Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Midget Autopia Inspirations

Arrow Kiddie Car

The early 1950's were an inspirational time in the automotive industry. GI's returning to America from duty in England and Europe had been exposed to sports cars; two seat roadsters which were built for speed and fun rather than practicality. Auto makers in Detroit would begin to jump on the bandwagon with the Corvette, but would not successfully enter the market on a large scale until the early 60's.

Custom car builders in Southern California began to respond to the new found sports car lust with sleek, feline, fiberglas bodies which could be built onto existing chassis and motors. Two of these independent designers would introduce cars in the mid 1950's; Victress and Glaspar. Kaiser Motors also introduced their short lived Kaiser-Darrin 161.

In the midst of this styling frenzy, another creative genius, Walt Disney, wanted an automotive themed attraction for Disneyland that would be fun for little kids. It was called the Midget Autopia. To help build it, he turned to Arrow Development, who had created the vehicles and track for Snow White's Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Arrow had been making kiddie car rides since the early 50's. Their flagship model was a sporty two seat roadster called the Arrow-Flite Super. It was introduced at the National Orange Show in 1953.


Arrow-Flite Super

In addition to the Arrow-Flite, Arrow had been selected by Kaiser Motors to build a few dozen small scale replica push cars of the Kaiser Darrin 161, for advertising purposes.


Arrow's Darrin Jr. Production line in 1954

With their experience in fiberglass, kiddie car design and manufacturing, Arrow was a shoe-in for Disney, but a close look at the body style of the Midget Autopia cars reveals that the Midget Autopia car wasn't an Arrow-Flite Super or a Darrin 161 knock off. There were similarities, but the Midget Autopia's swooping lines and feline fenders were much closer to the style of cars from another company that also did work for Disney; MAMECO, who did the original Autopia cars.

MAMECO's first Autopia Cars

MAMECO had collaborated with Glaspar in the creation of the 1953 MAMECO Ardun-Glaspar G2. It was born in 1949 when Bill Tritt helped Ken Brooks design a body for a car that Ken was building. At the time, Tritt was making small fiberglass boat hulls in Costa Mesa. Bill convinced Ken that fiberglass was the ideal material for his new hot rod's body shell.

1953 MAMECO Ardun G2


The G2 was a beauty and won a lot of races. The fender line was sinuous. Some of the features on the Midget Autopia cars also bear a striking resemblance to yet another 50's kit car; the 1954 Victress S-1A;

Victress S-1A Line Drawing



The Victress Manufacturing Company introduced the S1 sports car body in 1952. William Boyce-Smith was in his final year at UCLA when he started working with his good friend and fraternity brother Hugh Jorgensen to design a car that "Doc" Boyce-Smith wanted to be more stunning than all the sports cars of its era. Hugh began on a design that would, in Doc's words, “out Jag the Jag," referring to the XK-120. The result was a stunning, two seat roadster with elegant, yet racy lines;


The Jag to out-jag XK-120

Victress S-1A

Lining up the four bodies side by side highlights the shared features. The swooping fenders, wasp waist and provocative headlamps of the Victress are readily apparent, but the tail light treatment is clearly Darrin.


All of which were born, along with Disneyland, in Sunny Southern California.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Lil' Belle





Lil' Belle Riverboat


A letter dated January 6, 1953 from Arrow Development co-founder William Hardiman to Richard Irvine at W.E.D. Enterprises offers some insight into how Disney may have become aware of Arrow.


Dear Sir;

Thank you for your inquiry on our stern wheeler boat. I regret that we do not have the photographs and information on it worked up as yet.  However we are having these things prepared and will forward some to you as soon as they are completed.

We were quite pleased with the amount of interest shown in this boat even though the pictures we showed at the convention were very sketchy. This early interest caught us a little unprepared as we have not planned on releasing the advertising on it for another month. We are rushing it thought though, and you should have you copies very shortly.

                                                                          Very truly yours, 

                                                                          ARROW DEVELOPMENT CO., INC.

                                                                           by Wm. J. Hardiman


Arrow had begun attending the NAAPPB convention in 1952 and was one of 75 exhibitors. The next year the booth would be tended by Ed Morgan.

