Thursday, January 25, 2018

1961 Rainbow Ridge

Even more than the Disneyland Railroad, the old Nature's Wonderland Railroad seems to be the realization of the ultimate model railroad layout. I can almost imagine the whole thing as it might look on an enormous table top; somehow we are magically shrunk so that we can hop on board and enjoy the  wonderful scenery - including the charming Rainbow Ridge. Maybe today I'll go to the dentist and have my teeth pulled, then I'll go to the saloon for a glass of rye whiskey, and then I'll get a haircut at the barber shop.

Legend has it that Jenny Lind (the "Swedish Nightingale") herself visited Rainbow Ridge and performed at the Opera House. The folks here never heard anything so pretty. 

This photo is just a bit blurry, but we can still make out some fun details, like the gilded "comedy" and "tragedy" masks on the Opera House, the little green benches nearby, or the potted plants hanging from the eaves of the little house up on the hillside. Notice the tiny ladder up there as well!

These buildings were not photographed quite as often as the previous examples, since they were at the extreme end of town. The U.S. Marshal's Office makes me feel less worried about bandits and scallawags. The red building was home to some freight offices, where your stage coach or wagon could be outfitted or repaired before you set off on your journey through the wilderness.


Nanook said...


Any town that proudly displays comedy & tragedy masks is my kind of town-!

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

These are some real beauties, Major. I don't know if I've seen that painting of Cascade Peak (on the red building in that last pic) from this close up. I never noticed that the bear that is scratching his back against a tree appears in the painting (along with two smaller critters watching him?) It makes me wonder if items like that painting and also the comedy and tragedy masks on the Opera House, were saved when those buildings were torn down or if props like that were just thrown in the dumpster along with the buildings. And just a tip, if you go to the Miner's Hardware store in that first pic and buy yourself some pliers, you can pull out your own teeth and avoid that trip to the dentist's office.

Chuck said...

Note the ramp up to the large doors on the right-hand side of the freight house. While the doors probably concealed a practical storage shed of some sort, it's still a nice, logical detail that you would have found on a real freight house.

I have absolutely no memory of the buildings in the last photo. I remember buildings being there, just no details of them, probably because I never rode the pack mules and the other buildings nestled on the hillside were your focal point from the mine train's queue. I really regret not riding the mules; it would have been fun to see all of the details on the houses further up the hill on the final leg of the journey.

I know you know this, Major, but for your readers' reference, several modelers have used Rainbow Ridge and Nature's Wonderland as inspiration for their own "ultimate model railroad layout." Notable among the bunch is Sam Towler's layout, which he began as a sophomore in high school in 2005. He has rebuilt the layout in sections several times as his modeling skills improved, and I think you'll agree it's pretty impressive achievement for someone who was born nearly 15 years after the attraction's demise. In fact, his modeling skills improved so much he now works at 1401 Flower Street in Glendale alongside his dad, Jim.

The layout is on long-term loan to the Carolwood Pacific Railroad Society and is displayed in Walt's Barn in Griffith Park. The layout has both a Blogspot page, which is updated a few times a year, and a Facebook page, which is updated regularly.


After Natures Wonderland closed in January of 1977, the majority of the Rainbow Ridge town buildings sat in a lot next to the service spur of Casey Junior . I know most of the small details and signs - other than done Imagineers kept- were taken and striped before the final selection was made on which buildings would be kept fir Thunder Ridge. Tony Baxter was the one who fought to save some of these structures and re-use them at Big Thunder . The area where Thunder Ridge went was original to be a geyser area similar to that of Floridas.

I remember very well being very little and hearing the sound FX coming from the town buildings of the original Rainbow Ridge - especially the miner having his tooth pulled - guests waiting on the load platform would laugh and cringe at the same time hearing the painful sounding extraction.

Stuart Powley said...

This was one of my best memories of my visit to Disney;and in '63! I especially liked the caverns (what kid wouldn't?)

Chuck beat me to it about the train layouts. I'm pretty sure you can find them on Youtube.

Alonzo P Hawk said...

