"The hillsides are still barren as guests enjoy a splashy good time on the new Jet Stream flume ride," seen here in the ride's opening year of 1972, according to a publicity photograph
released for Magic Mountain's 25th anniversary in 1996.
From Six Flags Magic Mountain (2017):
Jet Stream has delighted families at Six Flags Magic Mountain since 1972. Following the enormous success of other flume rides, it was clear when the park was being designed that a log flume was to be included. Log Jammer was the longest log ride ever built in the US at that time. The flume was so popular that one year later, the park introduced a new twist on the log ride concept and Jet Stream was born.
Jet Stream was the first of only seven Hydro Flumes built by Arrow Development. These were variations of the traditional log flume ride, but they had larger boats, double channels on the drop and, most notably, a small speed hill at the bottom of the large plunge. This little hop let the boats skim across the water a short distance before ending with the big splash. Jet Stream was also the first flume ride to use a turntable to dispatch boats into the channel.
Instead of log-shaped boats, the new Jet Stream featured traditional, sleeker-looking boats. Still very rare at the time, the ride featured a trough length over 2,000 feet, just as its older sibling had. The speed bump at the bottom, however, was the notable stand out difference, causing the boats to skim across the splashdown. Over time, the decision was made to remove the speed bump at the bottom to give it more of a direct splash such as the other flume ride, rather than the skimming quality.
Log jammer was removed at the close of 2011 to prepare for the addition of Full Throttle in 2013. Jet Stream now stands prominently as the park's popular flume ride.
The World's First Log Flume
When theme parks were rare, new ideas on a grand scale were needed to separate them from the typical amusement parks with carnival rides. The concept of a log flume was a perfect fit. In 1963, Six Flags Over Texas debuted the first ever log flume ride in an amusement park. To say it was a success is an understatement. In fact, it was so popular that the park felt the need to add a second flume in 1968. When Six Flags Magic Mountain was being designed, the management took notice and opened the park with one from the very beginning.
As theme parks started appearing in the 60s and 70s, log flumes continued to be the "must have" attraction. The ride was built by Arrow Development Company, who was one of the rare ride manufacturers to provide bigger themed rides. To keep up with the demand for new ideas and larger thrills, Arrow would go on to build mine train coasters and eventually amaze the world with modern looping coasters.
A History of the Log Flume
Historically, log flumes were used in the latter half of the 1800s to transport logs and lumber down the side of a mountain where it would be received at a sawmill. Flowing water was the method of transportation, and it efficiently helped the transport of the wood over ravines, cliffs, and gorges. Some records indicate that one particular flume spanned over 62 miles in California in 1890. On occasion, workers would climb aboard a log and take a ride to make sure everything was flowing well, and quite probably, for the thrill. While that kind of riding would have been dangerous in the 1800s, it was the origins to the great family fun of the well-known log flume ride.
In 1968, executives of Sea World Inc. were looking for a place in Los Angeles County to build a new theme park. Knowing that The Newhall Land and Farming Company had enough undeveloped land and that the company wanted to attract attention to its New Town of Valencia, a county planner asked company CEO James F. Dickason if he was interested. He was. After intense negotiations, Sea World and Newhall Land formed a $20 million partnership and began to build a 200-acre amusement park at the western edge of Valencia. Seventy acres would be used for the park itself — rides, theaters, games, food, landscaping — and the rest for parking and ancillary services. Headed by general contractor J.M. Brock & Sons of Los Angeles, construction began Nov. 17, 1969, and continued until opening day. Brock was building homes in Valencia at the same time.
When Magic Mountain's wrought-iron gates swung open to the general public for the first time on May 29, 1971, Southern California's most exciting "white knuckler" experience was the Gold Rusher roller coaster, which careened over the hillsides on its distinctive gold-colored track at a breathtaking 35 miles per hour. Highlights of the day were El Bumpo, a bumper boat ride where patrons navigated gas-powered skimmer craft over a lagoon; Galaxy, a giant, double-armed tilting Ferris wheel; Billy the Squid, a brightly colored ride with huge, revolving tentacles; and the Log Jammer, a flume ride. A favorite centerpiece was the Grand Carousel, which traced its history to 1912 and underwent a $300,000 refurbishment for a new spin at life. Linking everything together was a monorail system designed and built by Universal Mobility Inc. of Salt Lake City — and a maze of contoured walkways developed by Strecker Construction Co. of Santa Fe Springs.