By January of 1954 Lil' Belle was completed and getting press reviews. The San Francisco Examiner ran a story on January 31st, but there was no mention of any work for Disney at that time. KCBS Radio featured Lil'' Belle in a story on July 6th. The first mention of work for Disney was in very late November;





THIS IS SAN FRANCISCO

LIL' BELLE                                                                      Tuesday, July 6, '54

Have news this morning for those of you who yearn for the good old days when the Delta King and the Delta Queen made the overnight run up the river to Sacramento.

Riverboat days are here agin - over in Oakland at least. The Lil' Belle is now operating in the lagoon next to the Peralta Playground opposite the municipal auditorium.

I was present for the dedication last week, and can report that this will be the most popuar ride in the Bay Area.

You stand at a regular landing, and watch the Lil' Belle come in. 2 tall smokestacks, pilot house, she's a model of the real thing, and when seen at the far end of the channel, looks very real indeed.

Actually, she's a launch, with a superstructure that gives her the appearance of a river boat. The 30 or so passengers sit in 2 rows facing across the keel of the vessel, which is powered with a small gasoline engine.

But the splashing paddle wheel at the stern is the real thing, and if you can, get a seat at the back where you can watch it kick up water.

The Lil' Belle was the idea of Arrow Development Company of Mountain View,  a firm that makes rides and things for amusement parks.

Karl Bacon, of the company, who was skipper on the first cruise, told me that safety paramount idea in designing the boat.

"She's a double steel hull, with fiberglass surface, and the seats are 2 long flotation chambers. The superstructure is aluminum, so all the weight is kept down in the boat."

Yes, the Lil' Belle is a grand idea, and with the miniature train - the Acorn - circling the lagoon,  and kids riding in a surrey with the fringe on top along on side, you have the feeling that you're really back in the good old days.


On May 1st, 1954 Anaheim was announced as the location for Disneyland - with an estimated $9 million price tag. Work was to begin as soon as the property cleared escrow and continue towards an opening date mid 1955 with expectations of 5 million annual visitors.

The San Jose Mercury News reported on November 28th, 1954 that Arrow Development had signed a contract that week to construct a dozen "dark ride" cars for the Snow White feature, a Dumbo train patterned after the Walt Disney cartoon of the same name, and to reconstruct an ancient merry-go-round in the spirit of the King Arthur's Knights tales.

Snow White Car @ Arrow Development

The Snow White dark ride was to be a "twisting, lightless, tunnel, revealing black-lighted, animated pageants of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to visiting children as they pass different turns in their ride.

Casey Jr. Concept Art - dated 11/20/54 - Initials of Bruce Bushman
Although the design of the Dumbo train was not yet complete, Bill Hardiman said; "One thing is certain about it - the engine will have the same wiggly stack it had in the famous cartoon."

King Arthur Carousel Scale Model by Arrow Development

The next few months leading up to opening day would be more like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for Arrow Development.




Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Autonomous Guidance Under the Hood

Luigi's Rolickin Roadsters at DCA

These days most automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are built for industrial use. A typical application might be in an automobile plant moving parts or materials around the factory. In an industrial environment, safety primarily means preventing the vehicle from running into another vehicle, an obstacle, or personnel.

Early Guide by Wire Patent Details


Control design for Dark Ride systems has its roots in industrial automation technologies. Initially, the two big players in Themed Entertainment (Disney, Universal) had to develop their own standards and safety systems. In the 1960's these were similar to systems developed for railroads (ie; block control) and often used relay logic. As safety became more important, and markets began to spread, industry, professional organizations and governments began cooperating in developing standards with a goal towards globalization.



The parallels between controling Themed Entertainment and Industrial Automation are obvious, but in two areas the requirements and tolerances are very different; Timing and Safety. Show Timing can require "frame rate synchronization" of events and both acceptable injury thresholds and frequency of occourance are much lower, particularly at the highest SIL (Safety Integrity Level) or PL ratings.

Logan Industrial AGV

Back in 2014, Prism Systems was contracted develop an AGV for an Orlando area theme park. Unlike industrial material movers, the cargo would be people and the primary function was providing an “experience” while moving them thru a show. This presented a number of significant challenges in both software and control system design.

