First Monorail operating in America at Disneyland, with Vice President Nixon attending
The hectic days in the summer of 1959, as we were getting the Monorail ready for its grand opening are well described in the Fall 2001 Issue No. 36 of the E-Ticket Magazine. Some interesting events occurred during and just after this opening:
The first Monorail Train, the red one, had been assembled on the beam way just two weeks prior to dedication day. Testing had resulted in daily failures followed by all-night fabrication of improved parts. But the Monorail did not make an actual trouble free lap around the track until the night before Walt was to introduce his new Monorail System to the world on live TV. Thus, we had no time to train the newly hired Monorail drivers. So the wardrobe department made me a Monorail driver’s uniform during the night shift, then fitted me up in it the morning of dedication day. I was now to be a Disneyland ride operator!
I had parked the Monorail in the Tomorrowland Station to be prepared to drive it out of the station after the ribbon cutting ceremony for the live TV cameras. Even if the Monorail broke down just out of view, the world-wide audience would think Walt had his new toy up and running at last.
In mid morning the day was already very hot and uncomfortable. Walt and Art Linkletter showed up with an entourage including the Vice President of the United States, Richard Nixon, along with his family. Walt wanted to show Nixon the inside of the Monorail cab. We turned on the 600-volt DC power so I could get the air conditioning to cool down the cab. In a few minutes, Walt had us all in the cab. Now Walt could get very twinkly-eyed and excited when he was showing off something new, and he told everyone about his dream for modern transportation in America. And he had it right now in Disneyland, and wanted to show it off.
Walt described how he always drove the steam locomotives on special occasions, but that he “let Bobby drive the modern trains.” Whereupon Walt said “lets go.” Oh no! This thing had only made one good lap and I was saving it for TV later in the day. But drive I did. When we passed over the Submarine ride waterfalls, Nixon let out a four letter exclamation(all the White House Secret Service Officers were left back on the Monorail station platform). Walt and I had kidnapped the Vice President of The United States!
I was so relieved when I got back to the station. But Nixon’s two daughters wanted to go around again. My heart sank and I remember little of the second lap. I had visions of the Monorail catching on fire over the Submarine Lagoon before we had a chance to develop our rescue procedures—burning up Walt and his guests!
As I slowed going through the station, the Secret Service guys were running towards the Monorail to get in and guard their targetcharge. But I drove on through and they tried to run with it to jump in. Nixon roared with laughter. This was not the least bit funny to me! Anyway, when we finally stopped after the second time around, exiting by the down ramp, Nixon looked back up after we left the Monorail and roared again. All the Secret Service guys were sitting in the train. And these guys were paid to guard the palace?
To read more on the Monorail, please order Bob’s book “Design: Just for Fun”.
A Call to the Studio / Autopia Chassis
It all started with cars. Some folks on my paper route in 1944 always had neat cars. A few years later, one of the kids that lived there was in our same car club, the “Road Burners.” Name was Dave Iwerks. We went hunting and fishing together. His dad had a short first name, Ub. After I returned in 1953 from a year designing cars in Detroit, I was a regular visitor at the Iwerks home. Ub was a quiet guy; showed me his tiny shop with many beautifully crafted guns, gave me rides in his latest sporty car.
In late summer 1954, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a new amusement park, complete with a beautiful painting of what was to come. Wow. Neat idea. Sure would like to design something there. The Iwerks put on traditional Sunday dinners, Mr. and Mrs. Iwerks, sons Dave and Don. I was sometimes invited. Ub Iwerks would show home movies of the latest happenings at the Walt Disney Productions Studio in Burbank, California, just a few miles from their Van Nuys home. One day Ub described a little car running around on the studio backlot…no body on it, just a bare chassis.
While visiting Art Center School, my alma mater before going to Detroit, shortly after Ub’s little car story, I was asked if I did outside work in addition my regular industrial design job. I really didn’t, but I said yes. A few days later I was instructed to meet someone at the Walt Disney Productions Studio. On the drive out to the Studio, I wondered…do you suppose the little car needs a body designed?…would this be for that new amusement park? Walt’s chief park designer, Dick Irvine, met me at the gate, then ushered me into the famous Studio. They needed a car body designer….bingo!
