Forgotten Disneyland Heroes

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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“I want you to meet these boys with their suits on, because you’ll never see that again,” said Admiral Joe Fowler as he introduced Walt Disney to Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan in 1953.

Bacon and Morgan are names that are well known and respected in the amusement park industry. Unfortunately, even though they were major contributors to the innovations in ride technology and design at Disneyland, they are little known or forgotten by Disney fans and the Disney Company.

In 1946, Arrow Development was started in Mountain View, Calif., by four men who previously worked together at a Navy plant called Hendy Iron Works. Arrow Development was started by Bill Hardiman, Angus Anderson, Bacon, and Morgan. The company was involved with several projects including crop dusting equipment and supplying rides for amusement parks. By 1954, they had been given the contract to build six rides for Walt Disney’s Disneyland theme park.

The following is from a 1955 article by Keith Kaldenbach in the San Jose News titled “Mountain View Firm Aids Disney”:

“Workers at Arrow Development Company are working feverishly on six of the feature rides for the Fantasyland section of Disneyland.

“‘Casey Jr.’—two 65-foot miniature trains identical to those seen by millions in Disney’s award-winning cartoon, Dumbo. The two odd little engines each will pull six circus-type coaches over a 1,200-foot track, all being built by Arrow. ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’—a ride which will take the children through a darkened building in which the various scenes of the cartoon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are depicted. The specially designed cars will glide silently along in order that the riders can hear the sound track from the movie.

“‘Mr. Toad’s Hotrod’—this will consist of two half-scale replicas of 1903 model automobiles, similar to the one seen recently in Disney’s television production of the cartoon The Wind and the Willows. The hotrod, for which Mr. Toad traded his family home, Toad Manor, in the cartoon is electrically powered and will run on tracks to give the riders the impression they are driven. “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’—the ride will be made up of large cups and saucers which will spin as the children sit inside and view scenes of the Hatter’s party with Mr. Dormouse.

“’King Arthur’s Carousel’—a 50-foot diameter merry-go-round, which will have 72 horses for the young ‘knights’ to ride. ‘Dumbo the Flying Elephant’—this ride will be similar to the familiar airplane ride found in most amusement parks. But, replacing the airplanes will be replicas of Dumbo, complete with large flapping ears.

“At conferences held at Disney’s Studios in Burbank, Ed Morgan and his associates were told the important thing to remember was that the rides must be constructed so that they would look exactly like the originals in the various cartoons. Recently, Disney and some of his movie cameramen visited the Arrow plant to inspect the progress being made.”

Anderson and Hardman later sold their interests in the company and most people associate Arrow Development with just Morgan and Bacon.

Arrow created the tubular steel tracks on Disney's Matterhorn roller coaster in 1959, revolutionizing roller coaster technology forever.

In May 1960, Walt Disney bought one-third of Arrow Development, which he held for several years. Arrow developed the vehicles and tracks for "it's a small world," Pirates of the Caribbean, Adventures Through Inner Space, and the Haunted Mansion.

As an independent company, Arrow also supplied innovative rides for Knott’s Berry Farm (including the first log flume ride), Busch Gardens and Pacific Ocean Park among other amusement venues. Arrow was also involved in building attractions for Walt Disney World.

When it opened in 1971, Dick Nunis told Arrow, “I have to admit that we could not have done this without you. But it’s over now. We built this big facility and we’re going to do everything ourselves.”

That “big facility” was Central Shops behind the Magic Kingdom. Dana Morgan, who is the son of Ed and currently has a business building rides for amusement parks, recalled, “They made it very clear that it was a new era—that they now had all this in-house capablity built up, and they would now do everything themselves.”

Of course, Disney’s policy has changed over the years and many projects are outsourced to other companies, including those run by Imagineers who were laid off from the company. However, by that time, it was too late to utilize the expertise of Bacon and Morgan.

Bacon and Morgan sold their interests in Arrow in 1973, but remained as consultants for a few years. (All of the projects that Morgan submitted including the concept for a giant swing ride were rejected and often developed later by other companies.)

Over the decades, Bacon and Morgan created entirely new categories of rides including the flume ride, spinning teacups, flying saucers, corkscrew roller coasters, and many more. Bacon and Morgan were inducted into the "Hall of Fame and Living Legends" by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in 1998.

