Disney legend, Bob Gurr, knows how to tell a story. And today, he has spun the Wheel of Years and landed on a topic which is . . . well. . . a part of history that Disney would probably like to forget. We’ll let Bob illuminate us.

Today’s Wheel of Years has stopped at 1997, so here we go. Everyone remembers the now Classic Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade. Since the early 1970s this wonderful creation has traveled to several Disney Parks and has also inspired similar parade designs in a number of theme parks world wide, some of which are Disney competitors. So how do you top a Classic? Create something even more advanced, since designers have years of operating experience, and the creative equipment and tools have become far more advanced over the years. WRONG!

Sometimes the future appears, but is dead on arrival. The infamous Disneyland Light Magic is just such an example. It came and went so fast, thankfully only a few regular Disneyland guests ever experienced this disaster as it faded quickly into Rocket Rod heaven. The internet has very few images of it’s short life. I worked on it as an outside consultant – ya wanna hear the tale?

My experience over the years as I participated in hundreds of all kinds of projects is that in a simple sense, the most successful ones have a common characteristic – a Champion. By that I mean a person who leads by passion from start to finish. A person who literally “owns” the concept and guides everyone in the practical course to achieve the goal, one who sometimes is the creative person or the administrative leader who takes the creative idea all the way to fruition. But there are an awful lot of projects throughout history that are “committee champion-less”. Light Tragic Parade is one of these.

Fortunately the names of people and organizations involved shall remain nameless in order to protect the guilty. I was contracted at the start of the project by a famed engineering organization hired by the Parade group to develop a concept design for a parade float chassis based on a wordy specification. The Parade folks were a collection of various artists, writers, choreographers, show consultants, and theatrical dudes. My impression at the time was that, here we go again – the Committee!

Since the job had a rigid budget, every time something got expensive in design, items were cut. As an example the Parade was originally intended to have quite a few floats that would be scattered along the parade route in show-stop fashion giving almost everyone a chance to see the show. But over the course of my involvement in float chassis development from December 11, 1995 thru April 11, 1996, the number of floats was drastically reduced. This meant that only the guests that were at the widely spaced show stops would see the whole act – not good!

There are two ways to do a concept; by tedious specification writing, followed by conceptual documents which lead to a low bidder to actually design and build it. Or decide to actually do it by designing the production elements using real parts and materials, not hypothetical stuff just to flesh out words into a visual document for a low bidder war. You see what happens – a lot of man hours and time are burned just to get a pile of what’s called bid documents. Had the job been conceived as a committed real job, every man hour would have yielded an actual real collection of production materials. That’s the way Walt Disney taught us!

An example of what I’m ragging about: When I was asked to size a tire and wheel along with some axle components, I was told to “just make them up to fit our words”. Outrageous! One should always source actual parts that exist and can be bought and used in production. Nope, that’s the way of specification writing and bidding. “Don’t worry Bob, the low bidder will go find the real stuff after we give them the contract”. “Good gosh Gurr, finish your drawings and just take the money”.

During the course of the project I attended many meetings at the Disneyland Parade offices, becoming ever more dismayed at the constant revisions to the designs and operational constraints. I remember noting at the time how happy I would be when my part came to an end. It has remained an indelible lesson in what can go wrong when otherwise bright and qualified folks get swept up into a concept than had an unclear idea then descended into an endless stream of changes which lost any clear focus. The short life of Light Tragic was proof of failure supplied by Disneyland’s summer ’97 guests.

While the Parade project started in the fall of 1995, the Parade did not go into service until May 23, 1997. It lasted only few months, ending on September 1, 1997. I watched the TV preview show contracted to a non-Disney low bid TV channel. The show was a combination live presentation edited with pre-recorded clips of the Parade designers proudly showing off their talents and predictions as to how wonderful this latest attraction will be. I vividly remember a little kid when asked what he was about to see, replied “probably not much of nuthin”. Years of effort summed up by a prescient child. You can watch the results for yourself in this video:

And that’s Light Tragic from my side of the story. Surely some of you bright folks saw this parade as well. Would love to hear your comments.

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Bob Gurr is a true Disney legend who was hired on to design the Autopia for Disneyland. Over nearly four decades, Bob would become famous for developing the Monorails, Submarines, Flying Saucers, antique cars and double-decker buses of Main Street, Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway (at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair), Omnimover ride system, Matterhorn and lots more. It has been said that if it moves, Bob probably played a part. Upon leaving Imagineering in 1981, Bob worked on a number of "leisure-time spectaculars" and "fantastical beasts" for parks and developments all over the world. Most notably, he created King Kong and Conan's Serpent for Universal Studios Hollywood, A UFO for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, and the memorable T-Rex figure featured in Steven Spielberg's motion picture "Jurassic Park." You can find Bob's column, Design: Those Were The Times, right here on MiceChat. Though don't pin Bob down to a schedule, he's busy being "retired."