Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2019

Land of the Lilliputs

Disneyland was always about scale to Walt Disney. His animators had been using scale models for years before Walt discovered model railroading in the mid-1940s. Miniatures became a fascination of his, so of course one thing that would make Disneyland work was careful manipulation of scale. The locomotives, Main Street, the Mark Twain--all were as small as they could be and still accommodate full-sized people.

One way to lend size to, for example, the back country on the Rivers of America, is to make landmarks smaller than full size. The burning cabin, for instance, seems farther away because it is impossibly small. Early sketches called for the island to be dotted with small-scale replicas of buildings like George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

Lilliputian Land, therefore, appears on Herb Ryman's overall view of Disneyland drawn in September 1953. It is later labeled "miniature train and canal boats," which had been the idea since Mickey Mouse Park was planned for …

An Island Paradise Designed for Children

One of Walt Disney's first new ideas after Disneyland opened involved shuttling kids to an overgrown island where they would not be able to buy food or merchandise and could stay as long as their heart's desired. The park's original General Manager had just quit. Anyone have a problem with Walt's plan? No? Good.
The island in the middle of the so-called Rivers of America lagoon which the Mark Twain (and later, other boats) circled was a pile of dirt with weeds crowding out a few intentional plants and a smattering of trees. Walt wanted to make it a playground, ignoring concerns that children might climb trees and fall, or slip into the water.

Marvin Davis remembered that Walt took the tracings from him and designed the two-acre island himself, filled with a log fort, a cave, an old mill with a waterwheel, and a fishing pier. Before it was built, art director Vic Greene took over for the details. The upper acre, delimited by a barbed wire fence, would be off-limits.


The Characters of Rainbow Ridge

Rainbow Ridge sounds like a familiar place. It was a small mining town built on the side of Rainbow Mountain, but it's long-gone now. The barkeep, Pat Casey, Mother Murphy, and the rest of the wild west characters are not forgotten, though.

Walter Knott's Ghost Town represented a dust-dry, high desert mining town like Calico, near Barstow, California. The first building in Ghost Town was imported from Prescott, Arizona.

Rainbow Ridge was more High Sierras Gold Country--pine trees and streams with placer gold. In fact, some say it resembled the Town With No Name from the Broadway show Paint Your Wagon, which debuted three years before Disneyland. Oliver Smith, the set designer, created a village that looked like what would happen if you built an Old West town in a heckuva hurry. When Hollywood finally got around to making the film version, in 1969, production designer John Truscott spent $2.4 million and seven months building the Town With No Name in the remote hills of Oregon.

A Beautiful Mine

Did Walt want to take his guests through amazing caverns with out-of-this-world rock formations, or did he want to fascinate them with a trip in an actual train of ore cars? Regardless of which impulse came first, the result was a ride called a mine train that included a visit to a spectacular cave instead of a working mine: the Rainbow Mountain Mine Train opened July 2, 1956.

The U. S. southwest is dotted with some 70,000 mines. Not just gold and silver, but copper, iron, coal, zinc, boron, potash and dozens more. The Rainbow Mountain Mine Train could have visited a replica gold mine, as the Calico Mine Train at Knott's Berry Farm did four years later, in 1960. In 1961, Frontier Village in San Jose produced the Lost Frontier Mine Ride. Mines, not caverns.

Walt Disney was fascinated by nature. He hired nature photographers from around the world, and he was friends with serious nature hobbyists like Edgar Queeny. It is quite reasonable to think that Walt might have driven Route 66 …