During my final year as a Disney Imagineer, my office was located in the Grand Central Air Terminal, which is now a Historical Landmark and part of Disney’s WDI Creative Campus in Glendale California. The location was the major airline terminal serving the Los Angeles area in the 1930s. The terminal building has since been restored to it’s authentic glory to serve as a multi-functional event facility for both Disney and the City of Glendale. My office overlooked two beautiful palm trees. In 1939, when I was just 8 years old, I first saw a glider under those same trees – and it was love at first sight. It was on the occasion of an air show that featured an aerobatic glider demonstration. Oh was I ever hooked! Those palm trees and the gliders are illustrated in John Underwood’s famous book Madcaps, Millionaires and “Mose”.
But, learning to fly gliders would have to wait until I was at least 14 – and I’d also have to wait for WWII to end. The closest I could get to a glider was to watch glider demonstrations and enjoy a few airplane rides as a high school kid in the Civil Air Patrol, as well as building and flying model gliders. It wasn’t until 1961, at the age of 29, that the chance to learn glider flying finally arrived. I joined the Orange County Soaring Association located not far from Disneyland. Glider clubs are a bit like little league baseball – everyone volunteers to make things affordable, so members help with maintenance and flight instruction. Readers can learn more at the Soaring Society of America.
Soaring? What the heck is that? It’s the challenge of flying a motor-less aircraft using only the free power of the atmosphere. Pretty simple, fly only in air that goes up, don’t fly in air that goes down. Just like playing chess, once you know the 14,000 basic moves, you’ve got it. Yeah right, it’s going to take a long time to be good enough to stay up for hours at a time. Remember, every minute a glider is descending, say 150 feet per minute (FPM). You have to find air that is rising 150 FPM just to maintain altitude, and much more than that to climb and go somewhere. Within a few years I was able to stay up as long as I wanted, reaching great heights and traveling many miles around Southern California on good days. Good days are when atmospheric conditions provide ample rising air. Aha – there’s the catch. How do you know when it’s a good day, and how to utilize the rising air, called lift. Lift is opposite to sink, or descending air. As you gain knowledge of atmospherics, you learn what the different cloud formations mean – some have lift, others denote sink – you gradually increase your success rate over time. Powered airplanes are a snap, turn on the motor and go fly. Gliders require a lot of skill and knowledge, a lot of extra helping hands, and typically a tow plane to launch you up high enough to start a soaring flight.
A glider is typically stored on a trailer so that the pilot can transport it like a boat to a favorite launch site. The wings and tail are engineered to be easily attached in a few minutes to be ready for flight. Since sailplanes (another name for a glider) have a single wheel, an assistant holds the wing up and runs a few steps as the tow plane starts the takeoff. At an appropriate altitude (about 2,000′), hopefully in lift, the sailplane pilot releases his end of the tow rope and the tow plane returns to the launching site, usually an airport with glider operations. Both clubs and private owners operate in this manner.
Once free of the tow plane, the search for lift begins – ah yes, the chess game starts. Pilots who are just learning often return in a few minutes since they were not yet proficient in finding and “working” lift. After maybe months or years, most sailplane pilots become experts at staying up as long as they like, if the day’s lift is excellent. The records for soaring altitude and distance are impressive; 50,724 feet high and 1,402 miles distance. A recent atmospheric project glider, Perlan II established a new world motor-less glider altitude record of 62,473 ft. over the mountains Patagonia, Argentina in a mountain wave. All of this completely without an engine using only the power of the atmosphere and the skill of the pilot. The challenge of soaring flight is not unlike sex or heroin – it’s fully addictive!
Of course, in 50 years and 2,250 hours of enjoyable soaring, I never reached those goals, but I did get to 21,000 feet, made flights as long as 350 miles, and over 8 hours duration. Learning to fly as a student in the glider club using a couple of old wooden WWII training gliders, I soon transitioned as an instructor in modern USA-built Schweizer trainers, then onward to my own private aircraft. The first was the famed Czech-built two place Blanik, an all metal beauty. I imported it from behind the “iron curtain” in the cold war days of the 1960s. A gorgeous thing of beauty, I gave over 100 folks their first sailplane ride in it.
