Calico Mine Ride making its comeback

051514-01-02051514 01-04 WEB ONLY051514 01-05 WEB ONLY051514 01-07 WEB ONLY051514 01-06 WEB ONLY  


BUENA PARK − Start with a seven-story mountain, toss in some animatronic miners, a whistling train and a 65-foot deep glory hole -- what do you get? Theme park magic.

Who knew?

Nearly 55 years ago, Wendell “Bud” Hurlbut knew and the pioneer ride designer’s Calico Mine Ride has been thrilling and educating guests at Knott’s Berry Farm ever since.

However, after millions of riders and years of deterioration, the Buena Park-based amusement park is sparing no expense this year on a complete renovation of the mine ride, which will include new sound effects, lighting, and more than 45 animatronic figures when it reopens next month.

While the traditional dark ride’s confined layout offers little room to expand on the original storyline, Kelley Roberts, supervisor of ride maintenance at Knott’s, says the overhaul will finally bring the park’s oldest attraction into the 21st century.

“We’re redoing the rock work, there’ll be new props, new figures as well as upgraded lighting and sound,” said Roberts, a Downey native, who also oversaw the refurbishment of the Timber Mountain Log Ride last year. “This is easier and harder than the log ride...the scenes are so close together, they literally back into each other, but we’ve enhanced every scene.”

Built in 1960 at a cost of $1 million, the 50-passenger locomotive in fact overlaps itself several times during the course of the ride before exiting the mountain. Starting with the toot of a whistle and a clinging bell, the train chugs into a dark, cavernous mine occupied by underground waterfalls, multi-colored rock formations, and of course, miners from the 1880s panning for gold.

Although Knott’s executives will not confirm the overall price tag of the renovation, seven different contractors and 80 Knott’s employees are contributing to the refurbishment of the mine ride, which is slated to open on June 14.

In addition to upgraded lighting effects, Roberts said the ride’s six locomotives were each repainted by hand after being brushed and stained for extra detailing. A new boiler system was also installed in order to reintroduce “steam geysers” back into the ride.

Also, a pre-recorded, eight-minute audio track will accompany the ride once it reopens, ditching the old tour script once recited by train operators.

According to Knott’s public relations representative Leidy Arevalo, three different audio tour tracks will rotate throughout the day, giving riders the opportunity to hear something different each time.

But perhaps the ride’s crown gem, will be the nearly 50 new animatronic characters that will line the caverns of the Calico mine. Already responsible for the updates performed on the Timber Mountain Log Ride last year, animatronics designer Garner Holt Productions, based in San Bernardino, was tapped again to rehab and recreate life-like figures for the mine ride.

In fact, the majority of the figures, which includes a half-dozen animals, have already been assembled and placed inside the Calico mountain. During an exclusive look behind the scenes this week, the mine’s glory hole revealed several colorful additions.

The most memorable vignettes feature a miner pushing a wheelbarrow stamped “Calico Mine Co,” three miners using a six-foot saw to slice through a giant log beam, and a life-size animatronic donkey pulling a cart full of rocks.

Despite its age and stiff competition from roller coasters and 3D attractions, Knott’s maintains that the Calico Mine Ride remains one of its most popular theme rides among all ages.

“Our visitors want to go back in time and immerse themselves, be entertained and learn more about the past,” said Arevalo with a smile. “I guess it always goes back to nostalgia.”


Published: May 15, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 05