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The original Columbia's history was detailed in part one of this series.

Co-author: Preston Nirattisai

While the real ship, her achievements seemingly forgotten, may have been unceremoniously scrapped a century and a half earlier, Walt Disney wished to resurrect the famous square-rigger for Disneyland. He hired Ray Wallace, a noted marine expert of the time, to design the Disney ship itself. (Interestingly, Wallace also designed the replica of the Lady Washington, which is available for sail tours today).

Years later, Imagineer Eddie Sotto and Wallace met. "I used to know Ray Wallace, the designer of the Columbia at the Park, and we were good friends," recalls Eddie. "We met when he designed the Cordelia K. steamboat at Knott's, when I was in the design department. I flipped when I learned he did the Columbia. Ray was Errol Flynn's first mate on his sailboat. They used to sail to Catalina a lot and drink."

"Ray told me that Walt had given him an inscribed copy of the Voyages of the Columbia as a starter for the Columbia project. Ray subsequently lent it out and it never came back--Walt's autograph and all."


Wallace had no blueprints to build his Columbia replica. In fact there were precious few images of the ship available at all. Luckily for Wallace, however, it turns out that the HMS Bounty (yes, that Bounty--famed in song and mutiny) had been built in England just two years prior to the Columbia, and many of the shipwrights who worked on the Bounty may have immigrated to America, where they might have found employment building the Columbia! So Wallace obtained a set of plans for the Bounty and got to work.

Wallace designed a typical merchant vessel of the late 18th century. The ship's dimensions were nearly exactly what the real Columbia's had been: From stem to stern, the ship was 110 feet long; her deck was 83 feet six inches long, and the beam slightly larger at 27 feet three inches. To better fit in with Disneyland's somewhat scaled-down architecture, the main mast is somewhat shorter than the real one was, at 76 feet tall. She carried 10 guns, instead of the real ship's twelve (today she has six).

Todd Shipyard in Long Beach--which only a few years before had built the hull for the Mark Twain--was again called in to handle the manufacture of the Columbia's steel-ribbed hull. While the hull of the real Columbia's was deep and typically boat-shaped, the hull of Disneyland's Columbia was completely flat on the bottom, taking into account the Disneyland river's shallow depth. In order to keep the ship upright with its tall masts (which tend to make a ship top-heavy and likely to heel over, or lean), large, heavy steel plates in the hold below the water line kept Disney's version stable.

A cross-section of the Columbia's hull. Drawing courtesy Jeff Maillian.

Todd completed its work on the hull on February 12, 1958. Once the basic hull "skeleton" was completed, it was trucked down the freeway on a large lowboy trailer. While the lower hull was plated in steel, the steel tubing ribs above were left bare. For a reason--authentic wood planking would cover the ship's exposed ribs.

Belyea trucking handled the move from Long Beach to Disneyland. Feel free to amaze your Disney-trivia obsessed friends by knowing the license plate number of the truck: W 87 807.

Sam McKim, noted Disney Imagineer, was tasked with creating the ship's color scheme. Apparently, McKim, using a bit of Imagineering with the knowledge of what the ships looked like at the time, came up with this rendering, which accurately portrays how the ship eventually came to be decorated.

This is Sam McKim's 1958 color study of the ship. She still wears this color scheme today, 50 years after her "launch."

Final "fitting out" was completed in Fowler's Harbor at Disneyland. Her weather deck is Douglas fir, and her railings are made of mahogany. Oak rounds out the other wooden construction. Where possible, authentic 18th century tools were used to shape the various parts and fittings.

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2008 Steve DeGaetano

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