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The WEDway PeopleMover Story

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 03-23-2011 at 08:36 PM


A few weeks ago, we wandered around the all-plastic Monsanto House of the Future. That demonstration home lasted until 1967 when a whole new Tomorrowland based on the “World on the Move” theme was unleashed. One of the breakthrough attractions in the new Tomorrowland was the WEDway PeopleMover. Although it is now gone, it certainly is not forgotten. Where did this marvel of technology come from?



The PeopleMover is a by-product of Walt’s involvement with the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. WED Enterprises was hired to design the Ford Motor Company Pavilion in the summer of 1961 by Henry Ford II. The show would be called Magic Skyway and it would feature Ford convertibles as the ride vehicles. The Ford Pavilion had a $30 million budget and the building was nearly 275,000 square feet and the largest structure at the Fair. Welton Becket was the architect. The Magic Skyway became one of the most popular attractions with nearly 15 million visitors taking a spin behind the wheel of a Ford.

The purpose for using Ford products was to give guests a chance to experience the new vehicles first hand. The Ford Mustang was introduced at this Fair and this was the first chance that many people had to ride in one. This interaction is similar to what Ford did at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. During that Fair, drivers took guests on a ride along a short test track within the pavilion. This meant long hours in line for guests. A goal for the 1964 Fair was to increase guest capacity. Therefore, a new type of propulsion system was required to move the convertibles through the Magic Skyway.

We discovered the idea for the New York World’s Fair WEDway PeopleMover system while on a business trip to the Ford Motor Company in Detroit,” John Hench said. “Walt and I were invited to visit the mill where Ford made steel for car bodies. We saw a device for handling steel ingots, masses of glowing red-hot metal. The ingots were moved around on tracks powered by rollers from one area to another while being transformed into sheet steel for making cars.” Walt asked, “Do you think we could put some kind of seat on that type of conveyor, or some kind of arrangement for people to ride on…do you think this thing would handle it?” Hench replied, “I said, “Sure, look at the weight carried here. I bet that Roger Broggie would know how to do it.”

The challenge was to find a way to push the Ford cars around a winding track with elevation changes. The solution was a technology called a booster brake drive system. This system was first used on the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. Broggie said, “Walt remembered the booster brakes on the Matterhorn, which were at the top of each hill. They were rolling tires that helped slow down the cars and get them going at the right speed.”

The solution for both the Ford cars at the Fair and ultimately the WEDway PeopleMover was to embed electric motors powering urethane wheels along a track every few feet with masonite on the bottom of the vehicles (silent with a great grip). Although the vehicles themselves do not have motors, the urethane wheels spinning below make contact with the masonite mounted on the bottom and push them along.The speed of the vehicles could vary determined by how fast the rubber wheels were spinning. The EPCOT film claims one of the benefits of this technology is, “No single car can ever break down and cause a rush hour traffic jam.” Even if one of the motors breaks, it would not stop the system, as the other motors would pick up the slack.



To test the technology, a three hundred foot oval track and loading ramp was built in the Burbank studio backlot. Ford sent over a white 1961 Lincoln Continental and a Thunderbird. The engines, transmissions, and much of the power train were then removed to make them lighter. Bob Gurr set up his conveyor system and it worked. Further refinements were made and the system was installed in New York.



In 1964, Walt was the one who first realized that he could adapt the World’s Fair propulsion technology and create the WEDway PeopleMover system. PeopleMover name was Walt’s working title for the project but it stuck. In 1966, Walt had a chance to ride in a prototype system of the attraction that was built on the back lot. He passed away before the system could be installed in Disneyland.



For Walt, the primary function for the Disneyland PeopleMover was to give guests an overview of Tomorrowland. After this “bird’s eye-view” introduction, guests would know exactly where they wanted to go next and what to expect.



