Saturday, June 01, 2013

Knott's Log Ride re-opens

On Thursday, I attended the Grand Re-Opening of the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm. The attraction was created and (for many years) operated by theme park industry legend Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut of Buena Park. The ride first opened in July 1969. Over 40 years later, it was still one of Knott's best attractions, but was getting a bit worn down at the corners. In recent months, the ride has undergone major refurbishment and rehab, and acquired new scenes with modern animatronics. With their elaborate re-opening event, Knott's gave more than just a nod to this important piece of theme park history.

The photo above shows (front row, left to right) John Waite, who worked for Hurlbut and opened the Log Ride with him in 1969; Ken Stack of Stack's Liberty Ranch; Lonnie Lloyd, formerly of the Hurlbut Amuseument Co.; (back row, left to right), Orange County historian Phil Brigandi; yours truly, and Knott's historian (and now employee/design guy) J. Eric Lynxwiler, who was wearing one of Bud's string ties and fez from a 1960s Knott's/Shriner event.  
Ethan Wayne admires a 1969 photo from the Orange County Archives, depicting him and his father on the Log Ride's opening day.
On opening day, in 1969, actor John Wayne and his son Ethan were the first to ride a log through the mountain. Ethan Wayne returned on Thursday with his young nephew, Duke, to rededicate the ride. Histo-tainment personality Charles Phoenix emceed the event, as he had the grand opening of new rides in the park's Boardwalk area, earlier that morning. Unfortunately, the Log Ride wasn't quite ready for guests when the ceremony was completed. In fact, it remained closed until the proper inspectors had signed off on everything, on Friday.

So we were all steered toward the historic Jeffries Barn (a.k.a. the Wilderness Dance Hall), where a wonderful but very temporary historical exhibit was available. There, we found an excellent little film about the ride, as well as the two original concept models (on loan from the Orange County Archives), a host of large historical photos (also from the Archives), original concept art (courtesy Lonnie Lloyd), and one of the original life-sized lumberjack figures from the attraction.
Lonnie speaks with Bill Butler of Garner Holt Productions, which created new figures and scenes for the ride.
Although we didn't get to see the interior of the ride, photos were distributed. It looks pretty impressive, and I'm looking forward to going back and seeing it all in person. It seems to be another piece of a larger effort to breathe new life into the parts of Knott's that make it special. Recently, they've brought back features that had disappeared from Ghost Town, begun restoring the old California Mission models, rebuilt exact replicas of buildings that were decayed beyond repair, done major overhauls on the Ghost Town & Calico Railroad, replaced the 1938 "Old Mill Stream" water wheel behind the Berry Market, removed unthemed details from themed areas of the park, improved their food, refurbished the Main Street "peek-ins," and more.
Part of a new scene: Hootenanny in the logging camp.
Thanks to the folks at Knott's for a great day and for being increasingly better stewards of their own heritage. Knott's is a lot more than just an amusement park: It's been a part of Southern Californian's lives for the better part of a century. Its long-standing focus on tradition, history and "fun for the whole family" , (not just a bunch of big steel rollercoasters), is what makes us all feel a little like it's "our" berry farm. We all want to be able to take our grandkids to meet "Sad Eye Joe" and have a sarsaparilla in the Calico Saloon someday. If the current trend of restoration continues, that may just be possible.
Another new scene: Animals take over the logging camp.


Anonymous said...

Chris Jepsen is is fortunate to have access to that log ride diorama


Connie Moreno said...

I had no idea that attraction first opened in 1969!!!! Wow. I always loved that ride.

Major Pepperidge said...

The Log Ride was one of my all-time favorite attractions when I was a kid... to the point where I felt like I knew every inch. So awesome that Cedar Fair is giving it the TLC that it so richly deserves.