Thursday, December 25, 2014

Disney and more Tribute to WDI Imagineer Pat Burke - Part One

Here is the first part of a three parts Disney and more tribute article to Pat Burke who passed away last Monday. This is a significantly augmented version of the long and fantastic interview of Pat that i've previously posted on Disney and more. I've added twenty new pictures that Pad had sent to me, and just as many new stories from Pat which were not in the previous version. So, i strongly suggest to those of you who have read it already to don't miss it as it include plenty of new memories of Pat about his career at WDI where he worked on so many projects including four versions of Big Thunder Mountain, four Indiana Jones attractions and three Jungle Cruises. You can also find great memories of Pat in others Disney and more article about the Haunted Mansion HERE, Epcot Africa pavilion that never was HERE  and even on legendary N.A.S.A Astronaut Gordon Cooper HERE

I also want to thanks a lot all of you who came on D&M Facebook page to pay tribute to Pat. At the time i'm writing the post reached more than 7750 people, was shared 21 times and had plenty of kind comments. It is the most "read" post since i started the D&M Facebook page and Pat, who was pretty alone at the end of his life, would have been amazed to see how many people liked him and his fantastic works in Disney theme parks. Again, thanks to all of you, and now, here is this Grand Interview of Imagineer Pat Burke.

Pat Burke started his career at Walt Disney Imagineering in 1972 and worked literally on all Disney theme parks since then. If DLP Frontierland is so well themed it's thanks to the phenomenal work that Pat did to find authentic artifacts all around America. Pat also worked on Tokyo Disney Sea and many other attractions. It's with great pleasure that Disney and more give to Pat Burke today a fully deserved tribute with this fantastic grand interview.

Alain Littaye: Pat, can you tell us when you began your career at Walt Disney Imagineering and what you did before?

Pat Burke: I started at WED in 1972, just after Walt Disney World had opened and I had graduated from the University Of Northridge in Fine Arts. I was having a one man graduate art show, and somebody from Disney's WED Enterprises heard about it and came to take a look. I had classic as well as contemporary 2 dimensional art, photos, prints, ceramics, and sculptures in plastics, as well as electronic activated sculptures that worked with music. WED was looking for people who could work with a wide range of materials, as well as sketch and paint. From age 8 to 17, I had taken private art lessons in most mediums from an instructor from Chouinard Institute in Los Angeles. I did everthing but music in his classes that helped prepare me for a college Art major. Art education was my minor and believe that helped me later when working in the field for Disney.) I had a call from Bob Millard in WED's personnel department, and he asked if I would like to come in for a job interview at WED. I replied excitedly yes. I had always loved Disneyland, but really didn't know such a place as WED existed, but quickly learned about them. I first brought all my slides and sketches to my interview with Bob Sewell. They had been busy getting the annual Dafca - an acronym for Disney Artists for Cal Arts - Art Show completed, so I had waited about a month after WED called me to come in. Bob seemed very interested and asked if I could bring in the actual artwork he selected, and I said I could. Another month later I came for my second interview with the artwork he had asked to see. I think he wanted to make sure I had done what was in the photos. That's what I learned many years later. I had been in touch with Bob over the last few years before he passed away, and one day asked him why he hired me. He replied that I came from a family of Construction, Engineering, Builders, and Farmers, and with that knowledge and background, he thought I would be very useful to the company's future. They were adding on to Walt Disney World as well as Disneyland, at that time. Malcolm Cobb, Bob's assistant called me and told me I could have the job if I wanted. My father asked me to ask the pay rate, as he was sitting next to me. Malcolm replied $3.15 an hour. My father responded and said with a college degree? Malcolm said that's all he could offer, although most in the department had no college degree. He said they would be upset if I came in for more. So I gave up my Dad's $5.30 an hour job offer and went to work for WED. Malcolm years later, told me my problem was I came in too low in salary, and I reminded him of our entry conversation.

Above, a 1970 photo of my girlfriend and me at Disneyland's 1970 Grad Night Party in front of the simulated Kaiser Aluminum enterance to Tomorrowland.  The panels were actually fiberglass made by WED Enterprises and date back to the 1967 New Tomorrowland Opening, and are still there today.  We made our first visit to the Haunted Mansion which had opened in 1969, and I was hooked even more so.  2 years later I started working at WED Enterprises Inc., and 12 years later I would be building the Haunted Mansion at Tokyo Disneyland.