The WEDway PeopleMover made its public debut as a signature part of the new Tomorrowland that opened in 1967. The Disneyland system was designed by Bob Gurr and Bill Watkins. What was not known to the general public was the attraction was specifically designed as a prototype for the system that Walt wanted to install in his futuristic city of EPCOT. Just like the monorail, Walt was going to use Disneyland as a way of testing the durability of the technology. For me, it was one of the breakthrough technologies that helped define my memories of Tomorrowland. The attraction has constantly polled at the top of the list as one of the most missed attractions at Disneyland.



The Disneyland WEDway PeopleMover system consisted of 62 continuously moving, fully automated four-car trains. The attraction could host up to 4,885 guests per hour. The performance claim was “on peak days, it carries nearly 40,000 passengers.” Guests would take a 16-minute journey through Tomorrowland. Goodyear Tire Company was the sponsor. The attraction opened in 1967 and closed in 1995.



The loading platform is similar to a system that Walt spotted in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bob Gurr had already designed such a system and Walt sent him out to Lausanne to check theirs out. Turns out that the Lausanne version had a number of safety concerns and could not be used. Guests would step onto a Speedramp, an escalator belt without steps, that lead up to the loading platform. The Speedramp had as much great carrying capacity as a traditional moving stairway. At the top of the ramp was a circular walkway that was moving at the same speed as the vehicles and will “continue to move even while passengers are disembarking or stepping aboard.” The vehicles run continuously and “the next car is always ready.” The doors open and close automatically and it does not take many attendants to manage very large crowds.

When the attraction opened at the Magic Kingdom, Disney used a different propulsion system that in many ways was an improvement over the previous technology. Instead of using rubber tires to push the trains along, which were subject to wear and tear, linear induction motors were installed. All of the moving parts were eliminated. Embedded in the track are powerful electro-magnets that are switched on and off in sequence. As the vehicle approaches, the magnet pulses on and the opposing magnetic field pushes the vehicle forward. Each motor is made up of a proximity sensor, speed sensor, and a motor unit. One design constraint for systems powered by linear induction motors was the track had to be level. The older World’s Fair and Disneyland technology allowed for elevation changes.



For Walt’s vision for EPCOT, the WEDway PeopleMover was a “key system in [a] coordinated network” of transportation technologies and a critical piece of the puzzle. The EPCOT film touted the WEDway PeopleMover as “a silent, all-electric system that never stops running.” Walt needed a reliable intermediate transportation system to ferry guests from the Transportation Lobby out to the retail districts, the high-density apartments, the greenbelt with its recreational facilities and out to the ring of low-density single-family homes. He would also use the technology to connect the monorail to the industrial parks. As well as functioning as a transportation device, the proposal was for the WEDway PeopleMover to give guests a preview of what was going on inside the industrial facilities.



For EPCOT, initial plans showed a system of twenty WEDway PeopleMover lines “that radiate to and from the Transportation Lobby.” This system would become the string that ties the various land use pearls together. “From all over the community residents going to their jobs converge by WEDway on the Center City. Many work downtown in offices, stores, and shops, but most employees go beyond the city core to their jobs.” From the Transportation Lobby to the low-density residential zones at the far edge, the WEDway PeopleMover would be the transportation system of choice for residents and visitors in EPCOT.



The EPCOT system would feature trains consisting of four attached cars with each car seating up to four guests. Of course, the trains would be full size, therefore much larger then either the Disneyland or Magic Kingdom versions. The proposed headway time, the time it takes to wait for the next vehicle to arrive, was a mere three minutes. If a train was not already at the station, a rider would press a button and it would signal one to come. If the demand were to decrease, surplus trains would move back into the roundhouse.

The WEDway PeopleMover was the forerunner of another type of transportation technology called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). At the theme parks, the custom has become one party riding in one vehicle. This type of behavior is consistent with the PRT concept, whereby the guests are assigned to private vehicles, not shared with strangers, to take them on a nonstop no-transfer trip from their origin stations to their destination station. The WEDway PeopleMover provides an unprecedented level of privacy and security, which is a pleasant change from other forms of public transportation. It would be possible to provide users with key cards that limited access to certain stations.

