A Look Inside the Refurbished Knott’s Berry Farm Calico Mine Ride

Written by Norman Gidney. Posted in Features, Knott's Berry Farm

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Published on May 30, 2014 at 12:18 am with 34 Comments

Situated in the heart of Knott’s Berry Farm is a remarkable piece of theme park history. The 54 year old dark ride masterpiece, the Calico Mine Ride.  Designed by Wendell “Bud” Hurlbut and opened in 1960, the attraction was a groundbreaking mix of immersive theming and educational storytelling.  This attraction sent riders on a journey aboard “ore carts” for a tour of the spectacular mine. It featuring full-sized, animated human figures in a 360° themed environment, seven years before Disneyland opened Pirates of the Caribbean just down the freeway.  The Calico Mine Ride set a major precedent and became an instant hit with guests.

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The Calico Mine Ride under construction.

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Among the first riders through the mine were Walt and Cordelia Knott.

Over the years the attraction remained a popular classic while, outside, the park evolved around it.  Nine years later, Hurlbut opened the equally brilliant, and far more playful The Timber Mountain Log Ride just across the way. The Timber Mountain Log Ride was the world’s first fully themed flume attraction, twenty years before Splash Mountain would open at Disneyland.  Then, Arrow Development debuted the first inverted corkscrew coaster in 1975, The Corkscrew, just behind the mine ride in the former Roaring 20′s section of the park.  Innovation was a common occurrence on the farm as every new dark ride or roller coaster aimed to wow as well as entertain.

Even as guests tastes evolved (looking for the next “first” or the most extreme), The Calico Mine Ride quietly remained a staple guest experience.  Steel supports for coasters sprouted up from the ground, beckoning thrill seekers from around the world. Unfortunately, the attraction progressively fell into disrepair.  Many show effects slowly stopped working.  Figures along the tracks were not so much refurbished as they were patched up.  The once glorious attraction was no-longer innovative and became a musty museum of antiquated entertainment while the park focused on thrill over theme. Still, the attraction remained, dutifully churning guests through what remained of its former glory.

Then something amazing happened.  Matt Ouimet (former Disneyland President) became President and CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company and they realized what a gem they had on their hands with Knott’s Berry Farm.  General Manager Raffi Kaprelyan was hired in late 2011 and almost overnight, the park began to change.  It wasn’t until a year later that we knew Raffi was serious about his plans to bring Knott’s back to its former glory as a family destination.  In January 2013, a major refurbishment was officially announced for the Timber Mountain Log Ride.  The animatronic wizards at Garner Holt Productions (GHP) would be tapped to infuse the attraction with a new storyline and over 60 new animatronics.

The renovated Timber Mountain Log Ride opened to rave reviews from both visitors and critics alike.  The  Marc Davis-like gags and vibrant lighting and sound revitalized the classic attraction.  Yet, the original Calico Mine Ride sat, just steps away, without any attention being given to it.  Or, so we thought. The idea of tackling the Calico Mine Ride was one that Knott’s got serious about during the log ride project. “We began to see the impact that the log ride refurb was going to have,” explained Director Entertainment Production, Lara Hanneman. “There was no way we could have the mine ride as a book end to that attraction in the state it was in.”

The Creative Forces Behind the Renovation

Knott’s Berry Farm announced the renovation of the Calico Mine Ride in November of 2013 with the same creative forces that had handled the Log Timber Mountain Log Ride.  Garner Holt Productions would again be on board to handle all of the figures, animated and otherwise, along with pitching scene and story ideas.  Head of Park Decor, Jeff Shadic, would again be dressing the sets and producing the props.  Lighting would again be handled by James Sidler and Kyle Arnold, while Lawrence McCoy and Richard Little would bring their sound design expertise to the depths of the Calico mine. Wrangling them all would be Lara Hanneman.

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Knott’s Berry Farm Director Entertainment Production, Lara Hanneman

The creative direction of the improvements to the ride, while helmed by Knott’s, were truly a team effort. Everyone brought ideas to the table. In contrast to the fast-paced approach of the Timber Mountain Log Ride, the Calico Mine Ride already had a clear-cut agenda, built to educate as well as entertain.  Hanneman notes, “We have have a more authentic story here.  We wanted to represent the different ethnicities that would have been here in the 1800′s, doing what they would have been doing in a mine.”

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New rocks are being constructed to hide the exterior mountain lighting.

