Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Knott's - Covered Wagon Show Remnant

Hey kids, let's visit Knott's Berry Farm again! I posted this photo (courtesy of Major Pepperidge of Gorillas Don't Blog) back in January in a Knott's "Then and Now" post. If you look on the far left of the pic, you will see a sign that reads, "Covered Wagon Show. FREE. Lasts 3 min."

That sign used to be attached to the Gold Trails hotel, which housed the Covered Wagon Show on it's ground floor. This was a diorama show (actually a "cyclorama" because of it's curved painted backdrop) that told the story of Walter Knott's grandmother and mother as they journeyed west across the desert in a covered wagon.

Here's the Gold Trails hotel as it appears today. Unfortunately, when the hotel was rebuilt in the nineties, the Covered Wagon Show was replaced with a gift shop.

This photo and description of the diorama is taken from a souvenir Chicken Dinner Restaurant menu and used here with permission from Connie Moreno who originally posted it on her "Life is a Journey" blog. To see the full souvenir menu, as well as some great Disneyland trip reports, click here: Life Is A Journey.

Here's the show's original concept art painted by Knott's artist, Paul von Klieben.

And here's a vintage ViewMaster shot showing the diorama after "nightfall."

If you look closely at the previous three photos, you will see a man on a horse next to the covered wagon. He was the "scout" that had gone out ahead of the wagon train in search of water (Ma, I'm thirsty!) Well, the diorama is long gone, but this figure still exists at Knott's today! He can be found inside The Pony Express Outpost/Museum, which is located in Ghost Town between the Wilderness Dance Hall (Jeffries Barn) and Boot Hill.

Incidentally, the museum building used to be the Rivera School House and is a California Registered Historical landmark.

Here are some shots of the scout and his horse on display inside the museum. The museum's curator informed me that this figure was carved by another well known Knott's artist, Claude Bell, but I'm not completely sure of that fact. I know Andy Anderson carved Sad Eye Joe and many of the other Ghost Town "peek-in" figures. Hopefully someone out there will let me know for sure.

Here's another vintage shot of the diorama for comparison.

And here are some more "today" shots of the rebuilt Gold Trails Hotel. The center doors used to always be closed and locked.....I believe that the diorama backed up against them. The doors to the right of that were the show's exit doors and the door on the far right was/is used for employee access to the building's second floor.

The show's entrance and lobby were located for many years through the doors on the far right of this next pic. In the earliest years, guests actually entered through a covered wagon that was parked alongside the hotel.

This is the view today looking out from inside the gift shop.

For five and a half years, I worked literally within yards of this structure and never went in to see the show....not even once! I can't believe it, really. I don't know what I was thinking at the time, because even as a teenager I had an appreciation for these kind of attractions. Fortunately, I had seen it several times as a child, but I do regret never seeing it during the time I was actually working there. I guess I used to think that this stuff would just always be the Haunted Shack. :-(

Some of you may remember that blogger "Outsidetheberm" wrote an absolutely incredible post about the Covered Wagon Show a while back and included a word for word transcript of the show's soundtrack. Unfortunately that post is no longer available on his blog, but I'm hoping he will repost it someday (hint, hint!). He is the one that actually tipped me off about the existence of this figure (thank you, OTB!) after I asked him if any of the props from the show still existed. It just took me a little while to find a time when the museum was open so I could check it out!


Connie Moreno said...

Excellent post!!! I was there last week and inside the little museum but did not notice good old "Scout". Now I have to go back, LOL!

For the past two days, I've had Knott's pics on my blog and will post more soon but I'll try not to duplicate what you've done here.

Hey, we should meet up there someday!

Davelandweb said...

Great job - I love reading about Ghost Town, which (to me) is one of the few reasons to visit Knott's!

Major Pepperidge said...

Wow, wonderful post. I remember seeing the Covered Wagon show several times, and the first time (maybe during a school field trip?) I kept waiting for something to move! I was Spoiled by Audio Animatronics!

I LOVE that the figure survived and is on display, it almost makes me want to go just to see it! Wonder why the others were not saved?

TokyoMagic! said...

Hey Connie, let me know if you would like to meet over there sometime!

Dave, I'm just glad to see that they are replacing the buildings in Ghost Town. Too bad they couldn't have preserved the original buildings, but the fact that they are replacing them tells me that (hopefully) Ghost Town won't be torn down for a rollercoaster in the near future.

Major, I'm not sure if the other figures survived or not. A Knott's employee told me recently that when they took the show out, there were some Knott's family members rummaging through the set pieces. You'd think they would've wanted SOMETHING from the show since it was THEIR family's history....the figure of Walter Knott's mother and grandmother, perhaps? I just wish the entire show still existed.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chris, was the Covered Wagon show always a night scene, or did it change from sunny to night time? For some reason I think it was the latter, but I might be mixing it up with something else.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, there were some lighting effects that showed the sky turning from day into night. I just checked YouTube to see if by chance there was any video of the show available....but no such luck, darn it.

