Who is Richard Quartermaine Muntz?

Richard Quartermaine Muntz (aka RQM in abbreviating circles) is… well, we’re not quite sure. Little is known about this little known seeker of little known facts about the little known secret Society of Explorers and Adventurers* in Disney Parks. Very little.

As new information is gathered, this page will explore the man behind the mystery behind the bookshelf behind the mystery behind the man. Come back often and soon.

Radio Transmissions

NEWS FLASH: The intrepid detectives at the Did You Know Disney Podcast, Alex Stewart and Freddy Martin released the first in an upsetting series of recordings on or about February 15, 2019. These transmissions appear to be proof positive of Muntz’s existence but these sort of things are rarely all they’re hyped up to be. Probably just fake news.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

And now, here’s what we know so far…

Adventureland Day

At this hour,  explorers, world-travelers, and tiki aficionados are preparing to gather at Disneyland in Anaheim, California on March 3, 2019, and in Orlando, Florida on March 10, for an ancient ritual called “Adventureland Day,” which promises to reveal even more about this shadowy character.

Gather your own intelligence and preparations via the shady folks at AdventurelandDay.com

The Society

The seal of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. Sooooo mysterious.

Facts are fuzzy, but the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (the S.E.A.) are a secret club described as “a society comprised of mariners, scientists, engineers, and artists dedicated to the advancement of navigation and exploration of the seas…” but there’s so much more. Apparently, clues of their existence can be found throughout the amusement parks built by another mysterious figure known as Walter Elias Disney, but we can’t be sure if that’s his real name. We’ve seen his type before.

The Phonogram

Recent discoveries within the archives of Marshall College and the personal records of Dr. Alyssandra Jones yielded this undated recording of a voice believed to be Muntz. He appears to be preparing for a quest to recover a map fragment from known felon Gephart Goldthwait, an associate of collector and grave robber, Felix Casablanca.

Adventurelanders can acquire their own copies of the map & cypher from AdventurelandDay.com, but it is yet unknown if these are authentic or forgeries.

The Diary Entry

Ganesh guards many secrets in the exotic jungles of the world.

From the diary of Anastasia Falls, uncovered at an abandoned safari camp deep in the jungles of Adventureland:

Had a visitor to the camp this evening. Someone I’ve never seen in the jungle before, a Richard Quartermaine Muntz. He claimed he knew my father. He was trying to get as much information about him and his life as possible but wouldn’t say why. He claims my father has been missing. That’s not possible. I’ve been receiving letters from him for many months now. It has been many years since I have seen him with my own eyes though. This only further reinforces why I must take the advice given to return home.

Spaceman Stuff

Other information may be leaked on the Insta-gram at Did You Know Disney or Skipper Freddy. The jungle drums also suggest Mr. Muntz may have his own robot phone and post under his own name. So mysterious.

Also follow @AdventurelandDay, @TikiTony, @CharlesThatcherAdv & @TikilandTradingCo on Instagram for more Adventureland Day newsreels.




*This is a work of fan fiction based on characters from the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.), which belong to The Walt Disney Company. We’re grateful to Disney Parks for the mystery and fun of the S.E.A. mega theme which inspires this story. This story, including the characters and content supporting it, are not part of the official S.E.A. storyline.

The Parable of the Duck

This post is an adaptation of the eulogy I read at my father’s funeral on February 2, 2019. It’s of an intensely personal nature so it may make some readers uncomfortable. I hope my story is encouraging to those who have also loved and lost, but I won’t be offended if you decide to skip it.

Connecting Via “Lemonite”

Order an Arnold Palmer at your local bar/diner/restaurant and you’ll receive a non-alcoholic drink named for the famous golfer who invented it. It’s half iced tea, and half lemonade.
​​Not to be outdone, my Dad made up his own special drink which he ordered every time we went out to eat.

“Lemonite” – a sour/sweet concoction of Lemonade and Sprite – was an invention my Dad used to make friends and open doors to conversations about faith.

​​Whenever a waitress asked for our drink orders, he’d consider his options, then say, “Can you make me a half lemonade and half Sprite? I call it Lemonite.” Then he’d pause for effect. “Or Sprite-Ade. I copyrighted it, but you can use it if you want.”
​​Usually the waitress would laugh a little and then return later with the drinks saying, “I have a Coke, a coffee, and a… “Lemonite,” to which Dad would beam.
​​I’ve tried Lemonite, and it’s not that good. It’s kinda like battery acid or anti-freeze. And I’m not sure he even liked it. My Dad preferred Root Beer any day of the week! ​​Why would he do that? It’s weird.

For the last 20 years or so of his life, he drank that gross drink instead of root beer because it was his quick and easy way to make a connection with the servers. That’s it!
As a pastor and chaplain, my Dad’s humor helped him connect with people. It opened doors that allowed him to show God’s love to the hurting and lost. That’s what he was made for, so that’s what he did.

Connecting with Kids

​​Dad had plenty of gags like this. And he had a whole trunk load of them for the kids. He had a bunch of napkin drawing jokes he could do. (ABCD Fish? MNO Fish! – Ask me about it sometime. I’ll show you.) He had a barrel of riddles and gotchas like this one:
DAD: ​​What does J-O-K-E spell?

YOU: Joke!

DAD: That’s right! What does P-O-K-E spell?

YOU: Poke!

DAD: Right! What do you call the white of the egg?


DAD: Nooo! The white of the egg is called “the white of the egg!” The yolk is the yellow part.
​​But his greatest way to connect with kids was with his Donald Duck voice.

​​Dad did a killer Donald Duck voice. When we went to Walt Disney World together, he did it to the real Donald Duck and they both nearly fell over laughing.

​​That voice was his favorite way to quickly make friends with every kid he met, and they couldn’t help but love him when he did it. (Never mind that a lot of kids don’t know who Donald Duck is these days.)

Dad and the Duck

Dad truly loved Donald Duck. I wonder if that’s because he related to him in some way–as though he saw something of himself in the duck.

Like Dad, Donald always meant well. Whether he was decorating the house for Christmas, going on a bike ride with the nephews, getting ready for a date with Daisy, or mowing the lawn, Donald’s attitude was positive and ready to make things great for everybody else…

Rolling through Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts, Dad gets quacky with a Donald Duck portrait by Jimmy Mulligan.

​​Those stupid chipmunks would come in and mess everything up!! That’s when Donald’s other identifying characteristic would show up, his temper.
​​Like Donald, Dad had a temper. Many of people who knew him as a pastor, hospital chaplain, counselor, or friend knew fun and caring Pastor Fred. We lived with him.
​​But also like Donald, Dad’s temper, no matter how bad it got, was soon forgiven by those he loved–a grace he never took for granted. ​​

​​The Parables of Jesus

When Jesus was on earth, being “God with us,” healing and teaching, showing The Way, he often taught in parables. Parables are stories about ordinary things that don’t appear to be about God’s Kingdom, but really, they are.
​​There’s the parable of the lost sheep, the sower and the seeds, the parable of the talents, the prodigal son, and the lost coin. Jesus used these simple stories to communicate something of far greater significance and meaning which guides us toward faith in God even today.

​​The Parable of the Duck

​​I’m going to share with you a new parable from an unlikely place. This story is surprisingly deep considering the source. But I’m hoping it will communicate to you something very powerful about God’s Kingdom and my father’s lifelong faith.
​​Watch this video with your heart. Then read on below to understand its meaning.

The Parable Explained

​​Cute, huh? This was the last text message my Dad and I shared together. He was in his hospital bed suffering a slow and uncomfortable death.

Wanna know his response when I sent it to him? “What a quack up!!” No kidding. I have it saved right here on my phone.
So ​what does this amusement park commercial say about God’s Kingdom? What does it tell us about my Dad’s faith?

So much more than you think.
​​It tells us to Love God’s Word – The Psalmist writes, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:103‬ ‭NIV)‬‬.
​​Like that little duck loved that comic book, my Dad loved God’s Word.
​​It tells us to Be Like Jesus – Paul said, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians‬ ‭5:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬).
​​Like that little duck, my Dad saw what his hero, his Savior, did and did all he could to be like Him.
​​It tells us God is With You – The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
​​The storms came for that little duck, and my Dad as well. But even in the darkest times, God’s Spirit was close at hand.
​​It tells us The Sheep Know The Shepherd’s Voice – Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (‭John‬ ‭10:14, 27-28‬ ‭NIV)
​​My Dad not only knew the duck’s voice, He knew his Shepherd’s voice and followed him faithfully. ‬
​​Finally, the Parable of the Duck tells us that A Kingdom is Prepared – Jesus told us, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to aprepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” ‭‭(John‬ ‭14:2-3‬ ‭NIV‬‬)
On January 17, 2019, like that little duck, my Dad also ran into the arms of the One he loved, his Savior, who embraced him and welcomed him into his promised reward.
​​My father believed this with his whole heart. His faith led him to seek God passionately throughout his life, to humble himself and repent, and to believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

I’m so full of incomprehensible joy knowing that he shared that faith with me, and you, and everyone he met – even if it meant using Donald Duck’s voice to do it!

The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 3

When I was born, Walt Disney had already passed away. So when I have an opportunity to talk with someone who knew him, I want to hear the truth directly from their memories of what Walt was really like. In this third and final installment of The Bob Gurr Interview, Bob shares some of his first-hand memories of his time designing many of Disneyland’s most iconic attraction vehicles. 

If you missed Part 1 of The Bob Gurr Interview, CLICK HERE.

If Part 2 of The Bob Gurr Interview is where you want to be, CLICK HERE


Freddy Martin: What do you wish that people knew about Walt that few other people know?


Bob Gurr: You know the funny thing, you know I worked with him for 12 years, and I would say he was about as open and ordinary as anybody you’d ever run across. Everything about him, in a way, it was kind of a paradox, because when, one moment you’re with him and/or you’re doing something and he just seems like such an ordinary guy in a way. You know, the use of language the choice of food, the little expressions that, y’know, a typical Midwestern kid would use.

And then at other times, where he’d be in a place where there was other people present at the company’s and corporations and stuff, and they’re all awestruck by him because they see him as a god. And Walt was, it was kind of funny in a way, and I’d seen this personally at other times, where he was very aware that people perceived him kind of like a real great guy. After all, he invented Snow White, didnt he? Y’know, he invented Mickey Mouse. And he’s done a Disneyland and now he’s trying to do an EPCOT.  


