Dick, Buddy Knoebel amuse with stories about their park


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Knoebels Amusement Resort produces a lot of enjoyment for its visitors every season, but those 1.3 million people should get a load of Dick and Buddy Knoebel themselves if they want some more fun and laughs.

The brothers who represent the Elysburg park's third generation of ownership were the guest speakers at Thursday night's Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. Picture your grandfather and his brother swapping stories at the kitchen table and you get the sense of the atmosphere at Masser's Banquet Hall.

The 75 or so listeners were enthralled by the Knoebels' informal and fun stories of the park's development, challenges and celebrations, and no doubt left as I did with a renewed sense of just how much family plays a role in the park's past, present and future.

Dick's straight-forward sarcasm and Buddy's straight-man demeanor produced laughs and applause, satisfaction for long-time fans of Knoebels that one might compare to grabbing the brass ring at the grand carousel.

A tight deadline limited our account of their speech for Friday's edition, so here's a few more tales that help paint the picture of Knoebels.

n Dick opened his speech with a phrase he said Buddy came up with earlier this year: "Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers set forth upon this continent a new amusement park." It was more than a joke or a reference to Tuesday's 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address; it is an accurate reflection of the year Knoebels opened, 1926 - 87 years ago (a score is 20 years).

n Dick talked about his great-great-grandfather, the Rev. Hartman Henry Knoebel, having been a circuit preacher. He said he was "defrocked" when, upon arrival at church one Sunday in the dead of winter, he fell off his horse and a brown bottle fell out of his pocket. "But you've got to realize, in the 1820s, 1830s," Knoebel quipped, "those horses didn't have heaters."

n Reflecting on simpler times and how Knoebels has always appreciated dealing with reputable people, Dick spoke about Frank Burkholder, who he described as a Harrisburg entrepreneur. He had approached Henry Knoebel - Hartman Henry's grandson and Dick and Buddy's grandfather - in the late 1930s about putting an arcade at Knoebels. "So, they shook hands on it. Mr. Burkholder's grandchildren are running it today, and there still isn't any ink between us. It's still on that handshake," he said.

n Dick was just 12 and Buddy 5 when their father died in 1951. Dick recounted working with his father in the saw mill business and shared a memory of helping construct the bumper car building. "He'd go out in the morning, pick out trees, cut them, saw them up in the afternoon and we'd be down there at night nailing the green planks down to the floor," he said. "You could hear the music from the roller skating rink as you drove those nails in those green planks."

n Buddy had discussed how the growth of the park took off after the addition of its first major wooden rollercoaster, the Twister, in 1985. He noted how opening of the Giant Flume was also a big moment for the park, as was this year's addition of the StratosFear - the park's tallest ride at 148 feet that slowly lifts then quickly drops its riders. Dick cut in at that moment to add, "I wanted to call it OMG!"

n Buddy briefly discussed the 1988 passing of his uncle, Pete Knoebel, who he described as a surrogate father for him, Dick and their sister, Leanna. Noting that Dick took over as president after Pete's passing, Buddy added that titles don't mean a lot at Knoebels. "We know titles don't get much work done," he said.

n A major area of growth for Knoebels over the years has been the campground. After a few campsites in the 1930s didn't prove beneficial, they were removed until 1963, when Uncle Pete put in six campsites. Buddy remembers his uncle's excitement one time in telling him to go check out the five campers present that night. Today, Knoebels has 600-plus campsites, plus another 150 at nearby Lake Glory.

n Finally, two stories about special deliveries tell of the family's problem-solving skills and broad name recognition. Dick told how a bearing had gone out on a ride on a Friday and the replacement had to come from a firm in Fort Washington near Philadelphia. Rather than hit the road, Dick went to the camper reservation list and found three people from that area who were expected at Knoebels that night for a weekend visit. He called one of the families and, while the lady was "a little dumbfounded" at first, her husband picked up the part, brought it along and the ride was back in operation by 8:30 or 9 that night. The helpers, of course, stayed for free that weekend. Buddy told how he was ordering a gift from Land's End in Maine one day when the man taking the order made a connection between the Knoebels name and the Elysburg address and asked if Buddy was part of the park family. When Buddy said yes, the man said there'd be no need to send the gift by mail; he was coming to Knoebels that weekend and would bring it along.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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