Kenversations: Splash Mountain Turns 20. I Miss its Show Producer, Bruce Gordon
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Like its neighbor, the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain benefited from long being a visible self-advertisement – though not quite as long as the Haunted Mansion! Since groundbreaking, everyone could see that something big and new was coming. The front of the mountain was essentially finished by November of 1988, so the guests could see it as they walked into the newly opened Critter Country, or climbed around on Tom Sawyer Island, or floated by on rivercraft.. The testing, which sent logs rumbling down the hill into the briar patch, always caught the eyes and ears of guests in the area. The attraction was originally set to open in January 1989, usually a cold and wet month in southern California. But that was not to be, due largely to issues with the ride system. The drop was built at a 47 degree angle instead of the planned 45 degree angle and the logs were heavy – both factors meant the logs would be going on the fast side by the time they reached the bottom of the biggest drop. To slow them down when they reached the bottom of the final drop, they plowed deeply into the water. However, since the front of the logs were basically flat and they were in a tunnel, the water would splash up everywhere, hit the roof of the tunnel, and land back inside the log. It was too rough and too wet.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s ran a promotional tie in for the attraction, “Splash For Cash”. The television ad consisted mostly of shots of “guests” (cast members, really) plunging down the final drop – over and over from various angles. It was filmed at night. This gave the attraction a mysterious (and somewhat misleading) portrayal, as none of the interior show elements were depicted. Every time one of those ads ran, I was glued to the television.
Testing halted for a while, resuming in February with modifications added on to the front of the logs. It wasn’t enough. Then new prototypes were tested, and one was chosen that would seat seven adults (instead of the original eight) and had a design in front to help divert the splashing. The lighter logs didn’t reach the speeds of the originals and could be slowed down enough in the runout without cutting so deeply into the water. Eventually, the new fleet of logs arrived and the issues were smoothed out enough to open, and the July 17 Disneyland anniversary was picked for the big “Grand Opening” day for the news media. Summer seemed like a better time to debut the attraction anyway.
So, while guests were originally supposed to lap-sit single-file straddling a bench, with room for two large adults in the four seating spaces, totaling eight adult guests per log - the attraction ended up opening with a similar configuration designed for seven adults – with 2-3-2 seating that was soon reconfigured to 2-2-3. But the crazy kids that we were, we’d cram as many of us into a log as we could… 10 people, 11 people… the more we crammed in, the faster we’d slide down the drops and the more splash there would be after the drops. Several years back, the “original” logs were entirely replaced with logs that gave each rider their own slot on the bench – no lap-sitting, and it reduced the number of adults that could fit into the logs. Though that might have reduced Theoretical Hourly Capacity, I know it may have increased actual operating numbers, because if two friends wary of lap seating would normally take up two spots, each designed for two people, now they can each take up a spot designed for one person. I prefer the old logs - and being able to hold my wife or child in my lap.
The versions of the attraction built at the other parks have side-by-side seating, so the seating situation is an entirely different dynamic. You don’t want a stranger or some of your friends sitting in your lap, but do you want a stranger sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with you, and only you? To me, side-by-side seating doesn’t feel like a log ride. For that and many other reasons, the original attraction will always hold that special place in my heart. Among other people, I have Bruce Gordon to thank.
One of my biggest regrets I will have for the rest of my life was not making Bruce Gordon’s memorial service. If only I could get into a time-traveling DeLorean and go back in time… Bruce would appreciate that. Bruce was a notorious Back to the Future fan, and even wrote pieces in magazines such as Starlog expounding his theory that there were other Marty McFlys and other DeLoreans. His theories were dismissed by those who governed the canon, but they were plausible. He wrote “Back to the Future For Real”, a virtual tour of the filming locations for “Back to the Future” . One of the locations took him very close to my boyhood home (and closer to where I would live as a bachelor), so when he found out where I grew up, he knew exactly where I had spent my childhood. It was Bruce who first told me that I had to try the Back to the Future ride when I was planning a trip to Florida.