Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Big Muddy, October 1970

Here are two especially grungy-looking photos from that lot of GAF slides that I won't shut up about. But they're still interesting! That's because they are pretty decent views of the Rivers of America without water - something that I always find fascinating. 

I'm curious to know if this was just a regularly-scheduled draining and cleaning, or if there was something bigger going on. The Haunted Mansion had opened about a year before. The Yippies had invaded Tom Sawyer Island just two months earlier (f they had waited just a bit longer, they could have walked to the island!).  

Here's a different angle. Believe it or not I spent quite a bit of time trying to make these presentable. Over to the right is the dock for the Mark Twain and Columbia, while the landing for the Tom Sawyer Island rafts and the old fishing dock are to our left. Hey, what's the Autopia guide rail doing at the bottom of the river?!

There are a few more photos of the drained river from this batch. Stay tuned, homies.


Graffer said...

So where is the bypass track or spur for the pictures that show one large boat off the starboard side of the other large boat sitting at the loading dock? Was this added later?

TokyoMagic! said...

Graffer, maybe that spur track was removed during this rehab?

For some reason, I want to go play in that dry river bed! I think it's interesting that they didn't put a wall around the river while this work was being done. In that first pic, there is the back of a sign showing on the other side of the river. I'm assuming that is the sign that informed guests of what was being done. I've seen a picture of the sign and it had Mickey dressed in his Sorcerer's Apprentice outfit. An odd bit of foreshadowing for Fantasmic.......20 some years in advance.

Major, I posted the comment below, a few years back when you posted pics of this 1970 rehab of the river, but I'm going to copy and paste it again here because I think it is interesting information:

There was an article in the Spring 1971 issue of Disney News magazine about this particular river rehab. The article was titled, "Dry Me A River" and it states that, "For six weeks last winter, Disneyland's Rivers of America attraction was gone. The Park's Maintenance Division had opened the river's drainage valves and for two days, the river emptied into a nearby flood control system. The unusual task of cleaning, inspecting, and repairing a river began."

The article goes on to say, "......the Division spent six weeks inspecting and repairing the rails that guide the Mark Twain and the Columbia, replacing dock support beams, and cleaning the river of cameras, baby shoes, coins, eyeglasses and 4,400 cubic feet of silt."

The article also mentions the sealer on the river bottom......"To keep the riverbed from leaking, they sealed it with 25 truck loads of clay and then began the three-day job of refilling the river with 6,160,000 gallons of water. (The water is drawn from a well that runs beneath Disneyland.)"

Nanook said...


This was back in the days when 'the guests' really came first'. If a guest lost a valuable item in the RoA, such as a Mickey hat, or a foil pickle bag, or even a shiny new penny - a quick request to a CM would start the wheels turning - and in no time at all special crews would be down on their hands and knees looking for that lost item. Heck - that's how I was able to use my last "E" Ticket, which accidentally flew out of my hand when I was aboard the Mark Twain-!

Thanks, Major (& TM! , for the real info).

Chuck said...

That's not the Autopia rail - it's a young Monorail beam. They grow them underwater, like cranberries.

Always interesting to see the underwater infrastructure nobody knows is there when the water level rises. The dock piers are much taller than we normally expect and there's other interesting details like the storm drain culvert beyond the riverboat dock, although that might be a temporary feature while the river is evaporated.

Of all of the things that have changed (for better or for worse) on TSI, it's nice to see things that have been there from the beginning, even though their original purpose is long-gone. I love that the little nuclear dock and the control shack still stand, even though they stopped all fission activities there in the late '50s. I'm sure the periodic decontamination operations required were a serious money drain.

Graffer, as I understand, there never has been a passing siding for the Twain and Columbia. There's the spur that goes into Fowler's Harbor, but the rest of the track is one big loop since there's no operational need for a passing siding as the ships always stop at the dock when operating.

Former Columbia trainer and lead (1986-1993) Amazon Belle mentioned in a previous post that he was never trained on or told of a passing siding across from the dock while he worked the attraction, and this photo seems to confirm there isn't one.

In another previous post, Patrick Devlin mentions his former CM and Imagineer brother Mike telling him that the guide rollers underneath the ships can be retracted to allow them to be removed from the rails. Those 1960 photos we have seen here of the Columbia tied up alongside TSI appear to be from a very short period of time in the off-season, I'm guessing while Fowler's Harbor itself was undergoing some kind of rehab and there was no other place to park the non-operating vessel. The Major mentions in his text that he is only aware of one other time this was done, in 1963, so it definitely was a rare occurrence.

Thanks again, Major, for making the effort to clean these scans up. As far as I'm concerned, the time was well spent!

Steve DeGaetano said...

Great info here! Thanks Major, TokyoMagic! and Chuck. These photos are further proof that the river is not "20 feet deep" as is often mentioned on-line.