In 1974 I bought a German-made all composite small aerobatic Salto sailplane. I could do loops, lazy eights and such all over the sky any time, besides delighting in long afternoons over the Southern California mountains and deserts. On almost every flight I would join hawks and eagles soaring to great heights in the strong thermals (lift from ground heating.) There are other types of lift; wave lift from wind bouncing over mountains, slope lift from wind blowing against a mountain ridge, and cloud lift (thermals which reach into cumulus clouds.) With the Salto on a trailer, I was able to travel to many western soaring sites to utilize the sometimes very powerful lift to be found over the spectacular landscapes, such as the High Sierras.
Since another dream was to fly powered aircraft, I sold the Salto to buy a German-built Taifun motorglider. This is a cross between a glider and an airplane. One can take off using the engine, then turn off the engine when entering an area of lift. “Are you nuts?…turn off a perfectly good engine when you are over the mountains”. That’s the question I got asked all the time. In fact, I could climb way faster in a hot thermal than by using the engine. I never used the engine much above 9,000 feet even though most summer flights were to 18,000 ft. The lift goes much higher, but that is the altitude limit for flight under Federal Aviation visual flight rules.
I had always been interested in meteorology, geography, and seismology. Soaring combined all these interests since I could observe earth characteristics from high altitude as well as learn where good lift was to be found. You see, this is how those 14,000 soaring moves, like chess, are slowly learned over time. Another thing I learned is how birds fly in lift. They are experts, always centered in the best lift, so I would join them, circling in formation as we both rose as high as the lift might go. Yes, I do fly with the birds. It was a rare flight that did not have my helpful avian friends to play with.
When the weather was not good for soaring, the Taifun was a wonderful power plane to fly anywhere I wanted to go. Like a sailplane, the wings can fold allowing a 57 foot span to fold up to only 8 feet wide to store in a hanger. Under FAA supervision I was able to do all my own maintenance, making sure everything was in perfect order. For 12 years I was based at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, fitting in with all the commercial jet airliners with ease. Even though the Taifun was a motorglider, I’m required to operate under the same flight rules as all other aircraft. Interestingly, my hanger spot at Burbank was exactly where Disney kept their second aircraft, a Beechcraft Model 90 King Air twin-engined turboprop years earlier in 1964. In later years I was based at the smaller nearby local Whitman Airport.
Although I sold my beloved Taifun some years back, I still go soaring today – via simulator on my computer, using the X-Plane Flight Simulator software with a Thrustmaster control set-up allows very realistic flying again all over Southern California. This software is so powerful I could even fly the gigantic Airbus A380 in Paris!
Starting under a couple of palm trees as an 8 year old kid in 1939, I’ve had many wonderful decades of passion for soaring flight – 50 of which I was able to actually fly… fly with the birds.
On a personal note, let me tell you about Marty. A fun friend of more than half a century, we relished a special relationship of insults and hugs. A wordsmith of the highest skill, he delighted in skewering me in communications, baiting me for a counter reply.
I fell for his tease, never coming close to matching his wit. Over many years we both unknowingly collected a file of exchanges…mine named The Marty Barbs. He used these on me publicly once in a Bob Gurr Roast. Touche dear sir!
Now, let me really tell you about Marty. As long as I’ve known him he never failed to send personal hand written thank you notes to those who helped him with his many projects. In the form of a thick vertical name imprinted postcard, Marty’s thanks were always penned in red.
I’ve treasured all the ones Marty blessed me with for decades…another file, this one labeled The MartyGrams. With his personal words which I can return to anytime, Marty and I live on together.
The Adventures of Bob’s World Travels in search of Paradise. At age 85, Bob does not want to grow old with golf, bingo, and senior citizen non-action. Where to go? Tahiti of course! On his search for Nemo, he found himself surrounded by live sharks – his kind of action! Traveling with Atlantis Events on the beautiful Oceania Marina, Bob did indeed find his paradise. Come along and watch his fun adventure.