A.L: What were your first assignments at WDI?

P.B: My first assignment at WED was the Disneyland Walt Disney Story, followed by Walt Disney World's models of the Contemporary Hotel additional capacity, New Orleans Square which was a lot of fun with Artist Collin Campbell, Golf Resort, and Pirates of the Caribbean. That was very helpful when years later in 82, I worked on all the sets and props for the new Tokyo Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean at the famous TOHO Studio where Godzilla was made among other monster movies of the 50's. Rodan and Mothra were a few. Their costumes were all hanging by their heads in the TOHO Monster room. The 3rd TDL Pirates was a combination of Disneyland's and Walt Disney World's show. Disney Paint Master Steve Borrowitz, helped in the teaching of finishes and ageing to the TOHO Artisans. Among the larger sets, we had to build 7 boats for the show and actually floated them in Tokyo Bay to make sure they were weighted properly and would float and sit right in the variouse scenes. We got some surprised looks from the local fisherman, when they saw the Jolly Roger flying on one sail boat. In doing all the Jungle Cruise props as well, we had to build the outriggers also. That would not be my last ship building experience for Disney and TDL. 18 years later on TDS, the 700plus foot SS Columbia required my help. Back to 1974, The GE Carousel of Progress rehab, and the America Sings attraction that would replace it were my first actual in depth attractions with set designing, building, and props. I had a space in the Model Shop where sculptor Claes Oldenburg had occupied. That's when he was funded by Disney to create his Inflatable Mickey Mouse Hat that never was. The company finally decided it wasn't in there interest to sponsor such a project and Claes moved out. He did go on to create his famous POP Art icon, the inflatable water bottle, for The Art and Technology Show at the Los Angeles Art Museum. I got to see it with my college Sculpture professor and say hello, as all the artist were present. That was a loss for the company I felt. Look what Andy Warhol did for Campbell's Soup's. I remember when we removed the Carousel of Progress's modern set, as it was outdated since its 1964 Worlds Fair opening. After they removed any animation mechanisms, we took all the 60's gutted appliances to the dump as they were of no use. No one thought about Disney collectibles much then and E Bay was a long ways off. GE was our sponsor at that time, and we were to replace them with new GE units. All the people at the dump thought we were getting rid of some great items in the stove, icebox, washers etc..., and they could re-use them. Little did they know, as they hauled them away. The first Space Mountain for Florida started in 74/75, and it was fun to work with George McGinnis on that and Disneyland's that followed. The Space station scene for Disney World had a pottery studio scene and an office scene. Roger Shook, the head prop master, was having trouble finding pottery and modern Kinetic sculptures for both scenes that Art Director John Hench liked. I told him about some of my work I had done at home, and he wanted to see it. He showed it to John Hench and he loved it. So for a $25.00 signed release, they rented my pottery and sculptures for the filming for the 2 scenes that were to be in the Space Mountain pre show. That was a great feeling to have your own work in a Disney show, and to get a pat from head Art Director John Hench. John had also remarked favorably about the space pods I did for the preshow as well, which led to my Steve Jobs work. Bob Sewell, my manager, said they were not given to often. Later on, John did mention in his "Designing Disney" book about the Disneyland Indy Q line I had worked on, being the Best example of what a Disney Q line should be like. That was a great satisfaction. I remember in 73 or 74 at that time, we had to remove the Monsanto attraction and the model of the "City of the Future" from Disneyland. We had to cut up and destroy all those great little Plexiglas's buildings. Small World was being built for WDW and we rehabbed DL's at that same time. Making the toys and props was a big change from models. Some of the figures still had Styrofoam heads from the 64 Worlds Fair, and we upgraded to the WDW vinyl skinned heads. As a joke, I waited for Joyce to take her dinner break and then slipped one of the heads over mine as they had a zipper in the back side. That was a squeeze for sure, and I had to leave it half open in back. I crawled under Joyce's desk, hiding my body and put my head on a shelf with 6 others she was painting. On her return she started mixing the lip paint and eyeing us all to see who needed what. In my best Small World voice, I squeaked out "Paint me, Paint me". She was so surprised, I started to laugh and gave it away. She commenced jabbing me with her broom and calling me Small World Eyes which stuck for many years. Joyce Carlson was the all time master of Small World and I adopted her as my Fairy Godmother, being one of the new kids on the block at WED.

