|Detail from ride concept art, with Tiki and volcano added by author based on comments by Bud Hurlbut.|
The greatest tiki theme-park ride of all time was nearly built in the last place you'd expect: The Old West-themed Knott's Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California. And at least a few reminders of that unrealized dream can still be found today. The lush tropical vegetation and Tiki-style picnic huts of "Jungle Island" (now called Knott’s Lagoon) are just a tiny hint of what was and what almost was.
|Bud Hurlbut inspects a scene in his new Calico Mine Ride, 1960.|
It was all to be built on land Knott owned on the opposite side of Highway 39 (Beach Boulevard) from the rest of "the farm." Plans (shown below) were drawn in April of 1959.
|Drawing of islands for Hurlbut Amusement by Dick Bagley, courtesy Christopher Merritt|
In early January, 1960, Russell Knott, Walter's son and a key manager of the Farm, stopped by Bud's shop and found him mulling over ideas for the South Seas ride. He asked Bud to focus on getting the mine ride finished first. But just days later, Bud and his associate, Dick Bagley, (who had worked on designing Disneyland's steam trains) were out eyeballing the proposed South Seas area again. Bud would also go for walks on the land with his wife, Lou, and his dog, Beagle, turning over the possibilities in his mind. Still perpetually steeped in the mine ride project, his mind naturally turned to mountains and caverns. Whatever else the boat ride had, it should certainly have both of those. But he really didn't have time to do more work on the project until the mine ride was completed.
|Exterior of the newly opened Calico Mine Ride, circa 1960.|
“...I got a couple of bulldozers, you can see all the passageways in there," Bud told Chris Merritt in a 1998 interview. "One was the South Seas with the big volcano and lava running down. I was kinda concerned on how I was gonna make lava red hot running down. I don’t know if I ever really got that all worked out or not…”
Later concept art, referencing South Seas plans, showed an Island village scene, with thatched huts on stilts and outrigger canoes on the beach. And the ride almost certainly would have included waterfalls, large tikis, and a variety of fake wildlife.
|"Leftover" South Seas Island Boat Ride scene in background of later "Fur Trapper Ride" concept art.|
|Aerial photo of graded "islands" in South Seas area at Knott's, 1961.|
Bud not only carved out the islands for the boat ride, but also an adjacent peninsula which he'd already identified as "Jungle Island." It's long been unclear what his plans were for Jungle Island, but according to an August 1961 article in Amusement Business magazine, Bud's plans for the overall area included not just the boat ride, but also "others in a South Sea theme." Dick Bagley served as the project's design engineer.
|Detail of Hurlbut map of proposed Jungle Island features. Courtesy Stack's Liberty Ranch|
In 2018, the Facebook feed for Stack's Liberty Ranch -- an in-progress theme park museum and movie ranch -- posted two small portions of a March 19, 1959 "preliminary drawing" by Bagley for "Knott Jungle Island" featuring "some suggestions for points of interest, trails and signs." Elements depicted among the presumed tropical foliage included a climbing tree, a "boysen-berry bog" with a large plastic berry, a 10-foot by 15-foot "Knott's Cabin," a "Giggling lions den", "gay stepping stones," an underpass tunnel, another tunnel through dense brush, and such landmarks as "Laughing Springs," the "Chocolate River," "Ice Cream Cove," "Angry Cross-Roads," "Whispering Creek," and more.
|This drawing for the South Seas Island Boat Ride appeared a few years ago on Ebay.|
But something happened, and suddenly the whole South Seas project was on hold. The" islands" just sat, with no water around them. In another interview, for "E" Ticket Magazine #35, Hurlbut told Merritt, "We got as far as digging the troughs... and then we abandoned the idea because we had some other more important things to do."
|Bud Hurlbut's Tiki mask. From the collection of Chris Jepsen.|