Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bob Weaver Remembers Nature's Wonderland, Pt. 3

Today marks the publication of Part Three of Bob's column about the Nature's Wonderland attraction:

The green trains had six cars with the narrator on a seat outside the last car. The yellow NW trains had seven cars and the operator was either a live narrator or a taped spiel. The cars had bench seats along each side. The 1971 SOP indicates that the capacity was 74 guests. With seven cars that suggests 10 per car on average plus a few in the cab of the "locomotive". The trains were yellow when I rode them, with each car having the name of one area of the attraction on it. I have seen pictures of the trains in earlier years when they were a dark green color, but they were yellow in the 1960s and 1970s.

The small door was opened to let you enter the car; there were sights to see in all directions so it didn’t really matter where you sat; the experience was essentially the same for everyone. When the operator closed the door, a small bench on the inside of the door (the "jump seat") folded down to give room for one more person to sit. If you had the luxury of a sparsely populated car, you could change your position frequently during the ride to get better views of things on one side of the car or the other. No seat belts or other restraints that are so commonly seen today. The trains never went fast enough or made sudden enough turns to warrant seat belts, and there were none of those safety bars that press down into your lap. You were instructed by the narrator to remain seated and keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle, as with most attractions, but that was about it. A no-smoking reminder, too. I remember moving around a lot and that never caused the operators to stop the train or call me out. People often put their arms on the tops of the car sides, and that was not enough to cause a stir either. I never saw anyone stand up or attempt to jump out of a car, even though it would have been easy to do so. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were different times in the United States than they are today. Since then a nationwide series of tort lawsuits and increased insurance rates has essentially forced theme parks to install more safety restraints and issue more safety warnings to the passengers. You’ll note that on this page there is a publicity photo showing Walt Disney standing up in the train during a preview for the media. Other guests on the train at that moment also have their hands and arms clearly outside the vehicle.

Additional note from James: When you are Walt Disney you can do pretty much what you want. However, the shot above was a photo opportunity for VIP tours, often with special guests that Walt was taking around. I'm sure he had the train stopped when he stood up to point out one site of interest or another. The cameras and film were slower then so a non-moving train facilitated a good shot.

Many old-time castmembers say that the Mine Train was his favorite attraction in the park and after visiting the Golden Horseshoe he would either turn left to head towards the Jungle Cruise or right to the Mine Train. The CMs would watch which direction he was headed and call ahead so his favorite operator would be waiting when he arrived.

Disney fan Alan Adams recalls hijinks with classmates during Spring Break trips to Disneyland:

"Mine Train antics involved jumping off the cars and hiding among in the scenes and then jumping out at the other cars to scare friends who were waiting in line behind us. Like the goblins in Haunted Mansion, on Mine Train you could be one of the goblins yourself. It was fun! Even better if the friend in your car could get a Kodak moment, jumping out at the other cars down the line. It was the ultimate attraction experience to become a part of the set! How long, perhaps 20 seconds, maybe less I can't remember exactly, but a thrilling experience seconds seem like an eternity. Classmates travelled in groups on the attractions. It was no more usually than waiting in line and letting people go ahead in order to get the front car, and a friend at the end of the queue doing the same for the last car in order to plan the seating for that train; then jumping off the front car and getting back into the last car. And if you took too long you'd miss your train! One time I couldn't get back in the last car because friends pushed me off as a joke while trying to get back on. So I had to run back into the set and hide waiting for the next train. And those people on the next train were not from my group of friends, so I was terribly scared myself jumping into another train with kids not from my school who didn't know what was going on and were screaming startled that some goblin was jumping out at them into their car - WITH NO EXTRA SEAT. No, I never got caught on that attraction."

The attraction’s recorded narration was one of the key elements that gave The Mine Train its character. Walt Disney and his crew wisely chose not to inundate the attraction with music as has been done on so many others. The narration and the peacefulness of nature was enough. The recording of was made by character actor Dallas McKennon (July 19, 1919 - July 14, 2009) who also voiced some characters in some of the Disney animated films. His voice immediately created in your mind an
image of a "character out of the Old West" but with a decidedly friendly and folksy tone. In fact the first words on the recording are "Howdy folks!" It was rather like your hillbilly uncle who lived out in the woods taking you through a tour of his world, making lame wisecracks most of the way through. (In 2005, as part of the park's 50th anniversary celebration, Disney released a set of 6 CDs called "A Musical History of Disneyland" and the recorded narration of this attraction is included on that.) I have read that the train operator could choose to do a live narration instead of using the recorded one, but that never happened any time that I rode it. It was always the same familiar, "Howdy folks!" each time. An interesting side bit of trivia is that when the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was being constructed, Dallas McKennon also recorded the voiceover for that attraction, which is heard by passengers as the journey begins. That "spiel" is much shorter though, heard only at the beginning, and basically warning riders what not to do, while the narration he recorded for the Mine Train lasted the entire trip.

See more Nature's Wonderland photos at my website.


TokyoMagic! said...

I'm really enjoying this series, Dave! That last photo appears to show the last train car....I wonder why the ride operator is positioned in the back of the train? Maybe it was to supervise those unruly little girls that are eating candy? And what is he sitting on anyway?

Major Pepperidge said...

I can never get enough of Nature's Wonderland!

Anonymous said...

Those seats and cars sound a lot like the seats and cars on the Calico Mine Ride at Knott's.

outsidetheberm said...

Indeed, they were very similar to the Knott's Mine Ride rolling stock. Disneyland had the perfectly painted, clean version while Knott's went for the rustic, splinter-in-your-backside option. Each has their merits.

The black and white Walt shots were taken by famous Hollywood photographer Gene Lester. We ran a post on him a couple years back.

Great posts, Dave. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

In my day, the spiel was totally Dallas. As each scene came into sight, I'd press a button to initiate the tape for that segment. This was all done by the train operator...no "conductor" at the rear by then.

Dad.. said...

Man... such a shame the kiddo's of today probably wouldn't dig rides like these.

Chris Merritt said...

Great post! Thanks Dave...