Knott's Berry Farm's Log Ride gets a makeover

BUENA PARK - After more than 40 years of thrills, smiles, laughs, and splashes, Knott's Berry Farm's most popular attraction is getting a much-needed dash of technological magic this spring. The Timber Mountain Log Ride, one of the first log flume rides in the country, is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation that will update the classic attraction's sound effects, lighting, foliage, and animatronic figures.

"Forty-three years ago, this was state-of-the-art technology, but it has needed revamping since then," said Jennifer Blazey, senior specialist of public relations at Knott's. "It's a considerable amount of investment, but the Log Ride is the number one attraction in the park."

Knott's has not revealed the cost of the overhaul, but with the help of animatronics designer and developer Garner Holt Productions, the theme park is hoping to significantly upgrade the 2,100-foot-long ride while staying true to the original storyline of a lumber camp in 19th century California.

While the original ride contained just 15 animatronic figures, the refurbished attraction will soon feature 54 fully-animated characters, all new background drops, updated foliage, lighting, and a fresh, crisper soundscape.

Housed inside of an eight-story building, the Timber Mountain Log Ride, which opened in 1969, takes riders through an 85-foot-high by 330-foot-long mountain range of pine forests, waterfalls, and bridges.

Atop 42,000 gallons of water, floating logs pass a collection of mechanical figures and taxidermied animals before reaching the inevitable forty-two-foot freefall, but Kelley Roberts, supervisor of ride maintenance at Knott's, says the original scenes cannot compare with the experience riders will encounter on May 30 when the ride reopens.

"Every scene has been re-themed," said Roberts, a Downey native and 25-year employee at Knott's. "We tore everything down to nothing and rebuilt the decking. The lighting has been updated, the audio, and the animation. Right now, there are seven outside contractors working on this project."

During an exclusive look inside scene six of the new Log Ride, electricians and sound technicians were hard at work putting the finishing touches on what Roberts called the "camp fire scene."

"This scene will include bears, a deer, and a waterfall feature," said Roberts, who serves as project manager of the Log Ride refurbishment. "These beams will have tree wraps around them and there will be fake trees and foliage here." Roberts said the original log vehicles have been repainted a grainy, dark brown and now sport more detail while the fiber glass flume has been recoated and painted a "more appealing dark green."

Already programmed at Garner Holt's headquarters in San Bernardino, the animatronic figures, which include new characters and old favorites, are steadily arriving at Knott's Berry Farm this month. Roberts expects all of them to arrive by mid-May.

In addition to moving animals, the animated figures also include characters running across spinning logs, smoking pipes, and sawing through trees. Roberts says the final scene of the Log Ride is being kept secret until the day of the grand opening.

Despite the Log Ride's popularity today, ironically, park owner Walter Knott was not interested in the concept originally.

Designer Bud Hurlbut planned on designing the ride as a roller coaster that would appear as if it were floating in a trough, but after consulting with his friends, it was proposed that the attraction be a free-floating conveyance in a water-filled trough

After several rejections, Knott finally agreed to green light the attraction in 1968. The Timber Mountain Log Ride took nearly a year to construct and cost more than 2.5 million dollars. On July 11, 1969, screen legend John Wayne and his son, John Ethan, took the first ride down the flume.

"John Ethan has agreed to come back on May 30 when the ride reopens. He was six at the time the ride first opened," said Blazey who encourages all local residents to come experience the new Timber Mountain Log Ride.

"It's what you remember, but enhanced," she added. "The Log Ride was groundbreaking. Bud was a pioneer in the theme park industry...we basically enhanced what he did.

"If you have kids, come let them experience it for the first time. Come and fall in love with it all over again - I know I've fallen in love with it again."

********** Published: May 9, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 04