Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bob Weaver Remembers Nature's Wonderland, Pt. 1

I had the good fortune of being contacted by Bob Weaver about one of his favorite attractions from Disneyland, Nature's Wonderland. He wrote a truly fantastic column about it and he has graciously allowed me to share it here and on my website. So without any further adieu, here goes Bob's tale:

Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland was one of Walt Disney’s greatest achievements and it is often said that it was his favorite attraction at Disneyland.

It existed in some form from July 1956 through January 1977. There was a connection to Disney films with this attraction. Parts of it, such as Beaver Valley, Bear Country and the Living Desert, were named after, and tied in with, entries in Disney’s series of documentary films called "True Life Adventures," which were produced from 1948 through 1960. The attraction that replaced the Mine Train (at least part of its real estate), the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, opened in 1979 and offers the visceral thrill of speed but lacks the imagination, charm, setting, scenery, and character of the original Mine Train attraction. Like millions of other visitors to Disneyland in the 1960s and 1970s, I'm lucky to have gotten to ride the Mine Train maybe a dozen times. Hopefully this description, along with the many vintage photos here on this site, can help the reader re-create the experience in their mind.

This attraction began its life as the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train in 1956, but was later expanded and renamed The Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland in 1960. The ticket history of the ride is interesting: it began as a "D" ticket (50¢) when it opened in 1956, and at that time D tickets were the "top of the line" attractions. However, when E tickets were introduced to the ticket books in 1959, the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train was lowered to "C" ticket status (30¢), and the attraction was closed for rehabilitation and expansion. Then in 1960 it was reopened as the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland, and it was initially given its "D" ticket status back (35¢). That was not the "top of the line" any more, as "E" tickets were in use by that time. It was finally given "E" ticket status in 1961 (50¢ and later 60¢), not too long after it reopened under its new name. Mine Train expert James Keeline speculates that the change may have been a reaction to the ride's greater popularity after the makeover. In 1963 or 1964, it was moved back to the "D" tickets (45¢ and later 60¢) and remained there until 1971, when it was bumped up to "E" again (75¢). Finally from 1975 until the attraction's permanent closing in January 1977, it required a "D" ticket (70¢). So people who bought individual tickets for this attraction paid anywhere from 30¢ to 75¢ to get on it, over the course of its entire "lifetime." And the ticket sequence was D-C-D-E-D-E-D over the attraction's life. I'm certain that the cast member that collected my ticket accepted a "C" for it the last time I rode it in the summer of 1976, but that was an anomaly. As far as I am concerned it was "E-ticket quality at any time. Some Disneyland souvenir guides printed around 1961 call it the "Western Mine Train" but I've never seen that on a ticket. Some websites refer to the attraction as "Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland," but every Disneyland ticket I've seen, and the park's poster, spells it as "Thru" instead of "Through," so I always use "Thru."

Thanks to James at keeline.com, here is a chart of tickets for this attraction:

Rainbow Caverns Mine Train
1956-1959 : D (50¢) [D ticket introduced in mid 1956]
1959 : C (30¢) [E ticket introduced in mid 1959, attraction closed for rehab]

Mine Train Thru Natures Wonderland
1960 : D (35¢)
1961-1963?: E (50¢, 60¢) [Uncertain if E in 1963]
1964-1970 : D (45¢, 60¢)
1971-1974?: E (75¢) [Uncertain if E in 1974]
1975-1976 : D (70¢) [Tickets stopped printing prices by 1976; attraction closed early January 1977]

[note from Daveland: This attraction actually had THREE (count 'em 3!) posters—yee-ha!!!]

This image is from the files of Major Pepperidge over at Gorillas Don't Blog:

Also according to James, "Thru" is the official word used in the attraction name. “The Western River Ride” was a proposed attraction that Marc Davis did a fair amount of concept art for; sort of a Jungle Cruise of the west. When this concept was dropped, it is possible that "Western Mine Train" was considered as a title before "Nature's Wonderland" was finally selected for the expansion.

More coming—stay tuned! See my Nature's Wonderland photos at my website.


TokyoMagic! said...

I'm staying tuned for more! I loved this attraction. Big Thunder has had it's day (and I agree with the part about it lacking "imagination, charm, setting, scenery and character")...tear it down and rebuild Nature's Wonderland!

Fantastic post, Dave!

Major Pepperidge said...

Yep, I'm staying tuned as well. I hate to sound like one of those old fogies, but I really do miss this ride. Unfortunately, I also believe that many people would not appreciate its charms, and would rather have the thrills of the roller coaster that replaced it.

They used the word "thru" for "Adventures Thru Inner Space" as well!

Cory Gross said...

After WDW's 20,000 Leagues, this is probably the attraction I wished I could have seen the most.

Nicholas Tucker said...

I wish I could've seen this attraction. They should rebuild it on the other side of the railroad tracks.