By the numbers, the 1971 admission price was $5 (just $3.50 for kids 12 and under). The park boasted 500 employees and featured 33 rides, many of which were built by the Swiss firm Intamin AG (Sky Tower, Galaxy, Funicular) and Arrow Dynamics (Gold Rusher, Log Jammer, Grand Prix, El Bumpo). Arrow Dynamics, a Bay Area roller coaster and amusement ride design company partially owned by Walt Disney, had a number of popular Southland attractions to its credit including the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland and the Corkscrew at Knotts Berry Farm.
Installation of the Sky Tower fell to the Los Angeles firm of Aggressive Erectors & Bridgemen Inc., which used a crane with a 330-foot boom to lift the observation platform into place. Aggressive also helped set up Billy the Squid, the Circus Wheel, the Crazy Barrel and Bottoms-Up. J.A. Placek Construction of Torrance built the Funicular's cable railway.
Magic Mountain lured a remarkably rich lineup of entertainers to its 7-Up/Dixi Cola Showcase Theatre (later known as the Golden Bear Theater) including Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Durante, Phyllis Diller, Pat Boone, the Carpenters, Connie Stevens, Mac Davis and Sonny & Cher. In 1978, the rock group KISS used Magic Mountain as the setting of its horrid made-for-TV movie, "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park" — which became something of a cult classic, even though band members are said to have forbidden roadies from ever mentioning it. Rumors of an acutal phantom that appeared atop hills and caused rides to turn on mysteriously after midnight persisted. Film-goers seemed happier with "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983), when the park doubled for Walley World.
In 1971, the park had secured rights from Warner Bros. to use its Looney Tunes characters. If Disneyland had Mickey Mouse, Magic Mountain would have Bugs Bunny. But it was a short-term deal, and after the inaugural year, the Warner Bros. characters stayed away for more than a decade. So in 1972, Magic Mountain introduced its own lineup of memorable characters — Bloop, Bleep, King Troll (aka King Blop) and the Wizard — accompanied by a colorful wardrobe change for park attendants. Replacing the first-year garments from Imperial Costumes of Dallas were new uniforms designed by Academy Award winner Mary Wills. They came in "Canyon Gold," "Pine Green" and "Valencia Blue."
Initially the costumed entertainers were union laborers provided through All King Productions, a member of American Guild of Variety Artists; after All King's contract expired Dec. 31, 1972, Magic Mountain brought the entertainment in-house with non-union workers. Troll pay fell to $2.75 per hour from $3.50; at the time, the minimum wage was $1.65.
At least one notable park employee who wore the Bleep costume would go on to make a name for herself — Oscar nominee Debra Winger ("Urban Cowboy," "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Terms of Endearment," "Legal Eagles," "Shadowlands").
The actress remembers that it was between Christmas and New Year's in 1972 when she sustained a serious on-the-job injury. Seventeen-year-old Debra was being driven to a location in the park in a Cushman vehicle when she "went out the back end, in costume." According to news reports, she was partially paralyzed and temporarily blinded. Her recovery took many months. (Incidentally, she remembers that Bloop was a nice guy.) Debra's older brother, Marc, would become superintendent of the Newhall School District.
Perhaps the incident was an omen of things to come. The 1970s were puncuated with injuries to park employees and patrons alike, all too frequently resulting in death. In January 1978, Theron "Terry" Fowler, a Grand Prix mechanic, died when one of the cars fell on top of him. A 1969 Hart High graduate and an aspiring teacher, Fowler's body was discovered the next morning — by his own father, who had gone to look for him. The following month, on Feb. 5, 1978, a pair of newlyweds were violently rocking the Eagles Flight sky ride, causing their bucket to plunge 50 feet to the ground. The husband died and the young bride sustained critical injuries. On December 26 of that same year, 20-year-old Carolina Cynthia Flores of East L.A., whose girth should have prohibited her from riding the brand-new Colossus roller coaster, was not securely fastened into her seat; she flew out. Next, an 8-year-old child was maimed when he somehow got dragged under the Dragon ride — a low-slung people mover that slowly ferried patrons up the hill to the Sky Tower and Magic Pagoda. Each incident led to dramatic changes. Following Fowler's death, supervisors were required to check employee time cards to ensure they'd punched out at the end of their shift. The Dragon was removed in 1981, as was one of the two separate Eagles Flight courses. Safety features were added to the remaining course, and it, too, was eventually removed. Colossus went through three generations of trains; ultimately they were so secure that in 1984, patrons were invited to ride backward.
