It doesn't matter whether your amusement park of choice is Disney World the local local fun park. When you visit, you're going to see a log flume.
No matter how advanced amusement technology gets, or how death-defying roller coasters become, the simple pleasures of the log ride continue to impress. Not bad for a ride based on a timber transport system.
“In the parks that have them, they are always one of the more popular rides,” says Jim Futrell, a historian with the National Amusement Park Historical Association. They might seem quaint, but according to Futrell, it is this simplicity that makes log flumes such fixtures in the amusement park industry.
“The ride has a broad appeal because it has an amount of thrill to it, but it is not overwhelming for little kids and older people," he says. "And it also doesn’t drown you.” The log flume is also able to be lightly or heavily themed depending on the park, which gives it a broad business appeal.
A log flume, the not-fun kind.
Long before the log flume was an amusement park staple, log flumes were used in an industrial setting. The first commercial log flumes were built in the mid-1800s by sawmills that used them to transport logs across long distances. Long, usually V-shaped troughs filled with water would carry freshly cut logs over chasms and over tough terrain. This eliminated the need to create roads and bridges for the lumber to be transported overground.
Many of the original log flumes could stretch for miles, just like the tracks of a locomotive. What is thought to have been the longest log flume of all time ran 62 miles between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a processing site in Sanger, California. Owned by the Kings River Lumber Company, the massive flume was built in a little over a year, and processed thousands of felled trees. (Downside: this devastated the local population of redwood trees, many of which were over 2,000 years old.)
In order to maintain the long system of chutes and make sure they didn’t become clogged or broken, the owners would employ people known as “flume herders” to inspect the length of the transport channel, looking for potential log jams or broken portions of the flume. Sometimes these herders would travel down the flumes in custom built vehicles, but more often than not, they would ride one of the logs down the path. While it was exceedingly dangerous, it was also a lot of fun.
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