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Castle Park Photo Trip Report
June 24, 2012

As a member of the amusement park pantheon, Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut may not have the résumé or renown of Walt Disney, but he did create two rides that are extraordinary milestones in the history of themed attractions: Knott's Berry Farm's Calico Mine Ride and the Timber Mountain Log Flume. I could wax poetic about these two dark rides for days; they were favorites of mine some forty-odd decades ago and they remain favorites today.

Their development, and Hurlbut's long, proud association with the Farm (including his contributions to the genesis of Halloween Haunt), is lovingly told in Knott's Preserved, a fantastic book written by Christopher Merritt and J. Eric Lynxwiler. If you don't already have a copy, get one now. (And be sure to listen to The Season Pass podcasts dedicated to this excellent tome, Episodes 124 and 125.)

In a nutshell: Bud Hurlbut kicked ass.

Before he began working with Walter Knott in the mid-1950s, Hurlbut had wanted to build his own amusement park, and in 1976, he finally did, out in Riverside, California. At the start, "Castle Amusement Park," as it was originally known, was more of a "family entertainment center," but over time, additional rides were added. After nurturing the park for another two decades, Hurlbut sold the property in 1999 and passed away in 2011 at the age of 92.

Today, Castle Park is part of the international Parques Reunidos family. But there are still signs of Hurlbut's imprint, subtle and overt, all over this charming place.

It is bit of a schlep from the Los Angeles area, but that does not excuse anyone with a passion for the themed entertainment industry from making a proper pilgrimage; I am shamed that it's taken until 2012 for me to do so. Better late than never, and I must pay tribute to my good pal Paul Lebowitz for the final impetus: a gift of two all-day ride passes. Thank you, again, kind sir!

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For the trip, I could think of no better companions than the three upstart thrillseekers who joined me for a day at the Los Angeles County Fair, Audrey, Parker and Brian. They are ten now, and certainly ready for Magic Mountain-sized scream machines, but are still happy to kick back at more sedate, family-friendly joints. And Castle Park, while modest on the scale of Southern California theme parks, does have three coasters and a healthy selection of flats, some of which are bona fide stomach-churning nastiness.

The entrance plaza is simple, but very tidy, well-groomed, a great first impression with the vivid colors of the "circus tent" just beyond.

This signage looks brand new; nice!

The final lift, turn, and drop of the flume ride extends over the parking lot, right next to the plaza. According to signs out front, this ride would be closed for the day. As the French would say, quel bummer.

If I lived closer, I'd have an annual pass for sure; again, bit of a schlep. But I could very well be back before this season ends, so it may have been a mistake to let the opportunity slide.

The four kids, ready to storm the Castle. (And thanks to Heather, Brian's mom, for all the shots of us doing stuff!)

The Big Top houses a Pizza Hut Express and a theater which is currently the home for "Anthony The Magic," who, according to the park's web site, was voted "the Inland Empire's 'Best Entertainer 2012.' " For whatever that is worth. We didn't eat here, or see the magic show, but I loved the elephant out front.

This little area is right across from The Big Top; note the wrought-iron fencing and handsome light post – Hurlbut touches all the way (think Knott's "Fiesta Village"). And so clean and pretty!

 

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© Robert Coker
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