Prism initially chose to use Programmable Logic Controllers for safety functions; and monitoring to protect the guests and operators from injury or death. Safety PLCs, EthernetIP, laser scanners, video cameras and light curtains provided multiple layers of protection. The final solution had several features combined to achieve a Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 2 rating, which equates to one failure per 1 to 10 million hours of operation. For one system that would be nearly 150 years of operation, 18 hours per day.

Obtaining that level of safety required the use of Safety Rated PLCs communicating with Safety Point I/O, modular programming using standard and safety Add-on Object Instructions (AOIs),
EthernetIP communication using a Safety Layer Protocol, safety rated laser scanners, light curtains, vision systems to detect intrusion in forbidden areas and produced/consumed tags to other Safety rated PLCs communicating over an EthernetIP Safety Layer.

Arrow's Wire Guided Vehicle; Danny the Dragon (1960)

Designing Safety into Free-Range AGVs

Autonomously Guided Vehicles historically have navigated in one of two modes: free range or fixed path. Fixed-path AGVs have followed buried wires (Danny the Dragon, Tower of Terror) or magnetic tape, with or without modulated RF.  Fixed path is similar to traditional tracked dark rides in that the vehicles are constrained to specific routes and speeds.  Some vendors have chosen to call fixed path "Trackless" technology, even though the vehicle's path(s) are fully planned in advance.

Free-ranging AGV's may use a combination of inertial navigation, laser scanners, optical encoders and sensors, buried magnets and RFID tags. They typically also refer to an onboard electronic map. They may have onboard or wayside vision systems monitoring for obstacles. RF tracking and ranging systems using WiFi and indoor GPS have also been developed.

2getThere 3rd Generation Autonomous Vehicle
One recent development in the human transporting AGVs is the 2getThere ParkShuttle, which currently carries over 2,400 passengers per day.  In 2017, 2getThere signed a long term agreement with Oceaneering International, parent of dark ride vehicle maker Oceaneering Entertainment Systems, "to collaborate in the design, development and advance of automated people-mover systems serving the US markets and entertainment venues worldwide."  The 2getThere guidance system uses both buried magnets and RFID tags. In 2014 Oceaneering's Advanced Technology Group acquired FROG AGV Systems.  That same year, OES won the 2014 Thea Award  for Breakthrough Technology for it's Dynamic, Tru-Trackless™ ride vehicle system. That is the technology behind the Sea World Antarctica Empire of the Penguin ride system.

Sea World - Empire of the Penguin

Disney has been developing AGV technology for over 40 years and Universal recently dipped its toe in the water with the Kong - Skull Island attraction. Disney AGV systems include Aquatopia, Pooh's Hunny Hunt and Mystic Manor in Tokyo, Ratatouille at Disneyland Paris and Luigi's Rockin' Roadsters at DCA.



One of the primary industrial applications of Free Ranging AGVs has been in maritime container terminals, where they transport cargo from the dock area to conventional over the road trucks. Many of the current AGV Technology vendors have been developing this technology for three decades, so it's natural for their hardware to be tried in themed entertainment.

Port of Rotterdam AGV's

In our story, the free-ranging the AGVs moved in groups thru the themed environment, primarily guided by inertial navigation. Dual encoders on the wheels kept track of distance down the ride path.  Since errors accumulate over time due to wear and slippage, RFID tags embedded in the floor provided dead-reckoning points for positional corrections. Gyroscopes provided vehicle orientation, also called "pose".



Precision of Control

Each vehicle used a PC-based supervisory control system interfacing with subsystems that determined position and propelled the vehicle. Another PLC based controller provided external control of all the vehicles. 

Multiple AGVs moved simultaneously and each one only knew its own position. The supervisory processor communicated wirelessly with each vehicle from the wayside, tracking location and telling the vehicles where and when to go next. This "Mother may I?" approach has been typical of dark ride systems partly because of the need to integrate with existing wayside technology which controls the show.