Last week’s toy drive was wildly successful. Ernie, Justin, and I can’t thank all our almost 500 guests enough for their overwhelming generosity in providing the children at the Orangewood Children’s Home with a very Merry Christmas.
The ’66 Red Mustang was just so sweet – starts in an instant, settles into a slow idle, with automatic, perfect for controlling parade speed with a light brake drag. I did have to go back and forth between right and left foot braking to avoid leg discomfort. I had the heater on only a little bit – it was super effective. My guests got a bit cold though. I had to ride in the Mustang with the top down back to the storage place after the parade, but it very cozy.
I was actually very warm the entire day from 2 pm until I left for home at 11:30 pm. T-shirt, wool shirt, and a thick jacket. Also winter gloves and a wool cap. It was moderately windy with temperatures from 60° down to 48° by the end of the evening.
This year the organizers suffered a bunch of glitches – half the committed convertibles never showed causing many drivers to do a second lap to try to carry the stranded stars. They were afraid of rain, which stopped by 2:30 in the afternoon.
I did not get the driving call confirmed until late the night before. Last year it was confirmed several weeks earlier. But the mood with the volunteers in the green room, the garage line-up folks, security were all as friendly and fun as ever. Way more food and coffee while hanging out than anyone could eat. It’s a long logistics day – 2 pm call time, home at midnight.
We start by picking up the Mustang at 2:00 PM two miles from the parade location, takes 45 minutes to get there due to many blocked streets. Pick up credentials, put the car on the 6th floor roof parking lot of the L. Ron Hubbard Theater, add the door signs, hang out until our call time around 5:15 to start the cars, get in line down on the 5th floor to pick up the guests. We’re provided with endless coffee, water, and snacks in the garage while waiting.
We also have the run of the hospitality green room with even more food and desserts, meet other volunteers, and walk out to the outdoor parade Star Walk where the media gets their interviews and photos as the stars arrive.
It’s quite a busy spot on the 5th floor as the famous are loaded up for their ride. We keep a big furniture quilt in the back seat to huddle with as they sit on the padded trunk lid. It’s then about an hour creep down the ramps, into the line up with lots of lights and photos awaiting our orders onto the route start.
I’m provided with a headset to hear driver orders, then watch for several hand signals to start and stop in front of the reviewing stand as an emcee chats at the car for the TV cameras. Then start off we go, after handing the headset back to anther crew member. Lots of cheering and waving. Gumby is still a kid favorite in his 60th year. My guests were the Clokey family of Gumby creator Art Clokey, while their soccer playing girl friend ran along in the Gumby costume.
The trick is to not lose the Rolls~Royce ahead while juggling the giant helium balloon figure behind me, a dozen folks rustling the thing in the wind, bowing down under traffic light, plus pacing the girl in the Gumby suit. She’d stop many times for hugs and selfies, then run ahead. At Hollywood and Vine, the Rolls was long gone, the balloon was way behind, so I suggested Gumby run around the intersection doing donuts, hugs and selfies for several minutes until the balloon can catch up in the wind.
Then onward the parade finish, back up to the 5th floor, exit the guests, park and join them in the Star VIP lounge with all the famous. Coffee and dessert, then off a bit later for cocktails and a late dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, return the Mustang, return home at midnight. Whew…
My Disneyland Fire Engine was in the parade along with the D23 fan club kids.
In the photo of my 1955 office wall, not only is there a watercolor rendering of my version of the GM concept Scenicruiser, but there’s also two other bus sketches. One of them has two rear axles, the other a single rear axle. So what’s the story? Why are these buses there?
As Walt Disney was envisioning the Autopia attraction, he was aware that very small children wouldn’t be able to drive the little cars. So, he asked me to modify two of the ride cars to look like sheriff’s cars, complete with red lights, a siren, and painted black and white. Then ride operators could still thrill the tiny children by giving them a ride around the track.
Walt had another idea to increase ride capacity by giving several children at a time a ride in… a miniature Greyhound bus. So I started a design layout for the bus, going so far as figuring out a rear engine and drive train arrangement that would still have room for enough seats to make it practical. But, instead of a greyhound dog logo on the bus sides, my drawing showed, what else? A dachshund!
