Sunday, January 18, 2009

The California Adventure Railroad

DCA feels empty whether the joint is crowded or not. When you enter its gates you can feel something missing. It's missing a soul. It's missing that signature Disney theme park transportation.

Disneyland has vehicles on Main Street, including a horse drawn carriage, turn of the century automobiles, a fire truck and an omnibus. Throughout the park there are riverboats, canoes, rafts, cars, submarines and monorails. There used to be a people mover, a skyway, and keel boats. Even ToonTown used to have a trolley system. Disney vehicles, whether they take you somewhere and leave you, or take you somewhere and bring you back, breathe life into Disneyland.

Circling it all, the second and last requirement Walt Disney demanded of Herbert Ryman when he commissioned the artist's skills to help visualize his magic kingdom, is a train.

California Adventure, on the other hand, has no transportation to speak of unless you count Heimlich's Chew Chew Train. A monorail may streak by, a figment from a better park, teasing DCA's inhabitants. The park's only locomotive, a replica of an EMD FP7, is bolted to the ground.

The locomotive is "pulling" the famous California Zephyr. It's a gift shop and a snack bar all rolled into one. It doesn't go anywhere. You can't ride it. You can, however, buy ice cream in it. Hooray?

Once upon a time many of these locomotives actually did roll around California depositing passengers to and fro on such routes as the Coast Daylight and the San Diegan. Now the old EMD locomotives evoke feelings of nostalgia, once a feature of Disney theme parks. How wonderful would it have been to see a scale replica of such a train circling DCA on narrow gauge tracks? DCA could have done for these old diesel locomotives what Disneyland did for the steam train.

What would a California Adventure Railroad have been like?

At the main entrance a recreation of a grand old passenger terminal in the Mission Revival style could have stood across the esplanade from Disneyland's vintage Main Street Station. Our next stop may have been Hollywood, its station modeled after the Pacific Electric building in Los Angeles, making for an easy "transfer" to the DCA Red Cars.

From Hollywood our next stop might have been the beach at Paradise Pier. After that, the California Adventure Railroad could have taken guests through the Grizzly Mountains, stopping at its famous peak where rushing rapids await and perhaps a smaller, scenic mine train ride. Our grand circle tour would continue through the desert flats before arriving at the entrance plaza.

If they had built it like that, I would have come. Alas, DCA was not designed for such a train. Today, a portion of Downtown Disney and a hotel would be insurmountable obstacles. Building a railroad around DCA would be like trying to run a bullet train through the Bay Area Peninsula. There are just too many jerkoffs in the way. Imagineers tasked with remaking the ailing theme park have to work with what was given to them.

A small but important role in California Adventure's 1.1 billion dollar makeover is a recreation of the Red Cars that once transported passengers to and from Los Angeles County over a half century ago. This A-Ticket is sure to reanimate this bloated corpse of a theme park, though not everyone likes the idea. One correspondent of mine suggested they use vintage buses to transport guests around the park.

Come to think of it, do you think he works for Cloverleaf Industries?


Spokker said...

Notes: The first two photos were taken by me. The first is the actual locomotive at DCA. The second is a scale model of one at the model train museum in San Diego.

The third picture is a photo of the San Diegan, now the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. The fourth picture is a drawing of the Pacific Electric building in Los Angeles.

Dusty Banks said...

Disney could have pulled off the contemporary feel they were going for by simply adding a golden Zephyr and trolly cars. It's modern by comparison to Disneyland and still classy and timeless.