But in order for Walt to have a conversation with somebody, he’s got to be able to have everybody at the same level. And I would see him deliberately loosen his tie and leave it slightly askew. Or sometimes we’d be someplace where he was wearing a little hat, he had a pork pie hat, he’d just wad up in his pocket. Or when he’d take it out, he’d flop it on his head and not even re-adjust it. Just wherever it hit, it hit. Because it would send like little subtle signals that he’s okay. He’s okay to talk to. It’s okay to get close.


One day in Pittsburgh, we were at a party after a business meeting with Westinghouse up on a Hilltop Bar. And the bar was not very big. It was a little bit too small for the size team we had from Disney. We had 13 of us and the guys from Westinghouse, so you have to stand a little bit too close with your scotch mist in the afternoon.  


Now think about safe space between people. Like when you, sometimes somebody will come a little too close to you and you can’t define that space. But you know when your space has been invaded and somebody’s talking right at you, it makes you nervous. Alright, well, that’s a human thing a lot of people don’t even think of. But that little distance of space is a little different for everybody.


Well, I saw Don Burnham, the chairman of the board at Westinghouse, with his drink talking directly to Walt, and I’m in the conversation, and I notice the guy’s lower lip starts to quiver. He starts to sputter. (laughs) And Walt backs up a little bit, y’know kind of casually. And I notice, yeah, boy this place is tight. So many of the other places we’re not like that. That was the first time I noticed that. Then thereafter, I could see that, Oh yeah, people do get uncomfortable around some people.


And boy! Around Walt Disney, people that are very lofty can suffer the same thing as a Disney fan.


So a lot of people ask these kind of questions about Walt Disney and I think it’s probably because, Lord knows how many books have been written about him how many magazine articles. So I would say the majority of the world, when you say the word “Walt Disney,” it’s mostly misinformation.


And obviously the only people that could tell you something that was different are only the people that are still alive today, and which there’s not a lot of us left.

But I can assure you that’s the way it was, from the day I met him. I was never introduced to him. I was just suddenly, I was there working on the car, the little autopia car. It was just very simple.


And then I watched the way he worked with people. And I’d say around him I would say the only time I was close to nervous was, I had to drive one of the company station wagons with him in the back seat behind me down Highland Avenue, which was a wiggly Street. And I think it used to have railroad tracks in it. And I thought, “Oh my God! I don’t want to crash this car. I’ll kill Walt Disney. He’s sitting right behind me!”


So there’s some nervousness there. But you know, to Walt, it’s just Walt.


Freddy Martin: What you just said about Walt Disney was profound. “He was ordinary.” That’s not what people think. They think he’s a legend. No, he’s ordinary.


Bob Gurr: I know, but see maybe once or twice a week he’d come in my office. Y’know, I had a big office. I had a leather chair. He’d just come in. He liked to walk around, see what other people are doing. Some days he’d walk in, never said a word, just look around and walk out. Other days, he’d stand and look what I’m doing or sometimes he’d just sit down, and then I’d go grab the little stool and go ahead and sit down, see what he wanted. So just as ordinary as could be.

I can only tell you what I know about him from personal experience.


Freddy Martin: What was the last conversation you had with him?


Bob Gurr: Well, there was the Omnimover project, we were designing what later became the “Atommobile” for the Monsanto attraction. And the president of Monsanto, he and Walt kinda had words once in awhile because they were still trying to refine what the guy from Monsanto wanted and what Walt thought he ought to have.


And I’d built a cardboard model, a full size one of the shape of the car body with the speakers up in like the corners of it. And I made it one way and Walt says, “Gee, I like it! I think that’s good.”


And this guy comes over and, y’know, who am I to tell the guy that Walt liked that and the guy says, “Oh no. I would like to have it this way. I want these ears to stand up a little bit more here. Can you cut that up and put it back together with some tape or something?”


And I did it! And I think within a couple of days Walt comes in and says, “Well what did you do that for?”


And he was not happy. you know? And I had to say that “Mr. President,” he said to do it. And Walt had some words that I can’t really remember, but the look on his face was like God damn it this is my park. This is the way we do it!” (Laughs)


I don’t want to get between two guys that are disagreeing, you know? And I’m the one with the tape and scissors!


Note: I asked Bob about his experience with Walt’s passing at this point, but he politely declined to answer. His response was very direct and guarded. It seemed that he has decided that questions of this nature are too intimate and personal. I respectfully moved on with the next question.


Freddy Martin: You’ve been honored with a window on Main Street. Tell us about it.


It’s on Center Street. You go up [Main] Street at Disneyland, you come to the first block and make a right turn. Look to the left, it’s a little narrow building, has one window. But it has an actual, dimensional model of a bicycle bolted to the wall next to the window. Normally everybody gets a window if you’re going to have a window, they just have a window.

And then the guys in the machine shop in the back knew that I was a mountain biker, and so they volunteered on their own time, they scrambled up some parts and built this cute little funky bicycle that’s not recognizable as anything authentic, but it’s cute. And they bolted it on the wall.


And right after the ceremony they walked in and they said, “Hey, do you like the bike? I found the parts. I built that for ya, and they let me bolt it on the building.”

Oh, that set off a ruckus! Now everybody after that wants a dimensional sign, of course. I guess two years later Rolly Crump and Don Edgren, they got [windows], Rolly got a nice sign in front of his, so that kind of set the stage.


Freddy Martin: Is there a place in Disneyland that still feels to you like it did way back in 1955?


Bob Gurr: Up until a couple years ago The Rivers of America was exactly that. But the rivers of America, they tell me, got chopped up, modified put in a railroad bridge, and behind the bushes is some alien city. That’s all I know. But The Rivers of America is the prime one.


That is so, so Walt. It’s leisurely. It’s got a lot of nature. We still have immovable concrete deer. We sort of had a strange Indian village, that was very much how you’d tell stories in the fifties of that nature. And we had a great attraction that’s on water. And there was no rush. That’s the main one.

But the other things that are missing that is also “so Walt” that wasn’t necessarily there to begin with, but it’s so Walt was Granny’s cabin and the goat farm. They were later, of course, but they were very representative of the same feeling that a guest would have wandering around back there. It’s much the way with Knotts has never, almost never change their ghost town area because it’s “Walter Knott.”


But up to about 2015 Walt’s park was pretty much Walt’s park. But it is changing. Y’know, the world changes, companies get big. Disney is the premier entertainment empire on the entire planet. That’s its job.


Freddy Martin: Is there anything at Disneyland the you would improve if you could?


Bob Gurr: You know me better than to ask me a hypothetical question. (laughs)


I picked that up from Harry Truman. Harry Truman was the master of that because Washington politics is murder and nobody liked Harry Truman. And he dispensed everybody with just what I told you. Because the way he couched it which I vividly remember. “You boys know me better than that. You know I don’t answer hypothetical questions.”


Freddy Martin: You can’t fix it so why answer it.


Bob Gurr: That’s right. And the other half of it is, what did Bob Dylan say? Don’t look back. He wrote a book, “Don’t Look Back.”


Freddy Martin: Speaking of looking back, tell me how the WaltLand tours came about.

Note: Once per month, Bob leads a guided bus tour through Glendale and Burbank to various sites where Walt lived, worked, and played while he was alive. It’s called WaltLand Disney Bus Tours. Learn more at WaltLand.com.


Bob Gurr: Oh, sometime in the spring of 2016, Ernie phones up and said, “Hey Bob, I have an idea.”


I knew he did those ghost tours in the City of Orange. He said I have an idea for a tour of Walt’s early life, the original homes, and where the Hyperion Studios, and the Merry-Go-Round and the barn, and all that. And I says, “Ernie, I’ve been doing that for 17 years for family and friends. I have a standard route that I have done.”

I never envisioned you could make a bus tour out of it. So, within a couple of days, we got in his car and I had drafted up a route and figured out a timing chart preliminarily, because I’ve been doing it for so long. And it was near identical to what he’d been doing, or wanted to do, and we tested it. And the timing was perfect. We only made one adjustment a couple months later and that’s all we ever did to it.


And so there it was, a thing that’s been going on and he had an idea and the idea was so parallel. And I thought we might do one or two of them and it turned out this thing never ends! I think we just did the 14th or 15th one I think.


Freddy Martin: What’s next for Bob Gurr?


Bob Gurr: Part of it you never know because there’s all kinds of things pop up all the time. I know I’ve got a [manager]. Y’know Ernie’s my manager now. I kidded last year and I says, “Every time I get these questions from people I need to have an agent! Because Marty Sklar, many years ago, would snarl at us and say, “We gotta stop doing this free stuff for the Disney Company. They never pay us. We gotta get ourselves an agent.”

Bob Gurr signs posters at the start of his WaltLand Guided Bus Tour in April 2018. Photo courtesy of the great Dann Gillen. Follow Dann on Instagram @danngillen ©2018 Dann Gillen, all rights reserved.


But he never got around to really doin it. And so then I thought, well then, okay… Ernie’s the agent so we’ll see what he finds.


Freddy Martin: You started with a passion for cars. Are you still passionate about them?


It never changed. I had a Model A Ford I did extensive engine work on it. I did extensive engine work on my ‘35 Ford. And then by the late seventies I had an older Rolls-Royce and I thought, Well, that’s a 6 cylinder engine. It needs some more work, had a hundred forty-three [thousand] miles on it… It’s only a Rolls-Royce. It’s only parts. So I take it all apart, rebuild the engine, put it all back in the car and start her up. Runs normal. Doesn’t smoke anymore and that was a 70 day job.

I’m not afraid to tackle anything. One time in 1950 I think in ‘53 I had a something ‘51 MG. I thought, I’ll make this go faster. I’ll take the four-cylinder engine out and get a Willy’s F-head 6 and put it in there and do an engine swap. And I did an engine swap in about a month and I had a much faster car. People that fuss with cars and motorcycles, they usually figure things out.


Freddy Martin: Where’s the theme park world going next?


Well, in the broader sense, I don’t see anything drastically different because we’re still filling the world with theme parks. You see Walt was the first to do a real modern theme park, even though Tivoli Gardens and other places had existed for a very, very long time. But the idea of this generic theme park thing which would fit any size, any country, anywhere, y’know, what’s Disney got? 10, 11 of them now?


