Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Columbia, August 12 1996

The Columbia has been around since 1958 and is still with us, thankfully. It is unique among Disney park watercraft (as far as I know). On busy days it will carry passengers on the Rivers of America along with the Mark Twain, though usually it seems that if one is running, the other is out of service.  I have been told that there are wheels on the bottom of the Columbia, and that it actually half floats, half rolls. Maybe my leg was being yanked! After looking at vintage photos for so many years, it is strange to see the Big Thunder Mountain Railway in the background.

It's a shame that the "powers that be" have decided to leave the sails furled permanently, though I know they would be a lot of additional work and expense to maintain. But the sails look so good!


Nanook said...

With its sails furled or unfurled, The Columbia adds a nice dose of color to the Rivers of America - especially on those rare occasions when both it and the Mark Twain are running. It's really quite a splendid site.

Thanks, Major.

Nanook said...

Whoops - make that "sight".

Nancy said...

So pretty, but does look a bit nekked without its sails on!

I agree with Nanook, will take it either way! :-)

Chuck said...

Major - just yesterday, I read that the submarines have wheels on the bottom, but I've never heard that about the Columbia. I'm wondering if the fact that the Columbia and Mark Twain follow underwater guide rails like the subs has somehow gotten the two conflated.

Anybody know the real answer?

K. Martinez said...

I always loved the classic shot of the Columbia docked with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the backdrop. It looks great with the Mark Twain too.

According the article linked below, the Columbia is free-floating but guided by the rail.


Tom said...

I'd always heard what K. Martinez said: free-floating but rail-guided.

Too bad they don't unfurl the sails any more. Seems like all of the decisions tend toward reducing and eliminating the magic details that made Walt's park so special. Oh, there I go again with the whining.

Anyway - I really like the Columbia and I'm glad it's still sailing the Rivers of America.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I don't think I have ever been to the park when both the Columbia and the Twain were running. They probably only do that on the most crowded days, which I tend to avoid!

Nancy, I agree, better without the sails than to not have it at all.

Chuck, I know that they are all on guide rails, but am pretty sure that the Columbia does indeed have wheels.

K. Martinez, thanks for the link to the informative article. Maybe the wheels are just to guide the craft in the rail… if that's the case, then I misinterpreted the info that I had heard.

Tom, I knew that the craft was rail-guided, and mostly floated, but I thought (wrongly?) that there were wheels that the boat would rest on when there was no water.

pursuit agent said...

I wish I could see who was sailing that ship that day. I wonder if I was working on August 12...probably on Splash, though...

Chuck said...

Reading carefully through that awesome MiceChat article (thanks, K. Martinez!), it appears that the Columbia and Mark Twain both have two sets of wheels (one fore and another aft) that keep the ships' guidance systems in contact with the guide rail at all times, although the ships themselves float on the RoA rather than rest on the wheels.

I also enjoyed reading about the "self-tacking" mechanism for the sails that was part of the original rigging. That would have been a sight to see as the sails moved with the wind as the ship changed course on its journey around TSI. Sadly, the Columbia was always docked on my childhhod trips in the off-season, and by the time I was an APH, it had alreaddy been refitted for Fantasmic!

I don't know about the rest of you, but I sure learned a lot today. I'm off to put that knowledge to good use at, um, oh, look - SQUIRREL!!!

[As audience looks to rear of auditorium in the direction indicated, CHUCK runs off stage left]

Anonymous said...

As a former CM operator of both boats, I confirm what you have already discovered...both using the same rail but floating. Only control was operating the engine. And on the MT, that was the job of the boiler engineer on the main deck. The CM in the wheelhouse provides the "eyes" and sends the signals to the enigineer. I bet these days it's all done by radio, but back then it was a buzzer and, in an emergency stop, also use of the steam whistle.

Chuck said...

[CHUCK enters stage left]

For those of you who can't seem to think about anything else today, I found a couple of related links that you might find interesting.

During the 2010 RoA drainage event, the following discussion occurred on MiceChat regarding the MT and Columbia when there's no water to support them:


Most interesting for me are a series of pictures of the ships in the RoA sans water (plus a shot of the Jungle Cruise in a similarly dehydrated state).

Page 2 of the discussion has a couple of links to Fantasmic! construction photos that are no longer working. It appears that bear-ytales.net has migrated to Blogspot. The current link for those photos is:


And just for fun, here's a picture of G.I. Joe fighting an octopus:


Anonymous said...

Major, both ships were running on the first day of my last visit in 2011. I didn't ride the Columbia then, (a Sunday) and it was shut the next day and never opened for the rest of our trip. I was bummed. Last ride was in High School, going on 40 years.

These are beautiful pictures. Thank you for the research on the other threads too. I will definitely read those.

My guess for the lack of sails is the use of the ship as a prop for Fantasmic, but that's just a guess.

I liked Fantasmic the first time I saw it, but when I realized what it had done to TSI and West Side in general, I began to hate it.


Major Pepperidge said...

pursuit agent, I would LOVE it if I had a photo of a cast member who saw themselves and left a comment! That would be amazing.

Chuck, I definitely learned a lot about the Columbia that I've never heard before!

Anonymous, so just to be clear, the wheels were strictly for keeping the boats running on the rail? It makes sense, but I was so in love with the idea of the Columbia rolling along the bottom of the river!

Chuck again, I'm going to have to check out all of your links later tonight… thanks for sending them along. I think I actually have a picture or two showing the ROA when it was empty, with the Columbia at dry dock. Is that GI Joe picture from a Viewmaster reel?

JG, I didn't think about it, but you are right, Fantasmic would definitely be one reason why the sails would remain furled.

Chuck said...

Major, I think these are pictures of an individual's fairly extensive collection. I found it on a web search (the phrase "Eight Ropes of Danger" came to mind and I couldn't stop myself), and driving up the site's hierarchy I've found a lot of pictures of various G.I. Joes and playsets, but I can't seem to find a website that contextualizes the whole thing.

K. Martinez said...

Chuck - great stuff from the extra links you provided. Thanks! I've learned a lot about the Columbia today as well.

pursuit agent said...

Keep posting mid-90's shots of the westside, and I might be able to stumble upon someone I know and still keep in touch with...

pursuit agent said...

And I would LOVE to find a photo or video of me working the Jungle Cruise, as I know there are rotting VHS tapes of my spiel sitting undiscovered in some tourist's home somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Major...I think you got your answer to the 'floating' question. The operation is similar to that used on the JC. Keep up the good work!