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;


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.