Many of us have an early childhood memory of our very first log flume ride, whether it was a ride through Splash Mountain at Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Timber Mountain, or perhaps a local rendition at a nearby state amusement park. There is a sort of shared experience we all have of climbing those rickety conveyor belts, only to dive down a refreshing plummet into sweet, chlorine-filled water.
Interestingly enough, the history of these attractions doesn’t come from the minds of theme park engineers, but from the rustic frontier of America’s booming lumber industry.
During one of America’s most notable moments in history, the Gold Rush inspired thousands of pioneers to flock to California. However, the sheer demand for gold was outweighed by the vast amount of settlers competing for a slice of the action. Where some settlers found bountiful fortunes, others were left with nothing but the scraps. Thus, many had to take a cold hard look towards new industries to make a profit. A popular contender during these times was the lumber industry, which often relied on the lush ecosystem in the western mountains.
Due to the rough and steep terrain, it was nearly impossible for lumber workers to transport large amounts of wood back and forth. Even the brawliest of the lumberjacks would have a difficult time making constant treks to deliver said timber on a daily basis. This need for innovation inspired America’s first log flume system. Developed in the late 1800s, lumberjacks created a complex system of wooden flumes that used a steady flowing stream of water to deliver the wood to the proper sawmill.
In fact, many of these workers would hop into a log themselves and give the flumes a proper ride-through. They stated this was to provide constant inspections on their progress, however, it is rumored that there was a minor thrill element involved in this as well. Thus the seeds for this timeless American attraction were planted.
As technology continued to advance, the need for these flume systems quickly diminished. However, many took note of the log’s slow-moving trail throughout the mountain ranges and saw there was potential to “re-invent the wheel,” so to speak — specifically, the engineering company Arrow Development, a company dedicated to developing amusement park attractions.
The company pitched a log-flume attraction to different vendors, but the ride system wouldn’t see the light of day until 1963. It was then that Six Flags Over Texas debuted the first-ever log-flume attraction, El Aserradero, which is still in operation today. When this ride debuted, it was greeted with an overwhelming response of praise and excitement. In fact, guests were so gun-ho on these types of attractions that Six Flags was forced to build a second flume ride in order to keep up with the demand.
Heads were beginning to turn towards the direction of these water-filled rides, and one famous company, in particular, was ready to break ground on their own rendition. Walter Knott saw the potential to incorporate the frontier-styled attraction in his already pioneer-themed amusement park. This was the third time that Arrow Development approached Knott in regards to building a log-flume system in his park, but he turned them down until he saw the massive demand. Knott didn’t want to do any carbon copy of what was already accomplished. Instead, he wanted his log-flume ride to be a step above Six Flags in regards to immersive entertainment.
Arrow Development built a scale model of their proposed attraction for Knott and went over every scene and minute detail the ride would include. The attraction took roughly a year to construct and made its debut in 1969 at Knott’s Berry Farm. The Timber Mountain Log Ride had a massive opening and featured John Wayne alongside his son Ethan as the first to take a trek down the 42-foot drop.
Timber Mountain Log Ride was dedicated to immersing the guests into turn-of-the-century America, offering scenic views of mountainside animals and timber company machinery to truly encompass guests into this era of time. The ride later closed for refurbishment in 2013 to incorporate more modern technology and animatronic characters. John Wayne’s son, Ethan, even attended the grand reopening to pay tribute to the ride’s history.
While Six Flags helped develop the bare bones of the popular attraction, it was Knott and his team that envisioned the rustic, frontier mountainside exterior that so many theme parks take inspiration from to this day, including Disney’s Splash Mountain.
Do you have a favorite log flume ride? Are there any other ride systems you’d like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments down below.