Disney tried to sell the PeopleMover solution to cities and shopping mall developers. They set up a unit called the Community Transportation Services Division of Walt Disney Productions. The group offered modular systems that could be modified to meet the specific needs of its customers. The Houston Continental Airport installed a third generation WEDway PeopleMover system.

There's a lot of history and countless memories behind the beloved PeopleMover. Does the technology still have legs? Could it, or even should it, return to Disneyland's Tomorrowland?

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. For the past couple of years he has been the publisher of Samland’s Disney Adventure, a blog dedicated to the history and design of the North American Disney theme parks. Sam is also 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 has recently contributed to a book which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World.
"Four Decades of Magic" is now available in both hard copy and Kindle version at Amazon.

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Updated 03-25-2011 at 03:21 PM by Dustysage

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Comments

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  1. Showoffca's Avatar
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    Rather than bring this back in the parks at the Disneyland Resort, I do not know why they didn't use this transportation system to get the guests to and from the parking lots and structure ... instead of all the shuttles and buses. It is cleaner, quieter, less labor intensive ... and definately more Disney than the way things are currently done. I also think it would also bring back that sense of "Magic" that one used to get when entering the old parking lot (you know, the one were DCA is in), and walking up the red carpet to the main gates. The shuttles and buses just don't have that feeling at all...and I don't know about others - it really puts a damper on the start of my day, and a feeling of hassel at the end of my day. I didn't used to have that before ... and I miss that.
  2. DisneyContinent's Avatar
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    The Original Peoplemover, Flying Saucers, and Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland are all attractions that I really wish I could have experienced at Disneyland, but I never got a chance to. :-(
  3. Circa1966's Avatar
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    I know that Disneyland isn't supposed to be a museum, but given the foresight of Walt Disney and the advances in transportation systems that his company brought forth, it would seem that bringing the PeopleMover back to it's place beside the monorail would be the right thing to do. Although it may not be futuristic in its own right, it is the legacy of some of the systems we take for granted today - some tribute should be paid to that and given the tracks are there - why not in Tomorrowland? Perhaps part of the show could be a solar powered PeopleMover or demonstrations of future uses (airports and shopping malls can't be all there is). Perhaps bringing back the whole original EPCOT concept as part of the show...

    There are greater minds than mine at Imagineering - bringing back a PeopleMover is totally viable. If they can do it with Captain EO as a tribute, they certainly can with the PM.

    Thanks Sam for the great articles - all have been interesting reads...
  4. Not My Real Name's Avatar
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    I liked the shot of the loading area for the Ford ride. For some reason, I thought they used Autopia cars and not full-sized Fords.
  5. bayouguy's Avatar
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    I am one of many folks who truly enjoyed the attraction, became frothing at the mouth when it was removed, and pines for its return, and grouses at the never removed tracks. This was a wonderful article. People Mover forever!
  6. Mousepoop's Avatar
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    Bring it back, but update it to the 21st century. Make it a real transit system with at least two stations while you're at it.
  7. Mousepoop's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Not My Real Name;bt16796]I liked the shot of the loading area for the Ford ride. For some reason, I thought they used Autopia cars and not full-sized Fords.[/QUOTE]

    Could the existing People Mover track be worked into Autopia as an extension?
  8. Dreamagineer's Avatar
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    At Destination D, Tony Baxter hinted at the Peoplemover's return, but said they are seeking solutions to bring it up to current safety code.
  9. jcruise86's Avatar
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    The Peoplemover ride was relaxing yet invigorating.

    Like its fellow, dearly-departed scenic sibling, the Skyway, it could truly be enjoyed by the whole family. (Disney's been drifting away from that since the early 80s.) I miss it at Disneyland, but I'm looking forward to riding it again at Walt Disney World!
  10. skybluefusion's Avatar
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    This is a great article on one of my all time favorite rides. It's neat how amusement park rides can actually have real-world uses.
  11. Mousecat's Avatar
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    There is this fundamental urban design pattern called HIGH PLACES and both the Skyway and PeopleMover served to meet that need. They are missed.