It soon became apparent that the bus idea was not practical, but the cute little bus drawings lived on and were last seen decades ago in some old wooden drafting cabinet drawers.
The documentary, Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality, tells the story of one of Walt Disney‘s earliest 1954 Imagineering Legends, Bob Gurr. His career, spanning 45 years creating 250 projects with Disney and beyond, will be explored.
From Disneyland to Las Vegas, Olympic spectaculars to rock star shows, Bob’s creations included Monorails, Abraham Lincoln mechanical animation, Pirate Battle Shows, even massive animated figures of King Kong and Godzilla.
Viewers will learn much about how these attractions were created from those who were there sharing these creations. Eight theme park creators who worked with Bob over these years will describe the unique ways in which he created a vast variety of attractions. The cast includes Disney Ambassador to the World Marty Sklar, Imagineering VP Craig Russell, Imagineer Chris Crump, and many others.
Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality is directed and produced by Carlene Thie, President of Ape Pen Publishing.
The documentary stars: Glenn Austin, Christopher Crump, Joel Friche, Bob Gurr,
Bruce Hayes, Garner Holt, Monty Lundy, & Marty Sklar. Run time: 52 minutes.
For more information: http://www.apependisneyproducts.com/#!bob-gurr-turning-dreams-into-reality-doc/b9n7d
The Making of Turning Dreams into Reality
Carlene Thie, Ape Pen Publishing, over many years has produced and sold numerous DVDs and graphic materials featuring Legendary Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr. Early in 2014, Carlene began the multi-year Dreams project based on the never ending requests for more stories of Bob’s creations over his 45 year career, some 250 projects for a wide variety clients from Disney and beyond – Universal Studios Tour, Michael Jackson, Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn to name a few.
In addition to the Ape Pen Publishing materials, Bob has made over 500 public appearances, podcasts, video interviews, and live radio talks during the past 35 years. The subjects have always been to answer questions about the creation of these projects, the clients, the teams, and the behind-the-scenes details.
But still the Disney and theme park entertainment fans want to know more. Not just what the project was, but the how of Bob’s working methods. Since Bob never had any engineering training, he was an Art Center car stylist at age twenty, just how did he accomplish these one-of-a-kind projects? These fan questions about the how never cease.
Thus Carlene’s quest was to explore beyond the what to discover and tell the hidden story of the how. The result is her latest DVD, Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality.
Asking Bob how he did this work was futile. Many people who have achieved significant accomplishments are puzzled when asked these kinds of questions. To them, what they did was their ordinary work, but a mystery to to others. Bob told Carlene – “Go ask the witness’s what they saw”.
Eight “witness’s” promptly assembled over a weekend in the summer of 2014 where a team of camera and audio technicians led by a director captured many hours of “testimony” as to what makes Bob “tick”. At last she had enough evidence to commence a story to answer all the how questions.
Glenn Austin, Christopher Crump, Joel Friche, Bob Gurr, Bruce Hayes, Garner Holt, Monty Lundy, & Marty Sklar all got in their thoughts, and a few digs too. luckily, Carlene and Bob had a lot of suitable photographs that could be used in the documentary. Walt Disney Imagineering also furnished a number of specially licensed company owned photographs.
Bob’s Emmy winning professional TV recording engineer nephew Eric Johnston lived near Carlene in Riverside California and volunteered his audio editing services. Eric also arranged for additional location shoots as well as other editing services, equipment, and technical assistance.
2015 saw the long process of documentary production – story writing, further editing, both audio mixing and video media, graphic material permissions, and of course obtaining a copyright license from The Walt Disney Company. The documentary is not connected with or a production of TWDC.
The documentary Turning Dreams into Reality will have a sneak premiere at an advance signing sale July 9th at the Pacific Northwest MouseMeet in Lynnwood, Washington. An official World Premiere will take place on July 15th in Garden Grove, California during the DisneyanaMania 2016. A making-of panel discussion will be featured attended by several documentary stars.
For more information http://www.DisneyanaFanClub.org
Advance internet sales are now available at http://www.apependisneyproducts.com/#!bob-gurr-turning-dreams-into-reality-doc/b9n7d