Designer Times - May 10, 2000

Designer Times
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by Bob Gurr (archives)
May 10, 2000
Our newest regular column, Designer Times is by legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr and will focus on the early days of Disneyland from a first person perspective. is very pleased to announce our newest column, Designer Times. Written by legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr, Designer Times will give a first-person perspective on the Disneyland's early days. Bob Gurr joined the Disney company in 1954 doing drawings for the Autopia and the Main Street Vehicles. Since that time he's gone on to play a part in the design of "just about anything with wheels" including  the Atomoble for Adventures thru Inner Space, the Doombuggies for the Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn, the Motor Boat Cruise, the Flying Saucers, the Monorail and much more. He also was instrumental in the development of the Mr. Lincoln Audio-Animatronic figure.

1) Sunday Dinners with The Iwerks Family .... A call to the Studio ... Autopia Chassis

It all started with cars. Some folks on my paper route in 1944 always had neat cars. A few years later, one of the kids that lived there was in our same car club, the "Road Burners". Name was Dave Iwerks. We went hunting and fishing together. His dad had a short first name, Ub. After I returned in 1953 from a year designing cars in Detroit, I was a regular visitor at the Iwerks home. Ub was a quiet guy; showed me his tiny shop with many beautifully crafted guns, gave me rides in his latest sporty car.

In late summer 1954, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a new amusement park, complete with a beautiful painting of what was to come. Wow. Neat idea. Sure would like to design something there. The Iwerks put on the traditional Sunday dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Iwerks, sons Dave and Don. I was sometimes invited. Ub Iwerks would show home movies of the latest happenings at the Walt Disney Productions Studio in Burbank, California, just 10 miles from their Van Nuys home. One day Ub described a little car running around on the studio backlog. No body on it, just a bare chassis.

Visiting Art Center College, my alma mater before going to Detroit, shortly after Ub's little car story, I was asked if I did outside work in addition to my regular industrial design job. I really didn't, but I said yes. A few days later I was instructed to meet someone at the Walt Disney Productions Studio. On the drive out I you suppose the little car needs a body designed?......would this be for that new amusement park? Walt's head park designer, Dick Irvine met me at the gate, then ushered me into the famous studio. They needed a car body!

Dick introduced me to some business folks, then showed me the little bare car chassis. It had been built by Johnny Hartman in his shop up in nearby Montrose, California. A welded steel frame, pivoting front axle, rear axle assembly, and a hot 10 horsepower engine from the latest scooter-bike craze, the Mustang Colt. Just simple as could be, but bare naked. I took some dimensions, went home to sketch some body ideas. During the next two weeks, I returned with a series of sketches for Dick Irvine to look at. Among the business folks with Dick was the Studio Machine Shop Manager, Roger Broggie.

The following Saturday I received a call at (ye gads) 7:00AM. "Do you draft?" "Yes". "Grab your tools and get over here". Silence, dial tone. Roger Broggie was waiting for me. Nearby the little bare car slowly collected four guys with their feet on each tire, discussing what was to be done. One guy, slightly rumpled with a Roy Rogers wooden bullet belt, had his foot on one tire. I thought he was the father of one of the night guards. They called him "Walt". You don't suppose......? Yep, Walt Disney. No formal introduction, just get to work. Walt was collecting a lot of new folks on the Studio Lot. We were all gonna design Disneyland.

Roger wanted me to draft up the little car's mechanical parts so they could be produced in quantity, but he had lot's of changes he needed. I was comfortable drawing up the body, but to production engineer a whole car? I was trained as a car stylist, not as a mechanical engineer. But all the other guys joining up at the Studio were doing everything Walt wanted. OK, I better learn fast. So, not only was I doing drawings at night during the week, I spent Saturdays at the Studio drafting car parts, and learning just how much I didn't know. So was everyone else. It was November 1954 and Walt said Disneyland would open in just eight months. Oh my gosh!

Next month: Walt wants yet more cars.......and life at the Studio with WED Enterprises, Inc.

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Bob Gurr began working with Disney in 1954. He retired in 1981 but occassionally consults for the Company. Since Disney he's worked on the sinking ship at Las Vegas' Treasure Island, Universal Studios' King Kong, Godzilla for the film by the same name and much more. Among his proudest accomplishments he lists "making Walt tickled pink that some of the things he wanted to build actually worked. You could tell how proud he was when he would show off things to his friends and the press. Lincoln and the Monorail were two big ones for him."

Designer Times is normally posted the second Wednesday of each month.

The opinions expressed by Bob Gurr, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of Disneyland and the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

-- Posted May 10, 2000