BACKSTORY (June 14, 1959—Present): Originally a dirt mound created from what was removed to make the moat around Sleeping Beauty Castle. First named Holiday Hill and then Lookout Mountain, Park Operations staff continually had to keep a look out due to its unofficial status as “Lover’s Lane.” The Matterhorn was conceived by Disney during two trips he made to Switzerland: first in July 1953 and then five years later in July 1958 during filming of “Third Man on the Mountain.” Born out of the desire to hide the unsightly Skyway pylon, the Matterhorn was one of six new major attractions for Tomorrowland in 1959 (however, it has always been designated a Fantasyland attraction). Supposedly, Walt sent a postcard featuring the Matterhorn back to the states with the edict “Build this.” Walt was discouraged by Joe Fowler when he wanted to “make some snow and have a toboggan ride.” Difficulties in creating the snow and drainage were circumvented by using steel, wood, plaster, and paint.
At 147' high, it is a 1/100th replica of its Swiss namesake and the tallest structure inside Disneyland. It is recognized as the first tubular steel roller coaster in the world, and was built by coaster builder Arrow Dynamics and WED Imagineering. What was Walt’s response when he first saw the completed attraction? Legend has it that he said, “It’s 10' too short.”
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“Dick Erb and I were climbing at Tahquitz Rock late spring of 1959, and both 15 at the time. Chuck Wilks, the Sierra Club member who was hired by Disney to place the “pitons” in the side of the mountain, was climbing that morning too. He asked if we wanted a summer job on the Matterhorn. Well duh...”
“The next issue to overcome was doing it. Our soon to be boss, Chuck Corson, told us “Boys, if you can climb it, the job is yours.” On a warm June afternoon, Dick and I reconnoitered for a route. We climbed over the fence erected to keep all out and were about 20' off the ground when accosted by the Disneyland police. We found out that no one told them what we were doing and that we were supposed to take the ride’s elevator to the inside platform and begin from there. Nice start to a summer job...”
“The purpose for us was to provide something to see for the folks waiting hours in line for the ride (sometimes the sign read 4 hours from this point). So 9 times a day, 6 days a week, all summer long and on the weekends between summer 1959 and summer 1960, we climbed the Matterhorn. Dick quit before the 1960 summer and was replaced by Jeff Winslow. I worked that summer and then retired too.”
“The only things I can remember of interest that I can put in print are the 4 hours hanging by rope waiting to repel for Nikita Khrushchev and a time I sprained my ankle and was carried to the infirmary by the Chip and Dale characters.”
In the photo at left from August 3, 1959, Jim is the climber at the top of the photo.
When I was five, my family visited my relatives in Southern California and we went to Disneyland.We went on quite a few attractions as I recall—the Tea Cups, the Skyway, the Submarine Ride, and of course the Matterhorn Bobsleds, one of the few “thrill” attractions in the park at that time. Being five, I was a bit apprehensive about riding the Matterhorn—it looked so huge to me—but my Aunt Nadine, who tended to be a bit strict, scolded me for being afraid. I was with my Mom on the ride and Aunt Nadine and some other family members were behind us in the bobsled. I really enjoyed it, but my Mom was terrified and screamed VERY loudly throughout the ride. When it ended, my Aunt made a (not-too-nice) comment about how much noise I had made, and she was very surprised to learn that it was my Mom, and not me, who had been screaming. My Mom actually lost her voice and couldn’t talk for almost three days! All in all, it was a very fun and memorable first time at Disneyland…
MANY THANKS TO DAVE C. FOR SHARING HIS MEMORIES & PHOTOS WITH DAVELAND!
Here is the text from the Live Narration of a Guided Tour, circa 1962 (previously started on this page):
We are now at the base of the Matterhorn mountain which is built to a 1/100th scale of the Swiss Matterhorn. This mountain you see here is the highest man made structure in Orange County. You probably noticed the bobsleds riding down the icy slopes of the Matterhorn and splashing through a glacier lake at the bottom. On weekends and holidays our two young mountain cliimbers, Hans and Otto, attempt to scale the mountain's trecherous slopes. Now let's step into the year 1986 when Halley's comet is due to return, and see what the future holds in the Land of Tomorrow.
To resume your vintage tour, please go to the Monorail page.
THE MATTERHORN MAJESTIC MOUNTAIN
Piercing shrieks of excitement echoing from a mountain vastness, a costumed yodeler hurling melodic notes into the cool air, and cascading waterfalls ricocheting off jagged rims…a perfect description of the Swiss Alps. But it is also a description of Disneyland's pleasure peak—the incomparable Matterhorn. Rising majestically from earth that once was orange groves, the Matterhorn is an exact replica of one of the most famous peaks in the Alps.
