Keel Boats and Rafts

BACKSTORY: Keel Boats were featured in the Davy Crockett series, starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen. Eventually, they made it to Disneyland. The Bertha Mae & Gullywhumper Keel Boats circled Tom Sawyer’s Island from 12/25/1955 until 5/17/1997. The Bertha Mae was then auctioned off, but the Gullywhumper can still be seen floating as “decor” on the Rivers of America in front of the former Burning Cabin.



JG Keel Boat photoFrom frequent Disneyland guest and Daveland reader JG:

You can't see it in this picture, but other photos from this trip show that Dad had the requisite Parker ballpoint pen in his shirt pocket, along with the family ticket books and his sunglasses, like all the other '60's Dads. I have a good one from the submarines showing all the trappings.

I'm actually not sure that photo is from 1965, but that is the date on the margin from the processor. Mom did not write anything on the back, and often months elapsed between photo and processing. I didn't get glasses till '66, so it's in that time frame.

As I recall the ride, you are right, it was choppy and cramped, and I seem to recall getting wet too, the boats had little freeboard when loaded.

My Dad really liked these boats and we always rode them when he was with us. In high school, I preferred the canoes, but rode these with Dad too.

Mom wouldn't ride on either one.

While studying the pictures on your vintage site, I realized that the Bertha Mae has apparently always had three windows, since you have several pics from the earliest days, and it appears always to have three. The old Gullywhumper (both in my pic and others you have) has only two.Later, there is a three-window Gullywhumper (again, one of your historic pics) which has similar trim and treatments to the old two-window, except it is longer ( I think).

So, the Gullywhumper model was revamped "somewhen: along the way, but Bertha had three from the start.

I don't recall Bertha Mae being more decorated as you have mentioned, but I do recall Dad being pleased that we got to ride Gullywhumper since that was the rascal's boat in the show. I think Dad identified with him somehow. Of course, over the years, we rode both boats many times. I think there were other boats as well, but can't recall for sure.

*Update from Daveland reader Steve Josefson: I too was working at Disneyland when it happened, and the two guys who were working the Keel boats that day and responsible, are two very close friends of mine. They were NOT having fun with the throttle and being deliberately negligent. The boat was simply overloaded which was an honest mistake and definitely not deliberate. Just wanted to clear that up as I saw my two buddies last night and we talked about it again.



Wild Ol' Dan photoTaint 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!

Mike Fink & The Keel Boats

Howdy Pards—

Coffee's hot. Have a seat here round the fire...

Well now, as I recall it was back in the year 1954 and Walt Disney had a problem. Yessir, kind of a big problem, too.  You see he never had any idea that his Disneyland TV shows on Davy Crockett were gonna be so downright successful!

Truth is, all the raccoons from coast to coast and around the world, back then, were runnin' for cover, as Davy Crockett merchandising reached incredible proportions! Those Disneyland shows about Davy launched what came to be known far and wide as “Davy Crockett Mania.” I'm tellin' ya fellers...every kid in America had to have Davy Crockett stuff of some included, of course...and the biggest seller of all was coonskin caps!

So what exactly was Walt's problem? Well, history, I guess ya could see in the last episode...Davy Crockett died at the Alamo! Walt couldn't change history, but the whole world seemed to be cryin for more Davy Crockett shows So what do ya s'pose Walt did? I'll tell ya what he did... bein' a storyteller from way, way back, he started tellin' tall tales...“The Legends of Davy Crockett.” Yessir, he create two brand new shows...Davy Crockett's Keel Boat Race and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, based on tall tales about the legendary frontiersman and the legendary King of the River

Now, that first show, tellin' these tall tales about Davy, involved a race down the mighty Mississippi against the famous King of the River, Mike Fink. The destination was New Orleans.  Mike's keelboat was called The Gullywhumper...and Ol’ Davy was on The Bertha Mae.

Let's see...that first tall tale episode aired back in late 1954 as I recall, and the River Pirate episode aired in 1955. Well it was on Christmas Day...yep, December 25th, 1955, Disneyland's very first Christmas, that those Keel Boats showed up as a brand new adventure along the Rivers of America. Back in those days they ran mostly during the summer and on real busy weekends. Legend has it that it was Walt's idea to bring 'em to, truth is, I don't know if it really was or not, but I heard somewheres once that "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. So, let's just say that if it weren't Walt's idea, it shoulda we'll say it was...At any rate, that's when they started. Only took a "C" ticket too, to go all the way around Tom Sawyer's Island on one of those keelboats back in those days. You needed a D ticket for the Ol' Mark Twain...

The Keel Boats had a mighty long run on the river. Yessir, they surely did. For some reason or other though, they closed 'em down a little over 38 years later at the end of the summer of '94...and they didn't run at all in '95. Nope. It looked like they were goners for sure...but, suddenly in March of '96 they were back travelin' the Rivers of America once again. I surely wish I could say that they were there still...but...

Those boats were always a little top heavy when folks were loaded topside and some of the young fellers who drove 'em kinda liked to add a little excitement to the river journey every now and then by “rockin' the boat” from side to side. Well, as you can imagine, that weren't really a good idea...  Nope.  It sure weren't.  It was back on May 17th of 1997, as I recall,...around 5:30 or so in the afternoon,  when the ol' Gullywhumper started rockin' from side to side with a boatload of passengers. You guessed it. Over she went... dumpin' everybody into the River. Several of the guests were treated at the hospital for minor injuries. The only fatality that day was the Disneyland Keel Boat adventure. They vanished from the river after that...

Oh, the Bertha Mae showed up again in December of 2001...not on the River...but on a thing called "e-Bay" at the Disney Auction site. Somebody bought the Ol' Bertha Mae for $15,000...

It wasn't until Springtime in the year 2003 that the Ol' Gullywhumper showed up again and this time on the river. But, nope, she wasn't transportin' nobody...she was just tied up along Tom Sawyer Island for folks to see and remember..

Well, I reckon a good many of us old timers long for those good ol' days and we keep on a hopin' that, someday, the Keel Boats will return...They really are a big part of Disney History don't ya know? But, truth of it is, with lawyers bein' the way they ain't likely we'll ever be ridin' in 'em again. Kinda sad. Seems to me that when Mike Fink or Davy Crockett fell off those boats they just climbed back on and kept on movin' down the river...course they weren't carryin' cell phones and blackberries and such...reckon times have changed. But, us old timers, we got some mighty fine memories...did I tell ya Davy won that race to New Orleans?   He did.  But, Ol' Mike Fink was always known as the King of the River...and Davy was known as the King of the Wild Frontier...I still got my ol' coonskin cap somewheres...reckon I'll keep it a while longer...

Adios for now. Talk to ya on’ down the trail.

Wild Ol’ Dan


From former cast member Dan:

I was working at Disneyland in 1996 when they had the accident that closed this attraction. The cast member was goofing around with the throttle, trying to give a little extra thrill to the ride. It is a shame that his horseplay brought an end to this classic attraction.

The Keel Boats were unique because they were powerful enough to operate as tug boats if the Twain or Columbia were ever to break down. Becoming a driver of those boats took extra training, and you received hazard pay, because you had limited visibility when steering from the rear of the ship.

The Keel Boats were also a nice kinetic element to the river. It was always fun to see them running along with the canoes and big ships. The river seems a little empty without them.