Sunday, December 18, 2016

Alice's English Twin

Many people are familiar with the Alice in Wonderland attraction in Disneyland.  Walt initially planned for it to be a walk-thru; "down the rabbit-hole, through the maze of doors, the Rabbit's House, past The Singing Flowers, Dodo Rock, the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, climaxing in the courtroom of the Queen of Hearts."

Imagineer Claude Coats was the show designer for the entire attraction, including the vehicle and received a patent for it's ornamental design on January 12, 1960.

But Arrow’s imagination also crossed the Atlantic. Over the years Arrow sold several rides to Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England and one of them took passengers on a journey thru Alice in Wonderland, housed inside a 10,000 square foot stone castle. The UKRides website indicates that the rights to do the ride were licensed from Disney before it opened in 1961.

Cheshire Cat Themed Vehicle Bodies at Blackpoool

An article on Arrow Development in the Sunday September 2, 1962 San Jose Mercury News described the English Alice;

"The ride began with the sensation of tumbling 30 feet down a rabbit hole, progressed thru a tiny door, then a mammoth door, past the croquet party with flamingo heads mallets. The Mad Hatter, Red Queen, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, a 40-foot caterpillar, Father William dancing back and forth with a snake on his nose, the looking glass zoo, and talking flowers were all there, over 4 dozen figures in all."

"Missing was the somewhat frightening overtone imposed by the Queen when she snapped “Off with their heads!”. “We chose to tackle it from the standpoint of a child’s pleasant fantasy,” an Arrow spokesman said. Wonderland marked Arrow’s debut in the foreign market."

Blackpool's Steeplechase

As with Disney, Arrow would provide other ride systems to Blackpool including a Steeplechase and the Pepsi Max Big One roller coaster, in 1994. Note the design of the cross-ties in significantly different from earlier Arrow tracks.

Pepsi Max Big One

And - staying with the Alice in Wonderland theme, the Mad Tea Party at Disneyland;

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mr. Toad's Hot Rods

Uncle Walt and Admiral Joe in an Arrow Antique Ford - about 1954

A letter addressed to Mr. Richard Irvine at W.E.D. Enterprises, dated January 6th, 1953, seems to be the opening move in a relationship that would span two decades;

January 3, 1953 Letter to Dick Irvine @ WED

It reads:

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 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 had not planned on releasing the advertising on it for another month. We are rushing it through, though, and you should have your copies very shortly.

Very truly yours,
by W. J. Hardiman

Walt Disney had asked Dick Irvine to help construct Disneyland. Dick moved to the Disney Studio in 1952 and ended up heading design and planning for all Disneyland attractions, including the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. He would became executive vice president and chief operations officer at WDI in 1967.

The boat mentioned in the letter is Arrow's Lil' Belle, which would be delivered to Lake Merritt park in Oakland, California, mid-January in 1954. The advertising materials mentioned in the letter are probably information sheets which were published by Arrow later that year;

Lil Belle's Specifications

The convention mentioned was probably the 1952 annual meeting of the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches, which was held in Chicago at the Hotel Sherman in early December.

Walt had need of a riverboat. It would be a couple more years before the Mark Twain would launch at Disneyland. Her hull was built at the Todd Shipyard in San Pedro and the superstructure was built in pieces on the 20,000 Leagues sound stage in Burbank, trucked to Disneyland and bolted together like a kit. It was so well done that most people never notice the bolted together sections today. The Disney Studio Machine shop built the engines, which were engineered by Dick Bagley..

The other thing planned for Disneyland were "dark rides" which would take guests thru two stories in Fantasyland. Arrow had been building small, replica antique cars and Walt was interested, so he visited Arrow's shop in Mountain View, California.

Two Walts (Schulze and Disney) flank Karl Bacon,
Dick Irvine, Joe Fowler and Ed Morgan.

The rest of the story goes that the design for the Mr. Toad vehicles was basically worked out from a concept sketch that was given to Arrow and used to loft a set of templates, right on the shop floor in Mountain View.

The result is familiar to us all:


This original Mr. Toad car was offered at auction recently and sold for $30,000. The auction item description offers some interesting details:

"The Toad ride was first considered as a form of roller coaster, with the cars following a downhill track towards obstacles (such as parked cars), which would move out of the way at the last minute. Disney ultimately decided that the ride would not be appropriate for small children and the elderly, and it was toned down. 

Disney art director Bill Martin designed the ride to carry the original themes of the film. “Viewing the film was part of the design process,” he later recalled. “I made the track layout to start with, but we went through storyboards galore. Since the point was to convert Walt’s cartoon films to rides in Fantasyland, those dark rides were developed from the original 4 x 8 storyboards and concept sketches made for the animated films.” 