And it’s almost certain that the next big country that gets filled up is going to be India because there are so many people in India. Y’know, they’re going to grow in parallel to China. There’s so many theme parks in China. There’s so many companies in the Themed Entertainment Association. Vendors, they’re so busy all over China. And now Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they’re all starting to compete with one another.


And if you follow MBS, that’s Mohammed bin Salman, the guys only, what? 30? And he’s the Prince of Arabia. And he was just here for a couple weeks, here in the country going around talking to everybody. Yeah, he wants to make sure that his population, the Arabs are 29 million people or so, that they’re going to grow in parallel with the rest of the world, with all the things that are enjoyable in life. And well, they’ve got oil money and they they still need to generate other money here eventually in the decades ahead.


I think, looking way ahead, when we’ve got the countries that can support it, we will sort of have done the infill of conventional theme parks. And I would love to come back in a hundred years and see what that next wave of innovation [is going to be].


It’s almost like when you have something and you infill all the stuff and now somebody says, “Ok, we’ve done that. Now what?” The “now what” usually leads to some people coming up with some brilliant stuff.


I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I see it’s way down the road. But it’s not there yet.

So there might be some kind of stuff, obviously some of its going to be virtual reality. But virtual reality, I think, is coming to a point where it’s going to be very generic in another couple of decades in a way. And it’s almost like there’s going to be a semi-throwback to more naturalistic environments that are entertaining.


I can’t tell you very much, but I was paid recently for an entire morning with probably one of the most important, far-out theme park designers in the world, and I can’t say anything more than that. But that was the thrust I could see that they’re headed at. And this person has always been in the forefront.


So, all I can share with you, is that, yeah, I might be the 86 year-old guy on the bus, but I did get invited to poke my nose into that next wave of the future.


Because it’s out there. ~


Many thanks to Bob Gurr for his time and generosity. Connect with him at BobGurr.com

Thanks to Bob’s manager, Ernie Alonzo for arranging the time and for giving Bob a platform to share his fascinating stories with us. Click the image below to get on board the next WaltLand Tour.  – FM


If you missed Part 1 of The Bob Gurr Interview, CLICK HERE.

If Part 2 of The Bob Gurr Interview is where you want to be, CLICK HERE

The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 2

When you have a legendary Disney designer on the line, you never know what amazing stories you might hear. In this second installment (2 of 3) of The Bob Gurr Interview, Bob tells how he thinks through a project at the beginning, and how it never abides by a prescribed process.

He reveals some of his most incredible show pieces made for clients other than Disney. Can you say King Kong, the King of Pop, and Queen? And he tells how he keeps a careful eye out for that most deadly of Imagineering traps, no, not hippos. Hubris.

Click HERE if you missed The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1

Click HERE to skip ahead to The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 3.


Freddy Martin: In building the nuts and bolts of somebody else’s dreams, how did you work through some of the big ideas?


Bob Gurr: Well, first off you’re okay. You didn’t say the word “process.” When I’m doing my lectures and somebody says, “Bob tell us about your process,” I start laughing, and look at them. And then they catch on that they’d asked a boo-boo question.*


So many people are highly educated, they’re trained in college, they got a 4-year course. Everything is by rote. In other words, if you start with A and you end with Z, and you do all the steps in between, ergo, you will have a successful outcome of whatever it is you’re doing.


Well, that’s the theory, but I can assure you that’s not the way the world works.


And specific[ally] at Disney, and for the 27 years that I was there, I jumped on whatever it took to get started on anything, and modified it as I went – [without] a total idea of “process.” And that methodology, if you want to call it that, went 45 years of doing things exactly the same way, in which you do not have an organized way of doing anything.


Because every job is different. Every client is different. Every question is different. Some are big and take years. Some are quickie and might take a day or two.


You do whatever it takes, making it up as you go, based upon the goal that you see the thing is ultimately going to have to go through and everything that’s involved in it.


The only thing that might be [considered] “process” would be, as you’re looking very quickly at everything that’s going to be involved, you sort of form a general idea as to what our, what we would call, “long lead” items or expensive items or things that are items that would be a make-or-break as differentiated from a lot of conventional stuff that will come along in its own time.


And that way you can automatically prioritize what are the big sticky ones you’re going to jump on immediately, to get those solutions underway, so that you can then share it with anybody else working on it, generally where you’re headed and what has to be done first and why.


For example, later in life I had this 26 year-old kid who can do a moon dance, a guy by the name of Michael Jackson. He comes over. I show him around our place for two hours, and then he asked me if I can do a custom lighting device.


I know nothing about lighting, but I’d be willing to learn. And within two days we were having a business meeting to seal the deal. And then he says, “What do you need?”


I said, “Well I need fifty thousand bucks in the bank from you tomorrow, because this is a 9 week job and the hardest parts to get that are very expensive, that are long lead, are a thing called servo valves for some of the pneumatic controls. And to get this in time, it takes several weeks to get em, but I’ve got to order em tomorrow morning and we gotta have a deposit paid.”


It’s things like that. In other words if you had a process, and you were a trained engineer, and you had a license, well first off, you would lay out your parameters of the job. You’d begin to identify the elements and then you would do estimates of labor and materials. And then you would assign people to it, and then you would gather a budget, and then you would submit the budget, D’you follow me?


No! Don’t do it that way. Goodness sakes!


Sometimes you have to, on complicated jobs that are going to take a couple of years. Yes, you better do it that way. But you can see the futility of applying a standardized way of working across the board as if you were a licensed trained engineer. The less training you’ve got means generally, I think people have their minds really wide open as to, “Okay, what do we do next? What do we jump on?”


Freddy Martin: What did you build for Michael Jackson?

Bob Gurr: Do you remember The Victory Tour back in 1984? It went to, I believe, 27 different venues for the entire summer. A massive amount of trucks. It’s still the biggest rock and roll tour show ever done in America because it had so many sets. It was such a massive, massive collection of stuff, normally in the lighting business you write out your lighting plan, and you select the instruments, and most times you rent the instruments at a lot of venues. And then you rent the lighting trusses and all that stuff, because this is store-bought, catalog stuff that’s available all over the world.


He [Michael Jackson] wanted something that is not rentable. He wanted something that is different than anybody else is going to have. And he’d been looking at people outside the rock and roll industry and he happened to wind up looking at our shop (which at that time I think we were called, let’s see, it was before The Sequoia Company, Applied Entertainment Systems. That’s what it was) because we’d done a little of the rock and roll stuff. We reworked some of lighting equipment for Queen, a band called Queen.


So he was looking sort of outside of the industry. And then I guess he was kind of surprised to see, “Oh my gosh! They’re doing some Queen stuff.” So then that’s when he, at the end of the tour, he just went off the top of his head, and said, “Could you do lighting? It was the same thing as the business of going to Disney. “Well I don’t.” I didn’t, but I said, “Yes.” Because you always say, “Yes.”


So it was a 9-week, very fast job. Learned a ton. Got to meet a whole bunch of people in this industry. A lot of them from England to do with lighting, audio, set direction, y’know, putting stuff together, taking it apart. I learned how roadies work, all that kind of stuff. Great people to learn from.


And out of that job came another job which was only 5 weeks long. The guy that designed the custom stages for Michael, a guy name of John McGraw, he was working on a deal for a flying saucer for the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Los Angeles in August of 84.


And then he ran out of time and money, but he had a lot of vendors pulled together on the “if come,” nobody paid. And then he said, “Oop, can’t do it, so why don’t you take the job?”


And I said, “Why sure, I’ll do it.” (laughs)


So I wound up with a 50-foot diameter flying saucer held by a helicopter and more lighting stuff. But this time I knew more about lighting so it went quick.


Freddy Martin: I’m going to have to look that up on YouTube.


Oh yeah! There’s pretty good videos of it that last a couple minutes and it gives you an idea, “What in the world was that?”


Freddy Martin: What was your biggest challenge?


Bob Gurr: Y’know, that’s the other word I don’t respond to is the word “challenge.” Challenge implies that you’re stuck and you’ve been brought to a halt.


I’ve always seen that in the other way around. It’s like when you get in a discussion with some people about a new project up potential thing to do, I can see several ways to do it very quickly in your mind, if you’re talking and looking at something.


So by the time somebody says, “Well hey! Yeah let’s go do this thing. Yeah, hey, let’s do it. Okay, make a deal. We’ll do it,” you actually might have two, three, or four general ideas. And the challenge, if there was a challenge at that moment, you would say, “Well, which one has the most likelihood of being successful and can get going the easiest?” Knowing that, if the one you just picked starts to bomb out in a day or two, or in a week or something, don’t worry about it. You have these other ideas, We can shift over to the other ideas.


So it’s kind of a long-winded way of saying I don’t ever recall seeing a challenge. And the only thing that would have come close is when you’re designing something that’s super simple and it’s only a two-week job or something and then suddenly a part of it doesn’t work.


That’s usually because you trap yourself in your own hubris.


And those are the ones you that I absolutely hated. I don’t think there was more than just two or three. Cause I really did not like the idea of I’m standing there and the shop guys are there and their money is burning and the time is burning and my thing doesn’t work. And then the look on everybody’s face, if you can visualize this in a way, they generally know my stuff works. And then, all of a sudden, they’re standing there and my stuff doesn’t work. The look on their face kills. You know, you’ve seen people, just like, “Okay smarty-pants. Oh look, you bombed out. We’re standing here and we’re watching.”


In one case it took 2 hours to come up with a brand new design and they stood and waited and watched me draw. (laughs)


The only worst one was we were putting King Kong together at Universal. We had the legs installed. We had the whole upper middle body installed and we were getting ready to install the torso, which was a big assembly and it had never made it up to the pelvis frame because we couldn’t do it in the shop. It was physically impossible. Everything else had been pre-fitted.


And this great big thing is hanging from a big crane and we were starting to set it in place and there’s a bind! There’s about a half inch of metal in the wrong place and I’m mortified. And so I look at the crane operator and I say, “Oh, just a minute. Hang on. Hang on. Go get a grinder. We’ll get this thing cleared here. Just give me a little bit of time.”


And the guy looks at me and says. “Mr. Gurr, the crane is $600 an hour. Take all the time you want.” (laughs)


If there was a challenge, it was like, “Oh God! How can I make this thing less than $600?”