We experienced the first energy crisis about this time and WED went from about 480 to 150 people. That was the first Black Friday as we called them. I did go to work for FOG, or Architect Frank O Gehry in Santa Monica, and worked on the first outdoor amphitheater in Concord California. That was an interesting time for him as he was getting involved with all the POP Artist's which interested me. His cardboard furniture was Hot, and the Smithsonian had commissioned some of it for their museum. I was called back to WED within 2 weeks, and Bob told me they had overreacted and I could come back to work. I did after about 1 month, but kept working for Frank at night until I was sure they would not overreact again. I later met Frank Gehry again on EDL where I was working, and where he had designed some of the exterior courtyard in the foodcourt. His Disney Music Hall was a great accomplishment from the old days, and reminded me of that amphitheater of 1974.

Imagineers Pat Burke ( left ) and Skip Lange ( right ) at work on Disneyland Big Thunder - Bryce Canyon inspired model.

We worked on the third Small World for Tokyo Disneyland in 82/83. Marc Davis was busy developing his Western River Ride and a model with all the great western buildings and figures was being constructed in the model shop. I would love to have worked on that. Tony Baxter was also creating his Big Thunder concept model for WDW at about that time. I was so excited about all these western themed attractions being created. I can't forget Fort Wilderness and Pioneer Hall in about 1974 and 75. That was my first chance to work with Architect Dick Kline, and my start towards Fronteirland and all 4 Big Thunders with Tony Baxter and Skip Lange.

Next I worked with Dick on River Country which I believe was the first themed water park with trestle supported slides that I know of. I remember the problem with trying to figure out the slide and it's supporting trestles. The mountain was terraced so I built the model from a flat plain above out of fiberglass sections I molded and modeled off rubber hose layed in position of the plan. They were a lot like snake skins. I joined the sections and then worked out the towers. In a dark room, I sprayed photographic emulsion on the terraced model and then projected the plan onto it with an overhead projector under a red light from 20 feet. I then rolled on the developer like a photograph, and then the fix. Something I learned from famous Pop Art, L.A. Renegade member, Photographer Jerry McMillan in college.( He and actor Dennis Hopper are current members among other POP artists from the 60's. I just went to a recent showing of Jerry's work at the Norton Simon.) That was a great experiment and made it very easy to lay out the course of the slide and for Rock Work Legend Fred Joerger to do his River Country Rockwork. WDW VP Dick Nunis was our slide tester, and let us know which corners needed to be higher so you didn't fly over the edge like I heard he did. Of course River Country led to other Disney World water parks and many on the outside. I'm sorry to hear that its closed now. I went on to work with Dick Kline for his next 30 plus years through DL, WDW, EDL, TDL, and TDS. I would tell people I went to the school of D'Kline, when they asked. I always liked the TV show MacGyver, as it was a lot like that in the model shop, as you were always called upon to be fixing things with a piece of wire or a rubber band by our manager. My best fix was when Sharon Disney asked me to reglue a paper collage she had, that had been given to her father Walt, by Salvador Dali. It was unframed and was coming apart from age. Malcolm Cobb ordered a frame for it and I put it back together after taking a photo. Layer by layer I reglued it, and was carefull to get the Dali signature back in the right place. Many years later in 1991 on a flight to Paris for EDL, I sat next to John Hench. I told John about the collage repair story, and learned all about Dali being his European roomate, and bringing him back to the US and to the studio to work on Fanatasia and other projects. I asked John if he would write in my opening day Fantasia Program. He said "What do you want me to write?" I replied to write on a part he worked on. He said " Will, I worked on it all!". So I asked him to write where ever he wanted. After about 2 weeks I was called up to pick up my program and thanked him. That is a Disney Treasure. On another day, Legend Harriet Burns had referred me to another Legend Bill Cottrell, Walt's brother in law, on another fix project. Bill started with the company in 1929 I believe, and was regarded as Walt's right hand man by Mark Davis, as he was intrusted to help get Disneyland opened in 55. He was actually the first president of WED and in 1964 went on to manage the Disney family interests in Retlaw, the name which came long before Harpo. Bill had a French Marble 2 faced travel clock that Walt had given to him, and Harriet thought I might get it running again with my interest in clocks ( I did work on the design of the first Pinnocho Dark Ride in 82 for DL because of my love of the story, characters, and the clocks ). I wasn't used to something so delicate, and had to tell him I couldnt fix it. He told me to keep it anyway, that maybe someday I could. That led me to going over to his house, across from Harriet, to fix his larger clocks. Most just needed adjustments for time, strike, or speed and oiling the bushings. That was always fun as Bill liked to show all his bronze Disney statues that Walt or the company had given him. His house was like a museum, with everything in it's place. On leaving he would always open the coat closet by the front door and hand me a bottle of Silverado wine from the Disney family vineyard for my coming over. That was my pleasure. Afterwards I was so close to the WED hangout, the Italian restaurant Barones, which was just around the corner from Bill and Harriet, I had to stop in. As a boy I visited there with my family when it was The Tick Toc Restaurant because of all it's clocks on the walls. I would usally meet rockwork legend Fred Joerger and my manager Malcolm Cobb for a pizza. They would have the "Fred Special" and I would order a 1/3 "Harriet Special". Fred and Malcolm loved the pepporoni, sausage and mushroom. Harriet had the same except she had the eggplant instead of the pepporoni and convinced me to try it. You can still order either today in their new location. Cheers, and bon apettite!