My very first comment on this post was from Mike Cozart and he posted it just within seconds of it going up. I was still tweaking things and somehow, I lost his comment. I still have it in my emails, so I'm going to include it here....again, this is from Mike Cozart:

"Wow! Great find. The figure was definitely not designed to be seen up close I suspect. The last time I saw this show was with Chris Merritt --we were there for the press opening of Indian Trails that day. I remember we saw it twice, I think Chris was recording it) and the employee lady acted surprised that we seemed to know it was even there --and that we were seeing it twice."

Maybe someone that knows Chris Merritt could talk him into posting his video? I would LOVE to see it....and I'm sure many others out there would too. Just reading the trascript of the show that "Outsidetheberm" posted really took me back in time. I need to drop him an email and ask if he would mind reposting that!

SundayNight said...

Yes I remember seeing this show sometime in the 70s. I seem to remember a painting of an “old miner” character on the wall outside with the caption “Come on in and I’ll tell you a story”. Loved it’s low tech presentation.

Connie Moreno said...

Thinking I'll be at Knott's around 3-ish on Sunday...wanna meet up? I'm also open to doing it another day since my days are wide open right now, LOL!

Connie Moreno said...

Tokyo, when I look at your profile, I don't see a link for email. I have one on mine so if you could email me, that would be swell!

Connie Moreno said...

DUH, I had turned it off. Email link is in my profile now. Sorry!

outsidetheberm said...

Sorry for my tardy response to your post, Chris. Guess I've got some catching up to do.

You'll be happy to know that the Covered Wagon piece you mentioned should be returning in a new and far more interesting manner in the near future. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, thank you for a great post and the nice thoughts.

hschmal65 said...

We went to Knotts almost every year in the mid to late 50's when I was a kid because it was something you could do and not spend much money. I would watch this show at least twice every time. Thanks for the great memories!!!

Bill Newcott said...

It's been a long time since anyone left a comment here, but I recall going to the show in the late '70s, and a little old lady/narrator mentioned that the Conestoga wagons were made by Studebaker. That fact stuck with me, and years later, as a writer with National Geographic, I used that tidbit in a piece I wrote about the National Road. And THAT'S why theme parks are important!

Jennie said...

We still run around saying,"I'm thirsty." Like Cordelia Knott. Loved Knotts when the family ownedit.

Anonymous said...

It would be great to hear the old recording that went with this diorama. We all remember the "I'm thirsty part"--the pitifulness of it just makes an impression on you as a kid and sticks in your memory.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a video or sound track of the Covered Wagon Show. Would be wonderful to be posted on You Tube! Yes, I too rememer the "I'm thirsty" part.

Dasid Thorn said...

Ok momma... But I'm awwflee thurstee...
- ya where is the audio?

TikiLust said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I remember this show from my childhood! I was at Knott's recently (after a 20-year gap between visits) and was looking all over Ghost Town for this show. After a while, I surmised it had been demolished or replaced with something else. I still looked for its building, though, just to see what had become of the space. I couldn't remember exactly where it had been. Now I know!

As for the show itself, one part that stands out in my memory, was when a small child (a girl, I think) said, "Momma? I'm thirsty." It made such an impression on me about the hardships they endured.

I also miss Mott's Miniatures! Does anyone remember that? I asked a few employees (older individuals), but they all looked at me blankly or like I had rocks for brains. They had no idea what I was talking about. Oh well. Alas, I l-o-v-e-d that exhibit!

Anyway, thanks again for posting. Next time I'm there, I shall go linger in the (now) gift shop and see if I can detect any of the old covered wagon show's aura in there! LOL

TokyoMagic! said...

TikiLust, Yes, I remember Mott's Miniature's. Knott's moved them from Jeffrey's Barn/The Wilderness Dance Hall into a smaller space (where the Western Trails Museum is currently located). The Mott Family supposedly had a falling out with the Knott Family and they pulled out of Knott's and relocated their museum and shop somewhere in Orange County. That location has since closed, but I believe they were selling merchandise through mail order. I'm not sure if they are still doing that, however.

Don't feel bad about the way the employees looked at you when you asked about Mott's Miniatures. I asked at "Information" at the Main Gate what happened to the Original Berry Stand, the first time I went to the park after it had been removed. Not only did the employee not know what I was talking about, but she went and got a manager and the manager didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about either.....even after describing it and it's history as it related to the property and the very beginnings of "Knott's Berry Farm". That used to be one of the first thing they taught the employees in orientation!

Rick Bohnenkamp. said...

My brother Marc lived near Knott's Berry Farm in the 50-60's. As a kid I'd be over walking around the Ghost Town and literally had the run of the place... before they built the wall to keep the hippies and bums out. I spent a Sunday morning with three hobos. They taught me how to catch a chicken with a wire hanger. Then they gutted, plucked and cooked the bird under some trees in the Knott's parking lot! Can pork & beans and BBQ chicken.

Bad thing is it's near impossible to afford a living out there anymore. Some of those homeless actually have jobs, but everything out there has a price and it's taxed to death to boot.

TokyoMagic! said...

Rick, great story! And here I always thought the story about the wall going up around Knott's "to keep the hippies out" was just a bogus public relations spin to hide the fact that the Knott family wanted to start charging entrance fees, just as Disneyland had been doing since it opened 13 years earlier. Even though the Knott's general admission price was only $1.00 at the time, if a million people came through the turnstiles, that's $1,000,000 dollars in revenue.