Today, Dexter Francis reaches into his treasure trove of Arrow Development photos and information to bring us the origin story for the company which has created so many beloved roller coasters and attractions over the years, including dozens for the Walt Disney Company.
When Angus “Andy” Anderson, Karl Bacon, Bill Hardiman and Edgar Morgan left their jobs at the Joshua Hendy Iron works in the fall of 1945, they knew what they wanted to do, but had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
All four were talented and capable foremen at Hendy. Anderson was a trained electrician, Morgan had years of experience as an automotive mechanic, Bacon and Hardiman were both machinists and Hardiman was also an accountant.
The war had been good for business at Hendy, as America had ramped up production to supply the troops, the orders flourished. Hendy built torpedo launchers and hundreds of giant marine engines for Liberty ships. Their foundries and machine shops worked around the clock, with families passing food and snacks thru the security fences to their hungry husbands and fathers. Everyone was eager to help fight the Axis’ Powers threat to the free world.
With the end of the war, and the union pressing for changes, the four men decided it was time to go out on their own. During a dinner at San Francisco’s Forbidden City restaurant, Andy, Bill, Ed, Karl and their wives celebrated their new partnership. Although many of the details of that dinner are lost, they undoubtedly split the check, as they would in everything else over the next twenty years, including the titles of President, President, Secretary and Treasurer.
Arrow was literally started from scratch, on an open parcel of land just north of downtown Mountain View, purchased in December of 1945 which was a portion of the W. P. Angelo estate. The first section of the building was cinder-block and reinforced concrete, a wise choice, as the location was just a few miles from the San Andreas fault, which had destroyed Hendy’s San Francisco shops back in 1906. Photos of the construction site show a curb style roof, the same type as those on Hendy’s buildings in Sunnyvale, which provided plenty of ventilation and light.
The walls were up by March, and construction was complete by August, of 1946, which allowed work on their first job; blowers for test burn-in furnaces for the Navy, to be done inside. The building would be expanded later, as demand for Arrow’s services grew, along with the fledgling electronics and aerospace industries, which would eventually earn the area the nickname “The Silicon Valley”.
Over the next few years Arrow would provide engineering design and fabrication services to many companies in the South Bay, including Hewlett Packard, who had provided several audio oscillators to Disney for testing and calibration of the audio systems needed for Fantasia’s unique multi-channel Hi-Fidelity sound. Arrow also made models for a patent attorney in San Francisco, concrete tamping equipment, trailers, truck beds and bodies, as wells as doing automotive machine shop work, making crop spraying equipment for Luscombe and fabricating hard-to-find parts for foreign cars.
Their first big contract for amusement park ride was for a carousel and kiddie car ride for the City of San Jose’s Alum Rock Park.
Originally a staff of six would share all the work, but over time their number would expand to 16 and later, over 200. In 1950, they would begin work on a small scale Mississippi stern wheel paddle boat called Lil” Belle for Peralta Park in Oakland, which would play a role in their future with Walt Disney.
But in 1949, that was only a distant gleam in their eyes.
Dexter Francis’ eBook on Arrow; “Building Disney’s Dream Rides – Arrow Development – The Little Company that Could” will be published later this spring.
We’ll have part 2 of this fascinating story for you very soon!