Dick introduced me to some business folks, then showed me the little bare car chassis. It had been built by Johnny Hartman in his shop up in nearby Montrose, California. A welded steel frame, pivoting front axle, rear axle assembly, and a hot ten horsepower engine from the latest scooter-bike craze, the Mustang Colt. Just simple as could be, but bare naked. I took some dimensions, then went home to sketch some body ideas. During the next two weeks, I returned every Saturday with a series of sketches for Dick Irvine to look at. Among the business folks working with Dick was the Studio Machine Shop Manager, Roger Broggie.
On a following Saturday I received a call at (ye gads) 7:00 a.m. “Do you draft?” “Yes.” “Grab your tools and get over here.” Silence, dial tone. Roger Broggie was waiting for me. Nearby the little bare car slowly collected four guys with their feet on each tire, discussing what was to be done. One guy, slightly rumpled with a Roy Rogers wooden bullet belt, had his foot on one tire. I thought he was the father of one of the night guards. They called him “Walt.” You don’t suppose? Yep, Walt Disney. No formal introduction, just get to work. Walt was collecting a lot of new folks on the Studio Lot. We were all gonna design Disneyland.
To read more about the Autopis, order Bob’s book “Design: Just for Fun”
Walt wants a miniature railroad added to Disneyland
The area northeast of Fantasyland was just a big dusty bare spot after the 1956 circus was removed from Disneyland. Walt needed to fill this space with something quick and simple. Adding Autopia Jr. and a small river connected to Fantasyland and a small railroad was the plan. Walt thought a small Streamline train starting from Tomorrowland would work fine.
General Motors ran their experimental streamlined Aerotrain between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for a while in 1956. I thought it was the slickest looking thing on rails. I made a quick rendering of a streamline train based on the GM Aerotrain. If you are gonna steal, steal from the best! Walt liked it.
On February 1, 1957, I made the first construction drawing No. 3513-051-1 Proposed Coach Exterior. By February 20th, I’d finished the sixteen production drawings which were provided to Johnny Giltch of Standard Carriage Works on Bandini Boulevard in Vernon, a city just east of Los Angeles. Standard was contracted to build the train coaches while the Studio Machine Shop would build the two locomotives.
In designing the Omnibus, Autopia and antique cars, I used simple steel structural shapes and flat metal panels. But the streamline train was going to have a lot of light weight monocoque construction. Standard built lots of garbage trucks and had racks filled with all kinds of steel strips called “press broken” sections. These could be bent into curved parts called “carlines,” which could be covered with corrugated aluminum skins to look just like the California Zephyr. A local company, A.J. Bayer, could supply us with almost any press broken section I wanted. I was in design heaven with this new knowledge!
On February 22nd, I started the surface development drawings for the Locomotive compound curved sheet metal parts. Now, I was getting deeper into vehicle manufacturing since I needed short-run, non-tooled, compound-curved aluminum parts. I knew how race car bodies were built, having seen their parts formed by hand on shaping rolls at California Metal Shaping in downtown Los Angeles. They directed me to Mike Scott, builder of the body for the 1956 Indy 500 race winner. We gave the job of making the Locomotive body skins to Mike.
Between February 26th and April 19th, I drew the major drawings needed to build the locomotive, while draftsmen Tim O’neill and Chuck Schrader made additional detail drawings. In those days, we never had time to engineer and completely document 100 percent of everything like later on. We made lots of small sketches on the fly on the shop floor for the guys building everything. I’d never engineered a gasoline-engine locomotive before, and the shop folks had never built one either. Walt wanted it and we were doing it. That’s how we all learned a new trade.
The hardest part of a vehicle to build is the cowl, windshield, front doors, and door opening body structure. I went to the local wrecking yard and picked out a couple of smashed 1954 Oldsmobiles to design into the locomotive. Since I needed to make the locomotive narrower than a car, the Olds was perfect.
To read more on the Viewliner, please order Bob’s book “Design: Just for Fun”.
Like you’re telling me that Tesla wouldn’t jump at the chance to renovate autotopia if given the chance and approached in the right way? There’s something wrong when autotopia is reflecting highways of the past in tomorrowland. lol
You bet Tesla should be the inspiring sponsor of an all new Autopia MkVIII in an all new Tomorrowland. For Star Wars kids, select the power system audio to Speeders, let the gear heads select Ferrari V12 or Formula One V10 at 18,000 RPM.
I get a lot of interesting gigs…
…the latest one was an invitation to be a VIP Star parade car driver at the 84th Anniversary Hollywood Christmas Parade held November 29, 2015. Since I’m member No.711 of the Disneyland Secret Society (no further information ever provided), this invitation was a fabulous chance to learn about the logistics behind parade operations. Come along with me to see what it takes to be a parade driver.
