Thursday, October 22, 2015

Theme Park Stagecoaches: Part 1 - Disneyland

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.

This professional pic is from a panoramic postcard that was sold in the park.

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!


K. Martinez said...

This is great! I've seen the "Mud Wagon" stagecoach before but never thought of it in as much depth and detail as you've shown here. Looks like Frontierland had as many road/trail transportation vehicles as Main Street did. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series. Thanks!

Snow White Archive said...

What a wealth of photos! Great stagecoach post TM!!!

TokyoMagic! said...

Ken, you are right! I didn't even mention the Yellowstone Coaches or the Conestoga Wagons! I wonder how many of each of those vehicles there were? I know I've seen pics of at least two Conestoga with "Westward Ho!" written on the side and another one with "Oregon or Bust!" painted on it.

Thanks, SWA!!!

Major Pepperidge said...

Sorry I'm late to the party! Great post, and I love the wealth of photos. I wish we could dig up pictures of ALL of the coaches - it seems strange to me that we've never seen a picture of #5, and I don't recall seeing a photo of the "Colorado". Something to look for! I would also really love to know how the "California" wound up without the Santa Barbara mission, but with the "Arizona" buttes. Only a commie would make that mistake!

Like you, I am happy (and a little amazed) that they managed to hold on to 2 of the original coaches. Is it possible that the #6 was reaquired?

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I never thought of that. It could be very possible that the #6 Mud Wagon was reacquired. What are the chances of them having it in storage all these years and just now bringing it out? Although with them, I guess ANYTHING is possible.

I only came across two pics of the "Colorado" coach during my research, but in one of the pics, someone was blocking the artwork on the door and in the other pic, the door was open and facing away from us. Perhaps the "Colorado" didn't get used as much as the other coaches?

I would also like to know how that mistake with the artwork was made, but even more than that, I would like to know WHEN it was made! I wish we could see which artwork was on the side of the coach in the seventies when it was parked in front of the old Pack Mule loading area. If the coach was put out there right after the Pack Mules closed in '73, then only 14 years would have passed since the Stagecoaches closed and perhaps there wasn't any restoration done at that time. My guess is that there was some kind of restoration done prior to it being used in the 25th Birthday Parade in 1980. The "switch" might have been made at that time and it may have simply been because whoever was painting it was working off of old photos and not paying close attention to the names on the coaches.

Major Pepperidge said...

I do think it's a bit strange that we have seen the "California" stagecoach on display a number of times over the last few decades, but this is the first time that the #6 has appeared (as far as I know). I saw photos of the Disney Archives exhibit from the last D23 expo, and there were several items that had been purchased in the recent Van Eaton Galleries auction.

TokyoMagic! said...

Wow Major, I had no idea that Disney had actually had to "buy back" some of the items that were on display at that last D23 expo. They should be ashamed of themselves for ever parting with them in the first place. And yes, Disneyland should be a museum! I wonder if they will be buying back the recently restored yellow PeopleMover cars that have been making the rounds lately. Last I saw them, they were at the L.A. County Fair in Pomona (in September) and there was a sign saying that they were going to be auctioned off through the Van Eaton Galleries.

Chuck said...

Great post, TokyoMagic! Thanks so much for the amount of research you put into it. I've never seen so much information on the stagecoaches in one place before, and I had no idea that a couple had lived on and been periodically on display (although I know I have to have seen the one on display next to NWRR).

The photo of Walt & Lilly really shows just how much smaller than a full-sized stagecoach these vehicles were.
Thanks again!

TokyoMagic! said...

Thank you, Chuck! I never gave the scale much thought, but you are right. With the adults sitting in them, the coaches definitely appear to be smaller than the real deal. I took a picture of a real vintage stagecoach at the Autry Museum. I will have to get that out and compare...although with nobody sitting inside the vehicle, it might be difficult to tell.


I know that Disneyland had in storage up until the late 1990's / early 2000's MOST of all the original horse drawn vehicles that were made for the park's opening. This included several of the stagecoaches, all the Main Street Surreys (technically those were NOT surreys at all but "Wagonettes". There were REAL surreys -Fringe top version and auto-top versions, buck boards and Livery buggies and the Main Street Brewery Wagon and a miniature version of a Victoria. For many years these have been used in parades and as photo-op display pieces. Many of these have been put outside near Big Thunder Ranch and have been rotting --some pretty bad.

I know Disneyland still has TWO of the original Concord Coaches --the third one was sent to the Disney Studios in the 1960's for use as a stage prop (not as a functioning vehicle however) in fact it was used in the "California Gold Museum Robbery scene in the film RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN in 1978 -it is repainted as " California Overland Stage Line".

