The American West – How the Fantasy Lives on at Disneyland

An exclusive for the Friends of the Walt Disney Family Museum Facebook page – story and photos by Roger Colton

 

 

If you look back to the map of Disneyland as it opened in July of 1955, one can make the case that the largest portion of the Park was given over to Frontierland. “Tall tales and true” was a phrase used to tell the stories presented to guests here.

Given that the American population had been fascinated with the West since before gold was discovered in California, the decision to share a fantasized version of it at Disneyland was inevitable. With everything from pulp novels to radio, film, books and the latest fad of television, the call of the West was the siren song that so many people easily succumbed to.

Who as a child had not played Cowboys and Indians? And who did not know that the good guys wore white hats while the bad guys wore black? Disney had already seen television make good use of stories from the frontier with heroes such as Davy Crockett and Zorro. These were just the latest tales in the string that went back well over 100 years. With entertainment such as the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody and others, imaginations ran wild with adventures that could be in store.

 

The Miller Bros. Real Wild West Show traveling by train around the country.

 

Of course, the reality of life on the frontier was often very dull. A character in the 1972 film, “The Cowboys” remarked that “There ain’t no Sundays west of Omaha.” A family story from the 1890s in central Nevada was life on the back of a horse, working as a ranch hand. Wearing the same clothes day in and day out, regardless of weather. Work was monotonous and entertainments basic when they existed at all.

 

Yet the fantasy of it all lived on. And it still does today. Everything from rodeos to re-enactors to trail rides (such as seen in the 1991 film, “City Slickers”) to competitions for trail-drive cooking – let’s face it, there is something for everyone. Even many little girls who fall in love with horses start out with the fantasy, but end up learning the realities of it all.

 

Just family at the entrance to Frontierland, back in the day.

 

A look back at Frontierland over the years gives an idea of some of the ways guests could enjoy their own Western amusements. There was the popular Indian Village where you could watch, and even join in, some traditional ceremonial dances. You could ride aboard a stagecoach, Connestoga wagon, the Rainbow Ridge Pack mules or a mine train into Natures Wonderland to take it all in. Or you could voyage down the Rivers of America aboard the Indian Canoes, the Mike Fink Keel Boats, the sternwheel steamboat “Mark Twain” or the proud sailing ship “Columbia”. With all of that taking up much of the western side of Disneyland, there was more than enough adventure waiting to be explored.

 

Times may have changed. While western stories may not be as popular as they once were, the tales of good versus evil still are popular. Many stories once set in the West, now have migrated to outer space. A good example is the Star Wars universe. The coming attractions as part of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are set somewhere on the Outer Rim of that galaxy, a modern frontier if you will.

 

Getting ready to share new tales and experiences at Disneyland meant that construction along the Rivers of America and in the outer parts of Frontierland would have to be closed off from guests. 18 months have passed since those closures took place. But now Disneyland has returned a series of classic attractions back for guests to enjoy. Friday, July 28th, 2017 saw the proud sailing ship “Columbia”, the paddle-wheel steamboat “Mark Twain” and the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes all return to the Rivers of America.

 

 

Also returning along the shores of the Rivers is the DIsneyland Railroad. With plenty of new scenery along the Rivers of America and the railroads first left turn, the new route of the railroad offers plenty to see as the river was “plussed” with the addition of great surprises seen from the trains as well as from the boats on the water. It wouldn’t be fair to give away hints of what lies in store, but you can expect to see old favorites in new locations along the way, as well as some new items, too!

 

The sternwheel steamboat “Mark Twain” approaching the Frontier Landing.

 

To kick off the return of the railroad, the creative chief for Disney, John Lasseter wanted to honor two Disney legends who helped inspire Walt through their own love of trains. Both Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball owned and operated full size steam locomotives. Ollie’s “Marie E.” (named for his wife) came to Disneyland in 2005 for a few trips around the Park with Ollie at the throttle. Now owned by John and Nancy Lasseter at their Justi Creek Railroad (at the Lasseter Family Winery in Glen Ellen, CA), it was under steam, with John at the throttle, to lead a parade of trains over the newly constructed route. Ward and Betty Kimball’s “Chloe” once called their Grizzly Flats Railroad home. Now part of the Grizzly Flats collection at the Southern California Railroad Museum, “Chloe” and her summer coach number 7 were towed by the “Marie E.” Project Director Ken Mitchroney and Docent Beth Weilenman were aboard in homage to Ward and Betty for the festivities. This small train was first across the new rails, as a fitting honor to two gentlemen and ladies who did their part in inspiring Walt to have a train at the Disney theme park.

The Marie E. and the Chloe passing over the new trestle and rock work.

 

 

Following closely behind was the Disneyland Railroad’s own “C.K. Holliday” with it’s original freight train consist, full of Disney characters and cast members. Fireworks erupted as this 1955 original commemorated the past and launched the new era of steam train service at Disneyland.

 

 

Some other surprises await along the route of the Disneyland Railroad with some added touches to both the Grand Canyon Diorama and the Primeval World display. Nice touches to bring both a bit more into the current theme park world.

