The original Columbia's history was detailed in
part one of this series.
Co-author: Preston Nirattisai
the real ship, her achievements seemingly forgotten, may have been
unceremoniously scrapped a century and a half earlier, Walt Disney wished to
resurrect the famous square-rigger for Disneyland. He hired Ray Wallace, a
noted marine expert of the time, to design the Disney ship itself. (Interestingly, Wallace also designed the
replica of the Lady Washington, which is available for sail tours
Years later, Imagineer Eddie Sotto and Wallace met. "I used to know Ray
Wallace, the designer of the Columbia at the Park, and we were good
friends," recalls Eddie. "We met when he designed the Cordelia K.
steamboat at Knott's, when I was in the design department. I flipped when I
learned he did the Columbia. Ray was Errol Flynn's first mate on his
sailboat. They used to sail to Catalina a lot and drink."
"Ray told me that Walt had given him an inscribed copy of the Voyages of
the Columbia as a starter for the Columbia project. Ray subsequently
lent it out and it never came back--Walt's autograph and all."
Wallace had no blueprints to build his Columbia replica. In fact
there were precious few images of the ship available at all. Luckily for
Wallace, however, it turns out that the HMS Bounty (yes,
that Bounty--famed in song and mutiny) had been built in England
just two years prior to the Columbia, and many of the shipwrights who
worked on the Bounty may have immigrated to America, where they might
have found employment building the Columbia! So Wallace obtained a set
of plans for the Bounty and got to work.
designed a typical merchant vessel of the late 18th century. The
ship's dimensions were nearly exactly what the real Columbia's had been:
From stem to stern, the ship was 110 feet long; her deck was 83 feet six inches
long, and the beam slightly larger at 27 feet three inches. To better fit in
with Disneyland's somewhat scaled-down architecture, the main mast is somewhat
shorter than the real one was, at 76 feet tall. She carried 10 guns, instead of the real ship's twelve (today she has six).
Todd Shipyard in Long Beach--which only a few years before had built the hull for the
Mark Twain--was again called in to handle the manufacture of the Columbia's
steel-ribbed hull. While the hull of the real Columbia's was deep and
typically boat-shaped, the hull of Disneyland's Columbia was completely
flat on the bottom, taking into account the Disneyland river's
shallow depth. In order to keep the ship upright with its tall masts (which
tend to make a ship top-heavy and likely to heel over, or lean), large, heavy
steel plates in the hold below the water line kept Disney's version stable.
A cross-section of the Columbia's
hull. Drawing courtesy Jeff Maillian.
Todd completed its work on the hull on
February 12, 1958. Once the basic hull "skeleton" was completed, it was trucked
down the freeway on a large lowboy trailer. While the lower hull was plated in
steel, the steel tubing ribs above were left bare. For a reason--authentic wood
planking would cover the ship's exposed ribs.
Belyea trucking handled the
move from Long Beach to Disneyland. Feel free to amaze your Disney-trivia
obsessed friends by knowing the license plate number of the truck: W 87 807.
Sam McKim, noted Disney Imagineer, was
tasked with creating the ship's color scheme. Apparently, McKim, using a bit of
Imagineering with the knowledge of what the ships looked like at the time, came
up with this rendering, which accurately portrays how the ship eventually came
to be decorated.
This is Sam McKim's 1958 color
study of the ship. She still wears this color scheme today, 50 years after her
Final "fitting out" was completed in
Fowler's Harbor at Disneyland. Her weather deck is Douglas fir, and her
railings are made of mahogany. Oak rounds out the other
wooden construction. Where possible, authentic 18th century tools
were used to shape the various parts and fittings.