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You Can Fly You Can Fly You Can Fly!

The Peter Pan Fly-Thru was one of the most original rides at Disneyland (Artwork © Disney)
The idea of a flying ride themed around Peter Pan was one of Disneyland's most innovative ideas, and its origin story is mysterious. Traditional theme parks featured circular swings—a ring of benches dangled from chains and when the ring rotated, the seats would fly up and out. Dark rides, of course, consisted of motorized benches following a serpentine track past scenes. Someone—maybe Walt Disney—combined the two ideas to create a suspended bench that followed a meandering path. The bench would sway with the curves and dips in the track above.

Walt Disney's Peter Pan was still showing in bargain theaters in May 1953 when Marvin Davis joined Dick Irvine to get serious about designs for a 45-acre Disneyland. When Bill Martin joined them in June, he was assigned to the fantasy, children's section where a Peter Pan attraction of some sort was a given. All three men were film art directors from 20th Century-Fox who thought in terms of sets for a live-action version of the animated feature. Artist Bruce Bushman, who would create and manage the implementation of many innovative rides, was not yet working on Disneyland.

Looks like Herb Ryman, circa October 1953, before Bill Martin's expensive Londontown architecture was eliminated. (Artwork © Disney)
Today, a rider might be enclosed in a harness and tilted face down on a motion base to simulate flying alongside Peter. In 1953, it was a dangling bench. Bill Martin drew sketches of rooms with coved corners so that cyclorama murals would simulate a distant view in all directions, but how would the bench appear?

The clever answer was a miniature galleon. Bruce Bushman designed its final form, with assistance from Don DaGradi and Ralph Hulett (and others, no doubt). But the idea of a flying galleon came first, and we don't know who proposed it. A suspended dark ride with a swaying galleon was one of the most original concepts at Disneyland, and its development is unknown.

Unlike the other dark rides, Pan used only a few, large rooms. (Artwork © Disney, Photo by Stuff From the Park blog)
The galleon design was very clever, because the bench you are riding on is essentially invisible during the ride, but with the large rooms of the Peter Pan dark ride, you would see other riders ahead of and behind you. They would appear as visions of Captain Hook's galleon, silhouetted against the moon.

The next hurdle was the mechanism to move the dangling bench through the ride. The WED team, led by Nat Winecoff, worked with General Conveyor of Vernon, a city south of downtown Los Angeles, the dealer for a time-tested material handling system by Cleveland Crane and Engineering of Wickliffe, Ohio. Founded in the 1920s, Cleveland Crane had installed a much-publicized solution for moving heavy mailbags at the Cincinnati post office in 1931. The system was called "Tramrail," and General Conveyor specified an Arch Beam monorail, which could twist, turn, elevate, and descend as the design required. Each vehicle would be powered by a one-horsepower electric motor at the rail.

The 2.45-person galleons designed by Bruce Bushman
The final design used wide-radius curves and modest ups and downs so that the trip would feel like sailing through the clouds. There would be seven galleons on a 486-foot track, moving at about the speed—four feet per second—of a typical dark ride.

The galleons were sculpted by Chris Mueller, then cast in fiberglass by ex-Disney model maker Bob Jones in nearby Glendale. Jones told E-Ticket (#37) that the fiberglass sails required the development of new kinds of forms and release agents. The Disney studio welded the steel bench frames.

Originally, the finale was a little person dressed as Mr. Smee, pointing a blunderbuss loaded with ping pong balls at riders. That sort of live entertainment was quickly replaced by more automatic systems throughout the park.
Pirate galleon ready to be boarded. (Photo: Life magazine, August 1955)


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