Rare is the individual so beloved by every aspect of the amusement industry. Whether it be the business side, the care and dedication toward the park guests, the love of the enthusiast community or the adoration from fellow family-operated parks, Dick Knoebel stands on a pedestal all his own.
When his grandfather founded an amusement park in 1926, Knoebel was automatically immersed into the industry his entire life. Located in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, Knoebels Amusement Resort has enthralled visitors for decades, and the love for the park has been carried through from generation to generation.
After a short stint in the Marine Corps, Knoebel was able to engross himself in the various tasks at hand.
Growing up with the park, Knoebel eventually took on larger roles. His involvement in the amusement industry was impactful. He was elected as president of the Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Association in 1971. In the mid-1980s, he was instrumental in the development and adoption of the Pennsylvania Ride Inspection Act, which served as the model for most other states. To this day, he serves on the board of directors as secretary/treasurer. His concise report often is boiled down to three words: “We are solvent.” His volunteerism also included serving on the board of directors for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions from 1999 to 2002.
But it is his work with the park that truly created a legacy. Knoebels Amusement Resort has a charm and old-fashioned character that breathes authenticity and is almost impossible to duplicate. Projects among the property’s attractions stand as a testament to determination, innovation, preservation and a sheer love for what the amusement industry does.
Truly at the forefront is the construction of the park’s most famous roller coaster, Phoenix. Originally built in San Antonio, Texas, as The Rocket at Playland Park in 1947, the wooden coaster was a brilliant design by Herbert Schmeck of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. After that park closed in 1980, Knoebel eventually saw the value in preserving an outstanding ride. Told by many industry “experts” that the idea wasn’t sound, Knoebel proved them wrong. The ride opened in 1985 and has been a national — if not global — draw thanks to the constant care of the remarkable machine. Phoenix is one of only two coasters to be in the top ten of Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards charts since they originated in 1998. The erection of the ride also involved a young man named Clair Hain, Jr., who eventually went on to cofound Great Coasters International, Inc.
The relocation of The Rocket sparked an interest in preserving rides. That project was just the beginning for Knoebel. Over time, more innovative and celebrated projects were to come.
A reinterpretation of Elitch Gardens’ famous-yet-lost Mr. Twister coaster was championed in 1999 with the opening of Twister, paying tribute to a classic of the past. Black Diamond in 2011 saw PTC’s only steel coaster in the company’s history purchased from a Jersey pier and brought back to life rethemed to the Pennsylvania region and making for a signature piece for the park — half coaster, half dark ride.
The most affectionate proof of Knoebel’s stubbornness was the construction of Flying Turns. A project of more than seven years, he was told repeatedly that he couldn’t build such a vintage ride in the 21st century. Once again, he proved the naysayers wrong. Flying Turns opened in late 2013 and is the only ride of its kind in the world. It won a Golden Ticket for Best New Ride.
“Anyone would consider me lucky to have been raised by an industry legend,” said his son Rick Knoebel. “Having Dick Knoebel as my father means I have an incredibly accomplished mentor. I’ve witnessed his resiliency as well as his devotion to restoring and resurrecting rides.”
The park itself shows the truth in such a statement. Among the large collection of offerings are refurbished and preserved rides from almost a century ago alongside modern day thrillers. Classic kiddie rides, flat rides and slides harken back to a long-lost era. The park’s bumper cars, Flying Skooters and Whip are considered unquestionably among the world’s best. A great love of Knoebel, the miniature trains at the park are family crowd pleasers.
One of the park’s unquestionable “must do” attractions is its Grand Carousel. The Knoebels family’s love for the 1913 carousel is a true feather in its cap. Purchased from Riverside Park in New Jersey in 1941, the carousel is one of the largest in the world, and Knoebels’ dedication to preserving the opportunity to grab a brass ring while riding is an Americana tradition virtually lost in today’s world.
One of his strongest principles is his dedication to the people who work for him and the people who come visit. His belief in family is one taken to heart. Parking is free. Admission is free. The prices of delicious food and fun attractions remain reasonable and an exceptional value for families who enjoy a day at the park.
“What stands out most to me is my dad’s extreme dedication to the job while never once forgetting family comes first,” said son Brian Knoebel. “Perhaps that’s one of the many reasons Knoebels has thrived under his leadership. He understands the importance of family time, and our role in providing that for our guests.”
It is that leadership that gives a park something special — a soul.
Having established a legacy of the finest of principles, values, dedication and vision within the amusement industry, Amusement Today is thrilled to recognize Dick Knoebel as a Golden Ticket Awards Legend.