Wendell “Bud” Hurlbut, who helped turn Knott’s Berry Farm into a modern amusement park by designing and building two of its signature attractions, the Calico Mine Ride and the Timber Mountain Log Ride, has died. He was 92.
Hurlbut died Jan. 5 at his home in Buena Park, Knott’s said. No cause of death was given.
Over the years he designed and built several rides for Knott’s, as well as a replica of the Liberty Bell, crack included, for the park’s replica of Independence Hall.
“We lost a wonderful guy. He was so talented,” said Steve Knott, grandson of the park’s founder, Walter Knott.
Hurlbut operated his own company in Buena Park while working with Knott’s and was a “concessionaire, partner and friend,” Steve Knott said.
Knott’s General Manager Marty Keithley said in a statement that “there would not be a Knott’s Berry Farm theme park today if it were not for the talent, determination and creativity of Bud Hurlbut.”
The Calico ride opened in 1960, taking customers through Hurlbut’s version of an Old West mine, complete with the sounds of dynamite exploding near the ride’s end. Timber Mountain, a water ride with customers traveling in what resembles hollowed-out logs, opened in 1969.
Hurlbut’s longtime associate, Harry Suker, said the rides were designed to provide just “enough thrill to make it fun.”
“We always wanted to encompass the family,” said Suker, general manager of the Hurlbut Amusement Co. “The log ride was for anyone from a baby to 80.”
Hurlbut was born June 13, 1918, in Watertown, S.D., the only child of Emma and Ray Hurlbut, and grew up in Whittier. He graduated from Whittier High School and married Lucille Steffen in 1941. After working at several jobs, he started apprenticing as a pattern maker. He designed and made patterns for drill bits and locomotive parts, he told The Times in 1980.
Hurlbut really wanted to be “a big-time amusement park manufacturer,” said Richard Harris, author of “Early Amusement Parks of Orange County” and a former employee of Hurlbut’s. Skilled at woodworking, Hurlbut began building miniature trains. By the mid-1940s, he had sold several trains and opened a small amusement park in El Monte.
Knott’s started modestly in Buena Park. Walter Knott and his wife, Cordelia, opened a tearoom, berry market and nursery to sell berry plants in the 1920s. By the 1940s, they had a successful chicken dinner restaurant and added a ghost town.
Hurlbut, who went to school with two of the Knotts’ children, started working with them in the 1950s, operating a merry-go-round at the farm.
“Knott’s found out that I had this merry-go-round in storage. They wanted one for the farm for use by the kids while parents were waiting to get into the chicken dinner restaurant,” he told The Times.
“The merry-go-round had a 50-foot diameter, but [Walter Knott] didn’t use architects or surveyors. He just paced off the distance. Using his toe to mark the ground, Mr. Knott said, ‘Here’s where we’ll put the center pole.’ He wanted it where none of the trees would be damaged. That’s the way it was with all of the rides — the trees came first.”
Hurlbut also owned Castle Park in Riverside, which opened in the mid-1970s as a miniature golf course and arcade, adding rides in the mid-1980s. Hurlbut sold the park in 1999.
“He was probably the most down-to-earth person you’d want to meet,” Harris said. “He was very quiet and didn’t want anyone to know who he was. He didn’t like the fanfare.”
Hurlbut’s wife died in 2004, and they had no children.