 

 

It’s fair to say that the West lives on at Disneyland. And with the future ahead for the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it will continue for some time to come.

 

Roger Colton is a member of the Orange Empire Railway Museum, operating as the Southern California Railroad Museum, in Perris, California. For more information on the Museum, please visit http://www.oerm.org/

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Nothing Lasts Forever.

I published this over on Facebook last month. Worth sharing here.

 

 

I understand nostalgia.
Deep down, we all have some thing or some moment passed that we wish we could enjoy again. Or it may be some one who is no longer in our lives, for a variety of reasons.
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with the sentiments behind that wish. And I also get that some people will try to go back to places in hope that they will find those times again.
The issue they usually find is that what they seek is not there.
Reality is that those things, moments or people will never be the same as they are in memory. Even from day to day, things change, albeit it subtly. All the elements that added up to make the experience combine to create the memory will not align in the same way ever again. And that is an odd fact that some people find hard to accept or choose not to believe.
What you do need is to enjoy the moment as it happens. Shared with the people who matter most to you. Enjoy their company and marvel that they are there to share this time with you.
I have a whole bunch of moments over my years that I wish I could relive. Experiences shared and maybe taken for granted at the time. And like many others, people I wish I had taken more time to learn from when I had the chance. So much I wish I could have shared with them. Places, experiences, tastes, smells.
As much as we wish, even the most promisingly permanent gives way to the passage of years. Places I have visited were once home to many, yet today are little more than a wide spot on a dusty path. If you did not know people had been there, you would see little to mark their passing influence.
The moral of the story? Memories are worth building. Take the time today, for once the moment passes, you can’t go back to repeat what made it
magic.
All we can do is be nostalgic and smile at pleasure of the memory.
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Long time, no post?

 

Hey Loyal Readers!

That’s me on the left, with cohort Shelly Valladolid aboard the C.K. Holiday of the Disneyland Railroad at the Main Street Station last year.

 

Yes, it has been more than a while since I took up the cause and posted in this space. Apologies all around.

In the real world, I changed professions last year as the contract for my previous employment came to an end. That led to the new gig as the Customer Relations Supervisor for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. It is a good fit for my skills and experiences over all the years. That’s the good news part of the equation.

The bad news? Well, sports fans, that is my daily commute. I still drive from home out west in Livermore to the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. Then it’s a 45-minute train ride into San Francisco’s Embarcadero. From there, a short walk takes me to the Ferry Building (with all of the associated myriad temptations awaiting) for the ferry ride across San Francisco Bay to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Onto to the San Rafael Transit center and my desk. A reverse repeat awaits for the journey home in the afternoon.

If all goes very well (and it rarely does) the morning commute can come in at two hours from door to door. The afternoon is more like two and a half hours is the transit gods are smiling. On days where the gods have been angered? I don’t like to think about those days. Just no fun of any kind…

So, you can appreciate that the rare moment to rustle up some words and pics for the blog are few and far between. But, as they say, that is the price of doing business and while we are at it, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred.

I have managed to take in a few things on rare time away from the job. Back in late June, I managed to visit Anaheim with family for an extended four days at Disneyland. That meant a much laid back approach with some visits to lesser explored places than on previous family visits. Good  times for everyone.

Having done all that, once again I manage not to be taking the plunge at either D23 Expo or Comicon. Yes, the record of no shows at both events remains mercifully intact. Honestly, the con or convention scene was so much a part of my younger days that I am glad to be able to say that I am much better now. No more dining on hotel hot dogs or room service leftovers. And no more wondering when all those lost hours of sleep might be made up, even at a severe discount.

I do miss seeing good friends and catching up on all of the latest scoop in various fandoms. Years may have passed and children became grandchildren, but those were some good people all around the world. I shared some great fun with so many.

From time to time, I get thinking back on all of the things that I have been able to enjoy over the years. Experiences and places that really were memorable because of the people who I was able to share them with. That’s the real treasure to look back on.

Earlier this year, business took me east and gave me an opportunity to check in with some folks that I spent a lot of time online with back in my days as a paid Community Manager for AOL. I had not seen them in almost 15 years. Even though we only spent a few hours at dinner together, it was a great reminder of the fun and work we all put in back in the wonder years of the online experience when things were kinder and gentler. Sure, we had trolls even then, but they weren’t so vitriolic as they are now.

Occasionally, opportunities come along that take me back in time. One coming up this weekend, as a matter of fact. While I won’t spoil the telling of that tale until another time, it is the kind of moment that I tend to enjoy all the more with someone along for the ride.

My father passed away earlier this year after having been given an extra four years, thanks to good personal medical care. Had he still been with us, I would have offered him the chance to join me on this particular adventure. I can see his smile, all the wider for what lies ahead. And that would have made it all the more special.

 

So, words of advice. Take the moment and enjoy it as it comes. Make those memories to last you and yours. See you down the road after more adventures. And if time allows, I will share more of them with you right here…

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Tea? Yes, thank you!