Parade cars are picked up from a secret “vault” around 2:30 pm to be staged near the parade formation area about 3 miles distant. This takes an hour thru the jammed spectator traffic following a designated route published along with a printed map and written instructions. Our five-person team with two cars finally arrive at the Hubbard Theater Building two blocks west of show center, the famed Chinese Theater where we are directed to designated parking slots on the the roof parking lot.
Each car is given a predetermined parade unit sequence number card to be displayed on the dash. Parade pre-show team members then locate each each car in the numbered slots so the VIP Star name signs can be attached to the car sides so parade viewers will know what stars are riding in each car, all of which are colorful American convertibles of the 1940s thru the 1960s. Most cars are lightly decorated with Christmas trim at this time.
Meanwhile the VIP Stars arrive at the red carpet media walk, then pass thru a ground floor reception area, on view to all driver and associated parade dignitaries as we enjoy a light buffet early dinner while watching a large screen displaying the big stage show taking place outside down the street. VIP Stars are then whisked up to the fourth floor Author Services green room, which is arranged as a spectacular old woodsy mansion with living room, libraries, and private star suites. An open bar and buffet is provided. Luckily I arrived just before security, so I was able to see how all the star treatment is presented. Naturally I was offered a pleasant libation.
As the stage show began the intro to the actual parade start around 6 pm, we drivers were instructed…”start your engines”. One by one we made our way down from the roof to the fourth floor where the VIP Stars were loaded onto the top decks of each car, seated on the folded convertible tops. My guests were famed former long time Playboy Model Holly Madison along with hubby Pasquale Rotella, founder of Electronic Insomniac Events, and three year old daughter Rainbow. They’re a very sweet family, devoted Disneyland fans who were married at Disneyland in a lavish park after-hours wedding…transported about both by Cinderella coach and by my Main Street Fire Engine…small world indeed.
Exiting the Hubbard Theater, cars are directed two blocks east thru a narrow protected lane, inching along one car at a time ever few minutes awaiting their blending in with the large marching groups and giant Macy style helium balloon characters. This allows nearby viewers a chance for close photos and quick chats. Just before reaching the merge point, we drivers are issued headphones so as to receive precise pacing instruction from parade control central. A speaker system is also place in the back seat as a show aid monitor so the stars can clearly hear the announcer’s banter to each star as we very slowly pass the viewing show stand across the street from the Chinese Theater where the exclusive high buck grandstand is located.
I have to concentrate on both the earphone instructions, responding with raised hand signal confirmations, and to local stop-start guide personnel as I approach the red carpet ablaze with blinding lights and TV cameras. At my queue, I start the slow approach then drop speed in accordance with earphone calls, finally given a verbal go! along with a big go signboard, I catch up with the previous parade unit, an Asian marching drum band group. So now we’re at parade cruise speed for the next hour and forty five minutes, eventually returning to the Hubbard Theater where Holly and family bid farewell to await their transportation valet.
Our team re-enters the building to plan our route thru the jammed post-parade traffic to our 10:30 pm late night dinner location. We relax, libations in hand, and marvel at all the expert logistics required to put on the Hollywood Christmas Parade year after year.
Local TV station KTLA will air the parade December 19th and 21st just in time for Christmas.
He asks numerous TV and music stars to contribute their time on a 5 hour live radio telethon, recorded for TV, and broadcast internationally to over 36,000 Combat Radio fans.
Also appearing are dozens of folks dressed in Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, and other movie character costumes. All the hundreds of kids are thrilled to meet and greet, and do photo ops with them as well as meet Santa and receive donated gifts.
A silent auction is a popular feature with many donated items, dozens with my autograph. At the end of the radio show, another auction is held in the restaurant where I call out winning raffle tickets while enjoying a libation behind the bar, working alongside the bar staff. I also get to shill my items loudly to raise the excitement and increase donation amounts.
Today’s Wheel of Years stopped at 1937, so here we go. Our family had moved in 1934 from living at grandmother’s big home in the Los Feliz area of Hollywood to nearby Glendale California. We located on Davis Avenue just across the railroad tracks from the Grand Central Air Terminal.
Note: Los Feliz is the community where Walt Disney lived on Woking Way, just one block up from grandmother’s home. The southern section of Davis Avenue was later re-named WEDway. See, this connection stuff is everywhere.