A.L: When you entered WDI, Walt had already passed away, but did you had the luck to meet him before he died?

P.B: Yes, I got to shake Walt's hand in the 66 Rose Parade when he was Grand Marshall, just before his death that following December. My family was sitting on a corner that the parade went around. It was our first Rose Parade to visit, but this was a Special one with Walt. A lot of floats slowed down to make that corner. Walt's Lincoln convertible stopped in front of us and so we ran up to the car and shook his outreached hand. I think some Magic rubbed off that day. That was 6 years before I started at WED.

At WED one of my first jobs was to work on the Walt Disney story, where I had to touch up the full size photo cutouts of Walt. That was a very interesting Image Adjustment for both of us.

Above and top picture: Pat Burke in the 1980's in front of WDW Big Thunder Mountain.

A.L: You worked on the originals versions of Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, didn’t you?

P.B: Yes, Tony Baxter asked me in 1985, to design the DL Splash Mountain Load and Unload building after he was unhappy with what the architect had done. I used a "Song of the South" theme, which was completed before and you can see the concept in a rendering. I used river rock in the footings and massive chimney as it would sit near Rivers of America, and I wanted to employ native elements of Southern architecture where "Song of The South" took place. Notice the columns on the main load building. Because of the animal friendly attraction, I included the bird house copula's and Brear Rabbit being chased by the Bear on the weather vane. Bruce Gordon was great about having that made. I think later on Toon Town took that direction. Props were low on the totem pole with a small budget, so I didn't get involved in that much. I made one trip to the Rose Bowl and found some great items for it. I did donate a large wooden water wheel mechanism for the hill that I found while hunting down Big Thunder props for TDL. I later used this river rock application and mine tailing's that would have been pulled out of the mine, and post and beam construction from this and the earlier 79 DL and WDW 80 Big Thunders on the 87 TDL and 92 DLP Big Thunder load buildings, while working with those WDI Architects Dick Kline and Abe Quibin. Abe and I would go on to work on the DLP ACP Fort Wilderness interior architecture and show.

About Big Thunder an early rendering of BTM was slated for WDW and it was supposed to be the first BTM for 1979. However, we were asked to stop the WDW design model and switch to DL's Big Thunder which became finally the first in 1979. Because Big Thunder was to be next to DL's Fantasyland, Tony Baxter wanted a more fanciful rockwork. Bryce Canyon was selected as inspiration for the DL rockwork style throughout, while Monument Valley has been used for the other 3 BTM as in this rendering. Skip Lange did a Great job sculpting and rendering the model. This Big Thunder employed over 100 tons of colorful mine tailing's I found in the Mojave Desert, that were used to create the themed rock retaining walls along the guests pathways (Apple Dumpling Gang was filmed at the mine the rock tailings came from) We also shipped about 100 tons to WDW to do the same treatment. We did keep some of the Natures Wonderland Rockwork for our DL Big Thunder. You can see it on the back side of the mountain near the Fantasyland back entrance. Of course many of the critters moved over to Big Thunder after the earth shaken stopped.

