Grand Canyon Diorama

BACKSTORY (March 31, 1958—Present): Inspired by the Disney short “Grand Canyon.” A 96-year-old Hopi Indian chief, Chief Nevangnewa, blessed the trains on the diorama’s opening day. Walt Disney and Fred Gurley, Santa Fe Railroad chairman (and namesake for Engine No. 3, which began its service only three days earlier and was officially dedicated the same day), wore railroad caps and proudly smiled by a sign proclaiming the entrance to the attraction. The little Indian Boy in the photos is Chico (portrayed by Little White Cloud), the mascot of the Santa Fe Railway.

The addition of the Grand Canyon diorama in the area that was once a long tunnel through a backstage service area required the train cars to face right instead of forward so that the passengers could view the diorama. Designed and art directed by Claude Coats and painted by Delmer J. Yoakum on a single piece of seamless, handwoven canvas and representing the view from the canyon's south rim, the rear of the diorama measures 306' long, 34' high, 45' wide and is covered with 300 gallons of paint. The cost was $367,000 and took more than 80,000 labor hours to construct. The original miniature model for this attraction was created by Fred Joerger and Harriet Burns. Real taxidermied animals are on display without the aid of audio animatronics: a mountain lion, porcupines, skunks, a golden eagle, rattlesnakes, rabbits, deer, crows, wild turkeys, and sheep, surrounded by aspens and pine. The scenery changes from a snow-capped canyon through a storm and rainbow, a sunset, and a desert to the music of Ferdé Grofe’s “On The Trail” segment from his “Grand Canyon Suite.” It took a year just to preserve and flameproof the sagebrush and trees.Imagineer Marvin Davis had suggested a diorama featuring all the National Parks; Walt was adamant that it should be just the Grand Canyon. Walt was also firm that a grand finale was needed before the return to the Main Street Train Station, despite the fact that some Imagineers said it made no sense to have a train leave Tomorrowland and then go into the Grand Canyon. The dedication ceremony was on March 31, 1958. At this time, the 3rd locomotive, The Fred Gurley excursion train (named after a railway exec.), was also debuted. Those who received invitations to this event met at Union Station in Los Angeles at 10am. A special Santa Fe Railroad car transported guests to Anaheim, where the 11:30 ceremonies began. Cocktails & luncheon were served at the Disneyland Hotel afterwards, and then guests were whisked back to Union Station at 3:45pm.

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Cox Pilot and The Diorama

Those of you who have read my blog are familiar with the fantastic memories of Cox Pilot, who worked at the Tomorrowland Flight Circle "back in the day." You'll find some of his recollections sprinkled throughout my website. Here is his contribution for the Disneyland Railroad dioramas:

The big "wall" of the diorama was actually the back wall to the upstairs employee's locker rooms. Inside the locker rooms you could hear the train slowly rolling through the diorama, and the faint sound of the background music.