I loved Davis Avenue – the sky was filled with airplanes circling to land, and I could hear the big steam trains from the nearby tracks, but could see them only when riding in our family’s 1931 Chevrolet sedan. I knew the airport was over the tracks. Oh how I wanted to see the place. I’d graduated from nursery school in summer 1937 and started kindergarten at Thomas Jefferson Grammar School a few blocks away. For a while I was walked to and from school by my mother, but later on I was trusted to go by myself when I reached first grade.
She’d trust me to walk 1/2 block to the local Mr. Todd’s drugstore to browse the comic books – one featured a mouse, another a totally crazy duck. I liked the cowboy ones better. When given some coins to buy comics, I bought a cap pistol and coiled ammo instead. When my dad found out, he made all further purchases in a deal with Mr. Todd to “watch out for me”. OK, I’ll do something else.
One day, faking my time, supposedly on drugstore visits, I got across busy San Fernando Road, crossed the tracks and entered the airline passenger terminal. Oh gee! A great big black and chrome radial aircraft engine was the center display in the lobby. Lots of well dressed people were coming and going for travel on the big propeller driven airliners. I was so close to an airplane for the first time – but I’d better hurry home so as to not get caught that far from home.
Another time I was able to sneak under a hole in the fence outside the hanger where the big planes were kept. I got all the way into one before a mechanic dragged me out and sent me away. I had seen enough to know this is what I wanted to do when I grew up. At some point I was drawing airplane cartoons with crayons on my closet walls until caught again doing something bad. But it turned out OK, I was given lots of paper and crayons so I could draw everything I wanted. I even made up crazy airplanes, and cars too.
My parents finally understood my airplane passion and would occasionally drive me to the Grand Central Air Terminal and to the bigger United Air Terminal way out in Burbank. I was then allowed to go right up to where the passengers and planes were at the gate. Oh boy how I loved the noise, smoke and smell of the big round engines starting up and moving out to the runway. The take off! Oh thrill thrill. One great looking plane, a DC3, after landing,would arrive at the gate sporting two orange flags outside the cockpit windows – the American Airlines Flagship.
Grand Central Air Terminal opened in 1930 as the airline capital of Los Angeles, remaining so the until a big new air terminal was built in the mid 1930s west of Los Angeles, eventually becoming the now famous LAX. The first transcontinental airline flight was from Glendale to New York City in 1930, American Airlines Ford Trimotor – Captain Charles Lindbergh.
In 1939 we moved again, this time to North Hollywood. War clouds were gathering, Army Air Corps biplanes were filling the skies above Grand Central, while bombers and fighters were being manufactured at the former United (Lockheed) Air Terminal to help England fight off the German Nazi attacks on their Isles. Soon came Pearl Harbor and WWII was in full swing. Both these airports stayed busy 24 hours a day with manufacturing and training all the way to the war’s end in August 1945.
When WWII ended, Grand Central became the hub of private aviation for Hollywood’s wealthy sportsmen, like Howard Hughes and Robert Cummings, who kept their luxury classic airplanes there. Part of the old American Airlines hangers became Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute where I planned to learn aircraft design after graduation from high school in summer 1949 (but I switched to car design instead).
Grand Central Airport closed in 1958 to become the Grand Central Industrial Park. In August 1961 WED Enterprises leased a small building at 800 Sonora Avenue to house all the WED folks who’d been squirreled away at the Walt Disney Productions Studios in Burbank since 1952. My office was at 800, then later moved to the adjacent new MAPO building, WED’s manufacturing center. Those old American Airlines hangers then became another MAPO factory called Airway. Many of my ride vehicles were built there – the same place where Howard Hughes built his famous H1 world record setting racing plane.
In my last year at Disney, before being fired in August 1981, my office was located in the old passenger terminal building where decades earlier I first encountered aviation close up. I loved being around that wonderful old place with it’s modern airliners and wealthy travelers. What a wonderful time of life, spanning age 6 thru 50 living thru so many eras centered around the same place.
Over the years, WED became WDI and expanded extensively thru out the industrial park. By 2013, the WDI activities had become centered in a beautiful facility, now called the Creative Campus. When you drive down Grand Central Avenue today thru the Campus, you’re on the runway of the old Grand Central Air Terminal. Yes indeed, from the original LAX to Disney’s WDI Creative Campus in 83 years.