Like so many other creative professionals in the theme attraction industry, I was inspired at a very young age by many of the classic rides and shows which Disney and, later, Universal have produced. Yet there were many others -- not produced by those companies -- which influenced and excited me just as much and galvanized my desire to design and create entertaining themed attractions for a living. Most of those, sadly, are long gone.
One which happily remains -- still a favorite among guests at Knott’s Berry Farm -- is the Calico Mine Ride. I experienced the slow train excursion deep inside the rugged western mountain in 1960 -- its first year of operation -- while on a family vacation in southern California. I had visited Disneyland several times by then and had already fallen in love with the Snow White, Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Alice In Wonderland and Submarine Voyage attractions. So as my parents and I approached the new Knott’s ride that summer day, I was full of anticipation of a great adventure to come.
I was not disappointed. Sure, compared to many of today’s dark ride attractions, the Calico Mine Ride is a passive, leisurely experience. But to my ten-year-old eyes and senses, it was absolutely breathtaking. Not an hour before I had been in a car speeding down a California freeway headed to Knott’s. And now, here I was, seated in a rickety old mine car being pulled by a locomotive through dangerous tunnels, beautiful caverns and a gigantic working mine. I was thrilled with not only the adventure, but the fact that it was all such a calculated and designed theatrical experience. It was all fake – even the miners! -- but I was amazed by the excellence of the fakery.
And I wondered: How did they make me feel – even for a brief few minutes – that I actually was riding through a mountain, tunnels, caverns & a mine? I had willingly suspended my disbelief and had bought into the journey. It was magical, and I knew that I wanted to someday help create attractions which theatrically propelled guests into other times, other places and other adventures.
It is a testament to the guests’ continued love of the Calico Mine Ride and to Knott’s dedication to preserving an entertaining attraction that it was totally refurbished in 2014. So many other wonderful old dark rides have not had such a happy fate. Hopefully guests will enjoy their visits to the mine for many years to come. And perhaps the Calico Mine Ride will inspire many other young dreamers – just like myself back in 1960 – to carry on the tradition of creating memorable and influential theme attractions.
I will add that there was another non-Disney or Universal ride which is lost, but had an equally significant impact on me. On vacation in southern California in 1958 my dad took me to the just-opened Pacific Ocean Park where we rode the Mystery Island banana train. We traveled through a jungle at the end of the amusement pier, up the side of a volcano, then into a cavern in the volcano where we saw boiling lava, experienced an earthquake, rode through the volcano’s crater, weathered a tropical storm and finally encountered a great Gooney Bird which was hatching from an egg in a huge nest. I remember my dad holding on to me during the rotating tunnel earthquake where vertigo took control. We thought we were going to fall out of the train.
It was all a simple illusion and we laughed after the “danger” was over. When I arrived home after the vacation, the Mystery Island ride was all I could talk about. I described to my friends and school mates every detail. Today it remains, along with the Calico Mine Ride and so many other imaginative shows and rides, a memorable and inspirational benchmark in my development as a theme attraction designer.
Drew Edward Hunter is the Vice President Creative Design for Sally Dark Rides. For more information about Knott's Berry Farm, please visit our Knott's Berry Farm review page, which has a link to discounted tickets.
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