Bob Gurr on the original Alice attractions
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This month the Disney film Alice in Wonderland celebrates its 50th anniversary. In celebration, LaughingPlace.com has done a series of articles focusing on the film and the attractions resulting from it.
For this article we asked Legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr to talk about the Alice attractions from Disneyland's early days - Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Tea Party. Throughout this article Bob refers to and quotes items he's already mentioned in earlier editions of his Designer Times column here on LaughingPlace.com. For a complete list of Bob's Designer Time's columns, click here.
And now we are pleased to present Bob Gurr on the original Alice attractions.
On which attractions he worked on...
I worked only on the original Alice attraction at Disneyland in 1958. I was assigned by Roger Broggie to be the lead designer for all the show action equipment (which we called gags in those days).
On interesting things regarding the attraction...
The Designer Times (DT) No. 14 for June 13, 2001 has an excerpt.....
"The 1958 Alice Ride had a room full of tall flowers swaying to the music. I made the tall flower stems out of aluminum rod, which were mounted on flexible rubber bushings. Dozens of these 8 to 10 foot tall flowers were animated by one electric motor and lots of push rods. After a few weeks of testing while we installed many more mechanical animation gags, some of the flower stems were breaking and falling over. Soon, about half were busted. Aha, fatigue cracking......I never knew about fatigue cracking before, but now I did.
What to do? Choose a material that is light and fatigue resistant, one that can bend all day.....a fishing pole! I drove down to the Silaflex Fish Pole Company in Costa Mesa and got them to make a whole bunch of plain fishing poles with no eyelets. These things worked forever after".
To continue onwards from DT 14, you might refer to the E-Ticket Issue No.31 Spring 1999 page 24 thru 33 for the original 1958 Alice. Here's some more recollections on Alice:
In DT 11 March 14, 2001 I wrote: "Gas stations used to have a hose laying on the ground so that when a customer arrived and ran over it, a ding bell would sound. I used these parts to trigger the doors. But soon found out that the hard tired Toad cars always ran over the hose in the same spot, thus ruining the hose. So we later changed over to electrical limit switches".
This was in error.....the hose dinger was first used on Alice, not Toad. The previous original Disneyland dark rides used a random collection of whatever device the installation crew used.....no uniformity. I thought that since Alice was a "new" generation of ride all engineered at one time, we should go for a uniform standard method of operating gags as well as the doors between scenes.
This would include the track switches, pneumatic valves, type and brand of air cylinders, etc. I had previously designed a standard dark ride door assembly which we retro-fitted to the Toad ride earlier. Now I thought we could come up with a standard Alice gag since most of Claude Coats gags were simple action, i.e., pop ups. This meant that an air cylinder would be either in or out, no special action modulation as found much later in Disney's Audio Animatronics.
I selected a local pneumatic component supplier in Burbank, near the Studio, who was a dealer for Carter air cylinders as well as able to supply all the other parts we would need. No specification writing, no competitive bidding, just go meet the guy and trust him.
This actually gave Disney a big advantage in those early days before we had formally trained engineers at the Studio and later at WED Enterprises in Glendale who would spec out everything for the purchasing department. The pneumatic system dealer would give me all kinds of neat catalogs showing how all the parts could fit together. He also supplied tons of technical material about the design of pneumatic systems.
In effect, we got the selling vendor to literally engineer Disneyland Ride stuff for us! He had the advantage of going to the factory engineers for more detailed solutions to Disneyland's needs. So we had a full staff of specialist engineers....only they were not on Walt's payroll.
Anyway, Alice was an important leap for Disneyland in that we could now design attraction equipment in a fast and uniform manner using abundant supplier engineering. And the regular prices paid, including discounts, included all the "free" engineering. To say nothing of the "free" engineering education I was getting without ever going to college.
Each of the Alice gags used a similar air cylinder mounting and a small carriage track to which each moving piece of artwork was attached. Some of the gags were Horn Bird, Umbrella Bird, Birdcage Bird, and the Accordion Owl. The two biggest pop ups were the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. I learned how to make very light weight sheet aluminum structures to hold the artwork on these big gags so they could pop up real fast.
I helped with the Alice car design adapting Claude Coat's body styling and Blaine Gibson's sculpting to fit the lengthened Arrow Development dark ride chassis. With the longer two seat chassis and the snappy right/left downhill track, there was some concern about the car tipping. On the last downhill right turn, the track grade was a bit steeper due to a small construction elevation transition (called an oops) that did in fact tip the car sometimes. The ride operators soon learned to always put the biggest folks only in the back seat to prevent this. The track path was later extended a bit to cure this situation.