It was only about 15 minutes, and I would just grinding off a little piece. But it was something that had not been pre-fitted. Cause I like to prefit everything. Because if you’re doing a field installation and and it’s big and expensive and there’s a big crew, your burning money. So you try to not get in that fix.


Freddy Martin: As a Jungle Cruise Skipper, I’m always curious about Jungle Cruise stories. Did you have anything to do with the Jungle Cruise?


Bob Gurr: Jungle Cruise? Yes.

One of my more spectacular, unsuccessful pieces of show action equipment was a couple of charging hippos. And this was long before good animation systems were available, and I was trying to do something – this was in like 1957 or 8, I think.

We were trying to do stuff where the hippos would come out on two different tracks to attack the boats. And then, when the boats go by, the hippos would turn and go back to where they were, and then turn around and reset themselves. And I was trying to do it with a spring set up, so that it went out one way and came back another way.

Due to the unpredictability of, y’know, falling leaves in the machinery, and water, y’know, and you never know what the hippos were gonna do anyway, every once in awhile the Jungle Cruise guys would come back with a report to the management and say, “You got to do something with the hippos!”

“What’s wrong with the hippos?”

“Well, some days they come out backwards and they moon everybody in the boat!”

And so the mooning hippos had to go. (Laughs)

Freddy: (Laughs) There’s a “backside of water” joke in there.

Bob Gurr: You probably caught my joke on the bus tour, where we stood out there (behind Imagineering headquarters in Glendale) and we talked about 1401 Flower –  everyone knows 1401 Flower, and this bland colored building here, “That’s the backside of 1401!”


Which is about as important.


Freddy Martin: You were there with the original team that mapped out Epcot. How did Future World and World Showcase actually come together?


Bob Gurr: Epcot was a very lengthy development. It was, I would probably say, the classical, long-winded committee project with people coming and going. Obviously then opinions would change from week to week. You know it was just a long, long arm wrassle [sic].


The company figured out about where they were going to put Epcot, so that pretty much stayed the same. And then we had a place called TCC or Transportation Control Center where the Monorails, and the parking lot trams, and the ferry boats that go over to the Magic Kingdom. That’s kind of a central place.


And there was an area Southwest of that juncture where the land was very good. Everything [else] down there was pretty much sinkholes.


And somebody started an idea where, and I think they did refer to it as, like a “world showcase.” This was like an extra activity. It had nothing to do with Epcot.


And the idea was that it was going to be a round installation where if you were in the center of the thing, if you look all around at these different countries, they all had the same width frontage. But if you look at it in the plan view, some countries might be tiny and some might be massive. And of course the property would be like expanding pieces of pie going way out pretty much unrestricted behind the opening. And they made they made models. They made drawings of this stuff, nice paintings. And somebody from marketing, I guess, comes in and says, “What makes you think all these competing civilizations are going to share the same front window?”



I mean it was such an obvious, obvious fact of history. But everybody was so close to the idea of this thing, nobody bothered to draw back and look at the historic reasons why civilizations fight to kill one another. And they’re still doing it!


You know, we’ve got the Ayatollahs, y’know, are bound and determined that, y’know, the Shiites are going to beat up the Sunnis, even though the Sunnis got them outnumbered by 5 to 1. But they’re not going to give up. That still goes on and on and on. You know, that’s just the way civilizations behave.


The United States says, “Well, we’re on top. We’ll be on the top forever and nobody can challenge us… Hello! China? Who? Who’s China?? What? How many? What? You got a billion people? You got a big Market! Let’s sell you something!” (laughs)


Well, what happened was, one day John DeCuir Jr was working on the job – he had a famous father. That model (World Showcase) just sort of slid over into the Epcot area and they said, “Well, it’s different. Well, we’ll put a lake between them. And they built quite a few models and then one day somebody said, “How big is this? It looks good on the floor, here in the model [shop] on the table. How big is this?”


And then they went out and they measured how big it really is and they had to cut the whole thing in two! They were making it twice as big as you could do it, (laughs) and they’d built models and drawings and everything before somebody said, “Well, how big is it?”


I remember that was, sort of, everybody looked at everybody and everybody went, “Oops!”


Freddy Martin: Wow! They were dreaming way too big.


Bob Gurr: Yeah, so designers, you know, there’s a hubris in every endeavor throughout history. I imagine, y’know, there’s a reason why the Greeks invented the word hubris, cause you know, you can be good at what you’re doing and one day you will fall on your Plutarch.  


And it’s something you really, really have to pay attention to. Don’t let that happen to you.


You know we’ve got a famous guy that’s got a rocket company. It’s very successful and he’s going to build a half million cars a year and he can’t even get the first cars to work… Mr. Musk, up there. He made some assumptions that, ergo, if robots are good for some things well, ergo, there good for everything.


So he said, “Oh, well then we’ll have the cars final assembly. We don’t need people to put the parts together. We’ll have the robots put the parts together, you know, the self assemblies of course will build the car. And he says, “It will be so perfect. We don’t need to build a prototype, pre-production pilot line to prove it out. We’ll just save all that time and money. Hmmm, read the continuing story of Mr. Musk’s Tesla Model 3.


Well, I’ve been up to the factory. I met Musk years ago. And I’ve got a lot of friends with Teslas, but I follow two things; the technical decision-making side and the financial side.


So that hubris is there, and I’ve got burned a couple of times, but not too bad.


As long as you’re on that subject, one of the things about while you’re designing stuff, you’re in a constant reiteration, literally hourly as you’re doing stuff. You keep going around and around and around, looking at the stuff, trying to say, “What is wrong with this? What is the Achilles heel of everything I’m sketching, or thinking about doing?”


And you go round and round. And you got to do that all the time, cause you want to be the first person to find the Achilles heel in your designs and then fix them before anybody knows about it. You don’t want to know that you’re a proud and famous designer and have someone else point that out after you spent the time and money.


So this anti-hubris thing is, I think the people are pretty good if they pick that up early in life.


Click HERE to jump to The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 3.

Click HERE if you missed The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1

*Full disclosure: I did actually ask Bob what his “process” was, but he somehow missed it. I edited it out above because it was confusing.

The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1

Some days you’re just going through the motions. No big deal. But some days, you get to interview Bob Gurr.

Bob Gurr is the wildly energetic and witty industrial designer who created the vehicles for most of your favorite Disney attractions. From the Autopia cars and the Monorail to the Main Street Omnibus and the Haunted Mansion’s Doom Buggies, Bob’s drawings and mechanical intuition brought them to life.

He’s an official Disney Legend (the Disney Kingdom’s equivalent of Knighthood) and one of the last living designers of Walt’s original theme park dream-come-true, Disneyland.

I got to know Bob via his guided bus tour through Walt Disney’s Los Angeles stomping grounds. When I asked him if he would interview with me, I expected a polite “no.” Instead, and to my great surprise, Bob said, “Yes!”

It turns out that saying “yes” is Bob’s M.O. 

In this first installment of The Bob Gurr Interview, we meet a World War II kid with an endless curiosity for machines that go, and and a penchant to follow after anything that interests him. That’s what led him to his first job at Disney, designing the vehicles for Disneyland’s Autopia. 


Freddy Martin: What motivated your curiosity in planes, trains and automobiles as a kid?


Bob Gurr: You remember we started the tour over on Los Feliz Boulevard before we went over to the Lyric Avenue housing sites, I pointed out that we lived on the hill, up on the right, just to two blocks down from Walt.


I do remember two things when I was like, my father said I was 18 months old, I knew the sound of the metal bells on the front of a Good Humor ice cream truck (laughs). It was something in tune, that I’d hear that jingle and then I’d make a big ruckus. And then, of course, they’d take me out there and buy me an ice cream. And that was kind of a regular thing, so I was like, (beginning to understand) “Okay, okay!”


It was an horizontal bar with bells, and had like a string on it. It was not electronic, I mean it was really bells on a truck!


And at the same time, I’d be out in the yard sometimes and an airplane would fly over and I was just entranced when I saw something! Because, obviously later on, from where the Grand Central Air Terminal is, the aircraft would take off and fly to the South, which meant they went right over Grandma’s house.


So those are two of the most vivid, vivid memories, very very early on. And then sometime not long after that, but before we moved to Glendale in 1934, it was cars! I was just fascinated with cars.


And then there was actually a fourth thing that I do recall. My grandmother was getting some painting done inside the house. And there was a truck that showed up that was configured like an old fashioned banana wagon cart. Y’know, it’s got a bed on the back and it’s got a canvas roof on it. In there was a compressor for compressing air for the paint. And this thing had open connecting rods and a crankshaft and somehow I was fascinated and completely terrified by it. Couldn’t get near it.


So those are the seeds that were strictly visual. There was the first clue. And as children’s synapses develop and are filling up by the millions a day, those got locked into my brain real quick.


Freddy Martin: Tony Baxter recently talked about the importance of being 12 and how, when he was 12, he started modeling things. That’s when he started to get ideas of who he might be as he grew up. Who were you at 12 and where were you headed at the time?


Bob Gurr: Well, at 12, I would have been, lemme see, I’ll do some math here. I would have been building model airplanes for about 5 years by the time I became Tony’s age where he started modeling things.


Let’s see. 12 years old? That would have been 1943. Okay, well World War II has been going for 2 years. I’m utterly fascinated by it. And in the third grade, just before the war, before Pearl Harbor, I was making model airplanes and I was a troublemaker. And I got thrown out of the third grade and I was immediately put into this Military Academy as incorrigible.


But the good part was, they had a little shack on the marching field where there was model airplane kits available that the students could build. So thereafter, I thought, “Boy, the more you misbehave you have more opportunities to do stuff.”  


At the same time, the classes were very small. The teachers were men and they had ties, and we had to wear wear ties. And instead of just doing a stupid test like you did in the third grade, they gave us little projects we had to research and figure things out. And that, really, I vividly remember that, because my assignment that the teacher gave me was, “Go to the library and read about oil wells and see if you can make a model of an oil well derrick.


In hindsight, what that said [to me] was, what if students were given stuff that they could think about, go learn about, and then go DO something with it rather than sitting there with a standard, y’know, arithmetic & spelling (sheet) over and over and over. I do remember the third grade. That got me out of there.


Do you know doing multiplication tables? When you multiply three numbers by three numbers? If you’ve been shown that in 5 minutes, ok! You know how to do that on the day you need it. Why do you sit there and do it over and over and over for a test paper? I mean that is really dumb!


