Monorail 1959

monorail[2]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”.