These incredible engineering feats produced by Arrow were accomplished without the aid of computers. Bacon had no formal engineering education but was entirely self-taught.

Here is a listing of the Disney ride systems that were designed and/or built by Arrow Development, primarily under the direction of Bacon and  Morgan. The dates are the official date the attraction opened at Disneyland, even though some had earlier “soft openings” that were used to make adjustments. In the case of “it’s a small world,” it actually opened at the 1964 New York World’s Fair but was later installed at Disneyland.

July 17, 1955: Mad Tea Party, Snow White’s Adventures, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and King Arthur Carousel
July 31, 1955: Casey Jr. Circus Train
August 16, 1955: Dumbo Flying Elephants
April 23, 1957: Midget Autopia
June 14, 1958: Alice In Wonderland
June 14, 1959: Matterhorn Bobsleds
August 6, 1961: Flying Saucers
1963: Mark VI redesign of Autopia cars
May 28, 1966: It’s A Small World
March 18, 1967: Pirates of the Caribbean
August 5, 1967: Adventures Through Inner Space
August 9, 1969: Haunted Mansion

Arrow also built many of these same attractions like Pirates at Walt Disney World in Florida, as well as redesigning the Peter Pan’s Flight attraction and the Skyway (Von Roll, a Swiss Company provided the towers and cableway but Arrow built everything else including designing the bucket) and the coaches for the parking lot trams.

Arrow came up, as early as 1966, with a possible design for Space Mountain that would utilize four tracks and a track layout that would penetrate the building and then continue outside the mountain for a portion of the ride, but Imagineering later decided to handle the project themselves and tossed aside the Arrow design.

With Disneyland’s 50th celebration in 2005, both Bacon (who had suffered a stroke the previous year that had paralyzed his right side and slurred his speech somewhat and blurred his vision) and Morgan were still eager to talk about their work on Disneyland from the Mountain View rest home where Bacon was living, even though they hadn’t been invited to the Southern California celebration nor had their achievements on helping build the original Disneyland been personally acknowledged.

Bacon died on November 14, 2008 at the age of 98. Morgan, who is currently 93 years old, is still alive and full of stories.

Here are some excerpts from that brief 2005 interview:

Arrow had a contract with the city of Oakland [California] to put rides in a park at Lake Merritt so they constructed a small-scale paddlewheel boat ride named Lil’ Belle. Unfortunately, a big crop-dusting customer had recently gone bankrupt and put Arrow in financial jeopardy. Morgan had read in a newspaper about Disneyland but it was all very sketchy so he took a chance and wrote to the Disney Studio about the “Lil’ Belle” and Walt and his crew came up to take a look.

Disney wasn’t interested in the boat, especially since he had larger plans with the Mark Twain in mind, but he did notice some of the little vehicles that Arrow was building for other amusement parks and liked what he saw. Ed Morgan was just given an original sketch by Imagineer Bruce Bushman of the Mr. Toad car and using aircraft sheet metal shears eventually slapped together a prototype that Disney loved. It was the beginning of the relationship between Disney and Arrow.

Actually, it is important to realize that all of the attractions (except the carousel) that Arrow worked on for the opening of Disneyland were systems that had never before been attempted which of course was the reason for so many re-adjustments in the early years.

Karl Bacon said in 2005, “I’m thinking of all the problems we had with all those rides. Especially the Mad Tea Party. That was my favorite. I still think of the problems in my head and try to fix them.”

Imagineer and nice guy Bob Gurr, who assured me last year that a book about his life and accomplishments will be forthcoming, remembered: “During these redesign sessions I got a chance to work with Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan of Arrow Development. They built a lot of the Disney ride machines over the years. They were never upset that Roger Broggie had me redesigning their products like the Tea Cup Ride. We were both interested in getting it right for Walt. And I learned so much from their designers and fabricators as to their very clever ways to design and build neat stuff.”

On Dumbo—Ed Morgan: “Disney’s people made the actual elephants and they were a lot heavier than the specifications they had given us to begin with. But we were able to pull it off. We were in charge of making the elephants go up and down and making sure their ears flapped. But it started to become erratic, so the elephants would hesitate, then come on strong, then hesitate again.”

Karl Bacon: “Dumbo didn’t work right. They were flying but not satisfactorily. The hydraulic system was spewing out this foam. The nitrogen was mixing with the oil and creating this ‘shaving cream’ that was throwing the whole thing out of stability.”