WinAC RTX F Controller

Prism ultimately transitioned to a faster WinAC controller partly because it was safety rated. This was achieved by using a real-time operating system (RTOS) underlying Windows, which meant that the PLC software was also running on top of Windows, but still in the RTOS kernel.  This allowed separation of communications and errors in the operating system from the operation of the PLC, so if Windows had an fault, the safety code could continue to run. Network communications were also handled outside the operating system, which would also allow communications to continue if one of the other modules failed. This was made possible because multi-threading and memory protection had been developed for inductrial PCs. Processing times were about 20ms per operation, close to what is needed for "frame rate" synchronization.


Software Design


Safety related applications must mitigate all possible contingencies.  Prism chose unified modeling language (UML) which works well for PLC programming, especially when using state machines or sequence diagrams. The development team tried to uncover every possible scenario and response before coding began. This was accomplished with frequent and thorough reviews throughout the development process.

There were four main parts within the software:

· Vehicle interface manager
· Zone manager
· Vehicle manager (vehicle and group)
· Station manager

Each component is a logical section within the same PLC program, but running in protected memory and having segregated duties and communication channels to the other components.

The Vehicle Interface Manager handled all the logic and communications to the vehicles. Communication was wireless and used custom formatted IP packets. Messages were buffered and had extensive error checking. If malformed packets were received, or communications were not timely, the vehicle was stopped. This is another major difference between industrial applications, where the effort is to try to work through faults, and amusement parks where the default error response is a ride or vehicle stop.

The Vehicle Interface Manager was always requesting the vehicle's position. Its PLC queried each vehicle in the fleet, determined where it was, where it needed to be, and then sent commands back. Communication had to be low latency since the vehicle only knew its trajectory for the next block - which was usually about six to eight feet long.

The Vehicle Manager tracked both vehicle groups and individual vehicles and handled all associated functions. Multiple vehicles would travel through the attraction as a single group. Groups also had group-level tasks related to how they acted in each show scene.. Within a group, each vehicle also had different responsibilities and individual vehicles could respond independently.

The Station Manager primarily handled triggered functions (e.g., vehicles advancing, door movements, charging, station gates) but contained the highest level of safety components, such as pressure mats, laser scanners and vision systems, because it was responsible for knowing where people were.

The Zone Manager also kept track of all the vehicles and had all information about each vehicle in the attraction: where it was located, what group it was associated with and what route it was taking. It used this information to zone and block out different routes to make sure vehicles didn't collide with one another.

In amusement park rides (roller coasters, dark rides), zone blocking/protection is one of the oldest ways of maintaining a safe ride environment. It was perfected in the railroad industry and incorporated in Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds by Arrow Development in 1961. Tracks are divided into zones. When vehicle or group moves into a zone it “claims” that zone and no other vehicles can be commanded or allowed to move into it until the block is released.

The Zone Manager is a core element of ride safety. Although not a safety process itself, its algorithms ensure that vehicles never deliberately collide with one another.

These core principles have worked well for over 50 years. What comes next will probably get a boost from the anti-collision technology being developed in the automotive industry, where all the major players are working towards self driving cars. That is built on a very different base than Themed Entertainment, which is more like a choreographed dance of elephants than a sprint to the finish line.

Given the change in philosophy hinted at in new ride systems in which guest input influences the story there are some big and rewarding challenges ahead.

GM Self Driving Car Concept

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

1958 Disneyland Attraction & Wait Times

Fantasyland Image by banannaphone5000

An Interoffice Memo from Jack Sayers, distributed to Walt Disney, Card Walker, Donn Tatum, Bill Cottrell, Ed Ettinger and Doc Lemmon in January of 1958 provides a fascinating reminder of how things have and haven't changed at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Compiled by Buzz Price's consulting firm, it estimated the time it would take to visit every attraction in Disneyland. It found that it would take 19 hours and 11 minutes to see and do everything including shopping, time out for eating and bathroom breaks. That was across three days, with daily park attendance between 1300 and 2000 guests.  Only a handful of attractions had wait times, with the Golden Horseshoe being 20 minutes, Richfield 10, the Disneyland Railroad and Moon Ride were 8, and a handful of others were 1 to 4.

With today's daily attendance figures of roughly 40,000, maybe maybe those wait times aren't as bad as we thought.


