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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
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 ...
... 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
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
... signage & props that will soon be installed along
the flume ...
... 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.
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
Now you may have noticed the word "Hootenanny" on
the new poster for this Ghost Town favorite.
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.
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.
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?
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!