So [I left] the really dumb public school system, where you do multiplication tables, three by threes… and [then] I’m building a model airplane in a military academy!


So going back to being 12 years old, you can see that by the time I reached, 12 I was already busy doing all kinds of things.


So when 12 comes along, World War II, I’m utterly fascinated by it. I’ve got a paper route I’m delivering the Hollywood Citizen News. When I got home, I loved to lay the newspaper on the floor and read about the war, and follow the maps of the Pacific War and the European War. I was just fascinated by progress on stuff you could hear about on the radio, of course. But then when you look at the pictures of the charts, and you could really see what’s going on.


So there was a whole bunch of interests right off the bat. And of course you know pre-pooberty and pooberty [sic] was raising its wild head in the middle of all that. And I lived sort of on a half-acre Farm in the middle of in North Hollywood, which was all pretty much Farm area so I pretty much grew up in the wild-farm-kid-on-bicycles era, and building bigger model airplanes.


Freddy Martin: There are stories from San Fernando Valley residents having extremely vivid, imprinted memories of Pearl Harbor because there was a terrible train fire in Chatsworth that same week. The smoke in the air made a deep impression for some people. Do you remember that?


Bob Gurr: No, not the smoke, but I can certainly understand why people were concerned, because I remember Pearl Harbor was such an instantaneous shock. Anybody who lived through it, you can remember exactly what you were doing, where you were, what the weather was like, what everything sounded like, what everybody did.


And within a day or two I think we were all sensitized to… “Oh my God they’re going to attack us next!” So anything that was startling made you very scared. Even little stuff like sounds in the night. Like we had a railroad track that ran 1/4 Mile from us. You knew it was a train but all of a sudden you were waking up by clanking or clunking or hissing or something and you thought, “Oh my God, they’re here!” So I think you can lay in bed at night and you can imagine terrible things are now coming your way. So, yes. I could see any local thing that didn’t mean anything became an emblazoned memory.


Freddy Martin: What was your path to becoming an Imagineer?


Bob Gurr: Well, [to your] curiosity thing, here’s what’s curious. A lot of people, sort of in hindsight, they will make up a good story as to their chosen path and how they planned their curriculum, and how they have their goals, and all that. I didn’t have a lick of that.


I was just having such a good time choogling through everything in life that by the time I’m up in high school. I wanted to be an aircraft engineer over at Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute (Which I failed to mention about the Grand Central Air Terminal building – That was also after the war was the Curtis Wright Technical Institute) But I got an A in algebra and I got an F and a Pass in Geometry one in the 10th grade and so there went my engineering dream. My math was no good so I can’t design airplanes. Okay, well, I’ll just draw cars instead. And I’d been drawing ‘em both Anyways so I thought, okay, you don’t need math to do cars.


So that was the prime feature all the way through High School. And then at about halfway through, y’know, I was taking drafting which is an obvious course. Then I had architecture class.


And then the architecture teacher noticed I was drawing cars all the time and suggested, “Say, when you graduate from 12th grade, why don’t you go down to Art Center? They teach cars.”


And so that set that in place that I would, “Oh, I could go down there and I could learn…”


Note:At this point in the interview, we briefly lost connection with Bob. Here he explained his timeline that he was given a scholarship from General Motors to study industrial design at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and then was recruited to Ford Motor Company in Detroit.


Bob Gurr continued: …that’s not too expensive. I’ll take Detroit.


Before I even graduated, John Wards picked me out and said, “Come on back now,” about a month before graduation. Then I got rated out of that job into the Ford Motor Company.


And then a year and a day later I didn’t want anymore of Detroit, so I came back to California. I popped in on a friend of mine who had a typewriter company, which was also a publishing house, where I’d published my books earlier, and was there. Then I went to help an industrial design company whose employees all quit. They needed staffing immediately.


And then while there, I get a phone call to go to the Disney Studio.


So you can see how random this path to being, ultimately being what’s later called an ‘Imagineer.’ And it was not on the horizon, not thought of, didn’t know anything about it.


I knew where the Disney Studios were, because my father would drive me to his shop in Glendale and pointed out this new building, “Ooh, that’s where Donald Duck lives there.” Because I knew the comics. I know I didn’t like the mouse. I liked the duck a lot better. And my father would always say, “Well that’s where the duck lives over there.” That’s all I knew about Walt Disney.  


So you see what I mean by people have their grand plans, which, usually they answer the question after you’ve asked it, which is after they did what they did?


I don’t have a story! Because I was always open to any idea anything that looked interesting. And all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, that looks interesting!” Y’know? And it turned out to be!


But it was strictly off the wall. In other words, from the time I got the call to go out to the Disney Studios and then actually going in the front door was only about 20 minutes. So in other words the getting ready to being an Imagineer was only about 20 minutes long.


Freddy Martin: So who introduced you to the folks at the Disney Studios?


Bob Gurr: That’s another kinda complicated story. The Art Center School, like all colleges, they had, let’s call it a job placement officer. And the job placement officer makes deals with the car companies before graduation because the car companies like to raid the good students before the other companies get there. So they’re always trying to get there before graduation.


And of course I was one of two guys that got picked out of the school immediately. And the arrangement was made by a guy by the name of Johnny Thompson who was a professional drunk, who was sort of like a lobbyist in Detroit with Art Center. And so he had made the deal and he also made the deal to get me out from General Motors and to go to the Ford Motor Company on a weekend before I would go to work on a Monday. Y’see he was a deal maker.


Well anyway, the same guy was at Art Center in 1954. I went down to see a friend. In fact, the friend was Alex Tremulis, the guy that designed the Tucker automobile, which was a good friend of mine. He was visiting there.


And in the course of walking through the corridor of Art Center School, there was Johnny Thompson again, the drunk. And just in passing, just going by, he stops and says, “Oh, by the way Bob. I know you’re working at Channing Wallace Gilson company. Do you ever do outside work?”


Well, I didn’t, so I said, “Yes.”


Simple as that. And the next day he calls because he had been making a deal between Disney and Art Center. (laughs) I just happened to walked by! Ten seconds one way or the other and I never would have been an Imagineer.


And so he calls and he’d been talking to Dick Irvine out there, who was running all of the designers at that time, which was October of ‘54. So, I go out there. And I know, maybe a couple weeks before, that there was a new project called Disneyland. It was in the LA Times, a great big drawing on the front of the paper.


And at about that same time I knew there was a little car, a little chassis, running around the backlot of the studio, because Ub Iwerks, who was a good friend, he was on my paper route. And I was friends with his two sons, one of which was my age, and we were in the same car club together. He (Ub) always showed movies at their after church Sunday meals about what’s going on on the lot. And one of his pictures was this ugly little car, green and yellow car, with the name Disneyland painted on it. And they also had another car nearby that was just a chassis, no body. And the Ugly car had Kirk Douglas giving his two boys a ride.


So in the 20 minute drive to go out to the studio, I thought, “Do you suppose that picture of the amusement park in the LA Times and that little car that doesn’t have a body on the back lot at Disney, where the guy told me to go, if they’re connected?”


And so, I can recall being at the front gate and meeting Mr. Irvine, who came out to the gate to meet me, rather than a guard sending me into the building. I had figured out, “Aha! Those two things are connected! Sure enough, Mr. Irvine walks me out to the back lot and there’s that little chassis. So I knew what they needed. So, y’know, I go,“Yeah, I can make some drawings. I’ll bring them in Saturday.”


And that’s how it careers get launched with a 20 minute warning. So, I have no grand story for ya.


Freddy Martin: That is a grand story! Often times, people will say, “No, I can’t.” But it sounds like part of your story is saying, “Yes, I can.”


Bob Gurr: Yep.


Read Part 2 of The Bob Gurr Interview HERE.


If you want your own unique experience with the one-and-only Bob Gurr, get on board the WaltLand Disney Bus Tour departing monthly. This is a limited opportunity, so don’t hesitate to get your tickets. You won’t be sorry you did. 

Bob Gurr Moons Disney Guests – A Jungle Cruise Story

bob gurr's story of building a machine to move hippos back and forth on jungle cruise doesn't turn out as he planned.

Later this month, I’ll post my interview with Imagineer and Disney Legend, Bob Gurr. You’ll get his true story of growing up the curious and inventive child who ended up helping Walt Disney build many of the incredible attraction vehicles for his one-of-a-kind theme park. 

Bob told me so many amazing stories that I can’t wait to share them with you. So here’s one he told about an attraction that is obviously close to my heart – The World Famous Jungle Cruise. While many of his accomplishments were spectacular, here’s one that didn’t go quite as planned. Enjoy.

Freddy: Did you have anything to do with the Jungle Cruise?

Bob: Jungle Cruise? Yes.

One of my more spectacular, unsuccessful pieces of show action equipment was a couple of charging hippos. And this was long before good animation systems were available, and I was trying to do something – this was in like 1957 or 8, I think.

We were trying to do stuff where the hippos would come out on two different tracks to attack the boats. And then, when the boats go by, the hippos would turn and go back to where they were, and then turn around and reset themselves. And I was trying to do it with a spring set up, so that it went out one way and came back another way.

Due to the unpredictability of, y’know, falling leaves in the machinery, and water, y’know, and you never know what the hippos were gonna do anyway, every once in awhile the Jungle Cruise guys would come back with a report to the management and say, “You got to do something with the hippos!”

“What’s wrong with the hippos?”

“Well, some days they come out backwards and they moon everybody in the boat!”

And so the mooning hippos had to go. (Laughs)

Freddy: (Laughs) There’s a “backside of water” joke in there.

Bob Gurr: You probably caught my joke on the bus tour, where we stood out there (behind Imagineering headquarters in Glendale) and we talked about 1401 Flower –  everyone knows 1401 Flower, and this bland colored building here, “That’s the backside of 1401!” 

Want to read the whole magical interview? Check out The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1 HERE.


If you’d like to hear Bob Gurr’s funny and amazing stories first hand, you still have a chance to tour Walt’s old stomping grounds with him with the Waltland Disney History Bus Tour. There are tours scheduled on the third Sunday of every month from now until September 2018. Bob takes you to Walt’s homes, former and current Disney studio sites, Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park, and the merry-go-round where Walt first thought of his idea for Disneyland. Buy your tickets now. This tour won’t be available forever. Visit Waltland.com for details. 

