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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. Ortizmo2000's Avatar
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    I still think TDA is nuts for letting such an iconic and historical ride go into mothballs. This article just reinforces my feelings on the matter.
  2. GoBotDotCom's Avatar
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    Without it, the area is soooooo LastWeekLand.
  3. AzGizmo's Avatar
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    The ride is a wonderful "crowd soaker," and if the original concept feels a little out of date then all they really need to do is just dress it up a bit just as it was done in WDW.

    Besides, having that unused track just sit there throughout Tomorrowland makes it an eyesore.
  4. disneyland255's Avatar
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    Oh how I miss this attraction! Thank you so much for sharing some history on "one of the most missed Disneyland attractions." I look forward to part 2.
  5. MrTour's Avatar
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    With all the detail Disney puts into the park, I am amazed they have left the unused track for all to see. Tomorrowland has fallen away as a place to test new technology, and has long lost any consistent theming. It would be nice for an upgraded PeopleMover, along with an entirely upgraded Tomorrowland!
  6. bamato's Avatar
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    Excellent article. Thanks!
  7. yellowrocket's Avatar
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    Disney may have dropped the ball on the subject, but cities (mostly airports) now do have automated peoplemovers. Metromover - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  8. Dick O Dell's Avatar
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    sounds to me the real reason why the People Mover hasn't returned yet is the fact that the old tire propulsion is no longer in the old track and the track changes elevation which prohibits the use of linear induction, such as the TTA in the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Unless Disney can figure out how to propel a new People Mover system, it'll never come back and the old track should be ripped out...
  9. danyoung's Avatar
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    Excellent article as always, Sam. I especially enjoyed the photo of the Magic Skyways loading platform at the World's Fair. I was only 8 when this fair started, and I've always wished I'd been old enough to visit it.

    And I agree that DL leaving the PeopleMover/Rocket Rod tracks empty like that borders on the criminal!
  10. TodAZ1's Avatar
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    Soooooooo miss the People Mover. When I went to The Magic Kingdom in Florida, their version of the PM was the first ride I went on.
  11. crmwed's Avatar
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    I would LOVE for TDA to bring back the people mover more than anything, but i don't know how feasible it is anymore. With buzz lightyear having its home where it is, where would the line for people mover be located? if they could work it out logistically, why wouldnt you bring back a popular ride with such a high capacity?
  12. JiminyCricketFan's Avatar
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    I loved the article. The Peoplemover was probably more fun to watch than to ride in its later years. One fatal flaw was this transportation system did not take you anywhere. Without a destination, it was dependent on the attraction and beauty of Tomorrowland to sell the guest on a ride. When Tomorrowland got older and was no longer as wondrously innovative as it was in 1967, the ride was less an attraction.

    I believe that the system still sounds innovative for today. But in this world where people are used to making choices in their video games and entertainment, a system that only takes you on one track and right back where you started from has limited appeal.

    But if Disney were to have multiple depots and different destination choices, this could be a very fun ride. If they through in a peak at local attraction as a perk, that would be fine too. This is just as the Disneyland railroad works. Many ride the railroad to get to another land, the fact that they see a glimpse of Splash Mountain, IASM, and Toontown are nice, but not a good reason for taking the ride.
  13. Disneykin Kid's Avatar
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    Awesome article. I too miss the PM, perhaps part of the reason it was removed was because it was seen as 'boring' but it was better than the pointless Rocket Rods. (I call RR pointless partly because of it's lame special effects, some flashing lights and a blast of air at the end.)

    The PM should be brought back, but add in maybe three special effects areas, like an updated Tron room, Star Wars and Buzz Lightyear, in the areas where the corresponding attractions are. Not just large screen movies, but mix it up with animatronics. Maybe a light saber wielding Darth Vader menacing riders, like the Disco Yeti was supposed to. If you did these three areas, I think the direction of the cars should be reversed, so Star Wars is the finale. (Although I think Star Wars should have it's own E Ticket animatronic attraction a la Pirates or even Harry Potter)

    I also read before that because the PM was slow moving, kids would climb out and walk along the track, only to trip and get hurt or killed by passing cars, I wonder if they could remedy that problem.

    I would have liked to have ridden the Ford Magic Skyway, that was the one with the Primeval World Dinosaurs, right?

    Too bad Walt didn't have a chance to see the 1967 Tomorrowland.
    Updated 03-24-2011 at 09:03 AM by Disneykin Kid
  14. BugsBunny's Avatar
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    I rode on Ford's Magic Skyway at the fair (I remember trying to change the channel on the radio in the car). And I rode on the PeopleMover. I can't have the fair back...so, Disneyland, bring back the PeopleMover!
  15. Mousecat's Avatar
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    Thanks for the great comments. Yes, this is one I really do miss. And having the skeleton of the track haunting us just makes it worse. One magic moment for me was when the PeopleMover ran alongside the Monorail for a short bit.