The most art-intensive of the three original dark rides was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It was designed to last 1 minute and 38 seconds, a pace to accommodate nearly 700 people an hour. There were a total of twelve original Toad cars, with nine on line (entering Toad Hall every eleven seconds) and three held in reserve. These cars were the same ones in use for over forty years. 

The original cars were named individually as Mr. Toad, MacBadger, Mole and Ratty, with two each of Toady, Cyril, Winky and Weasel. Arrow Development built them with two hundred pounds of fiberglass* and sheet metal, and was some of the first equipment delivered for the new park."

Ed Morgan said that there weren't engineering drawings of the bodies. They lofted templates from Bruce Bushman's sketch of the Mr. Toad car and went directly to fabricating sheet metal parts.

Bruce Bushman's Mr. Toad Cartoon sketch

Bob Gurr examining Winky and Ratty in 1997 - before restoration.

Bob Gurr bought the two cars in the photo from Disneyland in 1997. He said somewhat modestly, that they both needed a lot of cleanup. He sold Ratty to Leon Janzen, and it was sold at auction after his death for $3,800, not including fees and shipping.

A Much Nicer Example

Soon to follow were five more ride systems and a key role in providing future rides for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. According to both Ed and Dana Morgan, Arrow supplied the ride systems for Snow White, It's a Small World, The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Dumbo, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Fantasyland at both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, as well as the Autopia cars, parking lot tram cars, Pirates of the Caribbean and was the manufacturer and installer of the Omnimovers for the Haunted Mansion and If You Had Wings. Arrow also did the ride system for Peter Pan in Orlando, but not Anaheim.

*The Disneyland Mr. Toad cars were hand made of sheet metal, while the the Disney World cars were fiberglass. 

Attraction Poster


Sunday, December 4, 2016

3, 2, 1, Zero... Twirl!

Spacewhirl 1962

For all out fun that can take you past the edge of nausea, there really isn't anything that can beat a Teacup ride, plus it doesn't require anywhere near the footprint of a roller coaster.

Arrow took the teacup to upper stratospheric heights in 1962 at the Seattle Worlds Fair, where nearly every thing had a space theme, including the Spacewhirl.

Arrow would do teacup style rides for Disneyland, Freedomland, Knott's Berry Farm and Santa's Village, each with a different theme. Ed Morgan's son Dana, also an amusement ride legend, recalls being used as a child test dummy during the development phase. Karl Bacon said it was his favorite ride and that he loved to watch it spin around.

Mad Hatter, Sombreros and Snowballs

The design of the teacup ride goes back to at least the early 1920's, when Giacomo Mongrillo filed for a patent on an Amusement Apparatus which featured 12 small enclosed seats rotating around two axes simultaneously.  A close look shows that the rotating platform was powered by a crown and pinion gear and underneath the table was a series or rack and pinion gears (35) which would influence the rotation of the four spindles which carried the cups. All in all a recipe for rider dis-orientation on steroids.

US1520592 - 1924

Innovations continue to this day; In 2012 Disney Enterprises filed for a patent on an Amusement park ride with multiple vertical rotation axes combined with vertical translation motion - US 8678940B2.
By the way, Walt Disney's Teacups patent was for the ornamental design on the outside of the cabins and their shape, not the mechanism that made them move.

The original concept for theTea Cups had the Mad Hatter's dinner table in the center with decorations all around. Some of these ideas were incorporated later, such as the Japanese garden lanterns shown in Yesterland's image below;

Harold Streeter's 1962 article in the San Jose Mercury News described the experience of riding on the Space Whirl;

"Passengers in the space whirl cups stay on the ground, but by manipulating the wheel, the driver can create an astronaut takeoff sensation of being pressurized by several times their own weight and control their own spin while "in orbit."

When I first read this I thought it was a bit of a stretch, but after pondering on the physics of the ride, I realized it's not too far off. To understand this we have to go a few blocks down the street from Arrow's Mountain View site to the NASA Ames Research Center, for whom Arrow had also done work in the late 50's. Ames was the home of one of NASA's High G Training Facilities, with a 60 foot diameter centrifuge capable of generating 20 g's of force.

NASA's 20 G Twirler

In 1960, NASA was experiencing teething troubles with their Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket. The first flights were trial runs with chimpanzees. They went a little too high and fast, loading the monkeys to almost 15 g's during re-entry, but during the launch phase the force was a tamer 6 g's.

Could the Space Whirl ride live up to the claim of "creating the sensation of being launched into orbit"?  Arrow's 1961 Space Whirl ride data sheet claimed the rider could create up to 5 G's.  In later years a magnetic clutch/brake would help keep forces to a more reasonable level.

So the next time you decide to walk past the Mad Hatter's Tea Party because it's just a kiddie ride in Fantasyland - take a second look. Those may be future space rangers in training.