Mickey's Mouseorail and Ear Force Oneby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Mickey Mouse's "LiMOUSEine" in the hopes that readers might supply some additional information. A friend pointed out to me that the limo's appearance was nearly twenty-five years ago so it is really ancient history to most of today's Disney fans who weren't even born when it appeared.
To make matters worse, he pointed me to a recent official Disney Company article on the "Tapestry of Nations" parade at Epcot where it was described as a "vintage" parade.
Really? That was only a decade ago. Is time moving so fast and things changing at Disney so quickly that what I experienced in person as an adult is now some musty, old relic of the forgotten past? I guess so.
Maybe that is why nobody else has written about the "LiMOUSEine" because they forgot it even existed.
So, in an attempt to try and save some more Disney history, this column will be devoted to what I know about two other forms of transportation for Mickey Mouse that at the time made big news around the United States: Mickey's Mouseorail and Ear Force One.
For the big 35th anniversary party at Disneyland in 1990 (back when the Disney Company celebrated birthdays of the theme parks with huge promotions and fanfare), the Disney Company had seen how popular and attention-getting Mickey's "LiMOUSEine" was and wanted something similar to travel around the United States to pump up attendance at Disneyland.
Once again, Disney contacted Ultra Limousine in Brea, California, who had created the "LiMOUSEine" among other such custom-made vehicles.
Ultra created the first "street legal" Disneyland attraction called Mickey's Mouseorail. It was quite literally a vehicle created out of a Disneyland ride attraction that could maneuver through the roads of America.
The Mickey's Mouseorail body consisted of the shell and interior compartment of the Mark III Monorail Red lead car and fused to a stretched Chevy commercial truck chassis.
The Mark III monorail circled Disneyland from July 1969-1988 and was the last of the "bubble top" lead cars where the operator could stand up and see through a clear dome on top of the car to navigate. There were four Mark III monorails—red, blue, gold and green—and had five cars each. They were replaced by the Mark V. (Mark IV were the monorails used at the opening of Walt Disney World.)
The plan was for on-air personalities in each city to be able to do a live mobile remote broadcast from the upper operator bubble compartment of the limo using state-of-the-art equipment.
The Mouseorail was powered by an un-leaded gasoline-driven V-8 engine with an automatic transmission.
It was 40-feet long, 12-feet high, 8-feet wide and weighed 5 tons. The plan was to visit 35 cities in the United States and Canada, including Seattle, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Palm Springs (where Sonny Bono greeted it), and Minneapolis, among others, and arrive back at Anaheim and Disneyland on July 17, 1990.
The Mouseorail was fitted with specially designed electronics, including a 200-watt per channel stereo system, which could be played through any of the 25 hidden speakers.
The electronics included a television monitor and VCR entertainment center, a cellular phone and a FAX machine. The famous Mickey "tail lights" were included along with "ear-view" mirrors and a license plate that said "35Ears"
The interior, which had seating for 16 passengers, was re-upholstered, re-carpeted and had a heating and air-conditioning system to keep those traveling in it, including Mickey Mouse and his friends, comfortable in any sort of weather. Like the "LiMOUSEinse," the interior had a mini-museum carrying several items of Disneyana.
Mickey's Mouseorail debuted at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1990, and then lead the 35th anniversary parade at Disneyland on January 11, 1990 before going on tour.
The plan was that, after the national tour, and being displayed at Tomorrowland as part of the celebration in Disneyland, it would tour automotive shows around the country. After the promotion, it sat in Disneyland's "boneyard" but was rescued to be used in an unbuilt "Tomorrowland Transportation Warehouse Restaurant." That planned food and beverage location became Red Rocketts Pizza Port.
Eventually it was cut-up and painted blue with fluorescent orange grid drafting lines, so it looked like a three-dimensional blueprint. The waiting area for the Rocket Rods attraction was where the Monorail cab was displayed with other attraction vehicles given the same paint treatment like two Rocket Jets, four People Mover cabs and a Space Mountain car. The waiting area was in the old pre-show room of the Circle-Vision 360 theater.
When the Rocket Rods attraction closed, the building with the pre-show was gutted to make room for Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters in 2005 and the vehicle displays were discarded.
When I recently contacted Imagineer Bob Gurr about whether he had any involvement in the vehicle, he responded, "Being that Disney fired me in August 1981, the company had no need for my input on this vehicle. The first knowledge I had of it was the 1990 Rose Parade. I did see the Mouseorail in the Disneyland boneyard just before it was scrapped. It was a mess inside, all poor quality work. I was invited to take a window from it, so I do have a small piece to remember my 1968 MkIII body design."
Mickey's "LiMouseine" and Mouseorail were not the only unique forms of transportation for the Happiest Mouse on Earth.
Ear Force One was created for Walt Disney World's 15th anniversary in 1986 and a new version of it still occasionally appears. It was a gigantic 10-story high hot-air balloon in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head that was inspired by the much smaller helium Mickey Mouse balloons sold in the Disney parks.
Ear Force One measured 96 feet from the bottom of its basket to the top of Mickey's head. Each ear was 35 feet in diameter, his nose snout was 33 feet long, each eye 16.5 feet high and the 54.6 foot diameter head measured 168.3 feet in circumference. Un-inflated and minus the basket, the balloon weighed roughly 330 pounds.
