BACKSTORY (1955–1959/1960): Stagecoaches, Buckboards, & Conestoga Wagons drawn by horses. Guests could ride either shotgun (on top with the driver) or inside of the coach itself (and learn what a sardine feels like!). Both the Stagecoaches and Wagons shared the same route through Frontierland, which included Coyote Rock, Elephant Rock, Inscription Rock, Horse Thief Canyon, Dead Man’s Spring, Natural Bridge, and Indian Territory. 12/1955 newspaper ad for Frontierland stated: “You will ride the Conestoga Wagon in Frontierland—one of the most picturesque and vital vehicles in history. It was the Conestoga, not the Covered Wagon, that developed the West. The great wagons were first built in the Conestoga Valley of Pennsylvania, with water tight bottoms that permitted safe crossing of rivers. You will also ride authentic stage coaches, pack trains, and buckboards in this remarkable re-creation of the old West.” After new scenic landscaping, the Stagecoaches were renamed the Rainbow Mountain Stage Coaches in 1956. Unfortunately, the Stagecoaches were prone to tipping over (which shook up the Pack Mules...talk about a chain reaction); breakaway harnesses didn’t solve the problem...instead it caused many a guest to be stranded while the horses proceeded on the journey. Low guest capacity and high overhead were the reason the coaches were eliminated; the last journey of the Stagecoach and the Conestoga Wagons is debatable; in the Nickel Tour, two dates are given: September 13, 1959 and February 10, 1960.
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ONE OF the promotional pieces on Disneyland describes it as "The happiest place on earth"; and, once you have been there, you can well believe that it is. By the end of its second year, more than 7 1/2 million persons had visited this magic kingdom, to discover in the words of Walt Disney—"a place for people to find happiness and knowledge."
It is a wondrous place for children; yet the records show that the ratio is three-to-one in favor of adults. It is ever-changing, too, with new additions, ideas, and substitutions always in progress. Records also show that 32 percent of the business is "repeat"—people who have seen it before, but come back.
Encompassing 160 acres, Disneyland is in reality several different lands—Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland. All have their own fascination, but our interest centers on Frontierland the horses.
Disneyland maintains around 200 head of horses, ponies, mules, and burros. The horses and ponies are kept in individual tie stalls, the mules an burros have their own corrals and lots. No animal in Disneyland works more than four hours a day, six days a week. They receive excellent care, as does everything connected with Disneyland. Gear is kept clean, polished, and in good repair. A full-time farrier is on hand (full-time farrier Charles Heumphreus handles all the horseshoeing chores for Disneyland), and barns, stalls, tackrooms, and corrals are kept spic and span.
The horse plays a big role throughout Disneyland, not jus in Frontierland. A visitor can ride down "Main Street U.S.A." in a fringed surrey, a horse-drawn fire engine, a horse-drawn street car, or other conveyance of the by-gone horse era. DIsneyland horses get first-class treatment all the way. For the Easter Parade this year, 10 new Easter bonnets were made specfically for the Disneyland horses, at a total cost of $150.
In Frontierland, of course, you can take a tour of the Rainbow Desert via stagecoach, Conestoga wagon, or with the pack mule train; and with just a trace of imagination, you can feel as if you are making an actual desert trip. The desert has cactus, windswept cliffs, natural bridges, poison waterholes, immigrant "graves," dried bones, desert animals and reptiles, and Indian pueblos high on the mesas.
Mr. and Mrs. Owen Pope oversee the horse operation at Disneyland, which includes the making and repair of all harness and gear. That name will ring a bell to many horsemen, especially in the Texas area, since Owen was widely known for the trailers he formerly manufactured in Ft. Worth.
From a horseman's standpoint, one of the highest possible compliments was passed along by an officer from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. After an inspection, he said "If there's anything to this reincarnation stuff, I'd like to come back to Disneyland as a horse someday!"