Until 1959, the Matterhorn in the Alps was unique. It rises 14,705 feet into the sky and is a dominating and imposing peak from any direction. The inscrutable Matterhorn withstood man's mountain scaling attempts until July 14, 1865 when its pinnacle was finally conquered.
Walt Disney was no exception to those who have been fascinated by the Matterhorn. While on a trip to the Alps, Walt was impressed by the mountain's history and by the stories of the courageoue men who had scaled it. He immediately envisioned it as a sight that would thrill milliions of Americans who had never had the opporutnity to visit this European landmark.
A second European adventure few Americans had experienced was the thrill of riding a mountain bobsled. With the insight that has made his name synonomous with fun, Walt realized that combining these two attractions would be one of the great highlights of his 20 year dream—Disneyland.
The dedication to bring such an attraction to Disneyland started a chain of events which presented challenges totally unique in the fields of design, construction and outdoor entertainment history.
Basic design followed the original Matterhorn in every detail. Every simulated rock or jutting point is based on a photograph of that part of the mountain.
Construction itself created innumerable problems. For example, when Disney engineers placed an order for 2,175 pieces of steel, each of a different length and weight, the stell company's salesman was aghast. But, gradually, piece by piece, challenge by challenge, the mountain emerged, a perfect scale replica with the proper amount of snow in just the right places…the shadows and peak appearing to guests exactly as they do to those who view Nature's origina.
Finally, on June 1, 1959, [it was actually June 14, but I have kept their typo] Disneyland's Matterhorn was dedicated to a world audience by Richard M. Nixon, then Vice-President of the United States, who, along with Walt Disney, scaled and descended the mountain in a bobsled, to the delight of a television audience estimated at ninety million people.
From the day of its opening, the Matterhorn's bobsleds have been among the most popular attractions in the most popular amusement center in the world—Disneyland. When a Disneyland visitor returns from a trip to the Magic Kingdom, the first quesiton he usually is asked is—"Did you go on the Matterhorn?" And the answer is, more often than not, an emphatic "yes" followed by a detaiiled explanation of the thrills the ride produced.
Whistling through the hollow Matterhorn, whipping wildly around the mountain, splashing through the glacier pool, and enjoying an unsurpassed view for miles are but some of the sensations the exciting ride produces.
From its opening date, two million guests a year, representing all ages, and every country in the world, have thrilled to the ascent and exciting descent on the Matterhorn…in perfect safety. It often seems hard to believe that reality has returned with a final splash in the Matterhorn pool, signalling the end to the flight to imagination.
But the Matterhorn is even more than the exhilarating bobsled ride. An Alpine Skyway extending from Disneyland's Fantasyland to Tomorrowland, passes right through the mountain. The Skyway features not only a magnificent view of Orange County, but is a perfect way to see what Disneyland itself looks like from a vantage point of 50 feet. The gaily painted metal baskets sway gently in the breeze to provide a ride as exciting as it is pictureque.
On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, Hans and Otto, the two Swiss mountain climbers, ascend the perilous peak nine times daily. The Swiss Yodeler also performs on the Matterhorn's slopes on weekends and holidays.
Whether it means riding the breath-taking bobsleds that travel at top speed through the mountain, viewing Orange County from the Alpine Skyway, or enjoying the accomplishments of the mountain climbers and the Swiss Yodeler, the Matterhorn has something for all who seek pleasure. This 147 foot tall structure is the highest man-made object in Orange County and is truly a magnificent monument to fun—Disneyland's stock in trade.
Sorry, can’t call it the Resort, it will always be The Park to me, but I digress. To get to the beginning, I have to go back to May of, gulp, 1967. I was a senior in high school, hell bent on graduation, and in need of a summer job. I figured what the heck, why not try Disneyland. The times I had been there with my family (and as I got old enough to go on my own) and my friends were always great. It just seemed like a natural segue.
Here’s a little hiccup in my memory, of which, I am sure there will be more. I remember donning a coat and tie and going to the interview. Casting’s entrance was just to the left of what was Harbor House at the time. What I don’t remember is ever filling out an application and sending it in. I suppose I must have, though. Anyway, I arrived early for the interview, and was very nervous, as I recall. I had had jobs before, working in a gas station, sales at Sears, etc., but this felt different. My interviewer (no luck remembering his name) was extremely nice, asked me a number of generic questions, and then said, “We have an opening on the Matterhorn, would I be interested?” And, yes, yes I was!
