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Knott's Berry Farm freshens its flume with a multi-million dollar redo of Timber Mountain Log Ride

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Knott's Berry Farm freshens its flume with a multi-million dollar redo of Timber Mountain Log Ride

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It's one of the hard realities of the theme park business. You may have this absolutely killer concept for a new attraction in your head. But when you factor in the size of the budget that you've been handed coupled with the amount of time that you have left to actually construct this ride, sometimes only a fraction of the show that you had in your head makes it out into the real world.

Bud Hurlbut (l) and Walter Knott look over the scale model of
Calico Log Ride. Copyright Cedar Fair Parks.
All rights reserved

That -- as I understand it -- is what actually happened with that Knott's Berry Farm attraction which, when it first opened at that theme park in July of 1969, was originally known as the Calico Log Ride. Bud Hurlbut had spent 5 years developing the idea behind this elaborately themed flume ride. Which was supposed to recreate a journey through the rough-and-tumble timbering operations which used to be found in California's North Woods. But given that Walter Knott wasn't exactly enthusiastic about this proposed addition to his theme park, Hurlbut was forced to cover the Calico Log Ride's construction costs all by himself.

And when you're talking about building a mountain that's 300 feet long & 85 feet high which then contains a flume that's 2,100 feet long ...

Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

... $2.5 million could only goes so far. So while this triple level attraction featured some fun vignettes which showed taxidermied animals peeking out at passersby through the thick underbrush & animated lumberjacks hard at work alongside that flume ...

Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

... given the time crunch that Bud was working with (he only had one year to complete construction of this entire attraction), the limited budget he had plus the physical limitations of non-Disney-built mechanical figures back in the late 1960s ... Well, the Calico Log Ride AKA Timber Mountain Log Ride may not have been everything that Hurlbut had originally dreamed of. But for its time, this theme park attraction was still pretty darned impressive.

Cordelia Knott christens one of the 450 pound fiberglass logs that
floats through this elaborated theme flume ride as John Wayne
looks on. Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

By that I mean, John Wayne and his son John Ethan (who were the first to experience this flume ride when it first opened to the public on July 11, 1969) certainly thought so. As were the 2.7 million Knott's Berry Farm visitors who have annually climbed aboard this log flume so that they can then experience a thrilling four minute-long trip through Timber Mountain which ends with a watery plunge down a 42 foot-tall incline.

But as the folks at Cedar Fair Parks (which recently completed a freshening up of this theme park's historic Ghost Town area) were looking for additional ways to plus Knott's Berry Farm, they took a closer look at Timber Mountain Log Ride and then wondered: Was it now time to perhaps deliver on the promise of the original premise of this flume river? Maybe serve up the sort of show that Bud Hurlbut would have done back in the late 1960s if time & money had not been an object?

With this goal in mind, Cedar Fair Parks partnered with the fine folks at Garner Holt Productions to look into ways that Timber Mountain Log Ride could possibly be enhanced. First and foremost, preserving what had made this flume ride an Orange County favorite for nearly 44 years now. But at the same time, serving up the sort of show that Bud Hurlbut would have put together back in the late 1960s if he'd had the opportunity / access to this sort of sophisticated technology.

Get ready to grab your hardhat for a behind-the-scenes tour.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Last week, Knott's Berry Farm gave a handful of journalists & bloggers a hint of what the freshened-up / reimagined version of its Timber Mountain Log Ride will look like. Though there's still plenty of work to be done as part of this 5 month-long refurb, between the concept art for new show scenes  ...

Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

... signage & props that will soon be installed along the flume ...

Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

... not to mention the high quality of those sample animatronic figures which Garner Holt's people put on display that morning ...

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... all signs point to Timber Mountain being transformed into ... Well, a ride that -- while obviously still being respectful of its storied  past -- is about to genuinely impress a whole new generation of theme park goers.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

When it came time to actually tour the eight story-tall structure that this historic flume ride is housed in, it quickly became apparent to the assembled journalists & bloggers how extensive a makeover Timber Mountain is now receiving. Entire rooms which were previously stuffed full of show scenes had been gutted. All to make way for the 60 incredibly lifelike animatronic animals and human figures which will soon be installed inside of  Ghost Town's tallest peak.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

I was lucky enough to get the chance to tour Garner Holt Productions back in March of this year. And as I wandered through GHS' two massive buildings into that San Bernardino office park, the artists and technicians there were already hard at work on the new animatronic figures for Timber Mountain Log Ride. Using all of their skills to create lifelike mountain lions ...