Ed Morgan:”So we left Paul Harvey there on opening day when they were operating the ride to drain the fluid and put new fluid back in between time of load and unload. We rushed to military surplus stores to buy hydraulic pumps all day until 10 at night.”

On Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—Ed Morgan: “One of the reasons we got the contract was because our vehicles ran on rubber tires; a Bay Area contractor who had cornered the market on similar rides ran theirs on iron wheels so they were extremely noisy.”

On the Mad Tea Party—Ed Morgan: “We’d never done anything like it before. The Disney folks simply provided a drawing and we did the rest.”

Karl Bacon: “I loved to see how fast that thing would go around. It was my favorite”

(Dana Morgan, Ed’s son, was used as the test subject for the prototype. “They had only one tea cup on it. I rode it a lot then. I think I was almost certainly the first kid to ride it. I was the guinea pig, used to see if a kid was strong enough to turn it, and could stand it without throwing up after riding it. All of those early Disneyland rides were done on very, very tight schedules, and very, very tight budgets.”)

On Casey Jr. Circus Train—Karl Bacon: “Movie star Jerry Colona was supposed to drive the locomotive as an opening day stunt but when he saw a steep hill the ride had to climb he chickened out. So wardrobe got me into Colonna’s clothes and everything went smoothly.”

On King Arthur Carousel—Ed Morgan: “It was actually from Sunnyside Park in Toronto, Canada. I supervised the dismantling piece by piece. We rebuilt much of the ride, using sturdier materials. We had to replace some of the wild animals on the ride so that they were all horses to fit with the the King Arthur theme. It was originally a three row, 72 animal menagerie Dentzel from 1922. Two other carousels gave up their horses so that the Dentzel became a four row, 85 horse machine.”

On Snow White’s Adventures— Ed Morgan: “Disney had used regular door hinges and the air cylinders that were supposed to open them were so powerful they blew them right off and they fell onto the tracks. The operators would stand on the rear bumpers as the car came into the station, jerking the front ends off the track and blowing the fuses. Some of those guys weighed a 175 pounds and they’d lift the guide unit off the track and that would blow the fuses.”

Bacon and Morgan remained best friends, laughing and sharing stories until Bacon’s death.

Ed Morgan recalled, “We generated ideas and projects together, often over lunch in the conference room. I was the guy that made them happen from the mechanical standpoint. Karl was the guy who did the math. We complemented each other completely and without stirfe of any kind. I remember seeing children on the rides and seeing their smiles. But our main drive was to take challenges and find answers to them. That’s what made our eyes light up.

“When Disneyland was being built, Walt would sometimes come to the shop and we used to go to lunch with him. Walt never brought any money with him. He’d look at Vic Greene or Bruce Bushman and ask if they had any money. He knew they did.”

Not that Walt was stingy. When Disneyland opened, Walt asked Bacon and Morgan how they came out on all the rides. Morgan explained that since it had been a fixed bid of the rides, they had lost money on evey one they did for Disneyland. Walt told them, “I don’t want you boys to lose money on my work. I’ll cover your costs.”

There is so much more to write about Bacon and Morgan. It could fill a book, and in fact, it did fill a currently out of print book titled Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers by Robert Reynolds (Northern Lights Publishing 1999). This 187-page hardcover is a little expensive on the used book market (orignal price was $20) but Reynolds did an excellent job and I am extremely thankful he took the time to interview and publish these memories.

If you are debating getting a copy, remember that even though it is filled with lots of great stories told by Bacon and Morgan themselves, they often lapse into technical jargon that is a little difficult or confusing to navigate and that the book is more of a “Cliffs Notes” version of their accomplishments with missing pieces. On the plus side, most of the book is devoted to their Disney projects, although even then there are a lot of gaps.

Bacon and Morgan were not only talented craftsmen but genuinely nice guys. Their legacy lives on not only in their work that still produces smiles and wonder from amusement park guests but also in all those that they inspired to even greater accomplishments.

Unfortunately, as outside contractors, their legacy and acknowledgement of their accomplishments does not live on at the Disney Company who utilized their skills for 20 years to make the magic so don’t expect to see their names on a window on Main Street, them being made Disney Legends ,or even a tribute at the newly re-opened Opera House.

They are the forgotten heroes of Walt’s Disneyland and they found their joy not in fame and fortune but in the challenges of entertaining millions of people.