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Knott's Berry Farm looks to enhance log ride while still preserving what makes Timber Mountain so popular with theme park visitors

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Knott's Berry Farm looks to enhance log ride while still preserving what makes Timber Mountain so popular with theme park visitors

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Discovery Babe wrote in this weekend to ask:

In Friday's Tony Baxter story, you touched on the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm. Since this is my favorite non-Disney theme park attraction, I was wondering if you had any information about what is currently being done to this flume ride. What enhancements and upgrades does Knott's have planned?

Your timing couldn't be better, Discovery Babe. Late last month, I actually got Kent Maulsby (i.e. the Vice President of Maintenance for Knott's Berry Farm) and Jennifer Blazey (i.e. the senior publicist for that theme park)  on the phone. And these two was kind enough to walk me through what's now being done to this Buena Park favorite.

Visitors to Knott's Berry Farm look on as construction continues on the Calico
Log Ride in the late Fall of 1968. Copyright 2013 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

First and foremost, what Kent & Jennifer tried to get across to me was -- even though the animatronic experts at Garner Holt Productions will be helping the folks at Knott's with this nearly 5 month-long redo -- this isn't going to be a folding-an-Audio-Animatronic-Captain-Jack-Sparrow-into-the-"Pirates-of-the-Caribbean" type upgrade. Nor does Knott's have any plans to turn Timber Mountain into some sort of cutting edge, state-of-the-art thrill ride. According to Kent, this is more about making sure this historically significant flume tide gets the time, attention and long-overdue TLC that it deserves.

"For a lot of folks who grew up in and around Southern California, zooming down the flume on the Timber Mountain Log Ride was one of the high points of a trip to Knott's Berry Farm. It's one of those attractions that people closely associated with this park. An essential Knott's experience, if you will. Like riding aboard the Calico Mine Ride or dining at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant," Maulsby explained. "So when it comes to the work that's now being done on Timber Mountain, we're not trying to turn the Log Ride into something it was never was. We're just trying to make sure that this ride is always what it should be. Which is a themed thrill ride that the whole family can enjoy."

Of course, if Bud Hurlbut -- the theme park pioneer who actually designed & built the Calico Mine Ride as well as Knott's log flume (which, back in the day, was originally called the Calico Log Ride) -- had his way back in the early 1960s, this Ghost Town attraction might have been an entirely different ride experience. As theme park historian Christopher Merritt was putting "Knott's Preserved: From Boysenberry to Theme Park, the History of Knott's Berry Farm" (Angel City Press, June 2010), Hurlbut revealed to Merritt that ...

Bud Hurlbut (left) shows Walter Knott his model for the Calico Log
Ride. Copyright 2013 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

" ...  Originally, I was going to build a roller coaster, but in a trough so that the vehicles would look like they were floating."

Bud turned to his friends at Arrow Development (i.e. the Mountain View, CA-based company that built many of Disneyland Park's original ride system), Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon , to see if his roller-coaster-that-looked-like-it-was-floating-inside-of-a-flume idea was actually feasible. Bacon suggested that a free-floating ride vehicle which moved along a water-filled trough might be a far easier way to achieve the effect that Hurlbut was shooting for. Karl and Bud put together a model of this proposed Knott's Berry Farm attraction and then presented it to Walter Knott. Who then -- surprisingly enough --  turned this Ghost Town addition down.

"It would take Bud a number of tries before he could finally convince Walter to allow him to go ahead with this project," said Blazey. "Which is why Knott's doesn't have the bragging rights when it comes to being the very first theme park to build an attraction that used this log-ride system. Six Flags Over Texas was actually the first park to use the log ride that Arrow eventually developed. Whereas Knott's Berry Farm was the first theme park to build a flume ride that then took you through this completely themed environment."

John Wayne (to the right in the above image. Dark coat / dark
shirt) looks on as Cordelia Knott christens the first of the
ride vehicles to travel through the Calico Log Ride's
flume. Copyright 2013 CFEC / Cedar Fair Parks

Back when the Calico Log Ride initially opened to the public back in July of 1969 (with the Duke himself -- John Wayne -- taking part in this attraction's grand opening), there was honestly nothing else like it in the theme park world. A twisting, turning trip along a 2,100-foot waterway that took you -- at speeds of 8 - 12 feet per second -- up into this recreation of the High Sierras. Where you then zoomed by scenes showing what life was like in a 19th century logging camp before your ride vehicle plunged down a 42 foot-tall slide to splash down in the lagoon at the base of the mountain.

"It's that experience that people love. That they remember from trips that their families made to  Knott's years ago. So that's what we're trying to preserve here," Maulsby continued. "Which is why -- with this rehab -- we're making an extra big effort to stay true to the original character of the Timber Mountain Log Ride. That's why it's so great to be working with the folks at Garner Holt. They're big fans of the original attraction too. They understand exactly what we're trying to do here. Which is upgrade and enhance Knott's flume ride without then making it unrecogizable."

That said, given that Timber Mountain Log Ride is one of the attractions that regularly receives seasonal overlays (witness the "Evil Dead" retheming of this flume ride that was done for last year's Knott's Scary Farm. This was followed by the "Elf Mountain Christmas" seasonal overlay. Which then turned Timber Mountain into one of the holiday offerings at the 2012 edition of Knott's Merry Farm), Kent & Jennifer admitted that some of the more out-of-sight / behind-the-scenes changes which is currently being made at this Ghost Town classic will then make life a lot easier for those Knott's employees who have to climb up into this attraction on an annual basis &  install these seasonal elements.

Workmen rush to complete the lagoon at the base of Timber Mountain ahead of
the July 1969 opening of Calico Log Ride. Copyright 2013 CFEC / Cedar Fair Park

"That's why this particular Timber Mountain Log Ride redo is kind of a delicate balancing act," Blazey admitted. "We're trying to honor this attraction's past, preserve what has made this flume ride so popular with our Guests for almost 44 years now. But at the same time, we wanted to make sure that Timber Mountain is ready for the future. Which is why we're making all sorts of enhancements to the log ride, improving the lighting at various points along the trough, upgrading the animation of some of our figures. With the end result being ... Well, we're not trying to make something new here. There'll be no loop in the flume when we re-open. We're just trying to improve on a classic. Which -- I'm sure -- is something that Bud Hurlbut would have approved of."

This Timber Mountain Log Ride redo comes on the heels of all of the "plussing" that was done in & around Ghost Town last year. As a direct result ... Well, Knott's Berry Farm hasn't looked this good in years. More to the point, Southern Californians have been responding quite  favorably to the refreshed menus at many of this theme park's eateries as well as those new western-themed streetmosphere characters that one encounters as you wander around Ghost Town and Calico Square.

So will this newly enhanced version of Timber Mountain Log Ride get a similar sort of positive response from Knott's Berry Farm visitors? Maulsby & Blazey certainly hopes that will be the case when this refreshed flume ride officially re-opens for business. Which should be sometime later this Spring.

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  • The woman christening the Log ride is Cordelia Knott, Walter Knott's wife, the mother of Marion. EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks for pointing out my error. I've just gone back into today's article and made the necessary correction to that photo caption. Thanks again. I owe you large-scale.

  • I actually emailed Garner Holt Productions, praising them for their practically better then Disney quality work. They replied and assured that no fast ones are going to be pulled on the attraction. No cut backs and we won't be seeing a modern logging operation! It will retain it's period design and is going to be better than EVER!

  • As the author of Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers, it was nice to see Ed and Karl mentioned in the article.  Karl was a master at fluid dynamics and it is good to know that his work will live on at Knott's.

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