On Track

by George McGinnis, contributing writer

Note from Mark: I'm pleased to turn the World View column over to Imagineer George McGinnis for the next couple of columns. George has a couple of great tales to tell about the design of the Mark V and Mark VI monorails, currently running at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, respectively. I'm not taking the time off, though. I'm currently trying to finish up the first couple of installments of a new series, “History of the World,” taking Walt Disney World history from the opening of Disneyland through the current day. Look for the first installment in a couple of weeks.

During my first six months at WED (Walter Elias Disney) Enterprises (from June to December 1966), I did sketches and renderings of transportation concepts for Walt Disney's EPCOT presentation. Walt asked me to do a design for a larger PeopleMover (then named WEDway). I also sketched a “wide body” monorail, a concept for the main transportation line through the property.

Some of these were used in what is sometimes called “Walt's Last Film” or “The EPCOT Film,” which showed the original plan for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT).

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was coming out of the ground at this time. The new icon at the Magic Kingdom would not be the castle, but Walt's revolutionary concept of the monorail passing through the Contemporary Hotel. My illustration of Bob Gurr's Mark IV monorail exiting the hotel was the beginning of my relationship with the Disney monorails. The painting was used extensively for initial advertising of Walt Disney World.

Over the next five years my projects were varied—from the WDW PeopleMover to the 20,000 Leagues submarine to the Disneyland parking lot trams. Bob Gurr was next door working out the details for the Mark IV in conjunction with engineer Dave Gengenbach, another name on the Main Street window for The Big Wheel Company.

The first few months after my hire, my office was in the main WED building with other show designers. I was then moved to the MAPO (Mary Poppins) building that housed the engineers. So my first five years working beside engineers were extremely valuable to my later career. Dick Irvine, Executive Vice President of WED, told me when he sent me to engineering that I would be back to Show Design.

I had just begun concept work in 1971 on the first Space Mountain, working with John Hench and engineer Bill Watkins—also a member of The Big Wheel Company—when I was returned to Show Design. I spent the next decade-plus on many wonderful projects, including the Space Mountains and Epcot's Horizons Pavilion. Many more vehicles were in my future when Bob Gurr decided to retire and start his own design firm.

Getting started on monorail design

Bob left WDI in 1981. The first monorail work I was involved in was on the last two Mark IV's interiors, built in the early '80s. The Disneyland monorail came up for redesign in 1985. I was at a lunch meeting when the Mark V was discussed. I asked to see the proposal and the next day, Marty Sklar asked me if I would like to do the design. It was a great day!

I guess working next door to Bob those five years in the WED Engineering department was now going to pay off. I took the Mark V from concept to production, making many trips to Munich, and working with Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm (MBB) engineers (Bob's way was to be both designer and engineer. I was concerned only with design). Finishing that project, I went right on to the Mark VI for WDW with the folks at Bombardier. Those 12 monorails were built in La Pocatiere, Canada, a long drive from Montreal along the Saint Lawrence River.

The Mark III monorail in Tomorrowland. Photo by George McGinnis.
The Mark III monorail, with its distinctive bubble-top, leaves the Tomorrowland station during its last days of operation. Photo by George McGinnis.

There was a similar design issue on both projects. By contract, both MBB and Bombardier had design concepts to present. To me, they lacked the Disney look, so I sketched comparisons for our management. Their decision was that we should not lose the aerodynamic look Bob gave the monorail; hence, the Mark IV signature nose on the next two monorails.

The Mark V's exterior cross-section is based on the Mark III. Its centerline profile is based on the Mark IV. This gave it the rounded side and the lowered nose. Since I was given one week to produce the new design, these relationships speeded the process.

Designing the Mark V

MBB, the German vendor selected to design and build new bodies on rebuilt Mark III chassis, presented a design by Newmeister Design of Munich. It had a rather blunt front end, much like Newmeister's early Maglev designs and with a multi-piece windshield. (Hitachi of Japan, also a bidder, chose to imitate the Mark IV, which was an option in the bid package. But the trains' proportions were less acceptable due to the use of their larger Alweg-type bogey.)