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That isn’t to say that the ride will be less entertaining.  There are many surprises in store when riders board the trains on June 14th.  While the trains will still be piloted by humans, guests will hear any one of three new narrators. Pete “Sluice Box” McGee,  Polecat Mahoney, and Powder Keg Anderson Peg will be heard delivering the tour narration through the refurbished trains onboard audio systems.

Visitors will also literally be welcomed into the mine by the first animated figure, The Greeter. “We also have a character that will be talking to you now, addressing the train as you pass by, welcoming you into the mine.” Hanneman adds.

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Just past The Greeter is the Boiling Pot Room. Real steam has been added after having been absent for 20 years. The way the steam catches the heavily saturated tones in James Sidler’s lighting design is a thing of beauty.

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Garner Holt Productions Animatronics

Just after the Calico Mine Ride closed in early January 2014, Garner Holt Productions descended on the attraction’s figures.  Despite being an older attraction, the figures were in far better condition than those found in the former log ride.  It was found that some of the figures did not need replacing, but rather a proper refurbishment.  With careful respect for the heritage of the ride, Garner Holt Productions meticulously restored the mechanisms, originally designed by Bud Hurlbut himself, and simply filled out the figure, giving them a more life-like appearance.

Standing in the massive Glory Hole scene, we got an up-close look at the new and newly refurbished figures.

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For this refurbishment, GHP is planning on installing just over 120 new and refurbished figures in the Mine Ride for the redo, with most of them being animated!  ”We’re excited to now be doing the animation for the entire attraction,” said Garner Holt, “It’s gonna be pretty cool!.”  He continued, ”The important thing is that we wanted to maintain the continuity of the attraction.  Not just inside of it though, but to be harmonious with all of the characters in Calico and in the Log Ride.  We wanted it all to look like it was part of the same town, part of the same family, the same community and town.”

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For the first time, there will also be an animated character in the elevator shaft that runs through the ride.

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Around the bend, we approach the lift hill at the center of the attraction.  At the time it was built, it was the steepest enclosed lift hill ever attempted.  So steep, in fact, that Hurlbut and his team were the only ones willing to take on such a perplexing endeavor.

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Of course, this hill leads straight up to the famous “Heaven” room.  A dream-like, ethereal colored space of stalactites and stalagmites that acts as a sort of crescendo to the daunting climb.  We are leaving that reveal for opening day.  But there are some things we can share that you will see along the way.

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A Garner Holt Productions idea, this scar-faced miner holding a caged canary gives passerby the all clear to proceed up the hill.

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Further up the hill, we will encounter an active cave of bats.  Watch out, they may take flight!

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Props and Set Design

Manager of Park Decor and Entertainment, Jeff Shadic, spoke about the hard work that is going into everything, even the props, for the new attraction.  ”We are rebuilding everything,” said Shadic. “All of the dynamite crates are all being completely rebuilt out of cedar, and they’re tongue-in-groove, just like they were opening day. The actual sticks of dynamite are going to look real.  Not like the cartoony, Wile E. Coyote style look, but authentic.  It has to be educational as well as entertaining, just like Bud Hurlbut had it when it opened.”

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“In the beginning,” says Hanneman, “we thought the mine ride was going to be an easier project than the log ride.  The mine ride is just one building, whereas the log ride is three separate buildings, filled with water.”  She laughs and then admits, “But when we got in here, we realized just how tight and compact it is.  Nearly every square inch is show space.”

Care also had to be taken when Lawrence McCoy and Richard Little were installing the state-of-the-art sound system.  ”We had to be sure that where we were drilling wasn’t going to punch through to another show scene” explains Hanneman.  The same went for the fully revamped lighting package, helmed by James Sidler.  A mix of incandescent and LED lighting, they were very careful to hide all light sources.  Sidler explains, ” You won’t see any can lights here, no more of that.  We wanted it all to look very organic, hiding where the light is coming from.”

Halloween Haunt and The Witches Keep

When the Timber Mountain Log Ride was refurbished, it signaled the end of any seasonal overlays for that attraction. After 40 years of Halloween fun, the wear and tear on the beloved flume ride was tremendous.  It simply made sense that live actors would no longer be allowed to hide along the route, possibly damaging the nearly $6 million investment in refurbishments.

While Halloween Haunt fans mourned the loss of the brilliant log ride as a haunt experience, we have been able to confirm that The Witch’s Keep will indeed return this year for Halloween Haunt inside the Calico Mine Ride!

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A more reserved Halloween experience, The Witches Keep uses no actors and only a change in sound, lighting, and just a few changes in set dressing.  Can we then hope that Knott’s might consider enlisting Garner Holt Productions to plus the experience up?  Dare we even ask for a new log ride overlay that keeps the newly renovated ride safe too?  We can dream.