At the conclusion of the interview, I was told there would be 2 days of orientation (I think it was 2 days, could have been one, sigh), and then there would be 2 days of training on the Matterhorn. I would meet my trainer at the conclusion of orientation. I am not sure how soon after the interview I went through orientation, but my guess is that it was within a week, or two. I was still in school so orientation and training would be on consecutive weekends.
Orientation, as one would imagine, was a peek behind the scenes at the magic that was a part of Disneyland. And, it was my first exposure as to what would be expected of me while I was “on stage”. There was a slide presentation showing various cast members doing the right thing, and the wrong thing, as they went about their day with the guests. The dialogue for the presentation was very much tongue-in-cheek and quite funny. We took a tour of The Park, both back stage, and on stage. I must admit, I was in awe.
I believe, at the end of orientation, we were directed to wardrobe, assigned lockers, given our costumes, and met our trainers. Again, memory is a little sketchy on the sequence. I do remember that my trainer, Bob, was someone I knew. He was 2 years ahead of me in high school. Small world, right? And now, that song is stuck in my head.
The following weekend training began. I met Bob at a predetermined location and we walked on stage and across Tomorrowland to the Matterhorn. It was still “winter” so we were wearing ski pants, either an orange or yellow shirt, and a light blue parka. If I remember correctly, the ski pants and parka were White Stag. A sort of high end ski apparel for the time. At least, many of those very same ski pants showed up on slopes from Mammoth, to Big Bear, and beyond. Back then you couldn’t take your costume outside the berm, but some escaped, nonetheless.
Training seemed like a whirlwind of things to know. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was a lot of hands on operation, with a lot of operator control over brakes, sleds, transfer tables (means to move sleds from the storage track to the main line and back), etc. It was well outside the bounds of the OSHA rules of today. I learned the ins and outs of the mountain, from the break room inside, to the cage elevator, which got you to the top of the lifts, to the basketball court, and up to Tinkerbell’s launch area at the top. To this day, that is still my favorite spot to watch the fireworks from (just can’t get there any more, non-Disney, and all). I was introduced to the various positions, tower, tickets (E-coupon, please), grouper (ugh), load, belts (double ugh), unload, and crowd control. Movement of the sleds (singles) was controlled by foot pedals, or by the person in the tower. To transfer a sled, you lined it up on the table, and physically pulled the sled and a section of track over to the storage line. In theory, you locked the wheels with a lever, before transferring, but when you got comfortable with the process you could keep the sled in place and pull the whole thing over without a hitch. Of course, now and then, a sled would drop off the table (front or rear wheels, not the whole sled) and maintenance would have to get everything back into place. Obviously, a big no-no to derail a sled... And, then, there was “running” the track for break downs. Physically pushing sleds to get them started back down the mountain, or using a hook to pull them out of the pond.
At the end of the second day, I was turned loose in rotation, with Bob just sort of monitoring what I was doing. It was a great time, although my head spun with what could go wrong, and what I needed to remember. It, eventually, did become second nature. After training, I worked weekends until it came time to pick shifts for the summer. As a casual/seasonal, I was low man on the totem pole and mostly night and relief (days and nights) shifts were left. That actually suited me quite well. I spent my summer nights working at Disneyland, and my days at the beach.
I forgot to mention pay. For orientation, and my first attraction training, I was paid a “training rate” of...wait for it... $1.40 per hour. Pretty sweet, huh? After training, I leapt to the staggering rate of $1.98 per hour. Actually, not too bad for the day.
I started at The Park the year after Walt passed. His touch, his magic, was still there. It was in the sparkle of the lands, and it was in the hearts of the people that worked there, from upper management on down. As the years went by, it seemed to dim, maybe because people lost sight of what it meant, or maybe, I just got older. Regardless, I remember those early summers with a huge smile, and wonderful memories.
Daveland reader Jordan has graciously allowed me to post these photos taken on a family visit to Disneyland in approximately 1969. Some really cool views, especially the point-of-view shots from the Monorail (#2) and the Matterhorn (#5 & #6). In photo #3, you can see Jordan’s mom, Dolly, in the green dress standing on the bridge at small world. Here’s what Jordan has for background info:
When I was young, my dad worked for the foreign service (American Embassy) and I grew up living overseas. We came home one year (we had family in New Jersey) my dad bought a 1968 (so perhaps the year on these pics is closer to that) Dodge Charger and we went on a road trip across the US, to edumacate me and put my parents back into the reality of life in the US. As I recall it was a few weeks - a month long and we drove a big loop around the country.
Jordan believes that his father, George, shot the photos he has shared below. Thanks so much to Jordan for these amazing photos!