Taint many who love the history of Walt Disney’s Disneyland as much as Wild Ol’ Dan Blasius. He’s just wandered into Daveland, unsaddled his horse, rolled out his bedroll, and sat down by the campfire to have a cup of coffee. Wild Ol’ Dan is also the author of the first Hopalong Cassidy novel to be published in well over 50 years: “HOPALONG CASSIDY RIDES AGAIN.” So as you might figure, I’ve asked him to put a few thoughts together on Frontierland at Disneyland. Well, turns out he has more than a few thoughts on that subject...I asked him to start by reflectin’ a little on Zorro. Enjoy!
Howdy Pards, Well, I suppose it's kinda hard for the young whippersnappers around today to even imagine that there used to be a time when you could catch a real, honest to gosh stagecoach in Frontierland and head off into the backcountry. But there was...yur durned tootin' there was! Yessirreebob! From the get go, Ol' Walt Disney loved the idea of a Disneyland stagecoach ride...and a conestoga wagon ride…and even buggy and buckboard rides there in Frontierland. Walt loved horses. You fellers may not know this but Walt and some of the animators there at the Walt Disney Studios once had a Polo Team! Yessir, they surely did. And one of Walt's biggest movie stars, a feller named Goofy, once did a film on "How to ride a horse"...even Donald once did one about visitin' a Dude Ranch...and I hear tell that Mickey was mighty handy with a rope (remember...every week on the old Mickey Mouse Club? Talent Roundup Day it was...) Why, shucks, Walt even invited the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers, and the Smartest Horse in the Movies, Trigger, along with the famous Sons of the Pioneers, to tell the story of Pecos Bill for one of those movies of his...a thing called MELODY TIME as I recall. Yep, Walt Disney loved horses, and he wanted them to be a part of his new park in a big, big way.
Before Disneyland opened the fellers over in the studio carpentry shop (the fellers who put those coaches together for the park) fully outfitted one with a four horse hitch and brought the thing over to the Animation Building where Walt’s office was. Walt put on his cowboy boots and his big white cowboy hat and climbed up into the box and took the reins to get his picture took. I wanna tell ya that was a mighty special thing to Walt. All those dreams of his were comin' true...and taint nuthin' like lookin' at a four horse hitch from the driver's seat of a real, honest-to-gosh stagecoach...That thar can make a feller's imagination soar…especially a feller like Walt Disney. Well, naturally they were gonna need a mess of horses for the park...big ones, miniature ones, all kinds of horses...and some pack mules too. You betcha. Afterall, we're gonna call this thing Frontierland don't ya know? The stagecoachs started rollin' the very first day the park opened and folks could either ride up topside or inside the coach as they headed out...and what an adventure it musta’ been. Mark Twain once called the stagecoach a "cradle on wheels" and I reckon that's what it was until those horses started gettin' rambunctious. Nobody bothered to explain to those Disneyland horses that they would be hearin' train whistles and bells out thar in the backcountry and even the ol' Mark Twain Riverboat a bellowin' out thar on the river. Well, on occasion all these strange noises kinda spooked the horses some. Not a good thing for a top heavy stagecoach…but it sure gave the guests a taste of the authentic Old West. Yep, those coaches tipped over on occasion.
But, as ol' Dave says, the biggest problem was "ride capacity" and the expenses of keepin' all those horses fed and watered...keepin' the equipment safe...and all the other costs involved in runnin' a modern stage line...Sad to say the end of the trail came all too soon...yep sometime tween '59 and '60 the only way to get out thar into the back country was by Mule Train or Mine Train... the stagecoachs, conestoga wagons, buckboards, buggys and such began to vanish from the park. But you know fellers, you can still catch one of those horse drawn streetcars down Main Street U.S.A. till this very day. If you ain't done it...get'r done...there's nuthin' like hearin' the beat of one of those big ol' horse's hooves as they make their way towards the castle. And...with crowds growin' thicker and thicker all the time, there's no tellin' when they might vanish from the park too. Sure hope they never do though...
Yessir, buckaroos, there was somethin' downright magical to ridin' in one of those stagecoaches or conestoga wagons…somethin' that kinda connected ya to the pioneers and those rip-snortin' days of the Old West. Reckon that's why they called the place Frontierland to begin with...for a good many of us there sure are a lotta wonderful memories in those parts...thanks for ridin' along... Adios for now. Talk to ya on’ down the trail.
Wild Ol’ Dan