Nice post about one of my favorite extinct attractions. On a semi-related note I recently picked up a copy of "40 Pounds of Trouble" a 1962 comedy that has Tony Curtis running through much of Disneyland and trying to elude a chasing detective inside this attraction. Lots of fun although I don't think I would want to drink the water out of the painted desert geysers. $3-5 bucks in the scary movie bins at Wal-Mart.

K. Martinez said...

MIKE COZART, I am so glad you mentioned Thunder Ridge. I have mentioned that to just about everyone who's into Disneyland and no one remembers that name and thinks it was always called Rainbow Ridge in the Big Thunder Mountain version of the mining town. Thanks for thanks confirmation. Now I know I wasn't imagining it. And thanks for all that wonderful extra information.

Chuck, I have seen that layout in person last summer when visiting Walt's Barn in Griffith Park. The guy did a fantastic job. I could've looked at it all day, but there were some other wonderful things to see at Walt's Barn, L.A. Live Steamers and Traveltown. I recommend the visit to anyone interested in Walt and his railroads. I'll never forget that visit.

K. Martinez said...

Nice shots of Rainbow Ridge today. I absolutely love the last pic with the angle it's showing off the buildings. Nature's Wonderland is always a winner in my ticket book. Thanks, Major.

Stefano said...

Also lovable about Rainbow Ridge: buildings like the Miner's Hardware and the General Store were chock-a-block with scaled-down items, down to the pick axes and sluice pans. A lot of those things must have been made to order; along with the attention to building detail, that's the kind of charm not often seen in today's bombastic, bigger and noisier theme park design.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, they could have also used some of those rubber monster masks from the Magic Shop!

TokyoMagic!, I’ll need to make an addition to this post showing the Nature’s Wonderland poster and another item with basically the same image of the bear scratching her back. I would be money that a lot of those props were thrown in a dumpster, especially since I met an Imagineer who had one of those small Atomobiles from ATIS - he pulled it out of a dumpster, along with two of the “molecules”, which he had hanging in his bedroom.

Chuck, yes, I wonder if that structure is used for storage. It would only make sense. Maybe that’s where they kept the extra rainbows. I believe that there are a few buildings beyond the ones in the last photo, but those *rarely* got photographed. And I am very familiar with Sam Towler’s amazing NW layout, having checked in on his website for years. Now that it is on display, I really do need to make a point to go and see it in person!

Mike Cozart, while I am glad that Tony B. saved the Rainbow Ridge structures, it would have been kind of cool to have the geysers; you can’t have everything, I suppose! I have heard isolated recordings of the dentist’s office, you are right… it gives one the heebie jeebies!

Stuart Powley, I only wish I had more vivid memories of NW; and I wish I had gone on the ride a lot more. For some reason the Mine Train was not one of the “heavy rotation” rides during our family visits.

Alonzo, I have seen clips from “40 Pounds of Trouble” - the Disneyland stuff is pretty fascinating, but it looks like a pretty rough way to spend 90 minutes otherwise! Still, for just a few bucks, it might be worth it.

K. Martinez, I’m a bit confused, have they used both “Rainbow Ridge” and “Thunder Ridge” as the name of the town in the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? If so, I was unaware of it. I missed the chance to see the inside of Walt’s Barn this month, but I need to make an effort to go on the third Sunday of February. Glad you liked today’s photos!

Stefano, I was thinking about the small chairs and benches outside the shops, and even things like picks and shovels, all slightly reduced in scale to fit into Rainbow Ridge. I agree, all of that detail really added a sense of life to the place.

JG said...

Once again, come for the photos, stay for the amazing information in the comments. I'm really loving the detailed memories and back-story information. Really too bad thinking about all the cool memorabilia probably thrown out in the trash.

Like so many, Nature's wonderland is probably my favorite lost attraction. I always wanted to get off on the wrong side of the train and explore the little town, maybe get a wagon axle repaired. My stand-out soundtrack memory was the newspaper office typewriter, although the bar had some good sounds too.

Just to put the prop designs in perspective, Rainbow Ridge was undoubtedly designed by folks for whom the features of little wilderness towns would have been memories from life. We tend to forget in our homogenized age of universal media access that there were once backwater places where the technology of the moment didn't penetrate for years.

