Once upon a time in Disneyland's Frontierland, guests could ride aboard a Stagecoach along the shores of the Rivers of America and thru the Living Desert. The Stagecoach attraction opened in 1955 and continued operation through 1959.
Below, Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, seem to be enjoying their trip aboard the "Arizona" coach.
Here, Walt Disney poses very proudly with the "California" coach. (Incidentally, there was a third state-named coach designated as the "Colorado.")
These next photos were taken at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where the Stagecoaches were constructed. This first one is from LIFE Magazine.
This one is from December of 1954 and is used courtesy of the Orange County Archives. According to the Archives, the gentlemen seen here are Orange County officials that were invited to the studios to hear Walt discuss his plans for Disneyland.
(Note the name "Arizona" on the side of the coach, as well as the corresponding painting of a butte or mesa on the door.)
And this next photo is used with permission from blogger "Matterhorn", author of "Stuff From The Park". Thank you!
(Note here, the "California" name, and the painting of the Santa Barbara Mission on the door.)
During a childhood visit to Disneyland in 1976, I took this pic of a stagecoach that was parked just to the left of the Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland attraction. This is pretty much the same location where the Stagecoaches used to load and unload when they were in operation.
Here's an obscurred view of a coach sitting in the same spot. (Again, thanks to "Matterhorn" from Stuff From The Park.) This shot was taken from the Mark Twain as it was about to arrive at the dock (out of view and to our right).
I didn't know it at the time I took my photo, but those buildings were remnants from the loading area of the former Pack Mule attraction. And the stagecoach was an authentic ride vehicle from an old attraction that I didn't even know existed. I wouldn't learn about the Stagecoach attraction until around 1980, when Disneyland was celebrating it's 25th anniversary. That year, one of the Stagecoaches was brought out of retirement and used in the Family Reunion Parade. It can be seen in the parade video below, at the 0:50 second mark:
Fifteen years later, one of the Stagecoaches was brought out again during the park's 40th anniversary and was on display at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles as part of a special exhibit titled "Disney's Wild West."
In 2003, Big Thunder was shut down following the derailment of one of it's cars, causing the death of one rider and injuries to ten others. A construction wall immediately went up around the attraction while the incident was investigated and remained in place while maintenance procedures (that had previously been neglected) were performed. During this time, one of the Stagecoach vehicles was parked in front of the wall.
Two years later, during the park's 50th anniversary, the Stagecoach appeared again, this time behind Big Thunder near the entrance to Big Thunder Ranch. A Disneyland "50th" logo was positioned above the coach as part of the fifty "Hidden 50's/Mickeys" that were placed throughout the park. The Stagecoach did not remain on display for the duration of the 50th anniversary however, and it's hidden 50/Mickey was moved to another location in the park.
(One final side note with these coaches: Notice how in the photo below and also in the two previous photos, the vehicle is labeled as the "California" coach, but instead of the Santa Barbara Mission, the painting on the door is the butte or mesa artwork from the "Arizona" coach. It appears that the person who did the restoration on this coach, did not do their homework!)
This next photo appears in Randy Bright's 1987 book, "Disneyland - The Inside Story". It is explained in the book that "occasional mishaps along the stagecoach route" caused the eventual closing of the attraction in 1959. I had heard that reason before as to why the Stagecoaches went away, but I had never seen a photo of that particular style of coach before. I did wonder why it looked different from the other coaches I'd seen. Had one of the coaches been altered at some point?
Flash forward to today, 2015. I went to the park on July 17th for the 60th anniversary and discovered that some special "photo-ops" had been set up just for that day. One of them was this stagecoach vehicle that was parked along the Big Thunder Trail. There it was! The odd looking stagecoach from Randy Bright's book!
A sign was posted next to it, labeling it as the "Mud Wagon" Stagecoach. According to the sign, the Mud Wagons were added in 1956 to the existing Disneyland Stage Line (which already included the California, the Arizona and the Colorado). There were three Mud Wagons added altogether and they were simply labeled as coaches "4", "5" and "6".
The sign also explains that, "The coach you see here is referred to historically as a "Mud Wagon" as it's frontier ancestors were well suited for traversing rough and murky mountain roads." That's funny, I would have guessed that the name came from the fact that having the lower and wider windows on the sides of the coach, led to passengers being splashed with more mud than they would have in the coaches with the smaller and higher windows.
Seeing this coach in person gave me the answer to something I had been wondering about, ever since I had read "Disneyland - The Inside Story" back in 1987.
So I came home from the park that day, logged onto "Gorillas Don't Blog" and conducted a search through all of Major Pepperidge's posts that included the word "stagecoach" hoping to find pics of this vehicle in use. Low and behold, I came across the following three photos. They are used here with permission....thanks again, Major!
In this shot, the Mud Wagon is pulling into the loading/unloading area. Note the Pack Mules in the background and also the train tunnel for the Rainbow Ridge Mine Train.
And here we get to see the Mud Wagon traversing actual mud!
Last up for today, we have one more from blogger, "Matterhorn", showing the Mud Wagon out along the furthest border of the Living Desert. Note the paint pots in the foreground. And just above and to the right of the driver, we can see the top of a train tunnel on the hillside. This shows just how close the Stagecoaches came to the tracks of the Disneyland Railroad. It has been said that the "occasional mishaps" along the stage route were due to the horses getting spooked by the train whistles. I wonder why they couldn't have just told the train engineers not to blow the whistle when going past this spot?
I'm just glad that when the Stagecoach attraction was discontinued, someone (probably Walt) felt the need to save a couple of the coaches, and that they have continued to be saved and restored. Too bad the Mark III Monorail/Mouseorail didn't have a similar happy ending. :-(
I hope everyone enjoyed this post. There will be two more posts in this series, which will include stagecoaches from two other theme parks. Stay tuned!