Another feature of the Newmeister design was its dimensions—they were close to a full-size train. The roof had been raised to the height of the dome on the lead car of the Mark III. In that the Monorail traversed so much of Tomorrowland, I suggested we keep the miniature scale of the Mark III with its 5-foot-3-inch doorways. After viewing comparison sketches, the WDI Steering Committee chose the scale of the Mark III and the more aerodynamic features of the Mark IV as the basis for the Mark V.

I provided MBB with a surface development, the drawing that defines the form and assures the Monorail's smooth highlights. Horst Stockermann, MBB's Project Manager for the Monorail, said to me at the beginning of the construction phase, “Disney had made the right choice on the design.” As the trains were being built, the only question I heard regarding the design's aesthetics was, “Why would you trim a train in the color purple?” This, no doubt, from a person accustomed to conventional railroad color schemes.

Early in MBB's design process, Designworks/USA produced an interior concept for a nearly full-size train. We then adjusted the design to fit the smaller train.

A new feature of the Mark V and Mark VI monorails was mechanically actuated doors. The Mark V was to have a “plug” door, similar to a van door. I demonstrated the design with a working wooden mockup at WDI. The belt line “bump” that I had retained from the Mark III provided space for a simple mechanism. Dieter Spiller, MBB engineer, thanked me for that one. Without the “bump” it would have required a more complicated design. From an esthetic viewpoint, the “bump” adds a pleasant detail as it blends into the nose.

Trans-Atlantic partnership

The Mark V monorail, photo by George McGinnis.
The Mark V monorail crosses the Disneyland parking lot. Photo by George McGinnis.

A wonderful thing about working with foreign vendors is of course the opportunity to enjoy the country and its culture. When my family had an opportunity to join me, MBB was most hospitable. Dieter Spiller gave us a tour of the area around Stuttgart including the Ulm Cathedral, and Horst Stockerman hosted our group at several fine restaurants.

Horst's wife took my wife and children to Baden Baden to a wonderful indoor/outdoor swimming pool with a wave machine. On another trip she took my wife to a Carl Spitzwig (“The Bookworm”) art exhibit as well. This trip gave my young children (ages 8 and 10) a wanderlust that continues today, although at the time the highlight of the trip was the elevators at the Sheraton.

The MBB engineers had a respect for Industrial Designers that impressed me. I attribute this to a requirement for art, or ay least an appreciation of art in their training. During the project I traveled with our WDI Monorail Project Engineer, Eduard Feuer, who also trained in Germany—so we had a good rapport.

The Mark V was built with the new composite materials MBB had experience with in helicopter construction—smooth sides without the rivets that the old Mark IV had. The lighter train would give the monorail beamway a longer life.


I recalled some negative camber in the beamway near the Disneyland Hotel that made for a rough ride, so I wasn't surprised when I heard the engineers talking about shock absorbers. But in the German language, they were “gummypoofers.” We had trouble controlling our laughter at the sound of this as they chatted. The “gummypoofers” smoothed out the beamway problems considerably when tested.

The trains were delivered and the only thing we had to fix, relevant to my design, was the paint scheme. Somehow they were painted the same as the Mark IV. John Hench had revised the scheme (including one train that was trimmed in purple) to give more color at the nose, and I had provided a scale model painted thus. So, I taped out the correct shape on one of the trains and they were all corrected at Disneyland.

Mark V still looks so smooth and graceful as it moves through Disneyland. It has served well even though it is showing some wear and tear in its 16th year of service. I understand it will continue service for a few more years with the aid of much TLC. (On the WDW Mark VI Monorail, height was limited for a different reason—the hurricane doors at the Contemporary Hotel through which the Monorail traversed.)

Next time

Walt Disney World's Mark VI monorail.