Friday, January 24, 2014

The Calico Mine Ride, Knott's Berry Farm

Bud Hurlbut at his Buena Park workshop in a Calico Mine Ride engine.
In 1960, Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut (shown above) opened a fun new attraction at Knott's Berry Farm that taught us all how the gold mines of California once operated. Bud and his Hurlbut Amuseument Co. designed, built and operated the Calico Mine Ride for decades before actually selling it to Knott's. It was the first real "dark ride" on the farm, and it's still surprisingly effective today. Visitors climb aboard a mine train and travel deep into the dark recesses of a mine, seeing both the activities of the miners and a variety of dramatic geologic features.

Knott's announced in November that the ride would be refurbished with the help of Garner Holt Productions, following in the footsteps of the recent rehab of Hurlbut's other key Knott's attraction, the Timber Mountain Log Ride. In early January, just hours before the ride was closed and work began, I took one last ride. The photos below all come from that evening.
Curiously, the real town of Calico, in San Bernardino County, was a silver (and later, borate) mining boom town. Hurlbut changed his version of the Calico Mine into a gold mine. One suspects that more people were familiar with the Gold Rush than with mining in the Mojave Desert. And let's face it, a gold mine just sounds sexier than a silver mine. And let's not even talk about borate.

(By the way, the Orange County Historical Society is organizing a group historical excursion to the real town of Calico on March 22nd. Click here for details.)
Miners of various ethnicity are depicted in the ride, including the Chinese, who played an important role in the Gold Rush.
In a recent press release, Knott's said the Calico Mine Ride "will undergo an all-encompassing refurbishment," complete with fifty "new state-of-the-art animatronic figures and enhanced scenery," along with "all new audio, [a] theme lighting system, and special effects."

You can see a bit more of the ride's original interior in the video clips I posted here back in 2008.
The 360-degree, four-story "Glory Hole" scene is viewed from two levels.
Garner Holt, president and founder of the company doing much of the refurbishment said he intends to "preserve and enhance the original story of a working gold mine deep in the heart of the Old West" and that the ride "will be filled with lifelike sounds and motion, while maintaining the uniquely authentic feel of the attraction..."

That sounds promising. This great attraction certainly needs and deserves some TLC after 54 years. But it would be a shame if someone were to go in and turn it into a series of humorous tableaus or started throwing in more historical inaccuracies. "Preserve" and "maintaining" sound like the right note to strike. Part of why the ride works is because -- despite the limitations of 1960s technology -- it does have a sense of authenticity.
Miners cut timbers to support new tunnels.
In theory, the revamped ride should reopen in June. I'll do my best to be on one of the first trains to roll back into the mountain. The Calico Mine Ride isn't just a fun way to convey California history -- The ride itself is also a piece of Orange County history and theme park history.
The tunnel begins to collapse as dynamite explodes all around.
Happy Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day, everyone!


Oengus said...

Wow. I have been on that ride many times. Is it still there?

Major Pepperidge said...

I'm so glad that the Mine Ride is getting some well-deserved TLC. It's still brilliant.