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David Koenig
Winding Down the West

Universal closes stunt show, Disneyland / DCA news

Sunday January 6 will be the last day for Universal Studios–Hollywood's (USH) venerable Wild West Show —at least for a while. A park spokesman promised an all- new western-themed stunt show would return soon. "They're working on a script right now," she said. "It will be more of a comedy show, much funnier, with fewer stunts. They're supposed to be done in a couple of weeks."

She said Samir Kamoun, the actor who has appeared at USH as Charlie Chaplin for decades, also will return as the pre-show warm-up (although he is currently on vacation until December 29).

Entertainment division employees, though, are taking a wait-and-see approach. During their recent Christmas party, all they were told was that the show was closing. (A call to show overseer Bettina Zacar was not returned.)

"The West show closing comes as a surprise but not a shock, as it has been on the chopping block back and forth for some time now," said one employee. "January. 6 will be the last show. No further news at this time. Management is pushing to have a new entertainment show for the summer (not including the refurbished Cinemagic show), but the word is that they don't know what that show will be yet. This leaves us open to the possibility that now there might be a retooled Wild West show for the summer. At this point, however, we will have to conclude the show is kaput.

"All is not lost, though. When the Rugrats show was canceled, the day before it was scheduled to be removed forever, the show was moved to weekends-only. Perhaps we will see some kind of compromise like this in the weeks to come."

The Wild West Show could do with a little pepping up. Universal Studios could NOT do with one fewer attraction—especially considering the current push of cheap annual passes. "With only a few variations and script changes, this show dates back to the opening of the studio tour in 1964," bemoaned one insider. "With Cinemagic, Castle Theatre, Nickelodeon [and] Chimpunks all closed it kinda makes you wonder what people are paying the $43 for."

Meanwhile, at Disney's Anaheim theme parks, most activities came to a standstill last Friday morning due to major power failure. Soon after the parks opened, a storm hit and attractions suddenly went dark. It took maintenance crews until late in the afternoon to get everything back up and running, especially at California Adventure.

Why the lengthy delay? A park Facilities employee explained:

"Not long ago, due to the financial crunch at the resort, the MRT (Maintenance Response Team) was told that there would be no more overtime for park coverage. This resulted in the crew being short-handed much of the time due to officially-encouraged vacations, and a medical leave or two.

"Cut to Friday: There was only one Sound tech working that day when the power dip occurred. Due to the fact that much of the park is run on computer systems unprotected in any way from power fluctuations, the dip not only took down the ride control systems, it also shut down A/C, water-cooling/heating, special effects controllers, lighting controllers…

"In effect, just about every computer in DCA was affected. Disneyland had some hits as well, but many of the critical systems at least have basic power protection, and some of the ride control systems have some of the best equipment I've ever watched go through major power dips without a single glitch—they just cost around $10,000 each to put in. Most were eliminated from the construction accounts when it became obvious that DCA was badly over budget.

"As most of the MRT are not computer savvy, this meant that no one could pitch in for resets, so the one Sound tech (mostly covers ride and show controllers) and the two electricians (Infrastructure conditioning controllers) had a mad scramble rushing about the park resetting the most necessary systems first (lighting and infrastructure support) before they could even get to the ride systems. Luckily, the park hadn't yet opened fully, so there weren't many guest rescues. It took until about two hours after the dip for the first attraction to open, and the rest straggled along as they were completed, with Golden Dreams coming up last about seven hours after the dip.

"As a result, the MRT is going to add additional Sound (and maybe electrical) to the DCA MRT so that there should never be fewer than two Sound (and electrical, if included) in the park at any time. But, in order to facilitate this, ALL the MRT are going to have to go through a re-application for their current jobs! It seems that they are going to try to compress the existing MRT to one shift (call it Park hours) with third shift to cover the balance, and in so doing, some of the MRT will lose their positions, having to return to third shift."

One couple spent four hours at DCA that morning and took in all of three attractions. Crowds weren't the problem. "When we saw the Power of Blast show, the theater was three-quarters full," the woman said. "I'll bet that was every single guest in the park."

The problem was finding something, anything operating. One of the first attractions back on line was California Screamin', a coaster exposed to the pouring rain. The guests finally gave up. "The escalator from the parking structure shut down just as we were arriving," the visitor said. "We should have turned around and gone home."

There were some winners: guests who arrived that evening. The skies had cleared up and the drenched visitors had cleared out—allowing late-comers to enjoy attractions with minimal waits.

Lately, guests riding the trains at Disneyland have spotted maintenance employees tinkering with Rocket Rod vehicles, sparking debates on discussion boards as to whether the short-lived attraction might return to Tomorrowland.

No such luck, say sources in Facilities. "Say good-bye forever to Rocket Rods," said one worker. "Thursday and Friday of (last) week, three South Team machinists (were) preparing the vehicles for their last run to the scrap yard—on overtime, no less. These vehicles, which my sources tell me each ran up million dollar tabs in the attempts to make them run reliably, have been sold to a scrapper for $600 each, mostly for the recyclable metals. The only proviso that I'm aware of is that Disney requires proof of the destruction."

He later added: "The Rocket Rods job was not finished last week, so the last 12 are going out this week. There was no time to cycle them around the track from the Circlevision tunnel where they've been for months. Several also need tires changed to allow this. Work resumes this Thursday at midnight, again on overtime."

One Rocket Rod is on display as a "prop" in California Adventure's Hollywood Backlot area
One Rocket Rod is on display as a "prop" in California Adventure's Hollywood Backlot area

But the scrap heap? Couldn't, I asked, Disney at least auction off the vehicles on eBay? Considering last week they just made $15,000 pawning off the old keel boat Bertha Mae (eBay item 1672999864), surely they could make more than $600 off a Rocket Rod. No, said an insider, "anything that involves technology, like a Rocket Rod, will never make it to eBay."

Admittedly, there was no technology to glean from a beached keel boat. In its sales pitch on eBay, Disney warned: "Please note that the keel boat was designed as a theme-park ride vehicle only—subject to controlled operating conditions—and is not actually a seaworthy craft. It is suitable for display and/or storage on solid ground only, in a facility that is accessible by a crane. Such accessibility is required for delivery of the vehicle. The Walt Disney Company will not place the vehicle in water."

I wonder if the other keel boat, the Gullywhumper, the one that capsized, dooming the vessels to Yesterland—was also considered "not actually a seaworthy craft"…

You can write to David atthis link..

Winding Down the West


David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.


Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)


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