We then asked Hanneman what her favorite feature of the newly refurbished Calico Mine Ride will be when it opens.  ”You know, I’m all about the details. But I think I will be proud of the fact that it all got done, and done right.”  From what we saw inside the mine, they are certainly on the right track. . . preserving the history and look of the attraction while enhancing the show, story, and effects.

Here’s a great behind the scenes video of the Mine Train, featuring Bill Buttler and Garner Holt of Garner Holt Productions, which was sent to us by Knott’s Berry Farm:

Visitors will soon be able to visit the world famous Calico Mine Ride once again when it returns to service on Saturday, June 14th, 2014.  We hope that we will see all of you there, bright and early, to celebrate the restoration and return of this beloved and innovative attraction.

We would like to offer a huge thank you to Andy Castro for his assistance in the production of this article.  For a closer look at Andy’s photos from inside the refurbished Mine Ride, click here.  We would also like to thank Knott’s Berry Farm for inviting us in to get a look at what is happening inside this beloved attraction.

 

About Norman Gidney

Norman Gidney, also known as Fishbulb, produces and edits many of the articles on MiceChat. Tune in every Tuesday for the Orlando Parkhopper and every Friday for In The Parks. But you'll also find his photos in the Weekly Round Up, SAMLAND, and numerous other columns on the site.

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  • Bongo

    Does anyone know how long it would take for the Haunt to return back to the Calico Mine and Timber Mountain Log Ride? I’m all for restoration and preservation of these two classics, but at the same time they provide some really ample opportunities for Haunt attractions. I would like to give the ride a few years on break from the Haunt, but would still love to see it return in the future.

    I also cannot wait to see this refurbishment in person. I have very fond memories of the Calico Mine Ride even if I rode the ride so much during the ride’s time in disrepair. To put that into perspective, I was riding the Calico Mine right around the time when Kingdom of the Dinosaurs was on its very last legs. When I was young, probably around 6 to 8 years old, I used to go to Knotts so very often, and would drag my dad to ride the Calico Mine again and again and again. From park opening to when the park was just about to close. I haven’t been to Knotts in roughly 4 or 5 years, so my memory has gotten fuzzy of the ride’s intricate details. So going back and seeing it in a new light and perspective is absolutely exhilarating to me.

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      The Mine Train WILL be haunted this Halloween. But no live actors will be used.

      There are lots of reasons to not have live actors in these attractions: safety, cost, damage to the attraction. Knott’s would love to use these spaces, but at the moment, it just doesn’t make operational sense to do so.

      We like the Witches Keep idea as a nod to Halloween which also doesn’t destroy the attraction or create CAL/OSHA issues. Perhaps something similar can be cooked up for the Log Ride.

  • LoveStallion

    Great to see this level of commitment and progress.

    Now to bring back the Haunted Shack….

  • MrTour

    AND bring back Knott’s Bear-y Tales!!!

    • TCadillac

      If that came back along with the Soap Box Racers I could die happy

      • LoveStallion

        Well said! I love Xcelerator and it’s a solid, unique addition to the park that doesn’t take away from atmosphere (*cough* Pony Express *cough* Silver Bullet *cough*), but my childhood nostalgia for the Soap Box Racers is just immense. I can’t even name another park I’ve visited with a steeple chase-type ride of that variety.

        Bear-y Tales would be great. The old building added depth to the space and also helped one forget that he or she was about 20 feet from the intersection of La Palma and Beach. Now it’s too open.

        Not to complain. Knott’s has been making some great strides. It’s interesting how a change in top brass at Cedar Fair makes such a difference, considering it was Cedar Far that started gutting Knott’s in the first place.

        Though I think the irony of ironies is that Knott’s rebuffed Disney’s offer to purchase the park back in the 90s for Disney’s America because the Knott family figured Disney would gut and ruin their baby. And now Cedar Fair is cleaning up from having done just that.

    • Silverglove

      this!!!!!

  • manifest

    This made my week.

  • rstar

    I can’t wait! I’ll be there on the 14th or the 15th to see it, and the Log Ride (which I haven’t yet seen)!

  • Jeff Heimbuch

    It’s looking amazing, and I can’t wait to ride it in June! Great update, guys!

  • Jungle Trekkie

    Thanks for the tour of the refurbished Calico Mine Train experience.

    Is it possible that a Garner Holt dinosaur experience may happen at Knott’s sometime in the not-too-distant future?