Survey of Time Required to See Disneyland Attractions in 1958 

MAIN GATE

Buy Tickets and Books;               10  minutes
Pass thru Gate;                               5  minutes
Go thru Tunnel;                              2  minutes
Total Entry Time;                         17  minutes

MAIN STREET

Train Ride;                                   12 minutes

EXHIBITS ON THE SQUARE

Bank of America                           5 minutes
Bekins                                           5 minutes
City Hall                                       5 minutes
Castle Service                               5 minutes
Show Business                              5 minutes
Souvenir Stand                              5 minutes

MAIN STREET RIDES

Horseless Carriage                         5 minutes
Omnibus                                        3 minutes
Horse Cars                                     5 minutes
Surry                                              4 minutes
Fire Wagon                                    4 minutes

MAIN STREET EXHIBITS

Wurlitzer                                        3 minutes
Magic Shop                                    5 minutes
Yale and Towne Lock Shop           7 minutes
Swift's Market                               10 minutes
Pen, Music & Card Shops              3 minutes
Eastman Kodak                              3 minutes
Silhouette Shop                              2 minutes
Carefree Corner                              5 minutes
Pablum Baby Station                      1 minute
Liberty Square Display                   5 minutes
Penny Arcade                                 20 minutes
Upjohn                                           15 minutes
Glass Blower                                   5 minutes
Candle Shop                                    5 minutes

Travel time along Main Street - 30 minutes
Time from Main Gate thru Main Street - 3 Hours 30 minutes

TOMORROWLAND

RIDES

Autopia                                          4 minutes
Moon Ride                                    12 minutes
Astro-Jet                                        3 minutes
Satellite                                          3 minutes
20,000 Leagues                              4 minutes

EXHIBITS

Art Corner                                       1 minute
Crane Exhibit                                  5 minutes
Dairy Bar                                        1 minute
Richfield                                         19 minutes
WenMac Flight Circle                    20 minutes
Circarama                                       20 minutes
National Lead                                 10 minutes
Monsanto Chemical                        5 minutes
Kaiser Aluminum                           10 minutes
Monsanto House                             8 minutes

Travel time in Tomorrowland  -     30 minutes
Total time in Tomorrowland -         2 hours 46 minutes

FANTASYLAND

RIDES

Viewliner                                         4 minutes
Motor Cruise boats                          4 minutes
Midget Autopia                               4 minutes
Jr. Autopia                                       4 minutes
Storybook Land                               6 minutes
Mickey Mouse Theater                   35 minutes
Cups and Saucers                            3 minutes
Snow White                                    3 minutes
Carousel                                          4 minutes
Peter Pan                                         2 minutes
Mr. Toad                                          2 minutes
Castle                                              5 minutes
Dumbo                                            4 minutes
Casey Jr.                                         7 minutes
Skyway                                           5 minutes

EXHIBITS AND SHOPS

Magic Shop                                    10 minutes
Pirate Ship                                      7 minutes
Toy Shop                                        20 minutes

Travel Time in Fantasyland -         30 minutes
Total Time in Fantasyland  -          2 Hours 46 minutes

ADVENTURELAND

RIDES

Jungle Boats                                      7 minutes

EXHIBITS AND SHOPS

Bazzar                                               15 minutes

Travel Time in Adventureland  -      8 minutes
Total Time in Adventureland  -       30 minutes

FRONTIERLAND

RIDES

Mark Twain                                      12 minutes
Rainbow Mine Train                        8 minutes
Shooting Gallery                              4 minutes
Mule Pack                                        10 minutes
Conestoga Wagons                           4 minutes
Stage Coach                                      6 minutes
Tom Sawyer Island                           60 minutes
Keel Boats                                         8 minutes
Indian Canoes                                  10 minutes

EXHIBITS AND SHOPS

Davey Crocket Museum                  10 minutes
Strawhatters                                     15 minutes
Black Light Exhibit                          6  minutes
Indian Village (War Dance)             30 minutes
Pendleton                                          4 minutes
Golden Horsehoe                             45  minutes
El Zocalo                                          5 minutes
Gun Shop                                         5 minutes
Trading Post                                     5 minutes

Travel Time in Frontierland     -      45 minutes
Total Time in Frontierland       -      5 hours, 22 minutes

TOTAL TIME ALL RIDES AND ATTRACTIONS - 14 HOURS, 16 MINUTES

Lunch Periods                                 2 Hours
Restrooms                                      45 minutes
Information                                    20 minutes
Shopping                                         1 hour,  30 minutes
Standing & Looking                      30 minutes




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Merry-Go-Round Co. Doing Defense Work

An article from the Sunday, August 26, 1951 edition of the San Jose Mercury-News gives some interesting insight into Arrow's pre-Disney years.  Authored by Central Coast Staff writer Dwight Mitchell, it declared; Merry-Go-Round Co. Doing Defense Work.

