I've recently received some response to my Windows on Main Street columns (read parts 1, 2, and 3) from those even more familiar with the subject than I. Today, I'd like to share some of them with you. First, a note from Scott Olsen, nephew of Jack Olsen, The Merchant Prince.
I just got a chance to browse through your excellent research about the windows on WDW's Magic Kingdom Main Street.
At the end of part one, you show my uncle's window (Jack Olsen). Although he retired from Disney in 1977, he was in ill health at the time and, unfortunately, passed away in 1980 at the age of 56.
In a follow-up note, he passed along these anecdotes:
I've lived in San Diego almost all of my life and my uncle lived (before he moved to Florida) in Santa Ana. Of course, up until 1979 or so, we never had to pay to get into Disneyland. Often, we'd call ahead and just sign for tickets at the Guest Relations window. We always had tickets to the bleacher seats for the premiere of the Christmas parade, in front of the train station on Main Street. That is where Walt Disney ended up sitting behind me for the 1965 Christmas parade (I was 9 years old).
His house and garage in Santa Ana were full of Disney merchandise. He wasn't a collector, but rather, I believe it was more due to bringing the job home with him. There was a local importer in Laguna Beach who used to literally give us boxes of stuff every year. Most were non-Disney items.
Those were interesting tidbits, Scott. Thanks for passing them along!
The e-mail that had me doing a little happy dance in my chair came from George McGinnis, honored on The Big Wheel Co. window. You see, George designed quite a lot of things during his Imagineering careernot that he's done. He's still consulting from outside the company. While many of them are wonderful, the fruit of George's labor that is dearest to the hearts of many a Disney fanatic is his design of the subs for the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction.
But enough gushing from me. Let's hear what George had to say:
I enjoyed this stroll down Main Street and the memories the Big Wheel Co. window over the Penny Arcade brings to mind. Residing in an office next to Bob Gurr, whose name is there (along with Bill Watkins, Dave Gengenbach and myself), was one of the most important things to my career at WDI [Walt Disney Imagineering], next to meeting Walt Disney at the Art Center College of Design in 1966. Walt had come to see my senior project which was a High Speed Train Concept for the Northeast Corridor.
The acting president at the Art Center that talked to Walt about me was the same person that put Bob and Walt together ten plus years earlier. He was John Thompson, former editor of the Ford Times, the little art magazine. He said he told Walt, McGinnis will bring his train over on his back to show you.
I've attached a picture of the train. The person looking at the first mass transit project at the Art Center is Bill Mitchell, General Motors Vice President of Styling. We had a thing in commonwe both loved to draw cars in high school; in fact we both graduated from Penn High School, Greenville, Pennsylvania, although he was 18 years ahead of me.
George McGinnis, left, shows his model of a proposed high speed train and shuttle system to Bill Mitchell, Vice President of Styling for General Motors, in 1966. Photo courtesy of George McGinnis.
I had entered my project in an Alcoa contest that semester. It came in second after an all-aluminum garden cart. This hurt didn't last long, for shortly after, John Thompson told me Walt wanted to see it.
The concept I showed Walt would be considered far out. It was called a High Acceleration Transfer Shuttle for Simultaneous Loading and Unloading Passengers of High Speed Trains.
Two hundred feet underground, at 200 miles per hour, it exchanged passengers on the fly with shuttles at way stations. Containerized luggage moved on and off below. At the center of the train was the station car. It had rotating semicircular compartments as did the shuttle.
Transfer time, two minutes out and return. Actual transfer of passengers took eight seconds. The shuttle accelerated down a ramp powered by a linear motor, synchronized speed with train, transferred passengers, decelerated up a ramp and returned to the station.
The model had micro-switches; little motors with friction drives to turn the semicircular compartments. Wouldn't you know, it worked fine until Walt pushed the shuttle. Yikes! It jammed.
My hand never worked so fast unjamming it. Sensing my frustration, Walt simply commented, This would have to be fail-safe." Yes sir! I responded, pointing to the diagram and the emergency braking distance.
But all went well that day.
Walt was accompanied that day by Bob, Dick Irvine, Roger Broggie and John Hench, as I recall. After the meeting, George Jergenson, Art Center Transportation department head, told me I was invited to WED to see and ride the WEDway test track. Bob later told me that as he drove Walt and others back to the studio, Walt said, We can use another Industrial Designer at WED."
While half of my 30 years-plus with WDI were spent on vehicle design, the other 15 years were on shows, such as concept work on the two Space Mountains and the Horizons Pavilion. I regard ride vehicles as a show in themselves. They add kinetics and story to an architectural setting, something we miss at California Adventure. I have good reason to believe that this will be added in time.
Just before retiring to become a consultant in 1995, I worked with Tony Baxter and Skip Lange in creating the Indiana Jones vehicle [for Disneyland]. It was the first I did on a computer. It was then a simple matter to redesign it into the Countdown to Extinction vehicle (now Dinosaur) for Animal Kingdom.
I have just returned from WDW and had the opportunity to take my sons Reed and Scott on four of the five ride vehicles in Animal Kingdom for which I did the concepts. (Got drenched on Kali River Rapids raft and dried out on the Wildlife Express. The Discovery River boats were not operating.) The Animal Kingdom is a beautifully detailed park and I was happy to have a part in its creation.
The new Mission: Space Pavilion at Epcot did not disappoint; I wanted a real space ride and that's what I got. Congratulations, Mission: Space Team!
What a great story! And what's even better is that I have asked George if he would consider writing some more about his experiences for our MousePlanet readers, and he agreed! I'm not sure how often we'll be able to expect stories yet, but we've got a couple of story ideas that we're already working on. Keep your eyes out for some more from George.
(Send an email to Mark Goldhaber)
Mark (@MPMark) is a veteran of dozens of trips to Walt Disney World starting in 1972, with a few Disneyland trips thrown in for good measure. As a Disney stockholder and a Disney Vacation Club member, Mark is always in touch with what's going on with The Mouse. Mark serves as MousePlanet's Walt Disney World content coordinator. Mark is a senior information technology manager working for the State of New York. He lives in the suburbs outside Albany, New York, with his wife and son.