Drop on By
Newry’s engineer of fun turns his talents homeward.
With a grandchild on the way, Jim Sysko wanted to make it easier for him and his daughter, Mandy, to drop in on one another — literally. The engineer has connected their mountainside homes in Newry with a zip-line, a cable to which a pulley and harness are attached for a rider. Sysko believes his zip-line, at 4,982 feet, is the third longest in the world. “Our houses are only two miles apart, but it takes fifteen minutes to drive because it’s a steep and windy dirt road and you have to go slow,” he says. “The zip-line is direct. Boom! You’re there.”
“Boom!” is two minutes at roughly fifty-five miles per hour. It is possible to make the five hundred-foot vertical descent faster, but Sysko doesn’t recommend it. His son, Dustin, a downhill ski racer who “doesn’t mind going fast,” did it at eighty miles per hour, but with his arms and legs stretched out like Superman, he wasn’t able to reach the brake. Sysko deployed a backup brake to stop him. “It probably saved his life,” Sysko says. Suffice it to say, Dustin’s record — one minute and nineteen seconds — will likely remain unbroken.
Sysko is well known in western Maine as a creator of eccentric projects. A former chairlift engineer for Sunday River, he is the brains behind Bethel’s mammoth snow constructions, which have included two world record-setting snowmen (112-foot Angus, King of the Mountain in 1999 and 122-foot Olympia in 2008), a 112- by 100-foot maze in 2010, and last year’s volcano, a 150-foot wide by 40-foot high snow cone with firewood core that, once ignited, shot flames into the sky. He also is the engineer for Envision Rumford, a community development organization that wants to draw adventure-seeking tourists to the economically challenged mill town with an elaborate zip-line system over the roiling Androscoggin River.
His house-to-house zip-line, meanwhile, is a work in progress. Getting down the mountain, after all, is just half the challenge. He is now designing a mechanism — a twenty-one-speed tandem bike that hangs below the zip-line — to get riders uphill. “I envision this thing taking off,” says Sysko, who has patented the machine. “It might make a new industry.”
If it does, don’t expect Sysko, who is sixty-six, to slow down anytime soon. “I’ve been doing things like this all my life,” he says. “And the older I get, the more fun I like to have.” —Virginia M. Wright
Photograph Alison Aloisio/Bethel Citizen