Disneyland Big Thunder, was the first attraction in 1979 to have that rusty feeling ( Rusty 1, was my call sign at EDL). In fact head painter/ager Bob Jolley, tried some rusty runs and washes on a wall near Big Thunder as a sample of our new aged look, that had been rejected for the Haunted Mansion earlier by Walt. Some maintenance people came upon it after hours, and not to upset Walt's spirit, immediately sent a crew out to repaint it clean of any objectionable defiance's. We did get to hang out the laundry on latter Big Thunders for the Billy goat, with ringing bell collar, to play with...

We did also a logo for a bronze steam compressor head in the DL Big Thunder load building in 1978. BTM in a circle was read as TWB which stood for Tony Wayne Baxter, Big Thunders Creator. It read Big Thunder Iron Works. I believe it is used on each engine on their boilers as well. As you come up the last stair to enter the DL load building, you will see the belt driven compressor right ahead of you which separates Lt and Rt loading lanes. The dispatch office is just behind the compressor. I used the BTM/TYB logo in casting the head plate on the compressor. Trouble is sometimes operations will put a trash can in front of it, blocking your view of Tony Wayne Baxter's signature in bronze. I think we have told the story so that they will try and keep it in view. My name also got on a crate being lifted by a crane from a flatbed car, in the Q line below the little town, courtesy of Bob Jolley.

One day, I remember I was trying to find out why River Country was being closed? In doing so I found out about the 2 live steam engines that had been part of Fort Wilderness and enjoyed by the guests for a $1.00 a ride. When we were doing EDL, they were unused and sitting and I thought we could get them for EDL’s Thunder Mesa for a similar ride/tour or just a prop. WDW said no and then they used them for Ticket Booths on Pleasure Island until they sold them to some collectors!

I remember I was glad that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells liked the DLP Big Thunder version and I enjoyed Frank Wells comments. I was able to fly over to Paris with him in the company jet right before the Desert Storm operation started, which is a whole other story.

I found back recently these 2 pictures above and below taken in 1977 of the crane and office model I designed for Big Thunder at Walt Disney World, but ended up at Disneyland's first Big Thunder instead.  It can be seen in the photo in front of the town of Rainbow Ridge.  It has also been used at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris by the Big Thunder Mine dock and the office deck in TDL. 

In 1979, I was standing in front of the Walt Disney World new Big Thunder Load building that was in progress.  We had just installed the old 2 stamp mill in front that I had located and had to partially rebuild after over100 years of use and neglect.  The wood flywheel and crank assembly that would trip the mills hammers is lying on the ground.  In the 1880s you could hear bays of these stamps mills running from miles away.A vertical gas engine is standing just behind the mill to run it by a flat leather belt.  Today it would be over 130 years old.  "It's Old but it will hold!" 

While working on my first WED Enterprises Big Thunder, this crate - picture below - came to be.  I was at Disneyland from WED Enterprises doing my first field installlation.  In the queue line, I had designed several of it's architectural elements in the water tower and flumes and the spur track with crane where the Walking Beam engine sits that Big Thunder Creator Tony Baxter found at the Disney Studio.

Disney WED Rockwork Legend Fred Joerger and Field Art Director  Bob Jolley decided to put my name on this crate that would be suspeneded from my crane I was building.  Bob said "Hey burke, where do you want your crate mailed to?"  I laughed and said, "The assay office!"  It's always been hanging there waiting to be delivered to Rainbow Ridge's Big Thunder Assay Office.

A little story that happened in 1979 while doing Disneyland's Big Thunder Installation. We put together a "WED WADER'S" team for the annual canoe races around the Tom Sawyer Island.  Being already down there in the field, made it easy to get up earlier to practice.  In the photo we are holding our trophy for winning the "Sprints" that day. I'm standing  on the second row, last one on the right. I think this is the only WED or WDI team to have won an award in the event.  I found back my WED and white team shirt with our logo on it. Around 1998, I remember Disney Legend Marty Sklar was encouraging his WDI Imagineering team to enter the Disneyland canoe races as he thought they had never placed in the event.  I pulled out my 1979 photo of the "WED WADER'S" and sent him a copy to show that we had won the Sprints.  Marty replied, " Will enter again!"

A.L: Pat, you were talking about DLP’s Big Thunder Mountain and it reminds me that someone told me that when the park opened, an audio-animatronic was located at the entrance of the third lift, before the “dynamite explosion”?

