Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town Finally Has A Resident Ghost Worthy Of Our Attention

It was a time, many years ago, too far back for anyone alive to remember...

There was a man - no one can recall his name anymore - but people say he fought as a Union soldier during America's Civil War. This man knew well the tales of the fortunes to be had out West so, with the hopes of driving a herd of longhorns, he traveled along the old Chisholm trail to Abilene. There he found employment as a cowpoke, but the siren's song of gold called to him and he continued to California, astride a wild Mustang.

In the boomtown of Calico, he began to work in the local mine. Precisely what happened next is lost to the ashes of history, but the stories told 'round many a campfire say that this man entered the Calico mine on horseback one cold, dark night... and was never seen again.

Now, you can say you don't believe in ghosts, and I might, too... but folks who've stayed awhile in Calico will tell you that his restless spirit never left the mine shafts where he met his untimely end. When the night sky is clear and the moon shines bright, they say you can see his Mustang thundering across the heavens.

And they call him the GhostRider.

-From the Calico Historical Society Archives

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Knott's Berry Farm, one of America's oldest and most revered theme parks, has been a key player in the ongoing development of the amusement industry. When Walter Knott opened the "Old West Ghost Town" adjacent to his berry stand in 1940, he planted the seeds for a bona fide theme park some 15 years before Disney made the term official. Since then, during KBF's 79-year history, the park has introduced more than its share of innovative thrill rides, like the Timber Mountain Log Ride. Even though the 1999 season will be its 30th, this delightfully long and elaborately themed flume ride is still ranked as one of the finest in the world. And we should never forget that Knott's famous Corkscrew, designed by Arrow and opened in 1975, was the first modern rollercoaster to feature inversions.

But the Southern California theme park market is as competitive as they get. When you've got neighbors like Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood, the pressure to add bigger and more spectacular rides and attractions, year after year, is intense. For awhile there, it looked like Knott's was throwing in the towel and pulling itself out of this thrill ride arms race. As KBF's rivals were pushing the envelope with megabudget goodies like Superman: The Escape, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, and Jurassic Park: The Ride, Knott's was serving up the decidedly lukewarm Jaguar coaster, a kitty as tame as they come, and the yawn-inducing Windjammer single-loop racing coasters (pictured above left). A little discouraging, to say the least.

1998 will be remembered as the year the Berry Farm came roaring back to the party with gusto to spare. First, Cedar Fair, the owners of Cedar Point, Dorney Park, Valleyfair! and Worlds of Fun, purchased Knott's and immediately announced that KBF would soon open the world's tallest freefall attraction, the S & S Sports Power-designed Supreme Scream. (This three-pronged Turbo Drop monster debuted on July 4th with a faster-than-freefall plunge from a height of 252 feet, displacing Cedar Point's record-holding Power Tower, a ride that had opened only a couple of months earlier.) Then, the park went public with plans that had been brewing for five years; at long last, Knott's Berry Farm would have its first wooden rollercoaster. And on December 8th, 1998, opening just five months after the Supreme Scream's inaugural launch, the Custom Coasters-designed GhostRider(SM) galloped into action.

Already, the park is proudly calling this ride "The Best Wooden Coaster In The West." Ya know sumthin'? They are 100% correct (also happens to be the longest, too). Six Flags Magic Mountain is now and probably always will be SoCal's undisputed steel coaster capital, but Colossus and Psyclone? Those two just can't hold a candle to this brash upstart. Friends, Knott's Berry Farm's thrill ride dry spell is over.

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GhostRider makes this point in a wonderfully aggressive manner, standing tall right at the front of the park. The unpainted southern yellow pine structure towers over Grand Avenue, the entrance to the main parking lot and casts long, deep shadows across KBF's California Marketplace® shopping area and Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant. And you can't miss eyeballing the gorgeously massive swooping turnaround that juts out towards Beach Boulevard.

This new banshee-equipped coaster has shaken things up inside the park as well. The back end of the Ghost Town, KBF's very heart and soul, has been expanded and revamped. Real estate that used to be part of the Marketplace is now behind the turnstiles and known as GhostRider Square. Situated around a central fountain is the Ghost Town Bakery; the GhostRider Goods retail outlet; Bandit Bob's Arcade; the Worth Your Weight in Gold weight-guessing game; Auntie Pasta's Pizza Palace restaurant; the three-story-tall "GhostRider Mining Company" headquarters (GR's boarding station, of course). And above it all rises the coaster's 118-foot-tall lift hill and an elevated flat turn. Gazing up at this tantalizing sight, I could only think one thing: if ever there was a place that cried out for a woody, it's Knott's Ghost Town. The rustic GhostRider, with its 2.5 million board-feet of unadorned lumber and Old West trimmings, fits into the "spirit" of the place like it's been there from the park's earliest days.

