Sam Bits: Random Stories from Disneyland

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disney History, Disney Parks, Samland

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Published on March 21, 2013 at 4:04 am with 15 Comments

When working on a new book, sometimes you find some really interesting stories that just don’t quite seem to fit. However, the stories are too good not to pass along. Welcome to the cutting room floor.

ALL ABOARD!

Ever notice the announcements coming from the Disneyland and Walt Disney World train depots? You know, “Your attention Please!” That idea came from animator and train aficionado Ward Kimball. Kimball told Walt that historically, most train depots “had a guy high on a high balcony with a great megaphone, something like a ‘yell leader’ and he’d say YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE…and it echoed with so much reverberation in it…ALL POINTS WEST…and he’d rattle off all the little stops.” Kimball felt this little touch would add a bit of authenticity. “So I suggested that the Disneyland announcement have an echo,” Kimball said. “It should be in a ‘singsong’ kind of monotone voice…and so they recorded it that way.”

ONCE AROUND

The more you dive into the history of the Disney theme parks, the more you realize that the use of cutting edge technology rarely worked out of the box. One example was the Disneyland Monorail. Although the train was based on the ALWEG concept, much of the engineering had to be redone since Walt wanted the train to make tight turns and significant grade changes. The German train was not capable of handling the program.

The project was handed over to Disney Legend (and MiceChat columnist) Bob Gurr. It was no easy task. In fact, the monorail would not even make it around the track without breaking down. The first full trip around the circuit came the day before the grand opening. Needless to say, the Disney folks were concerned.

The plan for the live grand opening broadcast was to have the ribbon cutting and then load Vice President Richard Nixon and his family on the train and pull away from the station out of the camera’s view. Gurr decided to park the train at the platform and if it broke down after that, they would be okay.

The day of the broadcast was another Southern California scorcher. Prior to the broadcast, Gurr powered up the train to turn on the air conditioning and cool down the cab. Walt took the Vice President, his family, and Art Linkletter on a tour. Gurr said, “Walt was very proud to show Mr. Nixon his new advanced Monorail train, and demonstrate what modern transit really was.” Walt told the group, “Since I always run the Steam Trains, I don’t drive modern trains…and since this is an electric train, it’s a train that Bobby gets to play with.”

Nixon’s two daughters were excited about what they saw and asked if they could take a ride. Without thinking, Gurr figured it was already powered up and simply drove off. By the time they got around the Submarine lagoon and looked back toward the platform, they realized that all of his Secret Service were still back there on the platform. Gurr noted, “At that moment, I realized that I had “kidnapped’ the Vice President out from under the Secret Service.” He added, “I enjoyed Nixon’s colorful language as he described the people who were supposed to guard him.” Fortunately, the train did make it all the way around the track.

As the train approached the platform, Nixon’s daughter shouted, “Let’s go again…Let’s go again.” Proud that the monorail made it all the way around, Gurr said, “I pushed the accelerator lever forward and we started through the station again as the Secret Service guys came running toward the train. When we went through the station they turned and began running after the train and again they couldn’t get on.” Only at Disneyland.

THE CAMPGROUND

Did you know that Disneyland had it’s campground? What has become the surface parking lot north of the Disneyland Hotel was Disney’s Vacationland Campground. The campground opened on June 15, 1970 and was owned and operated by the Wrather Corporation (then owners of the Disneyland Hotel). It was the largest full-service campground in the area. There were 295 pull-through and back-in recreational vehicles sites with full hook-ups. There were also 74 tent sites. Amenities included a heated swimming pool, a picnic area, and a fully stocked convenience store. There was also restrooms and shower facilities protected by 24-hour security.  The campground was closed prior to the construction of DCA and the site was used for the construction trailers.

DREAMFINDER

One of the most storied Disneyland developments that never happened was Discovery Bay. Back in 1974, recently retired Imagineer, Tony Baxter, tried to create a new land that would fit at the north end of the Rivers of America. The project is detailed in my new book and, according to the Disney Archives it would have been “a decades-early precursor of the current ‘steampunk’ trend in science fiction.” Although the project was never built, one of the original characters did find another life. The proprietor of Professor Marvels Gallery of Illusions would eventually became Dreamfinder in Journey into Imagination at Epcot

WORLD OF COLOR

When the Disneyland submarines debuted in 1959, they were painted military grey just like the boats they were modeled after in the Navy. How many of you remember when the subs paint scheme was changed to yellow, pink, and blue pastel? That turned out to be a very unpopular decision which lead to today’s bright yellow submarines that was chosen to emulate a “modern scientific research vessel.”