Two of Disneyland's three Yellowstone Stagecoaches were sent to Walt Disney World in the early 1970's for use around Fort Wilderness Resort taking guests to Pioneer Hall from various "wagon stops" around the campground. Eventually as crowds increased the coaches were replaced by rubber wheeled metal farm wagons pulled by tractors. For many years one of the coaches was on display near Pioneer Hall. This was all several decades ago.

Incidentally the Mudwagon Coach that was on display for the park's 60th was the actual one that had the accident with the guests. In fact when it was in storage before being restored, the front axles were still disconnected from the chassis. I'm not actually sure it was restored with it's correct number. Also, while there was a basic effort to restore the coach, it wasn't very accurate -the bright stainless steel carriage bolts and hardware as well as the polished leather or Naugahyde(??) top (these coaches used a coated canvas or sometimes oilcloth tops, driver's seat boot and shades, while flat leather s trappings would have been used for the "trunk rack" and suspension thorough braces.

When Walt had all these vehicles first made in the 50's they were highly accurate and authentic examples of "The carriage Trade" even though scaled down.

By-the-way, in my collection I have the original artwork used for the California Coach "Santa Barbara Mission" door panel. It features the pencil and color rough as well as the final painting used as a guide for the paint shop to replicate the image onto the actual stagecoach.


TokyoMagic! said...

Mike Cozart, AMAZING! Thank you for all that additional info! I have seen a "Surrey" parked in the B.T. Ranch area, but I didn't know about the other vehicles having a life beyond being DL attractions. It's too bad that they just leave them out as props (like the Mine Train thru Natures Wonderland engine) to rot in the sun and rain. They really should have been placed in a barn or some kind of structure to protect them and also to educate people about the various vehicles....especially if they were "highly accurate examples" of historic carriages. Oh well, that's Disney for you. And no wonder they weren't able to recreate the image of the Santa Barbara Mission on the door of the "California" had the artwork! ;-) That's also interesting info about the Mud Wagon that had the accident. If it's the same one in the black and white pic from Randy Bright's book, then you are right, they did not keep the same number on it. Who is it that decides to change numbers and artwork on these vehicles when restoring them? Very strange! Anyway, thanks again for commenting and for sharing your knowledge of the park with us. It is always appreciated!

Chuck said...

The discussion above lists 3 Concord coaches and 3 Yellowstone coaches, but not the number of mud wagons. Does anyone know - did Disneyland just have the one?

It's interesting to read about the inaccurate restoration of the coaches as it mirrors a similar problem in the historic aircraft community, particularly those that aren't cared for under the supervision of professionally-guided museum restoration teams. For example, at my local Air Force base there are several airplanes on display in an aircraft park just outside the main gate. Most of them were flown to the base and placed on display in their final paint schemes, but two were "restored" into an approximation of their 1970's liveries by a group of volunteers from the base.

And that's the problem - the paint schemes are an approximation rather than an historically accurate recreation. Lettering, markings, color location and even the color ranges from not quite right to not right at all. It turns what should be a monument, memorial, and historic display into an "artist's impression" of an historic aircraft, and that's bad history. And while not common on Air Force-owned aircraft displays, it's not an isolated example throughout the static display community.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful that volunteers are making the effort to preserve our aviation heritage. Even an inaccurate paint job ensures that the airframes are at least protected from the weather, and they look a lot better than they would were they left faded and covered in bird excrement. I understand they are working with limited budgets, sometimes with limited experience or historical knowledge, and are trying to do the best that they can with what they've got (the team that did the restoration I mentioned above had to use acrylic house paint due to cost and the fact that, unlike active aircraft, the paint has to last many years until the next repaint). But like the Disneyland examples, it still bothers me that a little extra effort wasn't made to get it exactly right.

Still, I'm grateful that these things are preserved at all, particularly when they don't bring in any obvious revenue. I hope that Disneyland management continues to maintain their heritage for the geneations yet to come.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I am grateful too! I guess I would rather have them with the inaccuracies than not have them at all. As for the Mud Wagons, there were three of them and they were just given numbers rather than names (#4, #5 & #6). The numbers can be seen painted on the side underneath where the driver would have sat.

Unknown said...

I have a picture of my grandfather Jim O'neil driving a Disney coach how can I post it?

TokyoMagic! said...

Susie, that is so neat that your grandfather drove one of the DL stagecoaches and that you have a photo of him doing it! Do you have any stories that he told about driving them or working for Disney? If you would like me to post the photo (along with any additional stories or info that you would like to add), you can send the photo to me at:

Otherwise, you could try to post it on your Google account page. If you do that, please let us know here in the comments so that people can click on your name and go to your account to view the picture! Thanks!