h during championships.

For owners who are not at their ropeway on a daily basis, our control system allows them to check their turnover at any time from any location via smartphone.

Furthermore, an important development is our 2-mast ropeway, which requires only 15% of the water area and investment. It is usually about 150 m long, gets along with 25 m in width and is used in its versatility not only for the beginners, but also by the experts among the water skiers and the wakeboarders. We often rent these small lanes for short-term official events, such as the Alstervergnügen in Hamburg, the Kieler Woche and the Bregenzer Stadtfest.

We have always been the world market leader and received the Bavarian Export Award in 2010. Our 410 ropeways are located in over 45 countries around the world. In 6,750 years of operation, they have covered a total of 1.6 billion water ski kilometers, the distance 11 times from the earth to the sun – and that without a single accident caused by the technology.

The International Water Ski and Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) is striving to have wakeboarding recognized as an Olympic discipline. The high capacity of the cableway and the faster spread of the sport due to the 2-mast cableway play a decisive role in this.”

Quality, reliability, innovation and vision have always been the driving force and success of RIXEN, the world market leader. The world market leader is led into the future by Dr. Richard Söhnchen, managing sole shareholder of the Autision Group in Munich. The group consists of independent companies with more than 120 employees in special machine construction for robotics and measurement technology. In the last 5 years, the group was awarded 10 innovation prizes. Important competencies in control technology and rope testing have been bundled in Winspect GmbH. This division brings many years of technology expertise in ropeways.

Jose Antonio Perez Priego, President of IWWF (International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation), emphasized on behalf of the federation: “IWWF is very pleased that the Rixen company, the cornerstone of our sport, is now in good hands and will continue its innovation legacy with Dr. Söhnchen at the head of a new technical revolution”. More on this at: http://iwwfed.com/iwwf-president-meets-new-owner-of-rixen/

Start a safe, innovative future in waterskiing and wakeboarding with RIXEN and Autision Group.

For more information, visit www.rixencableway.com or contact us at info@rixencableway.com