Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bob Weaver Remembers Nature's Wonderland, Pt. 7

Today marks the conclusion of Bob Weaver’s Nature's Wonderland attraction memories:

The Mine Train ride concluded as the train exited that tunnel and arrived at the "town" of Rainbow Ridge, and stopped at the same location it was at when you got on the train. The recorded narration encouraged you to lift the jump seat of the car yourself, and the door would automatically open. Of course most kids wanted to be the one that lifted it. And magically the door did open. After a final "So long!" from Dallas McKennon, you got off the train. Then the next set of guests boarded the same train. You walked on the platform to the right to get to the exit, and then you were back in Frontierland again, for your next adventure. We usually went to Tom Sawyer Island after that, but sometimes got on the Mark Twain Steamboat as the loading dock for it was very close to the exit of the Mine Train ride. For a few years (July 1956 to December 1962) there was a small attraction next to the Mine Train, to the right of the main buildings of Rainbow Ridge, with the same type of old-west style building, and this was called Mineral Hall. There was a free exhibit where you could view fluorescent minerals and even ordinary household items under blacklight, and some exhibits on the use of black light in practical applications such as criminology, etc. There was a gift shop where you could buy blacklights and fluorescent materials such as paints and chalk. Unfortunately Mineral Hall closed before the first time I went to Disneyland. I believe the building is still there now, but has a different appearance today. One upstairs window has "Mineral Hall" etched in the glass as a tribute to it.

So why was Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland discontinued? Was it because it was dated? Frontierland is supposed to be about the past. Do they remove Main Street U.S.A. because it is dated and replace it with Herbie the Love Bug's Drag Strip Racers, or WALL-E's Journey to the Axiom? Disneyland is supposed to be at least partly about Americana, and they had a genuine piece of Americana with The Mine Train, yet they demolished it. If the complaint was that it was out of date or people had become bored with it, they could have enhanced it by adding a simulated earthquake, an explosion from a mine shaft, an actor "hijacking" the train or a gunfight on both sides, with the train going through the "crossfire." If they could add an Abominable Snowman to the Matterhorn, surely they let a chupacabra run loose in the Living Desert. And instead of the boring dinosaur bones, how about a UFO crash site, with alien bodies, and one of the aliens looks up as the train passes by? They could have even introduced live animals in some areas, ones rescued who could not have survived in the wild. Was it because Disneyland needed more thrill rides? In the 1970s new roller coasters started popping up at Knott's Berry Farm and Magic Mountain (now Six Flags Magic Mountain). Did someone at Disneyland decide that they had to compete in the thrill market? Nowadays there are theme parks with far more intense thrill rides than Disneyland's, so Disneyland will never really be the industry leader in the scream-and-vomit market. Other parks have much bigger, faster, and scarier thrill rides than Disneyland ever had. But nobody can touch Disney when it comes to the show aspect of the attraction. Disneyland's competitive edge has always been in the high concept and design, the elaborate show and theming, the meticulous construction and maintenance, the complete experience of the attraction rather than just the physical sensation of speed or some other visceral thrill. They had all of this in Nature's Wonderland, and yet they threw it all away. Was it because it took up too much space? Nature's Wonderland did occupy 7 acres of the park, and the whole park is less than 100 acres. That's a pretty big chunk of prime real estate. And the attraction's capacity was somewhat limited despite the long track and 74-persons per train capacity. On the other hand, what have they done with the area since the Mine Train made its final run? A roller coaster attraction that is really more akin to Knott's, and of course Big Thunder Ranch: but who drives 1,000 miles to pet a goat? The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad that replaced part of the area of the Mine Train has been there 30 years and now seems dated itself, to me at least. Long lines today indicate Disneyland desperately needs more rider capacity. The solution is obvious: rebuild the Mine Train, even if it has to be modified to fit a smaller space. They have the blueprints, they have the land, they have the money, and they have the guests hungry for and eager to ride this attraction. They can leave out the saguaro forest and the dinosaur bones, but they should rebuild Cascade Peak and the Rainbow Caverns to the original specifications. They can even keep the original narration soundtrack and offend a whole new generation of female riders. Millions of people would go on this attraction and enjoy it just as much I did as a kid. Not everything has to be fast, modern, and high-tech to be entertaining; Walt Disney proved this with the Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland.

Many thanks to Alan Adams for his reminiscences of misbehavior on the Mine Train, and James Keeline of keeline.com for a large amount of detailed information about the technicalities and workings of the attraction. Questions or comments about Bob’s fantastic article? Feel free to email him directly. Check out Bob’s website: http://fireworksland.com,

See more Nature's Wonderland photos at my website.


CoxPilot said...

Dave: I agree 100%. Maybe we could all do a write in campaign. Sign an on-line petition or something. Power of public opinion CAN change things.

Thanks for your keen insight.

TokyoMagic! said...

CoxPilot said exactly what I was going to say....I agree 100%!!! I have never really been a fan of Big Thunder and have missed NWMT since the day it closed. This ride should have been kept and just updated over the years the same way that the Jungle Cruise has. I hope there aren't any plans to rip out the rest of the Jungle Cruise for yet another substandard thrill ride.

Major Pepperidge said...

I want to have the Mine Train back, but just don't see it ever happening, no matter how many letters are written. I'm sure it is viewed as the kind of ride that "old timers" miss but that kids would find boring. But I would love to be proven wrong!!

Dad.. said...

Hmmm... you've got me wondering...

I'm curious to see if the expansion at Disney Worlds Fantasyland will stay true to Disney's vision, or if it will be at the total opposite end of the spectrum and have less of a "Disney" feel. It kinda worries me.

ark said...

I agree with Major Pepperidge. I'm someone who wasn't born until the mine train was long gone, unfortunately. So my perspective is someone that hasn't ever known anything but Thunder Mountain and I love it. And this generation is definitely one that seeks thrills more. But I will say that the amount of nostalgia that the NW creates is awesome. I love hearing memories and looking at the leftovers in the park. It's almost like an old archaeology site where you see glimpses of the past. I think it's fascinating. I do think rainbow caverns should be put back and cascade peak. I agree with Bob. That area behind Thunder Mountain is really poorly utilized. Thanks for the memories Bob and Dave! Keep it up!

Mark Taft said...

Loved Nature's Wonderland! It is sore missed as much as I enjoy BTMRR. The old days of slower rides rich with atmosphere seem to be a thing of the past. Too bad- as the park needs to appeal to all ages!