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The Making of a Diamond

By: Al Stromer


I can’t think of a better way to start off the east coast amusement park season than to visit Knoebels Amusement Resort on opening day!  Besides the friendliness of park employees and all of the great food items to choose from; there are many great rides, shows and attractions.  There is one word that comes to mind when you are at Knoebels and that is “family.”  Not only because is it a great park for families; the word also comes to mind because when you are there you feel like you are part of the entire Knoebel’s family. One of the newest projects that the park is working on is the highly anticipated Black Diamond.  The Black Diamond is a three story indoor darkride/rollercoaster with a coal mining theme.  Black DiamondThis was a great reason for DAFE and regional ACE NJ to team up and co-host an event on opening day! The combined talents of Knoebels hard working staff and J.M.M. Studios did all that they could to get the Black Diamond completed by this event, but unfortunately it just couldn’t happen.  It is nearing completion, but realistically they are anticipating an opening mid-summer 2011.  They still need to make sure that there are no clearance issues with the trains, but most of the animated props and scenes are near completion. They also need to get to perform a test run so they can program the show system to synchronize the triggering of the stunts, lighting and effects.  Following that, it will still need to pass all safety inspections.




The Event
Despite the fact the weather had been quite wet during the months of March and April, it surprisingly turned out to be a nice sunny day with pleasant temperatures.  Over 200 DAFE and ACE members showed up with the hopes of the Black Diamond operating.  While it didn’t open, Knoebels, as always, did everything they could to satisfy our anticipation for the new attraction.  Special lights-on tours of the Black Diamond were given to everyone attending the event.  The tours were lead by Jim Melonic, Adam Melonic, Rick Knoebel, Jim Martini and other park staff.  Members were split up into groups of about ten and were led through the attraction’s three stories.  Black DiamondAs we walked along the sides of the track passing many scenes, you could tell by the look on people’s faces that they could not wait for this ride to open.  Many flashes came from cameras as we made our way through the attraction.  We had an agreement with the park that we were not to take any video during the tours.  We were allowed to take all of the still pictures we wanted, but we were told not to post anything on line or make them public without the consent of the park.  This was totally understandable.  It would lead to many spoilers to guests that didn’t ride it yet.  The tours lasted for the greater part of the morning since they took about 45 – 60 minutes per tour with four different groups going through at the same time.  The tours were great and it gave everyone a taste of things to come.  In the middle of the day we all met for lunch and were served pizza and birch beer.  Dick Knoebel welcomed us all to the park and gave a short speech.  After the free raffle numbers were called we all enjoyed three large sheet cakes since it was Dick’s birthday that week.  After lunch everyone went on their own way to enjoy the park until closing. After the park closed to the general public we received an hour of ERT on the Phoenix as enthusiasts rode and spent their time in the queues conversing amongst friends.  My favorite time to ride the Phoenix is at night or especially during Phoenix Phall Phunfest when the park turns out all of the lights on the coaster.  It just seems so much faster in the dark night sky!
Black Diamond

From Gold to Coal
The Black Diamond legacy did not start at Knoebels Amusement Resort.  It all actually started at the former Hunt’s Pier in Wildwood, NJ.  The original version of the ride had an old western theme, and its name when it was first constructed was the Golden Nugget.  It was built in 1960 and was the only darkride manufactured jointly by John Allen and the Philadelphia Toboggan Companywith help from the staff at Hunt’s Pier.  Black DiamondThe stunts, with a western gold mining theme, were installed by the late Bill Tracy.  Some of the scenes included a falling barrel gag, a head-on collision with another mine car, a water curtain, boot hill and a dynamite explosion.  The Golden Nugget was well received by guests along with some other unique attractions for that period including the pirate ship Skua and the Jungle Land boat ride that also resided on the pier.  Unfortunately, Hunt’s Pier was eventually sold in 1991 due to its competition from other local amusement piers and was renamed as Conkos Party Pier.  The new owners tried to do what they could to keep the pier successful, but the pier was sold again in 1995 and re-opened as Dinosaur Beach.  The new owners introduced a dinosaur theme to the pier and the Golden Nugget received a makeover.  The ride was re-themed to resemble an archeological dig site that was taken over by dinosaurs.  A crane was even used to lift a helicopter onto the upper level to add to the new theme.  Dinosaur Beach struggled to stay open until it closed its gates at the end of the 1998 season.  The pier was eventually sold to Jack and Will Morey who own several other piers on the Wildwood boardwalk known as Morey’s Piers.  The lonely Golden Nugget stood idle on the pier for years.  All of the rides were removed except for the Golden Nugget and the Morey brothers started to use the pier as a storage and maintenance area.  Since the structure of the ride was built directly onto the pier it was very difficult to come up with an idea on how to move it, or what to do with it.  Jack and Will had several ideas that they contemplated on how to bring the ride back to life, but they decided it would be too costly.  It was also rumored that the original structure of the ride was partially made from asbestos.  The building was not constructed at the time with any thoughts of actually moving it in future years.  Because of meetings that Jack and Will had with many amusement enthusiasts, they understood how much the Golden Nugget meant to us and the general public.  They just needed to come up with a plan.

Black Diamond


Dick Knoebel to the Rescue!


 If anyone had the pleasure of talking to Dick Knoebel you would find out that the Golden Nugget was one of his favorite darkrides.  With the Morey brothers at a standstill not knowing what they can do with the ride, Dick made an offer to buy the ride system.  A deal was made and Knoebels purchased it!  The Golden Nugget would ride again! The Morey brothers felt uneasy about the removal of this historic ride and landmark which stood on the Wildwood boardwalk for decades.  So on January 31, 2009 Morey’s Piers held a farewell ceremony for the Golden Nugget and over one-thousand guests attended in the bitter cold! With the ride system in storage, it was back to the drawing board for the Knoebels team. Event In order to bring the former Golden Nugget back to life they needed to design an entire structure to enclose the ride along with a loading station, interior sets and façade.  A modernized control system and new ride vehicles also needed to be created to appease the stricter safety requirements of today.  Their design team also had plans of enclosing the entire ride since the entire third story was open, along with the double lift hill being partly exposed, as it was originally constructed at Hunts Pier. When Knoebels was working on the plans for the ride they decided to work together with an outside company.  When they were searching for an outside source they had several ideas that they wanted to keep in mind during their design.  They wanted to keep the attraction family oriented, make it a bit scary, and give the ride a feel of its historic past.  After contemplating several different options, they decided to hire J.M.M. Studios to be their partners on the project. J.M.M. Studios has over thirty years of experience in the amusement industry.  Jim M. Melonic started the company in 1971 and it is still thriving to this day with a list of satisfied clients.  Jim has now partnered with his son Adam and is teaching him everything thing he knows so he can move forward with the company after he retires.   From what was seen in the interior during our tours I think that Knoebels made the right choice by choosing them. A special thank you goes out to the entire Knoebel family, regional NJ ACE, Jim & Adam Melonic and all who attended to make this another great event!