Disney Secrets You Can See From Space

Can we as a culture, once and for all, stop saying that the Great Wall of China is “the only thing visible from space?” That myth, perpetuated by NASA astronauts who only had a brief porthole view of our little green marble, is easily busted with a quick look at Google Maps. Thanks to their hi-res satellite pictures, knit together to form a global tapestry, we’re able to grab a brand new perspective other generations only dreamed of. So for all my Disney friends, fans, and freaks (you know who you are), I’ve scoured the digital globe to find for you some of the most magical, mind-blowing (and vertigo-inducing) Disney secrets you can see from space!

NOTE: I’ve included screenshots from Google Maps within this article. To zoom in and explore them for yourself, copy and paste the included coordinates into the Google search bar. You’ll then need to change your map view to “satellite” to see the actual satellite views.*

Walt’s Disney’s Personal Plane


Walt Disney’s Gulfstream 1 (N234MM) when it was on display at Disney Hollywood Studios in 2015. Photo ©2018 Freddy Martin, All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney owned several private planes he used for business travel. Most famously, he used his planes to scout locations for land where he could build his “Florida Project,” the idea that would eventually become Walt Disney World in Central Florida. One of the planes, a twin turboprop Gulfstream 1, was on display as part of the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney Hollywood Studios theme park. Known by its tail numbers, “November Two Three Four Mickey Mouse,” this unique craft gave Walt Disney wings to pursue his dreams.

Models of Walt’s planes (including N234MM) are also currently on display in his original offices (Suite 3H) at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Photo ©2018 Freddy Martin, All Rights Reserved.

After the Backlot Tour was closed, and the back half of the park was demolished to make way for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the plane disappeared from public view with many wondering if that treasure of the Disney past is lying in a scrap pile somewhere, never to be seen again.

Not exactly.

Reedy Creek Environmental Services – Red circle shows location of Walt’s plane. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Directly North of Disney Animal Kingdom, on Bear Island Road is the Reedy Creek Environmental Services facility. This is part of the government agency started by Roy O. Disney that provides services (water, power, emergency services, etc.) to Walt Disney World. In a view from space (via Google Earth), on a small dirt lot on the property’s east side, we can see a twin turboprop Gulfstream 1, nowhere near an airstrip, and surrounded by barricades.

Walt Disney’s Gulfstream 1 plane in storage in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

It’s pretty obvious this is Walt’s Gulfstream 1 awaiting its final fate. Incidentally, I have it on decent authority that the plan will not be left here to rot in a Florida swamp. Keep an eye on this post over the next couple I’ll share a hint of where it may be headed next.

To read more about the life of N234MM check out Jim Korkis’ interview on the subject at Yesterland.com.

Captain Nemo’s Sunken Sub


Captain Nemo’s Nautilus in all her glory.

For those who grew up going to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, one of their most beloved memories was a journey beneath the sea, 20,000 leagues to be exact. Based on the Walt Disney Productions film based on the Jules Verne novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage took guests on an eye-opening, underwater cruise past scenes of shipwrecks, giant squids, mermaids, and sea serpents (Mr. Baxter… you’ve been submerged too long).

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the attraction was the unique design of the subs themselves. Fashioned after Captain Nemo’s submarine, designed for the film by Disney Legend Harper Goff, these steampunky dive ships blended weaponized steel with Victorian grace. The eerily shark-like shape and googly-eyed port holes intrigued young and old alike.

So when the attraction closed in 1994, many mourned the loss of a childhood memory they would never again relive. Until now.

Kind of.

Castaway Cay – Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Disney stripped and buried all but three of the original 40-ton subs. One found a home in a backstage area of Disney Hollywood Studios visible on the now-defunct Backlot Studio Tour. The other two were taken to Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, and sunk in the shallows as an artificial reef habitat for snorkelers to explore.

Snorkeling Lagoon – Red circle shows location of the last of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarines from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on Castaway Cay. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Today, only one remains, its signature silhouette almost completely unrecognizable as hurricanes have stripped away the fins. But from space, you can still see its long, sinister shape in the protected snorkeling lagoon.

The Nautilus – The last of Captain Nemo’s submarines is now a snorkeling reef on Disney’s private island.

Check out an up close video view of Captain Nemo’s sunken sub HERE.

Hidden Under Foot

Even though these next Disney secrets are not exactly hidden from view to guests, they qualify as Disney secrets because millions of Disney guests will walk over them day by day and never even notice that there’s a story being told literally under their feet!

Back in the 1980s when I worked at Disneyland, there was always a fun fact I liked pointing out to people. In each of the themed lands of the park, the asphalt seal, or “slurry,” was colored to match the design of the land. Adventureland was green, Frontierland was a burnt orange, Tomorrowland was blue, and so on. This was an effort to further theme the lands.

But today, they’re not satisfied with pathways for pathways’ sake. They want to “plus” the experience even further by building design elements into the paving. Perhaps you’ve noticed the detailed hoof prints in the pavement in Frontierland, or the leaves and bio-luminescence pressed into the ground in Pandora. But these next Disney theming secrets are so big you’d need back up, way up, to be able to see them.

Downtown Disney is a Flowering Vine

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Between ESPN Zone and the AMC theaters (soon to be demolished for a new hotel, the vines begin to crawl through Downtown Disney. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.
The Downtown Disney vine continues eastward toward the parks wrapping the monorail station in its leaves. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.
UVA Bar & Cafe is the center of the district, itself a flower along the vine. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Back in 2001, when Anaheim’s version of Downtown Disney district opened, it was a new concept of shopping and dining for the Disneyland Resort. Opened in concert with the opening of Disney’s California Adventure park (DCA), the district offered fun and community for vacationers and locals alike to spend an evening within the Disney bubble and without entering the parks.

Designed as a “garden within the city,” the walkways are decorated as a flowering fine with planters shaped like leaves and flower shapes that create seating and dining areas. Even the promenade between Disneyland Park and DCA is designed as a lattice on which the vines can grow. Truly a beautiful Disney secret you’ll only see if you’re looking down.

Disneyland Resort Promenade is a lattice from which the Downtown Disney Vine can blossom. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Right Brain/Left Brain in Epcot’s Future World

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Future World from Space – Left and right brains of the of Epcot’s Future World. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

When Walt Disney’s original idea for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was scrapped (because some people tend to enjoy their voting rights), Disney Imagineers pursued instead the idea of a future world that showcased some of the beautiful and upcoming technologies that would feed humankind’s desire for both creativity and technology.

Future World West – The curving shapes and wandering ways give space for creativity and wonder. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

The result was a large area of Epcot called Future World where guests can explore the beauty and creativity inspired by the natural world on one side (Future World West) and the analytical and mechanical wonders of mankind’s creation on the other side (Future World East). Future World West, in theory, speaks to the right hemisphere of the brain with pavilions dedicated to the land, the sea, and human imagination, while Future World East speaks to linear thinking and mathematic thought with pavilions dedicated to energy, motion, and medicine. But these are more than just a grouping of attractions.

Future World East – The sharp lines and geometric lines speak to the analytical mind of the left brain. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

From the satellite’s orbit, we can see that Disney Imagineers even designed the walkways, water features, trees, and planters were built with these concepts in mind. In Future World West, the undulating and fluid shapes lead one to meander through and perhaps think more creatively. In Future World East, the hard-line, geometric shapes cause one to take decisive direction when choosing where to adventure next.

Discoveryland Nautilus

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Discoveryland – Europe’s version of Tomorrowland takes on a steam punk style. Sharp-eyed tourists can also see another replica of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus in the bay. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Just a short hop across the pond to Disneyland Paris, we’ll find another beautiful feature hidden beneath our feet that’s visible from high above the earth. On your way to Space Mountain in Discoveryland (the European equivalent to the American parks’ Tomorrowland), you’ll walk right over another tribute to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You probably won’t notice that the paving stones are arranged in the shape of a nautilus, the cephalopod who Captain Nemo’s submarine was named after.

This Nautilus shape is invisible to most pedestrians, but from space it shows a tribute to Jules Verne’s classic novel and the 1960s Disney film. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Film Reel Footpath

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Disney Hollywood Studios in Paris, France. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

A few short steps (and another theme park admission price) away at Disney Hollywood Studios in Paris, there’s another big story being told in the pavement. Near the Plaza of Stars, where movie and TV stars have pressed their hand and footprints into soft cement, there is a film reel walk way that only reveals itself from above.

Disney Bros. Plaza – A walkway of film leads to an argyle sweater courtyard, two things the Disney brothers learned a lot about in their first years in Hollywood. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Follow that pathway to an area called Disney Bros. Plaza and you’ll see the pathway change into an argyle pattern, not unlike a sweater vest worn by Hollywood types in the 1920s when Walt and Roy Disney first came to Hollywood – the real one.

DisneySea Plaza Moon Phases

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Tokyo DisneySea – Disney’s most unique theme park tells the legends and lore of the world’s oceans. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Much further East, at DisneySea in Tokyo, there’s another underfoot secret spotted from satellite cameras, or should I say from the Moon? Within the DisneySea Plaza, a large circular piazza surrounded by what may be the homes of the great oceanic explorers, guests crowd around the beautiful fountain globe to take pictures with the first icon of the park, a gold and alabaster sailing ship.

DisneySea Plaza – The welcoming plaza for Tokyo DisneySea displays a gigantic diagram of the Moon’s phases that you could see from, well… the Moon! Photo from Google Earth, 2018.

Little do they know, that under their feet, the Imagineers designed a complete map of the Moon’s phases. Sailors of old had only the sky to guide them, so this map declares from the outset the excitement and wonder of exploration at sea.

Lotus Flower in Shanghai

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Shanghai Disney – Disney’s newest theme park impresses with some of it’s grandest illusions yet. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Travel West now to Shanghai Disney in China. As you enter the resort, there is another vast plaza welcoming guests to enjoy this newest of the Disney parks. Few guests ever look down to see that they are standing on a gigantic image of lotus blossoms. Deeper in the park, at the hub leading to each of the park’s magical themed lands there is another representation of the lotus.

Lotus Blossom Entry – Out of what was once a barren field, these blossoms at the entry to Shanghai Disney promise glimpses into the past, present, and future. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

What’s so special about this is that the lotus symbolizes something beautiful and pure coming out of the murky mud to show us the past, present, and future. Where else but this park could this message be more appropriate?