P.B: Originally, at the base of the mine on the right in a tunnel, we had a voice yelling "Fire in the hole!" with a light blast depicting a dynamite blast. But no AA figure. A figure was too expensive and was never conceived except in voice. I did propose doing a figure we had Disney Sculptor Blaine Gibson do for the earlier Big Thunders. It was of a prospector pulling his loaded mule off the track. Loaded with barrels of blasting powder and crates of dynamite, the mule would finally sit up as the train approached with a big tug from the prospector on his reins. Again because of cost and other issues, it was not completed. Maybe for the 5th Big Thunder, I will bring it up.

Below, a series of pictures of of DLP Frontierland theming. These real artifacts are now forever in DLP and create the magic of Thunder Mesa, thanks to Pat Burke search all over the U.S in 16 states, East and West. He found the artifacts and then recreated their former environments for Thunder Mesa.
Some of the pictures below are coming from the excellent web site Ravenswood Manor, a gold mine of informations about Frontierland Big thunder Mountain and Phantom Manor.

Above: Lavinia Rose's Black Smith. This was to be across the street in Big Thunder Mining Company's property, but the scene for this area was cancelled. Tony Baxter asked me to move it out of its scheduled location, and I put it across the street with the Minneapolis Traction Engine that I also moved to compliment the scene.

Above: One of the Thunder Mesa's original vertical Mineshafts. Rumored as air vent shaft to tie into Mercantile shaft, leading to Big Thunder Island.

Above: Two pictures of Huntington Mill with horse drawn steam engine. BTM CreatorTony Baxter was worried this smoke stack would block the view of the Butte and asked Skip to have me take it out of the scene. I told Skip not to worry that the smoke stack could fold down as it did when traveling on the road. I folded it down into its yoke and all was fine as shown in this photo documentation. I also had to design the reentry building in the background so as not to block the Butte view as well. That was a fun roofline to work with. There were only 3 of these mills produced, and I located 2 of them to salvage 1 for Thunder Mesa.

Above: Big Thunder Entrance sign and height gear. This was developed to have the gear be as tall as the smallest guest on the attraction. It had to be set several times in concrete as operations decided the ultimate requirement from the finished pavement which changed several times..

Above: Steam Powered Cement Mixer. Executive VP Marty Sklar passed down a letter to me addressed toWDI, from a museum in England, that wished to purchase this steam powered rarity for a special wing they had on steam power. I replied to them by phone that it was part of the show and could not be sold. They asked if I knew of another that might be for sale? I had to tell them no I didn't. I did not have the heart to tell them I made it up from parts.

Above: Other Mining artifacts located near the Steam Powered Cement Mixer.

Above: Big Thunder Mining Company Main Operations Building
Upper floor: A. Foreman's Check in Office, B. Overhead powered Tool Bay,
C. 3 dommed steam powered water pump station feeding overhead flumes to water wheel, D. Head frame, main shaft elevator cage, and operational steam winch, E. Stamp mill, feeder and crushing platform.
Lower Floor: A. Mechanical Ore Chutes and train loading, B. BTM Main Dispatch office for departing and arriving trains.

Above: Upper floor tool bay. These were all steam driven by an overhead line shaft with belt pulleys.

Above: BTM Unload area/lower floor
This was a great scene to develope with the real mine mechanical mine chute doors. What a job finding and hauling those all the way to Thunder Mesa!

Above: CrossRoads detail with mine car loading ramp.

Above: Mill Landing, one of the most photographed scene in the park by DLP guests.

Above: Big Thunder Mountain Upper Mill Building and Head frame.

Above: Two mine cars with Big Thunder main Butte in background. In creating these vignettes, I always consider the Director Alfred Hitchcock ins an outs and keeping the Butte in focus in the end.

Above: Big Thunder Mining Companys signal light and steam whistle. Largest exterior made light in the park, used to warn river boats of the approaching bend and rocky curve ahead, and to signal the BTM Foreman Big Jack to clear the Gin Pole Boom for load and unloading at the Ball Mill Dock.

Above: Ball Mill Dock with rotating Gin Pole. Part of the Ball Mill Loading Dock. Ball Mill Landing with Big Thunder Mountain and Snow Shed in background. It's always necessary to work with the new foilage and great to see it years later as they all fuge together.