K. Martinez said...

I enjoy drainage project pics from Rivers of America, Jungle Cruise and Submarine Voyage. Oddly, any Fantasyland drainage pics like the Castle moat, Motor Boat Cruise waters or Storybook Land canals seem rarer. I'll add, that I love the muddy/dirt brown color of these images. Thanks, Major.

@TokyoMagic and Chuck - Thank you both for sharing all that awesome extra info. It really added to today's post.

@Chuck - "That's not the Autopia rail - it's a young Monorail beam. They grow them underwater, like cranberries". Sometimes, you crack me up big time. That was a good one.

@Steve DeGaetano - 20 feet deep? I haven't heard that one before. That's the on-line community for you. Making Disneyland history FUBAR one "fact" at a time.

Tom said...

GAF would have been great film to use for photographing swamps and grunge bands.

Despite the murk, these are wonderful photos. I still find it fascinating how the river isn't really all that deep. Just dark.

Major Pepperidge said...

Graffer, I can only assume that the Columbia was docked at Tom Sawyer Island so rarely (twice that I am aware of) that there was no actual spur. Perhaps the Columbia was towed to the spot.

TokyoMagic!, I had forgotten the stuff from that great Disney News article (I might even have that issue!), but it is full of wonderful information. Nowadays it seems so wasteful to just send all that water down a flood control channel. Nowadays I’ll bet they’d find quite a few smart phones at the bottom of the river!!

Nanook, I can’t tell if you are pulling my leg or not. Did cast members really scramble to find your last “E” ticket?? My little sister somehow lost her shoe in “Alice”, and I think she just walked around in her socks for the rest of the night.

Chuck, everyone knows cranberries grow in cans. You can’t fool me! I admit that it took me a moment to process your “nuclear dock” comment. “Fission activities”, LOL. Thanks for all of the links and mentions of previous and useful comments, all of which I have completely forgotten! What is wrong with my brain?

Steve DeGaetano, I had never heard that the river was that deep, but it is possible that Disney spreads that rumor to discourage potential swimmers. Maybe.

K. Martinez, I have read some real doozies online; I wish I could recall some specific examples. There was a photo (from my blog) of the Viewliner posted on Facebook, and one of the first comments was, “That’s NOT Disneyland”. Arg. And you’re right, I don’t recall seeing photos of the castle with a dry moat, though I do have at least one photo of the dry Storybook Land canals (for the 1983 Fantasyland redo).

Tom, I think I have three, or maybe four shots showing various parts of the drained river, so stay tuned!

JG said...

Ha, "the river is 20 feet deep". Those guys just have their measuring tape turned sideways.

Reminds me of the joke about the pilots complaining about the unfamiliar airport...

"Runway's mighty short...", "yeah, but it's awful wide".

I remember wondering about the guest who drowned in the river, why he didn't just stand up on the bottom, as I have read elsewhere that the maximum depth at center of channel is about 6 feet? Maybe he couldn't swim, or was paralyzed by the fear of falling into 20 feet of water. Sad story any way you look at it.

Seriously good information here about the Rivers of America, and fun to read. Now that the River has a third (hidden) harbor for the boats, we probably will never see them tied up to TSI again. Thanks Tokyo and Chuck and everyone.

Now that I think of it, I may have witnessed this scene, since I do remember a childhood visit where the river was dry and the earth bottom was visible. I was bummed because we couldn't visit TSI. I don't recall what year, but if the river wasn't drained often, this was probably it.


Melissa said...

Empty river,
That empty river,
It come from somewhere,
But don't go nowhere,
It's just rehabbin’
It's just rehabbin’ too long.
They got no water
At Fowler's Harber
It ain't too deep, but
It looks much larger
When not rehabbin’,
But they're rehabbin’ too long.
You and me
Can't ride the boat;
Now we’ve seen the tracks,
We know it doesn't float.
I get weary
Behind this stanchion;
Let's go and ride through
That Haunted Mansion,
It's not rehabbin’,
Like they're rehabbin’, too long.

Melissa said...

(To the tune of "Ol' Man River")

Major Pepperidge said...

JG, my guess is that the guy who drowned in the river was not a strong swimmer to begin with (jeez, how far is it from one shore to the other?? Not very!), and he must have just panicked. It’s very sad. I believe he was trying to save his younger brother, but I might be mistaken.

Melissa, ah, it’s like old times! A song from you, hooray! Is it possible to hear the tune “Old Man River” without imagining Paul Robeson singing it?? Also, 20 extra points for using the word "stanchion".

Nanook said...


And, yes - I'm pulling your leg-!

Anonymous said...

Originally just after the park opened, the Rivers of America had to be drained and clay added over the sandy Anaheim soil to prevent the water from seeping into the ground so easily. Periodic maintenance of the RoA meant adding more clay from time to time to keep the seal intact before Disneyland eventually lined the RoA in concrete.

If you look closely at the photos, you can see the difference in the soil colors; the clay is much lighter and reddish than the native soil below.