The venerable Pan For Gold attraction has been moved to Boot Hill and its old entrance now serves as the suitably dark and mysterious beginning of the GhostRider queue. After a couple of twists and turns through the mine shaft, we emerge onto a woodsy path that takes us past the coaster's first maneuver: a dipping spiral that drops out of the station and turns the trains around towards the base of the lift hill. Lookin' good... We board one of three trains of "mining cars" on the second floor of the building (each train is painted in a different ore color: gold, silver and copper - nice touch). Knott's has thoughtfully created separate lanes for those who want to ride in either the first or the last cars and I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that the wait will be longer for both those options. But if your patience is wearing precariously thin by the time you've gotten this far, don't feel you're sacrificing much to go for something in between. Trust me - this ghost is an excellent host. Seat belts clasped, lap bars secured... it's time to ride, pardner!

We pour right down into that spiral, a tasty hors d'oeuvre before the main course is served. Once we've come around 180 degrees, we start chuggin' skyward alongside the loading station and through the structure of that elevated turn. After the train has gained some altitude, there's a few moments left to twist around and check out the view. At our backs, some of Knott's vertical icons: the Parachute Drop, the Supreme Scream, Timber Mountain. And off the port bow, the rest of GhostRider's L-shaped, double-layered, out-and-back path; gimme, gimme, gimme!

Finally, the lead car begins to dive. We race (or should I say "wraith") over the top and fall down a 51-degree, 108-foot precipice, entering a turn to the left beneath a tangle of wood. We may be traveling at 60 miles per hour but it feels a hell of a lot faster, crashing through that maze of lumber at the drop's base. Now grinding along in a completely perpendicular direction, we rise up and dive back down, crossing over Grand Avenue for the first time. Another rise brings us to the top of the first turnaround, a beautiful swooping 180, kinda like a milder counterclockwise version of the far turn on the awesome Shivering Timbers.

We plunge back down and scramble towards the lift, only to surge to the right and thunder up onto a flat, highrise turn above the loading station. This funky bit of business stands in stark contrast to the first turnaround, but it serves as a brief moment to stop screaming and inhale properly. After swinging back towards the fun, there's a mid-point brake and we rumble forward for the second half of GhostRider's high-speed haunting. Now, I was plenty happy with things up to this point; smooth, fast drops, lots of airtime, sweet lateral action... but this restless spirit was just warmin' up.

In a brutal little homage to the Texas Giant, GR's second half gets going with a severe, curving power dive off the brake run. Our ore car is once again galloping at a furious pace, one that does indeed suggest possession by a very energetic phantasm and now, as we hurtle over the warped rails, we're whistling through the vertical supports and crossbeams of the upper roadway. This is where GhostRider really hits its stride, gettin' downright ornery.

We cross back over Grand Avenue and hightail it out to the Beach Blvd. end of the ride, slamming around to the right beneath the swoop turn. The trains drop and rise, bounding over Grand Ave's asphalt for the fourth and last time before we hustle into an undulating vortex, another classic Custom Coasters spiral finale. Rampaging in a clockwise direction, the cars race down and back up, fighting hard to break free from this circular corral.

Sadly, the haunting comes to an end; after completing the spiral, we make a 90-degree turn and slide into the final brake run. "Oh, Mamma, that's the stuff!"

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What an incredible way for Custom Coasters to close off a most prolific 1998. As you'll recall, GhostRider follows the company's Twisted Sisters, Rampage, Excalibur, and Shivering Timbers. That's six completely unique tracks introduced within the same calendar year, and there's not a single underachiever in the bunch. Will they ever have another year like that? I sure as heck hope so.

As for Knott's, well, they've publicly stated that a multi-year expansion plan is underway and the rumors are flyin' fast and furious about their Year 2000 addition. Would they dare follow this amazing coaster with yet another? We'll see...

GhostRider In the Sky

(Sung to the tune of the original, composed by Stan Jones in 1949)

There's a new ride at Knott's Berry Farm that rips across the sky
It's built from giant lumber and it just might make you cry.
You'll plummet down screaming from a ten-story drop,
Your knuckles will turn white and your heart will surely stop.

Yippee-i-a, yippee-i-o
GhostRider at Knott's Berry Farm

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  • TRACK LENGTH: 4,533 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 60+ Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. G FORCE: 3.14+
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 118 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 108 feet
  • RIDE DURATION: Approx. 2 1/2 minutes
  • CARS: Three trains, 28 passengers each
  • THEMING DESIGN: Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
  • MANUFACTURER: Custom Coasters, Inc.
  • GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Gordon & Williams, Laguna Hills, CA



© Robert Coker.
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