Above: Mercantile interiors
My first store to develope. All the props had to be above merchandizing, so I built a 2nd story to house the elevator cage's steam winch and boiler. This vertical elevator shaft led to a horizontal shaft that went under the river and out to Big Thunder Island. Some of the propietors mineral gatherings from the BTM Mines can be seen on the upper shelves of the store. He wanted to make sure his staff did not sell them off while he was out "Fishing" for more!

A.L: There is also this famous “Thunder Bird God” painted on the outside of Big Thunder...

P.B: In 1977, I asked Big Thunder Mountain concept designer Tony Baxter, if I could come up with some actual lore for the mountain from research, as I had grown up around the silver and gold mines in the Mojave desert in California. He said fine and go ahead. The Thunder Bird God was found in an actual Research book on Indian legends. When the miners invaded the Indians sacred mountain and removed its wealth, the Thunder Bird God would clap its wings, and cause the mountain to shake causing mine cave-ins as in lift 3. The Indians would then board over the miners shaft and cover it with mud and brush as if they had never been there. A lot of vertical shafts got this treatment and bikers 100 years later fell to their death from the weight of the bikes on the old covered boards. I saw one of these bikes after a 40 foot drop.

Above and below: Minneapolis Traction Engine at DLP.
Top speed was 4 MPH and ran on wood, with a chain dricen clutch and steering mechanism. Saved from over 100 destroyed back in 1909 steel salvage drive for WW1. Inspired by the 1971 Robert Altman film, "McCabe & Mrs Miller", it was used by the Big Thunder Mining Company tro bring supplies to the mine and go where no train could.

Each Big Thunder got more research and more artifacts as a result. EDL's would be hard to beat on the 5th Big Thunder. Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller" was a major influence for me on EDL Big Thunder. I loved the old steam powered Case traction Engine in the movie that hauled all the supplies and sporting women to the small town like Thunder Mesa. So we have the Minneapolis Traction Engine in Thunder Mesa, that I actually got to drive several times under steam. It could still run today and would be fun to start up, just to blow it's steam whistle. I will talk about it more in the book. By the way, is the old windmill turning at the ranch? It does work and we had it running for the opening.

Above, the Windmill with Wood Water Wagon at DLP.

I have done all 4 Big Thunders, 4 Indy attractions, 3 Jungle Cruises, 2 Pirates,....HKDL had no Frontierland so I worked on it overall, but mainly on the Mainstreet. It’s too bad the new Frontierland for there was just canceled, or was it? That would be great to work on but I dont think they will have a Big Thunder!

Above, HKDL future Grizzly Trail. This new land will be HKDL "Frontierland" and was announced recently, after the recording of this interview.

A.L: Phantom Manor graveyard theming is remarkable, and there is a story about the four tombs of the Bear, the trapper, the squirrel and the lion.

P.B: Yes, one day someone asked me what killed the Bear, after he ate the trapper. Well, here is the story.....As far as I remember, in Frontierland’s story line the squirrel was a pet of the Lucky Nugget owner. When she went to feed him in the morning, she found out the stray old lion had eaten her bushy tailed friend. So in anger, she sent out her trapper friend - who was also a prospector of Gold in Thunder Mesa, (and always carried a vile of mercury for his gold separation from the quartz) - to kill the lion that same morning.

After he had come upon and killed the lion up on Thunder Mountain, the hungry old bear came out that night from the Indian burial cave, at waters edge and into the trappers camp site, and made a meal of him and the remains of the slayed lion. The Bear was not as picky as the trapper, and ingested the mercury as well. Unlike the God of Mercury, this did eventually stop the Bear after a long slow 20 years. Thunder Mountain prospectors found the remains of the prospector, and notified the Lucky Nugget owner, who put on a befitting burial with markers at the Phantom Manor Grave site. The story was always a point of unresolved interest in the Lucky Nugget for the next 20 years, until the old bear wandered into town and died at the Crossroads hub. Injested mercury poisoning, was not too well known at that time. Luckily that tuff old muley bear was put to rest and not eaten at the Cowboy Cookout.