The huge mouse-eared balloon was manufactured by Cameron Balloons Ltd. of Bristol, England, noted for producing many odd-shaped balloons since 1971 (and they just recently completed building and launching an "Inflatable Me" Minion hot-air balloon for the Despicable Me animated film franchise). You can check out some of their creations including the Walt Disney World Castle balloon.
A typical hot air balloon is made up of about 200 pieces of special purpose nylon fabric drawn from six to 20 patterns. Ear Force One was much more complicated, with 500 pieces drawn from 50 patterns. The pilots for that first tour were Robert Carlton and David Justice. Between them, they had over 2,000 hours of flight time. Carlton, who participated in races across the country and trained more than twenty pilots, was a strong advocate for the growth of ballooning. Justice had been in the air since 1978, winning events from New Mexico to South Carolina.
Ear Force One also toured the nation (including visiting Disneyland) in 1988 to celebrate Mickey's 60th birthday that year.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, a newer version of Ear Force One (that had been decommissioned many years earlier) was created by Cameron Balloons and was dubbed "The Happiest Balloon on Earth." Once again, it was designed to resemble a huge, smiling Mickey Mouse head. It was built in February 2006 and delivered in March. It was unique because Mickey sported a Golden Ears souvenir cap like the one guests could purchase at Disneyland.
The balloon was approximately 113,000 cubic feet in volume.
"If we turned Mickey up-side-down, it would take about 113,000 basketballs to fill him up," said Disney publicity. The "Ears" were about 8,000 cubic feet each.
"The Happiest Balloon on Earth" stands 98-feet tall and spans 53 feet from ear-to-ear. Mickey's pupils are 6 feet across, his nose is 5.5 feet wide, and it took over nine miles of thread to sew together this special shape.
"It is indeed one of the most unique and specialized hot air balloons we have ever piloted," said Scott Spencer, who along with his wife Laurie (the first ever female pilot of a Disney hot-air balloon), served as the balloon's pilots for the eleven week tour. "When the balloon comes in for a landing it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘ears to the ground!'"
Here are some "fun facts" about the balloon that is still in use today.
- Height: 98 feet from ground to top of ears
- Weight: Estimate 410 lbs.
- Circumference: 168 feet
- Diameter: 53 feet
- Volume: 90,000 cubic feet (body) – 113,000 total
- Lift capacity: 1800 lb. max gross lift
- Thread Used: Approximately 9 miles of thread!
- Fabric for Mouse Ears: Approximately 750 sq. yards
- Total fabric: Approximately 4,744 sq. yards
- Gold fabric for mouse ears: approximately 750 square yards
Since Mickey's nose is 5.5 feet in diameter, an average child could easily stand up inside it. 2,000 averaged-sized children could easily fit inside the inflated balloon. If Mickey's body were added to the balloon he would stand more than 200 feet tall!
"The Happiest Balloon on Earth" can fit into a bag which is 1,400 times smaller than the fully inflated balloon. During the tour, the system was moved in a Ford F-250 and trailer from location to location. It was the first hot air balloon to ever rise over the Grand Canyon. Even more impressively, it flew below the rim of the Grand Canyon on April 11, 2006, a much trickier maneuver due to air currents.
It was built for a 14-stop tour, including cities like San Francisco to showcase the balloon against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.
After the last stop on the tour, July 17, 2006 at Disneyland the balloon was returned to Cameron Balloons for removal of the souvenir Gold Cap, a project that was called "Back to Black."
It now resides in a warehouse in Boise, Idaho, along with the gold ears and is kept "ready for flight" condition because as one of the most popular designs of such balloons, many invitation requests come in from local festivals and balloon rallies. It participated daily in Leon, Guanajuato (Mexico) from November 16-19, 2012 for the 11th annual International Balloon Festival, in Metropolitan Ecological Park.
In 1987, Donald Duck had a hot-air balloon created of his likeness dubbed the Zip-A-Dee-Doo Duck. Weighing 446 pounds and created by Cameron Balloons, Zip-A-Dee-Doo Duck weighed 50 percent more than the Ear Force One. Donald's bill was 21-feet long and 54-feet wide. To kick off the New Year in 1988, the Zip-A-Dee-Doo Duck joined Ear Force One on New Year's Day bringing two big Disney stars to the Magic Kingdom Park sky.
In 1991 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney World, Cameron Balloons created the "Castle in the Sky" balloon that featured the WDW castle floating on a huge puffy cloud that had the logo "Walt Disney World 20 Years."
Made to promote the Disney/Pixar movie UP, Cameron Balloons produced a replica of the balloon house from in the movie. It was really 541 balloons consisting of one 84,000 cubic foot hot air balloon and 540 tiny inflated appendages to resemble a cluster of toy helium balloons.
To complete the effect, the surface of the balloon was injet printed, and an inflated 3-D façade of the movie's house was created to form the basket. Of course, we all know that these various forms of transportation were merely temporary fancies.
Mickey really gets around in his big, puffy, red convertible that is parked outside his house in Toontown at Disneyland, and used to be at Walt Disney World Resort's Mickey's Toontown Fair, as well as a delightful photo opportunity.
In fact, Mickey even had a garage for his favorite car.
By the way, Walt preferred driving convertibles as well.