My Dad's family used horse-drawn plows and buckboard style wagons on the farm in the California Central Valley right down to the start of WWII, and there were places locally that did repair and blacksmithing just like those mimicked in Rainbow Ridge. Dad couldn't afford a tractor till after the war, all the plowing and planting on 35 acres done with horses till 1944, just 11 years before Disneyland opened.


JG said...

@Major and Alonzo, re: "40 Pounds of Trouble". Daveland blog has an extensive collection of production stills and behind the scenes pictures of this film.

I guess it's renowned for a relatively inaccurate portrayal of Disneyland, at least as far as distances, adjacencies and orientation are concerned.

Also, adding Walt's Barn to my LA To-Do list.

Thanks everyone.


Patrick Devlin said...

Man these are some wonderful shots, Major. But I'm just a smidgen confused as to where the freight office and marshal's office were. Were they off to the left hand side of the tracks, sort of halfway to the mule loading area? Do tell.

The depth and extent of theming at different times and places in the park is certainly remarkable. I am a member of a few Facebook groups relating to Disneyland and there is always a lot of love and passion for this missing attraction. I usually don't share the degree of nostalgia for NWRR, but something about today's unusual angles and subjects has me REALLY missing the old ride. It truly was one of my favorites and a must-ride during any visit. Sigh...

Alonzo P Hawk said...


I would have to agree. There is a scene when they exit the monorail, stand with the little girl on the platform and point to the north. Then the camera shows a view (from the DLRR) Main Street station up the middle to the castle. Pretty neat trick I'd say considering the geography.

Anonymous said...

Looking at that second slide up the hill. Behind all those structures was a picnic table under the pine trees which was used as a break area if one wanted. It was a very pleasant spot to quietly eat a hamburger, fries and Coke which I would pick up at Carnation Gardens instead of heading directly to a group break area by the spare train sets in the back area. KS

Melissa said...

chuggachuggachuggachugga CHOO CHOO

Chuck said...

Patrick, those buildings were to the left (south) of the tracks. They functioned essentially as a backdrop to the Pack Mule load area (and probably concealed cast member break areas, ride offices, maintenance sheds, and the Ark of the Covenant).

This Daveland photo shows what was between the tunnel bore and the building with the Nature's Wonderland signage, including the mule path down the hill through town, and this one shows how the Pack Mules load area wrapped around the corner.

Something else I noted while researching this area is that not only was Rainbow Ridge extended across the tracks in 1960, it also was extended along the tracks as well. Note the Miner's hardware building in today's first photo, with part of the Assay Office to the left. In the second photo, you can see the left side of the Assay Office and the Opera House, which we can see from this Daveland photo was right next to the tunnel bore.

Compare those 1960s photos with this one from November of 1956. No Opera House or Assay Office (the staircase indicates Miner's Hardware is the end of the block), the tunnel portal is closer to the buildings, and there's a stamp mill on top of the tunnel that disappeared later. The tunnel itself also appears longer in the first photo.

Major Pepperidge said...

JG, I am torn between ATIS and Nature’s Wonderland as my “most missed” attractions (with the Skyway and Peoplemover coming in right behind). Depending on the day, I might choose one or the other. I would have LOVED to walk the train tracks of the NWRR. Just imagine! And you are right, it is very possible that some of the Imagineers came from more rural backgrounds, where progress was slower than the big cities.

JG II, I’m sure Tony Curtis (or whoever) never dreamed that “40 Pounds of Trouble” would ever undergo any sort of scrutiny like Disney fans have put it through.

Patrick Devlin, all I can say is please scroll down to Chuck’s informative comment! I wonder if part of the love for NWRR is the wish for some grander, SLOW rides, rather than another frenetic, loud attraction?

Alonzo, didn’t the Monorail stop at Main Street Station? ;-)

KS, I think Mr. X told me about that very same place you mentioned. He said he loved to look down on Nature’s Wonderland and eat his lunch!

Melissa, you are even better than that guy from “Police Academy”!

Chuck, as usual, you have done way more work and research than I have done, or will EVER do! Thanks for all of that. Besides the fact that Daveland has many amazing photos, he has organized them in such a way that they have become a useful resource for research.

Patrick Devlin said...

Thanks so much Chuck for the quick orientation and nice research to boot. Now I'm really missing a ride back into Nature's Wonderland.

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