 

When we visited Walt Disney World in 1999, one of the experiences that I truly enjoyed was Afternoon Tea at the Garden View Tea Room in the Grand Floridian Hotel and Spa. My wife and I partook of the opportunity to relax and enjoy a bit of refinement. We were joined by a British family who was looking forward to enjoying a proper tea as much as we were. So when I found that I would be visiting Walt Disney World in 2017, this became one of the things I truly looked forward to enjoying again.

Sadly, every time I went online to book a reservation, there were none to be had. And after having enjoyed breakfast at the Grand Floridian Cafe on the morning of Friday, March 3rd, I even went so far as to stop by and ask in person if there might be space available at any time that afternoon. Sadly, there were no reservations available. A visit to the hotel concierge was suggested, and even that bore no joy. As a last resort, it was suggested that I check back later in the day, when perhaps a cancellation might allow a booking.

So… off I went for a day of riding monorails and watercraft, visiting various hotels along the way. Lunch at the Wilderness Lodge’s Geyser Point Bar and Grill was nice, but I still had sights set on that afternoon tea.

Eventually, I found my way back to the Grand Floridian and the concierge desk, where an inquiry was made and indeed they could seat me for tea.

Insert dancing on the inside, while presenting a calm appearance on the outside here.

Seated at table, it was time to begin the proprieties. Time to overlook the bill of fare.

 

 

I decided to enjoy the Bedfordshire Tea, with the Perfect Afternoon Tea blend as recommended.

Now, I enjoy a bit of tea now and then, especially during the Christmas holidays. For the last few years, I have been a member of the staff at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco. While not as elegant or as refined as the tea served at the Grand Floridian, we do our best to provide an exemplary experience for our guests.

Cuthbert’s Tea Shop during High Tea Service in 2016.

But back to the matter at hand! Tea has arrived.

As the courses were described above, each was properly enjoyed, in order. Right down to the seasonal trifle, a Bananas Foster trifle.

As an ancestor once described a dining experience, this was indeed a “gentile sufficiency”. It was all well worth the wait of years and the anticipation of the day.

Heartily recommended for a proper afternoon restorative for even the most dedicated of theme park aficionados.

 

 

 

 

 

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Streetcars doing what Streetcars should!

Car 434 at the Centennial Park station at the end of the line in Ybor City.

 

Last week, a business conference took me east to Tampa, Florida.

I had last been to Florida (Orlando) some 18 years ago. While I knew the state had grown, I did not have much knowledge about it beyond that. I did know one thing about Tampa. That was that it had a streetcar line. Not using light rail vehicles, but a fleet of reproduction streetcars. And one original car, a Birney Safety Car.

My hotel for this conference was the Marriott Waterside. Luckily, the streetcars stopped right in front of it. Arriving on Saturday the 25th, I even came to the hotel aboard the streetcar that afternoon; after flying into Tampa from San Francisco via Dallas.

The TECO Streetcar line is a heritage streetcar line owned by the city and operated by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority. It travels 2.7 miles from downtown Tampa to the Ybor City district. Portions of the line are double track, but it also makes good use of single track with passing sidings. Overhead wire uses no trolley frogs but an effective double wire system.

Tampa had streetcars dating back to 1892. Ridership peaked in the 1920’s. Service ended in 1946.

From Wikipedia :

“The system has eleven operating streetcars: nine modern replica double-truck Birney cars, one replica open-bench “Breezer” (similar to J.G. Brill cars built for Metropolitan Street Railway of New York), and one restored original Birney car. All except the original Birney were built by the Gomaco Trolley Company.

The replica Birney cars have a welded steel body with cosmetic rivets added to make them look older. The cars are wheelchair-accessible, air-conditioned and have automated stop announcements. The seats are made of wood and are reversible for when the car changes direction. The cars are also equipped with on-board ticket dispensers; however, they do not provide change.

The original Birney #163 streetcar ran on the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway between 1923 and 1946. It was found in 1991 in Sulphur Springs, a neighborhood in Tampa, where it had been used as an apartment and later a storage shed. After extensive restoration the car is back to its former condition and is used for special events, such as Streetcar Fest in mid-October. It is Florida’s only operational historic streetcar.”

I learned from one of the motormen that the reproduction cars were built using some components from cars from Milan, Italy. The one feature they have today is air conditioning. While is was not overwhelmingly warm in February, I can well imagine how welcome that must be during the summer months.

I was in town for five days and managed to ride the system every day. It connects with the Cruise Ship terminal and carries passengers in both directions to enjoy both the downtown and Ybor City areas. There were good passenger loads aboard the cars both day and night. Having run a few streetcars over the years, I was pleased to see how well the cars operated and how passengers enjoyed their rides.

 

Here are a few more images of the TECO streetcar line –

 

Beer and streetcars? Why yes, thank you!

 

Approaching the Centro Ybor station heading for downtown Tampa.

Entering the Dick Greco Plaza heading outbound toward Ybor City.

A car full of passengers riding in air conditioned comfort.

Leaving Centro Ybor heading for the end of the line at night.

One last run for the night heading back to the barn.

It was a pleasant treat to find this heritage streetcar line doing so well. If you are in Tampa, why not ride this route and enjoy the stops along the way for yourself?

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