    • FredSimmons

      If you recall, Knott’s used to have a dinosaur ride. Called “Kingdom of the Dinosaurs”, it replaced the “Knott’s Berry Tales” ride when dinosaurs had become the rage, following “Jurassic Park”.

      “Berry Tales”, in turn, had replaced one or more of the gaming caves in the Gypsy Camp area that was the original incarnation of what was later turned into the Roaring ’20s. Gypsy Camp was high on black-light atmosphere, music, and colorful costumed characters, but it offered no rides – just somewhat mysterious caves filled with carnival games of skill, arcades, and the like – plus (what was then called) the John Wayne Theatre, and a large waterfall. Apparently, they weren’t making much money from Gypsy Camp, and decided that in the future, any expansion would have to include rides.

  • jcruise86

    I love Knott’s and Micechat’s attention to it. Thanks, Norm!

    Reminder to those of you who might take a year or three off from Disneyland’s expensive APs: Knott’s “Season Passes” are a really great value!

    I think you can see Kirk and the Hillbillies (formerly Disneyland’s Billy Hill & the Hillbillies) at Steve Martin’s old theater, the Birdcage.

  • redrocker

    Im hoping to be there when it re-opens. I used to work the mine ride from 88-97 and i cant wait to see the pot room (the steam) working again back to its correct intentions. And i personally know the staff helping with this rebuild so i know they will do a damn great job on the new lighting and audio. I miss having actual people in the ride during haunt but because of the nature of that ride every talent has to be harnessed and to do that means making structural harness points throughout the ride and thats how the ride gets beat up on (same for log ride too)

  • BlahBlahson

    Thank you Matt Oimet for investing in the things that really make the parks magical!

    Just ooooone dark ride at Cedar Point, in the manner of the huge new ride at Canada’s wonderland, and I will officially be on board with everything you have done for Cedar Fair.

  • Sparky

    Great to get a sneak peek inside the Calico Mine! It’s looking great. I can’t wait for the reopening! I was at Knott’s on Saturday evening and rode the little Sierra Railroad train in Camp Snoopy. Most, if not all of the Peanut’s vignettes are in (although, they still need some landscaping around them) and are very cute. They are a nice addition to that charming little train ride. To our suprise, they were even running the new narration already. Much progress had been made on Camp Snoopy since my previous visit. It’s looking very nice. Nice to see the “rustic” feel to the area restored. While it’s still not all that it was back when it first opened, it is several notches above what it had deteriorated into over the last many years and is a welcome improvement in quality. Now, if they’ll just bring back a new and improved version of Beary Tales, I’ll be a very happy Knott’s fan!

    My friend and I saw you, Fishbulb and Dusty Sage, and tried to get your attention after you finished talking to Raffi outside the exit to the park, but you didn’t see or hear us! If I hadn’t been eating dinner, I would have run after you. Couldn’t leave my tasty Pink’s Huell Howser dog, haha!

    • Norman Gidney

      You TOTALLY should have said hello! mmmmmmmm Pink’s

      • dlpostcardguy

        Ditto what Sparky said. Really love the direction the park is heading and can’t wait to see the Mine Train. Now let’s all push for a Berry Tales 2.0 dark ride!!! THAT would really make my day and in my mind is what they really need at Knott’s to kind of round out the attraction roster. Also loved seeing Krazy Kirk this past Saturday. Realy enjoyed the show. Not to mention the Pink’s chili cheese fries for dinner!!

  • ralfrick

    Before this year I’d ridden twice, the 1st time when Nixon was president. In 2003 it looked like a prime example of how stale an attraction can become when not properly maintained and updated. This year has been the “perfect storm” for me getting a Cedar Fair Platinum pass: I’d not ridden Gold Striker at CGA, we are going to Cedar Point, and knott’s had redone the Log Ride and would be reopening this one (not to mention signing the Hillbillies). Based on my visits so far, I’m really liking it at KBF. I think there is a decent chance I’ll keep getting passes, even if only every other year or something like that. Can’t wait to ride in the new and improved Mine.

  • Juni

    Knott’s recommitment to being a THEME park has made me one happy girl. I am beyond excited to see the refurb!!

  • MickeyMaxx

    Exciting preview photos and narritive. Can’t wait to ride this again! Thanks Norm!

  • tooncity

    Dis CAL OSHA have anything to do with rehabbing this attraction and the log ride? I haven’t heard of anything. Maybe it’s just Disney attractions that they have a need to ruin.