Understandably, The Newhall Land and Farming Co. wanted out of the theme park business. It was in the business of entitling and selling land, not holding it and operating unrelated companies on that land. Magic Mountain had done its job by putting Valencia on the map. Newhall Land was ready to divest.
In 1979, Newhall Land sold the park to Six Flags for $51 million, a profit of just $250,000. At the time, Six Flags operated five other parks around the country and was a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1982 the chain was sold to Bally Corp., which sold it for $350 million in 1987 to Wesray Corp., an investor group headed by former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon.
Meanwhile, Time Warner increased its ownership position in Six Flags from 19.5 percent in 1990 to 50 percent in 1991. Time Warner's influence eradicated the last vestiges of the unique indentity Newhall Land had stamped on the park in the 1970s. Not only had Bugs Bunny and his cohorts replaced Bloop and Bleep by 1985; gone, too, was the "Western" theme embodied in the Grand Centennial Excursion, whose trains carried visitors from a ghost mining camp through an actual buffalo corral (actually American bison), past a lake with migratory Canadian geese, to the old-timey Spillikin Corners, an arts-and-crafts section where guests could watch trained artisans make candles, candy and more. (The geese flew away when the lake was removed; at first they wintered on another manmade lake at the nearby Valencia Lakeshore condominiums. The present writer can't recall what happened to the bison herd. The old Spillikin Corners water wheel ended in the garden in back of Le Chêne Restaurant on Sierra Highway.)
Time Warner retained a dominant position as Six Flags went through additional ownership changes and gobbled up more theme parks in the U.S. and abroad. Time Warner emboldened its branding at Magic Mountain with the Batman Stunt Show in 1992, followed in 1994 by Batman The Ride. Superman and other Warner Bros. characters were close behind.
Six Flags' expansion came to an abrupt halt in 2004 when the company started to shutter and sell properties to alleviate its mounting debt. Creditors including Bill Gates, who owned 11 percent, were unhappy, and Hurricane Katrina (2005) didn't help. By 2008, the New York Stock Exchange was threatening Six Flags with delisting. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection June 13, 2009, and emerged May 3, 2010, with new management and restructured debt.
Six Flags had put Magic Mountain and its water-themed neighbor, Hurricane Harbor (1995), on the block in 2006 but couldn't find a suitor and ultimatly decided to keep them. The twin parks, known collectively as Six Flags California, were profitable even as the parent company was bleeding money elsewhere. To Santa Claritans, the troubles seemed distant.
Through it all, from an annual attendance of 1 million in 1971 to roughly 3 million today, Magic Mountian remained king of the coasters, rivaled only by Cedar Point, Ohio, in a back-and-forth trade-off for the distinction of having the tallest, fastest — and above all, the most — roller coasters in a single park.
Since 1971, the Six Flags California parks have consistenly employed more Santa Clarita Valley residents than any other company. It's good to be the king, but it is the king's subjects — a long line of young adults, usually on their first job — who deserve the lion's share of credit for creating more than 40 years of on-the-ground experiences that have kept happy customers coming back year after year.
Sources: Six Flags California; "A California Legend: The Newhall Land and Farming Company" by Ruth Waldo Newhall (1992); Dr. Marc Winger and Debra Winger (personal information); Nanette Lagasse Gaither (Terry Fowler information); Patrick Comey (All King Productions information); L.A. Times Advertising Supplement (1971, courtesy of Tony Newhall); Six Flags Magic Mountain 25th Anniversary Memory Book (1996, courtesy of Sandy Renshaw Sinner); various financial statements and reports.
MM0100b: 9600 dpi jpeg from original publicity photo.