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!

Daveland 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.

Unknown 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.

Marieanne said...

Would like to know what was the song sung towards the end of the covered wagon show when nightfall came and you hear cowboys softly singing "rolling along, singing a song, moonlight on the prairie ". I was a child back in the 50's and remember Knotts berry farm like it was yesterday and miss it terribly. Boysenberry is my favorite and nobody knows what that is here in Florida. Wagon camp music and shows, Jesus being transfigured in the chapel, the art glow angel statue that I had, chief Red Feather at the Indian village,riding the burros,the old train ride and stagecoach ride with hold up. Such fond memories. My heart broke after learning what became of this place. I will always remember it the way it was.

TokyoMagic! said...

Marieanne, that is a good question! I'm not sure what the song from the show was. I tried Googling those lyrics, but nothing came up. Thanks for sharing your memories of going to Knott's as a child! I miss the "old" Knott's too.....very much!

StageManager in AC said...

Believe it or not but I have a recording of the covered wagon diorama show and the transfiguration of christ.... would you like a copy?... contact me at

Unknown said...

Please post them on You Tube. I truly loved this show!!

ishidee said...

I remember seeing the Covered Wagon Show when I was a child in the 1950's. It was wonderful! It was very realistic and atmospheric. I can still hear the little girl telling her mother that she was thirsty and, because I was so concerned for her, I asked my own mother if we could get some water for her to drink. My parents took me, and my older brother, to Knott's Berry Farm many times where we walked among the various attractions which were fun and fascinating. It was very charming and is wonderfully nostalgic for me now. We would have dinner and enjoy their delicious beef stew (best that I have ever eaten!) and boysenberry pie. It was all so magical! These are wonderful memories of my childhood!

TokyoMagic! said...

ishidee, funny....the thirsty girl in the covered wagon, is the one thing that everyone seems to remember about that show, if nothing else! I guess being thirsty and having no water, really makes a strong impression on a child!

I also have fond memories of my childhood visits to Knott's. The Steak House closed some years ago, but I believe you can still get beef stew at the Ghost Town Grill. I don't know if it's the same recipe, however.

Thanks for commenting on my post!

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for all of this info and the pictures! I started going to Knott's Berry Farm when I was about 2 years old and I'm 70 now. I miss some of these old attractions so much because I would love for my grandchildren to see them. Your article and pictures made me cry! thank you again!

TokyoMagic! said...

Anonymous, I miss all of the old/removed attractions, too! I'm so glad that this post brought back some fond memories for you. Thank you for commenting!

Anonymous said...

I have two houses bought at Mott’s miniature’s while still on the farm. I still enjoy the memories. La Dona Moore

TokyoMagic! said...

La Dona, nice! I didn't realize that they sold the little houses, in addition to the little "furnishings". But it totally makes sense that they would! Thank you for commenting!

California Unearthed said...

Great job, loved this. Quick question: Is there anywhere I can get the word for word transcript of the show's soundtrack?

TokyoMagic! said...

California Unearthed, unfortunately, I don't know where you could find a transcript of the show, today. I thought in the time since I wrote this post (12 years ago), someone had posted a video of the show on YouTube. But when I did a quick search just now, I didn't see it. Please let me know if you find a video or transcript of it somewhere!

Anonymous said...

Joseph Bullock

Anonymous said...

The Wagon Train diorama is one of my favorite memories along with the gold panning from the 50s and 60s. Up until Knotts walled up the park and started charging admission in 1968, my father would take me to Knots on my weekend visitations. The diorama wS a great instruction in Americanusm and what our ancestors had to endure to populate the west. I regret the loss of the diorama for another gift shop. I would love to see a transcript is someone has a copy.

TokyoMagic! said...

J. Bullock, the Covered Wagon diorama is one of my favorite memories, too! It was low tech, but it sure made a lasting impression on a lot of people. I'm still waiting for a transcript or video of the show to reappear somewhere out there. It's been over 12 years now.

Fortunately, the Pan For Gold attraction still exists at Knott's!

Thanks for commenting on my post!

Anonymous said...

Fun fact about the Rivera School House that very few people would know. It used to sit roughly in front of where the Wilderness Broiler is now. The Wilderness Broiler used to be a walkway before they took out the museum next to the barn and made that the walkway instead. The school house sat next to the barn against what was a perimeter chainlink fence. The rapids ride today, sits beyond the fence in what was a parking lot at the time. I worked in the sweeper custodial department in 1980 and the schoolhouse was our office. It was very strange because people would come up to one side and knock on the door, peer through the windows and once in awhile even come up to the other (back) door (which was our entrance) and try and go in. They would have been very disappointed once inside as there was nothing schoolhouse related or even Ghost town related. All they would have seen were lockers, a bunch of brooms and dustpans hanging up on the walls, and in later years a timeclock. All lit up with bare-bulb fluorescent office lighting. A far cry from the old west. LOL There were no rides back there then so it was pretty sparse, and once in a while people would take advantage of that and try to climb the fence in this location. One night I even heard one on the roof of the school house. I called security but don’t know if the person was ever caught. I still love the Farm now, but I do miss those days.