I remember also I was requested by Tony Baxter to write the story's behind the Thunder Mesa family buried in the mansion cemetery, based on our lore and legend. We were getting a lot of letters forwarded to us at WDI Glendale asking questions about the different Phantom Manor headstones and their occupants, and what they meant. These were all sent to Tony Baxter, and I believe to Marty Sklar, head Executive Vice President. Tony suggested I write the stories that would explain all answers to the questions, since I was a pretty good story teller I've been told, and had come up with a lot of the Big Thunder Lore over 4 generations or editions of the attraction. I had also previously done all the stories with photos, for the various Thunder Mesa Americana icons, that was to be made into a booklet to be passed out to the Thunder Mesa operators. These were done before the park opened in 92. As I completed the Phantom Manor stories, I sent a copy to Tony, Marty and Show Producer Jeff for their review and approval. All concurred and loved them.

Did you know we almost had a Phantom Manor Carriage Barn? This was to provide covered Q to the guests entering the Manor and waiting in the long expected line. I had quite a line up of vintage wagons located for this which would have been perfect, including a white pumkin shaped childrens hearse. Looked like Cinderella's coach. Sorry that has never materialized and that's another story.

Above: Thunder Mesa Shipping Company at Frontierland depot

A.L: At DLP, you also worked on Frontierland Depot’s theming .

P.B: Yes. With the train station coming up for production and in design, I was fortunate to meet a life time collector of train memorabilia. He even had a red caboose that John Wayne had starred on. Stuck away in all his sheds were many elements in various stages of disrepair. That's always the fun part for me, like an Erector Set, collecting all the pieces and manufacturing the missing ones that will make the Thunder Mesa Train Station so unique from the other parks. Where else do they have a vintage "No Spitting on The Landing" cast iron sign, or a mechanically chain operated mail bag signal, or the semaphore to signal the train to stop for passengers. Boy was that a tough one to revive. I remember the night we set it in place and the foot of the Crane, pressed down and broke the main waterline feeding the park. Like a geyser, rocks and mud blew 80 feet in the air covering me and my crew. The local firetrucks came as well as park security. I think they actually laughed at our appearance before shutting the water off. The semaphore would not slide down it's mating base shaft, so I had my Irish crew lead Sticks, grease the shaft, and it then went right together. What a night.

Above: Mail Bag sign and water tower, Thunder Mesa Shipping Company Depot, and the semaphore.

A.L: You know that a Splash Mountain attraction is always envisioned for the future in that area of the park. If one day they build it, Frontierland Depot will be moved 100 meters on the right from where it is right now.

P.B: I often mentioned to WDI friends that, as Jeff Burke had wanted, maybe a Matterhorn type logging ride might be a better choice for Frontierland, like Knott's Berry Farm has. Bud Hurlbut, it's creator, was actually invited by Tony Baxter to come over to Disneyland and see our first Big Thunder and all it's mining artifacts in progress. Bud went back and added mining props to his ride as we had done first. That was a great compliment to us. A Logging ride would compliment Big Thunder as both supported each other in Fronteirland History. They went hand in hand. Mining gold payed for the logging flumes and saw mills, and the logs provided timbers for the mine shoring and mill buildings. As DLP’s Big Thunder is the best of the 4 in all ways, it would be great to build a true logging themed attraction tied to Thunder Mesa Lore.

Pat Burke worked also on Disneyland Paris Adventureland and many others Disney parks and attractions and has plenty of memories for you coming in the part two of this tribute to Pat which will be posted tomorrow, so don't miss it!

Pictures: copyright Disney, Pat Burke collection, Alain Littaye, Ravenswood Manor, LIFE Magazine


Mark Hickson said...

Great story, looking forward to the next park=t!

Anonymous said...

Hi Alain,
JUst wondering, are Jeff Burke and Pat Burke THE same person? I saw Jeff Burke in this interview for phantom manor so i wonderd ....
Greetings from ghent, Belgium


Anonymous said...

Pat Burke is a great example of a true Imagineer. His passion, talent, intelligence and good nature has made him someone we all owe a debt of thanks to. We enjoy so many things Pat has gone that "extra mile" to bring us. His intelligence and love for history makes us all that much richer and Disney, of course, benefits from this as we all do. Thanks to Alain for bringing so many new and great stories from Pat to our attention.

Eddie Sotto

Alain Littaye said...

Thanks, Eddie! To anonymous: no, Jeff Burke and Pat Burke are two different persons. Although they have the same name, if i don't make any mistake, they are from two different families.