At this stage Arrow had only built three carousels and was building industrial production equipment for local companies like Hewlett Packard, McCormack, and Wells Goodenough. What they were doing for the DoD wasn't mentioned.

The reference to the use of magnesium in the horses has a connection to the story Karl and Ed told about the fire, as told in Rob Reynold's book;  Roller Coasters, Fumes and Flying Saucers.

One year later, in 1952, Arrow would exhibit for the first time at the NAAPPB Show in Chicago, the same show where Disney would visit Arrow's booth, which lead to the inquiry about the Lil' Belle riverboat and Arrow's reply letter from Bill Hardiman to Dick Irvine, on January 6, 1953.

PRECISION MACHINE - Precision coil-winding machine made by Arrow Development Co., Mountain View, for Hewlett Packard Co., Palo Alto radio engineering form, is demonstrated by Karl W. Bacon, treasurer of Arrow firm. Machine's job is winding induction coils of fine wire, varying tension on wire with each revolution.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Aug 25. - Under construction by Arrow Development Co., 243 Moffett Blvd., is an addition 50 by 48 feet, which will nearly double the square footage of the manufacturing firm's plant.

The firm, established by four men on Jan. 1, 1946, manufactures a wide assortment of metal products, including merry-go-rounds that have won wide acceptance for their sturdiness and serviceability.

"We will be able to assemble our merry-go-rounds under a roof after this addition is completed," said W. J. Hardiman, one of the four partners. The other three partners are Karl. W. Bacon, Angus Anderson and Edgar A. Morgan.

Merry-go-round production has slackened considerably this year because of shortage of materials. The firm is now doing subcontract work for the Federal Government and private industry. One of its products is a grid tamper for tamping concrete floors, produced for Wells P. Goodenough, Inc. a Palo Alto contracting firm.

Even as the new addition is under construction, it is being used for manufacture of an assembly line for loading pallets being produced by McCormack & Co., 680 Martin Ave. Santa Clara. It was designed by Morgan to speed production. Arrow Development men will also supervise its installation in the Santa Clara Plant.

Under Bacon's supervision is the manufacture of four coil winding machines for winding inductance coils produced by Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto radio engineers.

Catalog page for the 1951 HP 524A Frequency Counter

As an example of problems manufacturers face when materials are restricted, Hardiman cited the last three merry-go-rounds the company made. There was no aluminum available, so the horses were made of magnesium.

Although magnesium is lighter and stronger than aluminum, it is liable to crack when welded. Workers solved this problem by heating the horses to 500 degrees before welding.

MANUFACTURER EXPANDS - New section of Arrow Development Co., Mountain View manufacturing firm, is put to full use even before it is roofed. William J. Hardiman, secretary of form, lends a hand in building assembly line for pallet division of McCormack & Co., Santa Clara. Assembly line was designed by Edgar Morgan, partner in Arrow firm. He will also supervise its installation in Santa Clara plant.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


A commemorative award from WED Imagineering to Arrow Development celebrates Arrow's 1970 Twenty-fifth anniversary with a Sam McKim drawn cartoon of Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan shooting the Arrow logo over Mickey Mouse's head while Mickey proclaims; WED Celebrates A Great 25 Year Start.

A close look at the signatures and inscriptions is a who's who of Disney leadership.

In the upper left corner Roger Broggie says "Best Regards."  Joe Fowler reminisces "After a wonderful 16 year association My Best Congratulations", just below the signature of Don Tatum.

Working around the matte; Top center is the signature of Roy O. Disney, flanked by John Hench, Dick Irvine and Bob Sewell. Down the right side are the signatures of X. Atencio, Dick Nunis and Card Walker. The left side has Bill Justice. Herb Ryman's is on the bottom.