An artisan at Garner Holt preps the head of a
mountain lion animatronic which will be
featured in Knott's redo of its Timber
Mountain Log Ride. Copyright
Garner Holt Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved

... and wolves ...

Copyright Garner Holt Productions, Inc. All rights reserved

Not to mention human figures (which -- according to one of the GH sculptors that I spoke with back in March) which will draw much of their inspiration from those sorts of carefully caricatured characters which Blaine Gibson used to sculpt for Disney's theme park attractions.

A trio of the new human animatronic figures being built for TMLR.
Copyright Garner Holt Productions, Inc. All rights reserved

Now you may have noticed the word "Hootenanny" on the new poster for this Ghost Town favorite.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Not to spoil some of the surprises that Knott's Berry Farm has planned for the newly enhanced version of Timber Mountain Log Ride, but you may see this banjo ...

Copyright Garner Holt Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved

... popping up in the hands of one of those animatronic humans pictured above as you float through the Hootenanny portion of this attraction sometime later this year.

Beyond that, I have to admit that it was very cool to get up close to the crew as they used fabric & faux fur to create animatronic animals that look like an awful lot more lifelike than the old, dusty taxidermied specimens which used to be on display inside of this flume ride.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

That -- in a nutshell -- is kind of the key to what's going on with the Timber Mountain Log Ride redo. Knott's Berry Farm is taking everything that you remember about this flume ride and -- while preserving the parts that were already popular (i.e. its three drops, the way that you whiz along through this attraction at speeds varying from 8 to 22 feet per second) -- they plussed a lot of the other elements found in this watery thrill ride. Thus transforming Timber Mountain Log Ride into the sort of attraction that will still thrill longtime Knott's Berry Farm fans while also entertaining the next generation of theme park goers.

Photo by Shelly Valladolid

As you can see by this photo that was just taken last week, there's still a lot of work to be done on the interior & exterior of this elaborately themed flume ride. But if all goes according to plan, Timber Mountain Log Ride will begin taking Knott's Berry Farm visitors through a brand-new version of California's North Woods just as this theme park's busy summer season is getting underway.

Copyright Cedar Fair Parks. All rights reserved

So what do you folks think? Are you ready for a freshened-up flume ride at Knott's Berry Farm?

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  • this makes me wish Disney had actually built western river expedition

  • It sure has been impressive to see all of the work that is going into this classic Knotts' attraction.

    I don't understand why Grizzly River Run in DCA, (an obvious clone of a pre-existing ride at Knotts) doesn't have any animatronics or story.  Can't Disney pay Mr. Holt to make some animatronic animals for that ride, which frankly, is so boring that I only rode it a couple times over the past decade.

    With regards to WRE, something like that might get put into Frontierland in Disneyland, perhaps using new ride technology that will be put into Shanghai Disneyland.  I kinda think that Disney's latest Oz offering didn't do well enough at the box office to become a ride.

  • Thanks for the great photos and article Jim.  This historic attraction is definitely getting the "love and care" that it deserves.  I thank the Knott's Berry Farm team and its parent company, Cedar Fair, for taking on this project and preserving Bud Hurlbut's vision of the first highly themed indoor log ride.  With today's technology, that was not available in Bud's day, Knott's and Garner Holt are preparing to unveil an amazing upgrade to this iconic attraction.  I can't wait to experience it Memorial Day weekend.  Let the "Hootenanny" begin!

  • Kudos to Cedar Fair for "going against their own grain" and spending the money to maintain, enhance, and ADD theming to their wonderful KBF park.  After seeing them strip what little theming was in the former Paramount parks, I figured for sure that Knott's would follow suit.  Happily, I'm VERY wrong up to this point.  For an "amusement park" operator to run/maintain an actual THEME park, Cedar Fair is doing a wonderful job.  Keep up the good work!

    Nice story, Jim.  Thanks!

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