Friday, June 20, 2014

Submarine Ride Under the Hood

Patent Illustration Side View
US Patent 3,114,333, Submarine Amusement Ride, was issued on December 17th, 1963 to J. W. Fowler et al.

Joseph William Fowler was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, graduated from the Naval Academy and had a Master's in Naval Architecture from M.I.T.  Disney found him supervising the building of tract homes in the Bay Area and eventually coaxed him into becoming construction boss for Disneyland in 1954. Fowler acted as General Manager of Disneyland until 1965 and stayed on board to assist in the construction of Walt Disney World. With all his experience in the design and construction of big ships, Walt must have thought Joe was the perfect fit for Disneyland's fleets.

Fowler built Navy Gunboats in Shanghai.
The Submarine Voyage replaced the Phantom Boats attraction in 1959 and was part of a major expansion of Fantasyand and Tomorrowland which included the Matterhorn Bobsleds, an expanded Autopia, the Monorail and the Motorboat Cruise.

Motorboat Cruise

There are some fun facts about the submarines;  First is that they were built at the Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, with technical support from General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, which was at one time the only builder of submarines in the United States. 

There were eight ships in the fleet; Nautilus, Triton, Sea Wolf, Skate, Skipjack, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Ethan Allen, each with a capacity of 38 guests, forming what was then the largest civilian sub fleet in the world.

The design was straight-forward and simple; a tube with portholes just below the waterline and a motor at the stern. Guests would sit back to back along the centerline in two rows and view the passing scenes.

Of the four pages of thirteen figures, two were devoted to the passenger loading and unloading features.

Beginning at line 45, the claims specifically state that the ride simulates a submarine and is not actually submersible, but preferably comprised a completely buoyant craft. The operator had no control over anything but the speed. The illusion of ascending and descending was created by a "bubble producing means (29). The lack of steerage and manual speed controls would contribute to some interesting results.

There must have been some thought given to passenger load affecting how high in the water the boat rode, since the patent stated that different passenger loads would have no effect on the guide rail means because the cage was free to slide up and down on the steering column, which was itself held firmly to the rail by lead weights or springs.

The patent further goes on to state that the guide means was particularly well adapted to following the guide rail exactly, which was important to create the illusion of the operator steering the vessel extremely close to submerged objects without any danger of actually coming in contact with them.

Specifically mentioned was that each vessel was provided with a pair of guide means (see the detail view below) which rolled on the guide rail (22) through the lagoon and building (24).

Ah, yes.  The best laid plans of mice and men...

Ed Morgan told the story that Disney was having so much trouble with the guidance system that one day they just shut the ride down because the boats were coming off the guide rail. The wheels and rail are highlighted below in the patent figure.

Patent Guide Wheel Detail
As you can see, there was no provision to keep the guide wheel in contact with the rail, except the weight of the sub and compression of the spring (88). Sometimes the telescopic shaft would bind and the wheel would lift off the guide rail, allowing the sub to run into the coral. That could knock out windows and let water pour into the hull. The ride operators had special cushions they could use to stop the hole, till the repair crew could arrive.

Morgan said that Joe Fowler called Arrow and said; “Get down here, we’re going to shut this thing down. We’ll call it winter rehab, and by the time it goes back it has to have your guidance system in it.”

Arrow redesigned the guide stem to use two pneumatic tires, with the shaft passing through them. By controlling the air pressure in the tires, they could control the compliance and control the amount of sway. This created a system that would stay on the track and even-out any roughness in the ride.

That story about Fowler is interesting. Disney vice president Bob Matheison,  recalled a conversation between Fowler and Walt in the early days. They were looking at a performing stage that featured a waterfall, with a dressing room off to the side.

''Walt turned to Joe and said, 'I'd like to part the water and let the entertainers come out, and then have the waterfall close behind them.' ''Joe never batted an eye,'' Matheison recounted. ''He just said, 'Can do, can do.' I know he had no idea how he was going to part the water, but he said it without hesitation - 'Can do.' And, by golly, he went ahead and did it. He parted the water and closed it back up again.'' 

Fowler later recalled in an interview; ''Walt said to me a couple of days after I was hired, 'Now look, I will try to have the ideas, and you make the engineering realities of them.' ''

That probably characterized What's attitude towards Arrow as well.

D-305 Triton
Here are a few technical facts on the attraction and the subs, courtesy of;

Attraction Data
Length of guide rail - 1,365 feet
Ride Capacity - 1,410 guests/hr.
Water in lagoon and caverns - 9,000,000 gallons
Cost  - $2.5 Million
Filter system capacity - 3,000 gallons per hour
Filter system motors - (2) 25 hp electric
Highest Attendance - 20,976 - July 4, 1965

Sub Data
Displacement – 94,000 pounds
Length - 52 feet
Propulsion - 40 hp 4 cylinder diesel-electric motor running at 1,500 rpm
Propeller - 34” dia. 4 blades, bronze
Speed - 1.7 mph
Fuel consumption - 1.6 gallons per hour
Cost  -  $80,625 each

Arrow's fix may have cured the steerage issues, but the manual speed control remained. David Koenig, author of an unauthorized history of Disneyland called Mouse Tales, relates the story of an incident on Pearl Harbor Day in 1974 when two submarines collided, leaving 38 Japanese tourists standing on their seats, neck-high in water, before making their way onto the pilot's ladder, or climbing out the loading hatches and swimming into the lagoon. How do you say "Abandon Ship!" in Japanese? (Google says it's pronounced Fune o hōki suru!)

I don't recall there being anything in the pre-show commentary about your seat cushions serving as flotation devices in the event of need to evacuate the boat. Maybe I was distracted by the mermaids...

1 comment:

  1. How do I get building pland for Disney;s submarint rides?