Massive Hidden Mickeys

Everybody loves noticing a Hidden Mickey. Especially when it’s one nobody has ever noticed before. Imagine the astronauts’ surprise of when they look down to see these humongous Mickey Mouse shapes hidden where nobody would see them, without Google Earth, that is.

Mickey-Shaped Lake

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Lake Mickey – How do you punish Donald Duck? Put him in this lake and tell him to go sit in the corner. Ha! Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

I’m not sure if this is actually a lake. It could be a reservoir or water treatment area for all I know. Heck, it might even be an alligator farm. But smack dab in the middle of the massive Walt Disney World property, in an area where guests used to be able to drive real race cars, is this perfectly symmetrical body of water shaped like the famous mouse. It’s located just South of the Mulan parking lot.

Mickey-Shaped Solar Farm

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Looks like a bunch of solar panels from World Drive. Wait ’til you see it from space! Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Just down World Drive from the Mickey-shaped lake is a Mickey-shaped solar farm. This massive field of solar panels looks like any other solar farm you’d see in a trip across the country, but when viewed from a space craft, it betrays its true shape. Who knows, when the aliens come from a Mickey-shaped planet, they may think we were speaking to them, offering a peaceful welcome… and churros.

Staring at the Sun – This Mickey-shaped solar farm brings energy to Epcot. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Mickey Shaped Pedestrian Path

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Mickey-shaped pedestrian path through the Disneyland Resort. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

If exercise is frustrating to you because you only feel like you’re running around in circles, this next hidden Mickey will validate your feelings. At the Disneyland Resort, straddling Disneyland Drive with Paradise Pier Hotel on one side and DCA on the other, is a pedestrian path with that distinctive mouse shape. During the Run Disney events held right there, the runners usually use the middle of the road technique, but it’s not unusual for those in the know to take an ear or two at the beginning of their 10k.

Misshapen Mickey

The Mickey Mouse flower portrait at the entrance to Disneyland, Anaheim, California. Photo from Google Maps, 2018.

Now don’t freak out. I know this isn’t a “Hidden Mickey.” In fact it’s probably the most photographed Mickey in the entire world. But since we’re looking down from space, I thought you’d be interested to see how distorted this image of Mickey actually is.

This is the Mickey flower bed in the entry area of Disneyland. Disney’s landscape designers wanted Mickey to look more like himself in from down below where the people are, so they used forced perspective and actually planted his image with a broad upward stretch. It’s not meant to be seen from space. Unless you’re a rocket man, you wouldn’t notice this weird effect.

If you view this location via Google Maps with the 3D effect* on, you’ll see that they went in and fixed the image to make Mickey look more like himself.

What Else Can You See From Space?

I’ve got so much more to share, but this post is getting so long. I may add to it along the way or introduce a part two.

In the meantime, are there any Disney secrets you’d like to share? Write a comment below and I’ll check it out. It might make it into one of my posts in the future.



*From time to time, things on the ground change and, depending on what browsers or devices you use, the images may look different from what I’ve posted here. You can toggle 3D or map labels on and off in Google Maps settings.


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Dreaming with Walt Disney – Chat with Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe (Part 3)

Back To Disneyland: In our last post from the interview with Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe, we followed his adventures from Tom Sawyer Island, to the Marine Corps, and then to Florida where he helped open Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom, and EPCOT Center, securing his status as a Disney Legend, and receiving a window on Main Street in his honor.

In this final post, we’ll learn how a boy named Tom gave Walt Disney some great ideas for improving the island they both knew and loved. Then we’ll hear about the last time Tom interacted with Walt. Finally, we’ll remember the day Walt passed away and where Tom was when he heard the news.

But first, let’s go back in time to Tom’s first visit to Disneyland on July 17, 1955–Opening Day! Tom and his mother were living in the neighborhood just north of the property where Disneyland was being built (just East of Harbor Blvd. on Vermont Ave.). Tom and his buddies would go over to the park and look over the fences to see into the Magic Kingdom as it was being built.

He never dreamed his lifelong story of working for the Disney Company would begin on the day Disneyland opened!

Disneyland’s Opening Day

F – You were one of the lucky kids who got into Disneyland for the opening press day on July 17, 1955. How in the world did that happen?

T – My mother was a starlet wannabe. And she used to haul us to Hollywood for all the premier openings. And we used to go to whatever TV show that she could get tickets for and that type thing. And if she wasn’t going to be a starlet, one of her kids was going to be. And so I finally worked into that.

She was over at Disneyland on July 17, ‘55 for the press opening, and she was getting autographs and that type of thing.

“Well I got a couple extra tickets. Do you want em?”

Disneyland opening day ticket for Sunday, July 17, 1955. This ticket belongs to Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe.
Tom Nabbe’s opening day ticket. Opening day tickets were not numbered. Guests were grouped into staggered entry times. Tom says the tickets in the Disney Archives are marked with 2:30pm, but his and his mother’s tickets were for 5:30pm. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

Danny Thomas came out and she asked Danny for an autograph. And of course he gave that to her. And he sort of leaned forward and said, “Have you been in the park?” And she says, “Oh no. We weren’t invited.” And he says, “Well I got a couple extra tickets. Do you want em?”

And so we went into the press opening for Disneyland as guests of Danny Thomas.

So it was my Mother and I. And I (still) have my ticket.

(Tom has made it a tradition to visit Disneyland on July 17th every 5th anniversary. The only one he missed was when he was in the Marine Corps.)

A Boy As Imagineer

F – Let’s flash forward again to your time with Walt. He hired you to play Tom Sawyer on his island, which is pretty extraordinary. But then he asked for your help in dreaming up the island’s second phase in 1957. Tell us about that.

T – Walt would come out into the park before the park opened, and walk around. He’d talk to the maintenance people and the custodial people, and the landscape people and he’d walk all over at that point.

“I want to know what you think the island should have.” – Walt Disney

And I remember one time he came over and he says, “Tom, I’m gonna rehab the island. Let’s walk and talk the island and I want to know what you think the island should have.”

And I told Walt it needed to have a treehouse, and it needs to have a secret escape tunnel from the fort.

Tom & Huck's Treehouse on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland.
Tom & Huck’s Treehouse on Tom Sawyer Island stands as it did following the 1958 rehab when it was added to the landscape. Photo ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

When it came up from rehab in 1958, we had a treehouse. We had an escape tunnel from the fort. We also had Castle Rock, Teeter-Totter Rock, Merry-Go-Round Rock, but I won’t take credit for those.

But the escape tunnel and the treehouse, absolutely.

Saying Goodbye

F – Do you remember the last time you spoke with Walt?

T – My last contact with Walt was back in the early sixties. It was one of those days when he was out walking in the park.

Part of our job description was to “Watch out for Walt” in many ways. And one of them was that he would totally get inundated with people who wanted autographs. And he just wasn’t as familiar with the park and how to get backstage.

And I remember it was pretty much in front of the Malt Shop (in Frontierland) and he was just mobbed by people. And so I helped him get backstage. They had an employee entrance there between the Malt Shop and Oaks Tavern (currently the barn door painted with a dragon for “Laod Bhang’s Fireworks).

Tom Nabbe and Walt Disney fishing at Disneyland along the Rivers of America. Mark Twain steamship in background.
Disneyland’s own Tom Sawyer, played by Tom Nabbe, fishes the waters of the Rivers of America with Walt Disney as the Mark Twain Steamship passes by. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

And once we got backstage, I told him, “Walt, I’m Tom Nabbe. You hired me to be Tom Sawyer.” And he said, “Oh yea, I know. I remember you. How are you? How you been?” And that type thing. And so we visited for just a little bit there.

But that was the last conversation I had with Walt. That was, I want to say ’62.

F – Wow, you saved him the embarrassment of not knowing where to go.

T – I don’t know about that, but I know I saved him from having to sign a whole lot of autographs.

F – What do you remember about when Walt Disney passed away?

T – I was in the Marine Corps. And actually, I was in school in San Diego in the MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot), and the first sergeant of the school knew that I had worked at Disneyland. And he actually pulled me out of the class and informed me that Walt had passed away, and said, “You can take a couple hours off.” And I was able to be a little bit on my own for a while and absorb that loss.

Passing On the Disney Heritage

F – What a life you’ve had!

T – You know, Freddy, it hasn’t stopped. What I do, and as long as they want me, once a month I do a Disney heritage thing for training a group for RCID (Reedy Creek Improvement District, the municipal designation of the land where Walt Disney World sits) is putting all their people through a retraining program and asked me if I would come in and share my stories. So I do that once a month.

Wayne Jackson, Bob Gurr, Tom Nabbe, Dave Smith at Disneyana Convention, June 2010
Disney Legends: Imagineers, Wayne Jackson & Bob Gurr, Tom Nabbe and Disney Archivist, Dave Smith at Disneyana Convention – July 2010

Tomorrow, I’m doing that same heritage presentation for the opening crew for Club 33 that they’re gonna build here at Walt Disney World. And so all of those cast members are going through a training program and I’ll pretty much share exactly what I just shared with you with them, tomorrow.

It was sort of neat too, because the gal that pulled the program together, I had done a “Dinner with a Legend” type thing. And she had had several Legends in for dinner with the people from D23 that were very involved and wanted to have that. We did it at the castle at Walt Disney World here. We have the College Program here, and I do it for the college program.

The gal that ran that program worked for me in the early 70s in Frontierland and she asked me to come in and talk to the group.

And so I’m constantly doing that.

I also do it for Disney fan clubs.

Cover of From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend - The Adventures of Tom Nabbe by Tom Nabbe
From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend – The Adventures of Tom Nabbe

The neat thing is I sort of tie it into book signings so I end up being able to sell copies of my book.

F – What’s the best way for me to point people to get your book?

T – If they want it signed and personalized, go to my website TomNabbe.com. If you just want the book you can get it on Amazon. If you want it in Kindle form you can get it on Amazon.

GET TOM’S BOOK: This interview barely scratches the surface of Tom’s stories growing up inside Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Take Tom’s advice. Order the book from TomNabbe.com so you can get your book signed and personalized by a Disney Legend.

Did you miss Part 1 or 2? The story of how Tom Nabbe became Walt Disney’s own Tom Sawyer is the kind of magic every Disney fan dreams of. Get started HERE.