This is in the personal collection of Dana Morgan, founder of DH Morgan, son of Ed Morgan, and legend in his own right.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Three Decades of Arrow's Cars

Fiat Toppolino

From the very beginning Arrow Development was working on and with cars. One of their first jobs was making hard to find replacement parts for a tiny Fiat Toppolino in 1948.  At the same time, Arrow was developing one of its first kiddie rides; a small portable carousel featuring tiny pill bug like cars, a few of which are still running in San Jose's Alum Rock Park. They weren't much more than bodies with fixed axels and wheels. The carousel turntable pulled them around and there was no way to steer or brake.

1948 Arrow Kiddie Car Carousel

Arrow "Pill Bug" Kiddie Car

One of their first powered cars was the ArrowFlite.  Not only did Arrow do the vehicles, they designed and built a gas station, complete with a pump and a lift. The cars featured twin steering wheels, although they didn't actually work, as the car ran on a single track which provided both power pickup and guidance.


Kiddie scale gas station

Anderson Family Cousins Showing Off



By 1957 there were a handful of the small ArrowFlite tracked car ride installations, mostly on the west coast.  Their add listed; Woodland Park in Seattle, Easbey Amusement (Arrow's Demo Park) in Palo Alto, Gold Coast Shows in San Jose, Suker's Kiddieland at the corner of Compton Avenue & Firestone Boulevard in Los Angeles, Disneyland (Midget Autopia) Nu-Pike in Long Beach, Elitch Gardens in Denver, Peppermint Parks in Houston and Ward's Kiddie Park at Coney Island, NY. Soon Arrow would expand further into custom fiberglass work, with the short run Kaiser-Darrin mini-replicar.


1957 ArrowFlite Advertisement



Kaiser Darin Mini Cars
The the center guide rail system Arrow developed on the smaller cars was adapted for use on their larger sports and antique cars - which caught Walt Disney's attention when the early Autopia cars and track were taking a beating at Disneyland. Arrow's steering system used a variable width center guide to keep the cars from running into the curbs. Walt visited the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to have a closer look. Soon thereafter Arrow was hard at work on the 1963 Mark IV Autopia upgrade. This was supplanted by the Bob Gurr Corvette like body in 1967, but the center guide remained and is still in use in Anaheim and Orlando.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk 1961
Autopia with center guide rail


At the same time there were plans afoot for antique car rides for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Arrow provided the vehicles and track for the Avis Antique Car ride, described in the official guide;

Open-topped antique cars, reproduced to five-eighths scale, provide a pleasant ride through an old-fashioned country setting. Each car seats up to five, and anyone 10 years or over can drive. A single pedal - accelerator and brake combined - controls the one-cylinder engine that pushes the cars along at a top speed of four miles an hour; the ride takes four minutes. Avis also operates a rental service for automobiles and power boats at the Marina landing.

1964-65 New York Worlds Fair AVIS Cars

By the mid-70's Arrow had provided antique car rides for fifty amusement parks. Their catalog featured full color images of the four models; A French Taxi, Flyer, Ford Touring and Cadillac.

Mid 70's Antique Car Catalog
There is interest in preserving and restoring these vintage rides, both antiques and sportsters. It is often a daunting task of love moving from a rusted chassis to a restored work of art and auction prices can reach - and sometimes exceed - those of a new, much more modern automobiles.

Sport Chassis Restoration

Restored Sport Coupe

Restored Hamburg Antique

An upcoming auction at Barrett-Jackson features an AC Cobra inspired Autopia car restoration. 

Note the information sheet is headlined by our blog banner (!)

Cobra Inspired Autopia Car Restoration

Interior shot with our Blog Banner (!)


Today Arrow's fingerprints, or perhaps shadow are still on the Autopia. 

I'd love to see Disney partner with Tesla and convert the attraction to all electric, with solar panels on the roof, of course, rather than running single cylinder gasoline engines. That would be both future and retro, as Arrow had battery operated versions of it's cars too, some of which were built by Morgan Manufacturing when Ed Morgan's son Dana started his own company.