TokyoMagic! said...

Anonymous, I remember that original pathway and the original location of the Riviera Schoolhouse! I was working there when they tore down the museum building to create a pathway into the new Wild Water Wilderness area. I hated that they tore that down. Some of the items were eventually placed in a relocated Western Trails Museum (behind the Calico Saloon), but not all of the items. Sad!

Funny, I also remember many instances where guests opened doors into employees-only areas. The majority of the time they'd say, "Is this where the bathroom is?"

I remember the area near the Volcano was another area that people would try to climb over the fence. There was a time clock station located behind the Volcano, and next to Portraits in Pastel shop (now the Geode Shop). It was another employees-only area and it was hidden behind a wall, so it was also an area where people thought they might not get caught.

Thank you for sharing your memories! You stated that you worked there in 1980. Now I'm curious to know how long you worked there. I have many other Knott's posts on my blog, which may be of interest to you. Feel free to discuss any other memories you would like to share, of your time working at the Farm. Thanks again!

Marieanne said...

I was taken to Knotts Berry Farm when I was knee high to a duck. I have fond memories of everything there. Unfortunately, when the younger generations in the founding family grew up, they didn't want to preserve it too much. Instead its all about making money and for rides that excite and draw thrill seekers.
It really spoiled the atmosphere of the pioneers that did come in Conestoga wagons and ruined it for me totally.
I remember the great chicken dinners and boysenberry pie, and the lines of people waiting to get in.
The beautiful locomotive that circled the park, the stagecoach ride which always had holdups going down the El Camino Real (the trail it took commemorating the mission trails),riding the burros, the wagon train show and the singing pioneers in the background singing "riding along, singing a song...moonlight on the prairie", the Indian village on the island in a small pond and going over the bridge to meet Cheif Red Feather, beating his drum and going inside and seeing his teepee. Learned some Indian sign language from him also.
We also went to the little chapel and saw Jesus transfigured. There was a shop near it that had ceramic figurines treated in such a way that they glowed after having a light on them awhile. I had an angel. Lost it when we moved.
Old McDonald's farm proved you can train chickens to play the piano among a few other animals with talents, thus making an enjoyable visit.
Panning for gold nuggets and I still have my little bottle with them in it.
Hearing a man play a saw and making a memory of that instrument that young people today can't imagine on the saloon stage which also had great shows of the saloon girls dancing on the bar. That place was always packed and had long lines.
Then there was the outdoor open circle with a stage surrounded by connestoga wagons that you can sit in during their shows. Sons of the Pioneers featuring Roy Rogers sang there going on into the night with the campfire blazing and western music playing. Sometimes they would have a square dance with people enjoying themselves.
So much more to list....oh well...I still remember.

Also accross the street there was real Dentzel merry go round. I rode it every time we went.

I left California in 1975. Oh how I miss the old Knotts Berry Farm but take a trip every now and in my mind. Its not the same now and I wonder why the family didn't save it, but sold out to an amusement park outfit. Forever spoiled for me.
Here in Florida now and folks out here have never heard of boysenberry anything.
I just might try to grow some.

Oh well, the young today sure don't know what they missed.

TokyoMagic! said...

Marieanne, that is sad that the Knott children didn't care about preserving more of the original Ghost Town buildings and attractions. I was a little surprised when they sold the jams and jellies business. The amusement park business goes up and down with the economy and the weather (unless you're Disney), but the jams and jellies seemed like a guaranteed money maker. Maybe they were made an offer so large, that they couldn't turn it down. I have wondered if they ever regretted it, especially after reading about how a couple of the grandchildren went bankrupt after making bad investments with their money.

I remember most of those details that you mentioned. I don't remember the teepees on the island. During my childhood, it was just paved over and there was no guest access over the bridges, until they built a theater (El Cinema Grande) on the island, in 1978.

I remember the piano-playing chickens...and also the seals out in front of the farm! There was also a second merry go round nearby the farm and the seals. It was almost identical to the one across the street. I was able to ride both! The one that was located across the street was removed in 1983, along with the most of the "Knott's Lagoon" area. That merry go round is now located at Castle Park, in Riverside, CA. The other one is still in the park, and is located in the Fiesta Village section. It was moved a couple hundred feet in 1987, where it still stands and operates today.

Oh, and I remember waiting in those very long lines at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant with my family. It seemed like it took forever to be seated. Not fun when you are a kid and you are hungry!

Thank you for your comment, Marieanne, and for sharing your Knott's memories!