Monday, August 31, 2009
Bob Weaver Remembers Nature's Wonderland, Pt. 2
Today marks the publication of Part Two of Bob's fantastic memory of the Nature's Wonderland attraction:
The attraction was located in the northern section of Frontierland and was one of the two "must-see" attractions in Frontierland for our family (the other being Tom Sawyer Island). Walking towards the loading area, you saw the town of Rainbow Ridge, an old-West style frontier town. Above the town on a hill with trees was the actual Rainbow Ridge, which looked very inviting. You couldn’t see any of the attraction itself other than the section of the track where you got on and the trains that came out of one tunnel, stopped to unload and reload, then disappeared into another tunnel. There was really no preview of the wonders to come. Thus, there was no excitement of anticipation either, like you would get from the Matterhorn or the Autopia, after seeing a glimpse of what the attraction was going to be like.
The wait was never very long, though when I was 6 years old even 15 minutes seemed like a long time! The line moved in bunches rather than a steady flow. As each train entered the loading area, the passengers who just finished their journey would get off the train, and a whole group of new passengers would be let in to get on the train. So the line would move a lot, then it would sit still until the next train arrived, then move again. When we got near the front of the line we wondered with excitement, "Will we get on the next train or not?" And we wanted to pick which car to get into, although when the boarding actually happened you forgot about that and just went to the nearest car. In later years as the attraction's popularity apparently dwindled, there was very little or no line at all; in fact, I remember walking over there and getting right on it one evening. However, even if you had to wait a few minutes, there was plenty to see while you were waiting. The façade of false-front "stores" and businesses, including the "Rainbow Ridge Clarion" and many others, was interesting to study while you were standing there, and with the trees on the ridge above it, the whole frontier town setting was vividly created before you even started the attraction.
Hidden in the trees at the top of the hill was what looked like the machinery of a mine, but the attraction never ventured close to that area. The mine machinery was removed when the track was reconfigured for Nature’s Wonderland. Some buildings were also moved and others added to expand Rainbow Ridge. From 1955 to 1973 there was a Pack Mules attraction, and part of the path the mules took passed right in front of these storefronts, but sadly for me I never got to go on those. There were also two other attraction that used this same general area, The Conestoga Wagons of 1955-1959 and The Rainbow Mountain Stage Coaches of 1956-1959. Both were drawn by live horses.
Some of the Rainbow Ridge storefronts looked like complete buildings that you could possibly enter, but park visitors were not allowed to actually go in any of them. It gave you something interesting to look at as you stood waiting for the next train to arrive from a tunnel opening at the right. One of these businesses represented was a dentist's office. Another was a hotel, and often emanating from it would be a pre-recorded sound of a man snoring (presumably a man, though it could have been a lady with a big nose!). Most park guests giggled a little at the snoring sound. There were also sounds for the saloon with piano and occasional gun shots. The church bell rang on occasion and the clanking from the blacksmith could also be heard. All of this kept you entertained as you waited to get on the attraction, so that kept it from ever getting boring. It was not likely that you would hear all of the sound effects on a single visit to the attraction, but very likely that you would hear at least one. The one that I remember most clearly was the snoring, and again I am indebted to James Keeline for reminding me of the others.
I have seen old films of fake gunfights that were sometimes performed in front of the storefront façades for the entertainment of the guests waiting, but sadly I never saw one of those in person either. You couldn't see any of the actual attraction area while you were waiting. This gave the ride a true sense of adventure because you really had no idea what you were about to see. The wait was usually just a few minutes, while the attraction itself had a generous duration (approximately nine minutes); quite the opposite of Disneyland today, with hour-long waits for 3-minute attractions.
See more Nature's Wonderland photos at my website.