Full of vitamins and minerals, this serving of Sam-Bits was part of a complete Disney breakfast.


Hard for me to believe but my upcoming book, THE DISNEYLAND THAT WAS, IS, AND NEVER WILL BE, is already available for pre-order.

THE DISNEYLAND THAT WAS, IS, AND NEVER WILL BE
A Biography of an American Institution
Walt Disney said, “Disneyland is the star. Everything else is in the supporting role.”
The Disneyland that Was, Is, and Never Will Be is the story of how Walt Disney’s greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Despite his successors battles with the whims of history and their own doubts and egos, Walt’s vision maintained momentum, thrived, and taught future generations how to do it Walt Disney’s way.

 

      

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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15 Comments

Comments for Sam Bits: Random Stories from Disneyland are now closed.

  1. Thank you Sam. I love your collections articles.
    Can’t wait for that new book!

  2. Great Article Sam

    These hidden stories are gems, and this column makes the unique viewpoints of Disney history exciting. All of these facts I did not know, and I cannot wait for more of them in the future.

    Thanks Again Sam

    Trumpet

  3. Nice job, Sam. There is a lot of great material here. I think elements like Ward Kimball’s voice are what makes Disneyland such a remarkable place. When even the train announcements are done well, you know it’s a special place. I’ve heard Bob Gurr talk about the Richard Nixon story on a podcast, and it’s a good one.

    Looking forward to the book! It’s on the list!

  4. Sam I enjoy your stories and research. In addition to Dreamfinder at Epcot, Discovery Bay is also be partly reproduced in DLP Discoverly Land, their implementation of Tomorrowland, features Videopolis which has the large balloon craft as well as the 20,000 Leagues Nautilus which is somewhat like the original DL submarine attration but as a walk through.

  5. Great stuff Sam. I always laugh when traveling on the 5 and I see the sign that there is “camping” at the next exit when approaching Disneyland Dr..
    Guess they never got around to changing that sign as I can’t think of any other campground in the area.

  6. Thank you for the info, Sam. Hard to believe that the campground was around for 30 years! One question: Why is June 14, 1959 listed as the Opening Day of the Monorail (and the Matterhorn Bobsleds) if it was actually featured on the Park’s Opening Day in 1955?

    • The Monorail, Matterhorn, Subs, Fantasyland Autopia and Motor Boat Cruise were part of a major Tomorrowland expansion in 1959. They were not opening day attractions.

  7. Ah, yes, Vacationland! My family made the drive down from Oregon with the travel trailer in ’73 (a Kit Kompanion) and ’76 (an Airstream Argosy) and parked it there. Walked to Disney, drove to Knott’s, Marineland, Magic Mountian, Hollywood, the tar pits, and loads of other places. Always back to the trailer at V-land to crash and get ready for the next day’s adventure. Pretty fair view of the fireworks, there, too.

  8. I’ve always wondered about that Monorail ribbon cutting, when the giant scissors didn’t work and Walt had to tear the ribbon by hand, do you know the story behind that? Someone forgot to check out the scissors, do you know who it was, and did Walt give him hell for it?

    I thought the campground north of the hotel was a privately owned RV park when is closed, like KOA or something. I remember people were upset for having to move out, because they lived there 30 years or something.

  9. With later additions such as Toon Town, did Ward Kimball add that to the Yell Leader voice over, or did they have someone else who sounds like him for that part?

    • Ah, just re-read, He was behind the idea, not the man behind the voice. Who actually did the voice over work for the railroad?

  10. Bob Gurr is gutsy. If the Monorail had broken down those secret service agents would have called in the black helicopters. Those were such fun times. Today there would be 10- years of environmental impact studies before even the first pillar of the monorail would have been built.

  11. Awesome!

  12. Thank you Sam for these tasty tidbits!

    Loved the Bob Gurr Monorail story!

    I remember one time my family brought our camper and we stayed overnight at the campground. Just wish I had photos.

  13. Priceless video clip. I thought I knew it all but I didn’t. I never knew there was a campground at Disneyland. Pretty neat.