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


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