The Quick 10: When I See an Elephant Fly

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If you think one flying elephant is impressive, how about 16 of them? Today’s “I’m almost on vacation” post pays tribute to the ride that’s the favorite of kiddies everywhere (but not of Harry Truman): Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

2. Dumbo should have opened when the park did in July, 1955, but the ride was a mechanical failure at the time. Karl Bacon of Arrow Development, a company behind many of the rides at Disney, said:

“Dumbo didn’t work right. They were flying but not satisfactorily. The hydraulic system was spewing out this foam. The nitrogen was mixing with the oil and creating this ‘shaving cream’ that was throwing the whole thing out of stability.”

3. The first batch of elephants weighed 700 pounds each, which was way too heavy for a flying elephant (but quite trim for a real one). It’s part of the reason the ride didn’t work well enough to be ready for opening day.

4. Elephants aren’t cute to everyone. When Harry Truman visited the park in 1957, he said “thanks, but no thanks” to a ride on Dumbo. The reason? He didn’t want to be photographed riding gleefully in a symbol of the Republican Party (even an adorable baby one).

5. The original ride vehicles are worth a pretty penny – nearly 20 years ago, one of the original fiberglass elephants sold for $16,000 at a Disneyana convention.

6. Standing at the top of the ride, presumably directing traffic, is Timothy Mouse. He holds a whip at Disneyland and Tokyo, but the magic feather everywhere else. No one has ever said that the whip insinuates animal cruelty, but that would be my guess as to why he’s holding a feather at some parks (and perhaps Disney just didn’t want to change the original).

7. Though the ride has been there since just three months after park opened, those aren’t exactly the original elephants. The first version of the not-so-little guy had hinged ears that were supposed to flap up and down to help you fly, but they never worked properly and were replaced with stationary ears.

8. The Disneyland version of the ride comes with music unique to that park – tunes provided by a 1915 Gavioli band organ. At full power, the organ can be heard for more than a mile away. Don’t worry – Disney keeps it at a reasonable level.

9. In 1989 and 1990, Dumbo’s support arms malfunctioned a couple of times, sending a few people to the hospital to get bumps and bruises treated. In 1989, one of the support arms partially separated from the elephant, and in 1990, one the arms collapsed entirely. The ride was revamped after the 1990 incident.

10. If you close your eyes, you can pretend you’re riding Dumbo even if you’re in Dollywood, Silver Dollar City or Lion Country Safari. That’s because theme parks across America have been ripping off Disney’s elephant since he first popped up in the park – and they don’t really even bother to hide the imitation.

That’s it for me! I’m out all next week but leave you in the capable hands of Adrienne Crezo. If you want to get your Disney fix, check out my Tweets – I’ll be providing pics of the latest construction around the park, detailing how badly I do in the Princess Half Marathon on Sunday, and even sneaking off of Disney property to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

February 25, 2011 - 9:18am
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