To learn more about Walt Disney’s affinity for Mark Twain and a mysterious mark inside a cave on Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, check out “The Hand of Walt – A Disney Secret Hidden For Decades Is Finally Revealed!


See What A Dream Can Do – 2018 Thea Awards

The 2018 TEA Thea Awards, Anaheim, California. April 7, 2018

Originally posted to ThemedAttraction.com

ANAHEIM – When civil rights activist and U.S. Representative, John Lewis, dedicated the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC, his words echoed the triumph of generations; “See what a dream can do.”

The NMAAHC was honored with the Award for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) at the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Awards, where Rep. Lewis’ words also seemed to speak for the spectacular efforts of the themed entertainment professionals whose completed projects were on display that night.

The objective of the Thea Awards, TEA’s 24th annual awards gala, is to find excellence within the themed entertainment industry and celebrate it. Sponsored by the Chinese theme park giant, Chimelong, themed entertainment legends and cutting-edge players alike gathered from around the globe just across the street from the original place “where dreams come true” at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.

“I never imagined that world of imagination would become real for me and it would be much more than a dream, it would be a career and a home,” said Phil Hettema, founder of The Hettema Group, a well-respected experiential design firm known for building incredible attractions worldwide, for clients such as DreamWorks, Sea World, Universal Studios, and the Chicago Museum of Science and industry.

Hettema was awarded the highest honor of the night, The Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Outstanding Achievements.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity.” – Phil Hettema

Tony Baxter, Mike Mulligan, Phil Hettema, TEA, Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards after party Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter, Storyland Studios Producer, Mike Mulligan, and Buzz Price Award Honoree, Phil Hettema of THG discuss the finer points of theme park design.

Quick to give credit where credit is due, Hettema began his remarks by directing guests to an online list of those he wished he could thank if he had more time. Gently ribbing Disney he quipped, “I want and need to thank all of them, but if I did, we would be here until Star Wars Land opens.”

With all the fun that comes with working within the dream-making industry, Hettema warned that the industry has some important obligations.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity.”

Zsolt Hormay, creative executive on the Pandora World of Avatar land at Disney Animal Kingdom poses with members of his creative team Zsolt Hormay, Vice President Creative for WDI, along with members of his creative team, was honored with the Thea for Theme Park Area Development for Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney Animal Kingdom

“Our industry has often been accused of creating fake worlds,” he said, “and we seem to be living in a world of fake news and alternative facts, but when we tell our stories with quality and integrity, they’re powerful and they can change lives.”

“We have an obligation” Hettema continued, “to make sure that we build teams that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We cannot expect our stories to be heard by the whole world if our teams telling the story don’t mirror the full spectrum of our audience.”

Garner Holt, Bill Butler, Olaf Vugts, Coen Bertens (Left to right) Garner Holt and Bill Butler of Garner Holt Productions join Stan Dingemans, Olaf Vugts, Sander de Bruijn, and Coen Bertens (far right) of de Efteling to celebrate their award for Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy

To the internationally diverse audience, this last statement struck a unifying chord, and was met with their loudest applause.

Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) received a total of four Theas for projects at their American theme parks. First, WDI was recognized for successfully reimagining two beloved attractions; the Epcot attraction Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: BREAKOUT at Disney California Adventure.

WDI’s other two Theas were for Disney Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, and it’s anchor attraction, Flight of Passage. WDI veteran and creative force, Joe Rohde led teams in creating an unbelievably convincing alien world based on Avatar, the James Cameron IP.

“This is a business of hearts and minds,” Rohde said. “We reach out and touch the hearts and minds of all the people the who come through these places. That is not done with plastic. It is not done with machines. It is not done with concrete and steel or projection. It is through the hearts and minds of the artists and the workers involved. If you just set them free and give them the power, they will give you back more than you can predict, more than you can measure, and certainly more than you can buy.”

Volunteers and members of the TEA NextGen initiative celebrate an event well done.

Other awards for theme park excellence went to Cedar Point, the flagship park of Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. in Sandusky, Ohio, honored with the Thea Classic award for being an influential project that has stood the test of time, Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy, a beautiful new dark ride at de Efteling in The Netherlands, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom’s Journey of Lights Parade in Zhuhai City, China, DreamWorks Animation Zone at MOTIONGATE Dubai in UAE, and the amazingly low-tech, day-long immersive theater of Ghost Town Alive! at Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.

“If you just set them free and give them the power, they will give you back more than you can predict, more than you can measure, and certainly more than you can buy.” – Joe Rohde

A tribute to WDI luminary, Marty Sklar, who passed away in 2017, was a heart-warming celebration of the “Dad” of the themed entertainment industry. Images of the hundreds of Disney Parks projects he personally touched and influenced played on the screen while a choir sang the Sherman Brothers’ classic One Little Spark.

Bob Rogers, the founder of BRC Imagination Arts said of Sklar, “Marty was a giver. He was a mentor to me. But not just me. What about you?” One by one, everyone in the audience stood to declare Marty’s influence on their lives.

Along with the NMAAHC, other museums received honors for their excellent achievements including Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, an emotional tour of remembrance through the history of the famous WWI battle that led to New Zealand’s national independence, featuring 2.5 scale, life-like figures created by Sir Richard Tylor and the Weta Workshop team, depicting the true stories of real people impacted by that crucial 20th century event.

Stacia Martin of Disneyland, Diane Michioka of ThinkWell at the Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards Gala after party. Disneyland artist, Stacia Martin and ThinkWell Vice President of Production, Diane Michioka connect as peers at the Thea after party.

The Rainis’ Museum in Tadenava, Latvia stood out among the technological giants for it’s stripped down simplicity and warmth featuring beautifully-designed, kinetic interactives made entirely of wood.

Projection mapping and 3D technologies brought honors to projects like the Citadella Visitors Centre on Gozo Island, Malta, which transformed an ancient stone reservoir into a gorgeously illuminated history experience. Les Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence, France projects fine art masters in gigantic scale onto the walls of an ancient cave. Aura, at Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal, Canada illuminates one of the largest cathedrals in North America with an architectural narrative that recalls the original purposes and impact of religious art.

Nathan Huber of 3D Live and Christian Lachel of BRC Imagination Arts at the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual Thea Awards, 2018 3D Live creator, Nathan Huber trades secrets with Christian Lachel, executive at BRC Imagination Arts in the press reception before the Thea Awards ceremony began.

3D Live was honored for Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Technology with their “Holographic” 3D LED display permanently installed at California’s Great America, within the Mass Effect: New Earth attraction. Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience in Shanghai, China was honored for its haunting live-theater adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Legends Collide – Olaf Vugts, Chief Imagineering Officer at Efteling and Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter share mutual admiration at the TEA Theas after party.

Everyone literally raised a glass for the brand experience award, which went to Jameson Distillery Bow St. in Dublin, Ireland, the brand home of Jameson Whiskey. The project’s director, John Carroll, quickly became everyone’s best mate when he bought a round of drinks at the after party, all made with Jameson Whiskey, of course.

As the party continued with gusto, TEA guests enjoyed the company and mutual-respect of their peers sharing stories of projects past and yet to come. These accomplished artists, craftspeople, engineers, and architects have seen what a dreams can do and they take seriously their job to continue shaping far off dreams into concrete reality.

Wanna Tour Walt’s World With Bob Gurr?

One of my favorite stories about Bob Gurr is the one where he kidnapped the American Vice President in the cab of Disneyland’s Monorail. Sure, he was just taking Mr. Nixon for a tour of Walt Disney’s little park in Anaheim, but the Secret Service weren’t exactly pleased to be left on the platform.

Bob Gurr is the legendary Disney Imagineer who designed and developed many of Disneyland’s infamous ride vehicles. And like Vice President Nixon, Bob wants to take you on a ride you’ll never forget.

Use offer code SKIPPERFREDDY for 40% off the April 15th Tour at Waltland.com


On April 15th, I want you to join me and Disney Legend, Bob Gurr, as he takes us on a personal tour of Walt Disney’s Los Angeles. You’ll see Walt and Roy’s first L.A. homes. We’ll stop by the location of the original Hyperion Studio where Snow White and the Silly Symphonies were born. We’ll pop by the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale.

You’ll ride the merry-go-round where Walt took his daughters for “Daddy’s Day,” and first dreamed up Disneyland as a place where “…parents and children could have fun together.” And then you’ll tour Walt’s Barn, his personal workshop where he built the scale model steam engines that fueled his imagination. They call it the ‘Birthplace of Imagineering’ because that’s where Walt’s magical dreams first became a mechanical reality.

Along the way, Bob will share his stories about working side-by-side with Walt to create his original Magic Kingdom. There are tons of surprises along the way that I can’t tell you about quite yet. But trust me, you’re going to love it.

If you’ve got a passion for Disney history and lore, you won’t want to miss joining me on our incredible adventure with Bob Gurr.


So Here’s The Deal:

Bob has offered you, readers of my blog, an exclusive opportunity to explore “Waltland” for less. You get an unbelievable 40% off your ticket if you use the offer code SKIPPERFREDDY at checkout. Depending on your choice of seats, that could be as low as $63. This includes lunch and a special souvenir for my guests.

That’s like 1990s Disneyland gate prices!

Read all about the tour stops and buy your tickets now at Waltland.com Discount is only available for the April 15th tour with me and Bob Gurr.


Not Convinced?

I don’t mean to be grim. But how many opportunities do you think you’ll have left to hang out with one of the epic Disney Imagineering Legends who actually worked under Walt Disney? The intrinsic nature of this experience is that it is extremely limited. This may very well be the last few tours before Bob calls it quits.

So because I love you, my dear readers, I don’t want you to miss out on this incredible experience. Get your tickets for the April 15th tour today.

Use the offer code SKIPPERFREDDY for 40-freakin-percent off. Do it.

Still Not All In?

Okay. Here’s my final offer. When the tour is done around 3pm, you and I, and the rest of my incredible group of super-intelligent, Disney-loving readers will take in a couple more stops not on the Bob Gurr tour. I can’t tell you about it until you purchase tickets, but plan to experience another couple hours of incredible Disney history you’ll remember forever.

Get your tickets HERE. Use the offer code SKIPPERFREDDY for 40% off the April 15th Waltland Tour.

Offer available for the April 15th tour only.