    What do people think of the Florida version?

    Sam
    SamLand's Disney Adventures
  12. wec's Avatar
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    I hope it comes back. Spend the money to bring it up to safety code. It'll be well worth the effort.

    As far as the problem with teenagers getting out of the cars and walking along the tracks, yes it happened. If I'm correct, two teens were killed on it. I read that both occasions occured on "grad nights." That being said, you can't cure people from stupidity.

    Bring it back. It doesn't have to be a fast and glitzy attraction.
    It was a nice place to relax my feet for fifteen minutes and do some people watching.
  13. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    I don't comment much here, but after reading this, I just had to say that even though I enjoy all of your articles, Sam, this one is by far my favorite so far!
  14. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    I don't comment much here, but after reading this, I just had to say that even though I enjoy all of your articles, Sam, this one is by far my favorite so far!
  15. Freddie Freelance's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mousepoop
    Bring it back, but update it to the 21st century. Make it a real transit system with at least two stations while you're at it.
    Ditto. How about making a Fantasyland station where the old Skyway station is? You could have the PeopleMover track go over the Monorail track & the parade route between the Storybook Land Canal Boats/Casey Jr. tracks and the Fantasyland Theater, traveling behind the trees & over the backstage area and into a station built to look like the old Skyway station, with a turntable that's a duplicate of the one in the Tomorrowland station. The PeopleMover track would probably need to loop back over Tomorrowland to gain & lose enough height before & after the crossing to meet up with the current track, making the ride longer each direction, but unfortunately making the air above Tomorrowland look like a bowl of spaghetti (Hey, I'm just an Armchair Imagineer, let the guys who get paid for it come up with the details of how to make it look good!).

    The PM cars would need to be redesigned to meet current safety standards, and to keep teenagers inside, so why not make them a visual quote of the Monorail cars in miniature, with bent chromed aluminum tubes (or a painted wire mesh like on Mickey's Fun Wheel) in place of the old cars' open space, or Plexiglas windows. Theming the look of the new PM cars to the Monorail cars will give a more unified look to Tomorrowland.

    They can use the Linear Induction Motor drive on the new PM cars and have them go up & down inclines since induction motors have improved in the years since TTA was installed (look at the ones they use on California Screamin'! Although I doubt they'd want the PM cars to go that fast). Sealed Tubular Linear Motors would need less maintenance, can stay out in the outdoors environment without being affected by the weather, are more powerful and can have built in digital sensors & controls.
  16. DisneySavor's Avatar
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    A friend who's had great fortune in incidental meetings with folks not normally recognized by the public for their place in Disney had asked about what was up with the PeopleMover and what it's future would be.

    He got a sly smile and an affirmative 'we're looking at that'... several months ago.

    About a year ago, he'd had a longer conversation that involved talk about how they'd have to update the attraction for modern codes and methods they were looking at for that.

    So it sounds like there's still hope.

    Freddie Freelance, you've some great points there.
  17. ScottG's Avatar
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    Wow, I wonder where that Lincoln is now! Here's an obscure bit of trivia; The iconic 1961 Lincoln was designed to be a New Thunderbird and shares many parts with that model. Unfortunately the "new" T-Bird was so expensive to produce that Ford could only charge enough for it if it were instead designated a Lincoln.
    Updated 11-27-2011 at 08:04 PM by ScottG
  18. christine11276's Avatar
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    The Peoplemover was my absolute FAVORITE thing there. A few weeks ago I asked my mom why I liked it so much and she said "because it was the slowest ride". Ever since I can ... ever since my mom can remember, I insisted on going on it EVERY time we go there and we went there quite a bit. As a matter of fact, in a few weeks, I'm going to get a Peoplemover tattoo. Thank you so much for writing this article. It was awesome!!
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