Knoebels steal show at Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce dinner
PAXINOS - Dick Knoebel told the crowd at the Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce 16th annual dinner Thursday night that he was standing a little taller because, last month, he had gotten "a 7 1/2 year monkey" off his back - the Flying Turns.
That's the name of the ride Knoebels Amusement Resort began work on in 2006 that finally opened in October.
A ride first created by a World War I pilot, and a ride that Knoebel first experienced in the 1960s, didn't exist anymore, so when Knoebels decided it was going to recreate it, the references were few and today's rules, many.
Through much perseverance, however, "We have the only one in the world," Knoebel said with pride to a round of applause. He added with his trademark dry humor, "I don't think anyone else wants to try it."
Knoebels, with its 1,800 to 2,000 employees each season, was an appropriate representation for the chamber's showcase annual event, held this year at Masser's Banquet Hall, attended by about 75 people and sponsored by PPL.
Three new board members were accepted Thursday night, and chamber director Whitney Fetterman, who took over the reigns earlier this year, discussed the chamber's updated website and its presence on Facebook, Constant Contact and - as of Wednesday - even Twitter.
But the night belonged to Dick Knoebel and his brother, Buddy, who passed the microphone back and forth for nearly an hour, telling stories about the park; it seemed the audience would have listened to all night.
State Rep. Kurt Masser prodded the Knoebels for their assessment on finally bringing the Flying Turns to life when many had declared it dead long ago.
"When are you going to tear that down?" was a common refrain Dick Knoebel heard about the wooden structure that stood silent in the park for most of the past seven seasons, he said while discussing the ride prior to his speech.
But that wasn't an option. He told the crowd about doing a presentation for the Pennsylvania Ride Safety Bureau at a meeting in July in Harrisburg, then going back for a final OK on Oct. 1. Once that was granted, the ride opened to limited use Oct. 4 and to the public Oct. 5, Dick Knoebel said.
"It took a lot of hard work on the part of our staff and others to get it done, but we got it done," he said.
From slow growth in its earlier years, Knoebels began to really take off as something more than a regional park when it added the Phoenix rollercoaster in 1985, Buddy Knoebel said, crediting his brother's efforts in making that happen. The family didn't have the $2 million or more needed to build a coaster from scratch, so, for about $50,000, they bought the Rocket from a park in San Antonio, Texas, that was headed for the wrecking ball and brought it to Elysburg in pieces for a challenging reassembly.
From there, Knoebels' annual attendance of about 300,000 visitors doubled in two or three years. Today, it's 1.3 million.
"To a great extent it was the addition of the rollercoaster," that propelled the park to a new level, Buddy Knoebel said.
Throughout their storytelling, Dick and Buddy made many references to family, and they made it evident without expressly stating it that the park is the family and the family is the park. In fact, family milestones and park milestones are shared in some cases: The opening of a ride corresponding with the birth of another Knoebel, for example.
And they also made it clear - with words - that the fourth generation that is slowly taking over for Dick and Buddy's era will keep it that way.
Dick Knoebel said when people ask him about "selling out," he thinks back to a story about his wife, Barbara, now deceased, being asked that one time by someone from Six Flags. "You've got to be kidding. We're not for sale," he said, repeating her words, but also reiterating the point for today.
He followed up the comment by saying he had "eight reasons" not to sell, and while rattling off the names of his eight grandchildren, Buddy was pulling pictures of grandchildren from his wallet to reinforce the point.
(More on the chamber dinner in Saturday's edition.)