Freight Train Update – The Wild West Show That Never Was
by Todd James Pierce
2012 is, of course, the summer of Old Tomorrowland. But last summer (2011) was the summer of steam trains. All summer long Paul and I posted up videos and articles about the steam trains at the park. Last night, as I was reading through the papers of George Whitney Jr., I came across a detail that I’ve never seen before–a detail that ties together a few articles we’ve posted up on DHI over the past year.
Last year Paul nailed down the passenger numbers for both the Main Street coach train and the Frontierland freight train in 1955. The Main Street station (with its elegant First Class cars) was doing gang busters business compared with that of the Frontierland station and its cattle cars. Main Street station was spinning the old turnstiles roughly three times as quickly as the lonely Frontier outpost. (See original article here.)
Earlier this year, I posted up information on the Mickey Mouse Club Circus. For years, I’ve known that during the summer of 1955, Walt wanted to move some type of live entertainment into the park. His first idea was to create a Wild West show, his second was to create a circus. This wasn’t the first time Walt had investigated the possibility of a circus at Disneyland. Site plans for Disneyland in 1954 show a Circus Street, positioned near the castle. But Walt’s new idea involved a Circus featuring the Mouseketeers. (See hereand here.)
I never imagined that these two things might somehow be related—the Freight Train and the Mickey Mouse Club Circus. But they are.
After Disneyland had been open for three weeks, Walt asked park managers to draw up ideas to fix obvious problems. By now, it was apparent that the Frontierland freight train was doing paltry business compared with the elegant train on Main Street. The problem: how to encourage guests to venture out to that far corner of the park simply to board a train. George Whitney’s proposal was to create a Wild West show out in the old Painted Desert. Or more specifically, he felt that “the freight train be allowed to stop on a siding in the Painted Desert. Special events and shows could be staged in this area. These special events could be Indian villages, dances, etc. And the only way to see these shows would be by taking the train to the siding or thru the stagecoach rides of Frontierland. It is felt that this would definitely boost the business of the freight train.”
So the poor ticket numbers for the freight train led to a proposal for a western show at the back of the Painted Desert. The Wild West show proposal (though never funded) got Walt interested again in live entertainment. And that led him back to the idea of a Disneyland circus, which was something he had considered back in 1954. The original Disneyland Circus (that is, the 1954 version of the circus) was to be in a little alcove off the hub, one lined with circus wagons and sideshow tents. But like the Wild West show, this circus alcove was never built. The newly revised Mickey Mouse Club Circus eventually ended up at the back of Fantasyland, roughly where the entrance to Small World now stands.
Up on the blog today, I’m re-posting the DHI historical video on the Frontierland freight train. This time, as you venture down the rails, take a good look at the Painted Desert. There was plenty of space for a stage and an outdoor theater and pretty much anything else Walt would’ve needed for a Wild West show.
OK, now back to Old Tomorrowland.