    If Tomorrowland were leaning forward (like in Walt's day) then the PeopleMover would return as a demonstration PRT system and the Autopia cars would either be electric or Hydrogen fuel cells. Sadly, unless there is a movie tie in or a major sponsor, it would be unlikely that either of these things could happen.

    Sam
    SamLand's Disney Adventures
  16. Disneykin Kid's Avatar
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    Yes, the Autopia should definitely be electric cars, the fumes are noxious, but bye bye Chevron, unless they want to showcase green technologies. Actually I think they should take out the Autopia and move it to where the Motor Boat Cruise is, you could theme it more to Fantasyland rather than Tomorrowland where it's not really future technology. In Autopia's place next to Innoventions build a Star Wars animatronic E ticket, maybe change the carousel building to a Star Wars style, actually it is kind of already.
    Updated 03-24-2011 at 10:06 AM by Disneykin Kid
  17. bearofmcc's Avatar
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    Thanks for the article, Sam.

    I enjoyed the insider name I read that cast members gave it after a series of accidents--The People ReMover.

    Getting rid of it at Disneyland wasn't the only bad decision involved; replacing it with the dreary, boring Rocket Rods was a real what-were-they-thinking moment. When we finally got on the brand new Rocket Rods we thought, "We waited in line 90 minutes for *this*?" ;o)

    Michael
    San Francisco
  18. RebelMouse's Avatar
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    Sam, thank you for yet another wonderful article. I really miss the people mover. It was a pretty slow ride for the most part, but I'll never forget riding on it when they added the TRON room when the original movie came out in the 80s. Suddenly, the PM felt like it was flying. I get a little sad when I look up at the track and the see the dark entrances to the various rooms it went into. Hopefully, the imagineers have ideas to bring it back to life one day and maybe that is why the track is still there? One can only wish!

    It's actually kind of sad for Tomorrowland, with technology moving so quickly, it is seemingly impossible for the land to stay ahead of it. Both my girlfriend and I also think they should do something with the whole House of Tomorrow attraction. It is certainly an icon, but it is such a waste of space and never seems to be busy at all. I can only imagine what they could do in it's place. Disneyland needs more real estate!
  19. LoonAZ's Avatar
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    It just goes to showcase the phrase "you never know what you have until it is gone". When the PeopleMover still existed, I could take it or leave it. Sure, it was a good way to sit down for a few minutes and cruise around Tomorrowland. But it wasn't really exciting or thrill packed. Even when they added the "Speed Tunnel" it really wasn't all that.

    But now that it is gone I see the impact it really had. For one it added to the kinetic motion of Tomorrowland. In concert with the Skyway, Autopia, Monorail, Rocket Jets (up high where they should be) and Submarines Tomorrowland was truly a land "on the move" (not to mention the spinning Carousel of Progress/America Sings building). The PeopleMover, as already stated, was also a great people eater. Removing hundreds of people from roaming the ground for 15 minutes at a time really helped to alleviate general congestion and wait times for other rides.

    Plus it was a ride every member of the family could ride together. Everybody from the tiniest baby to oldest family member could ride. Lots of family memories were forged on the PeopleMover. That can't be said of a lot of current rides.

    Here's to hoping Disney will one day bring back this ride (or something similar) and restore Tomorrowland to the spark of imagination and glimmer of what the future may be again.
  20. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    The Ford convertable cars featured in Ford's Magic Skyway all had their drivelines removed for the attraction. Probably why the radio did not work for your rider. It was possible for guests to purchase any of the vehicles in the show, and after it ended Ford would put the drivetrains back in and have the cars running once more. The Mustang convertable made it's debut in this show and the restored ride vehicles are highly sought after today. They all had their factory serial numbers which can identify a Magic Skyway vehicle from records. If they do bring back the people mover, WDI has a few to start with. They should have one in the "One of a Kind" shop at Disneyland if they bring that back also. I'd love to see a flying saucer there as well, along with the restored Natures Wonderland complete engine, tender and cars.
    PS These Skyway Ford cars may be the start of the biggest Disney collectables back in 1965. That's 2 Disney Legends in your photo, with Bob Gurr behind the wheel of the convertable Lincoln on the Disney Test Track with John Hench walking along talking to him. PD
    Updated 03-25-2011 at 06:52 AM by DisWedWay
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