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Rocket Rods at Disneyland

Here at Theme Park Tourist, we’ve been developing an entire library of Lost Legends, telling the in-depth stories of loved-and-lost attractions from around the world. We’re chronicling the full, complete, detailed histories of how these forgotten rides came to be, what they were like, and what lead to their downfall. From Journey into Imagination to Horizons; Maelstrom to TOMB RAIDER: The Ride and dozens more, keep an eye out for links to these outstanding Lost Legends entries across the site.

But Legends don’t exist alone. That’s why our new series, Declassified Disasters, is here to tell the other side of the story, chronicling attractions that were missteps, flops, or outright failures. We’ve seen how “New Management” almost closed a Walt Disney classic forever, explored how Superstar Limo was so terrible that guests at the original Disney’s California Adventure reported being happier when it was closed, watched Cedar Point’s Star Tours rip-off crash and burn, told the full story behind Epcot's most hated ride, and experienced the in-depth story behind what some call Disney’s worst attraction ever.

Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at yet another Disaster, but this one is a little bit different: it’s a triple threat. It replaced a beloved fan favorite, anchored a terrible and despised new land, and was closed more often than it was open. It can only be Disneyland’s failed Rocket Rods, the most disastrous ride any Disney Park has ever dealt with. Ready for the full story behind this technological travesty? Let’s start at the beginning…

Looking Back on Tomorrow (1955 – 1959)

Image: Disney

When Disneyland opened in 1955, its Tomorrowland was a world away from the one most visitors would recognize. In fact, Walt’s original Tomorrowland was… well… nothing to write home about. And Walt knew it. After all, the construction of Disneyland was quick – just a year and a day from groundbreaking to opening – and that meant that some projects earned priority over others. Tomorrowland was an “other.”

As the story goes, construction was so far behind on Tomorrowland that Walt decided in late autumn of 1954 to suspend construction indefinitely, instead planning to simply open the park without Tomorrowland. He'd give the rest of the park time to earn back its budget and recoup investment, then reveal a grand Tomorrowland in a planned Phase II expansion a year or two later. But as the summer opening drew nearer, he relented. Walt's designers pressed forward with the construction of Tomorrowland, even if the final product would not match the future he'd envisioned. Instead, it would be a World’s Fair style showcase of corporate technologies and investments with the land’s real estate rented out to large companies.

Among its offerings in 1955, for example, Tomorrowland contained the Kaiser Aluminum Hall of Fame, the Dutch Boy Paint Color Gallery, the Monsanto Hall of Chemistry, and the Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow.

Image: Disney

While this Tomorrowland purported to show us a glimpse into the distant year of 1986, it wasn’t what Walt had envisioned when his dedication for the land called for “[a] step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come,” promising that “[t]omorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals.”

But Walt and his team did have a plan for bringing Tomorrowland up to snuff.

Image: Disney

Four years after the park’s opening, his vision came a little clearer when Disneyland got its first large-scale expansion. On June 14, 1959, Tomorrowland became home to three new headlining attractions, each earning the brand new “E-Ticket” designation created just for them: the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Submarine Voyage, and the Disneyland-ALWEG Monorail, each astoundingly advanced for audiences of the time. The investment was so large, the attractions’ openings were accompanied by a rededication of Disneyland televised as a grand re-opening!

Inspired by a World’s Fair (1960 – 1966)

Image: PLCjr, Flickr (license)

From there, progress at Disneyland slowed for a period, and for good reason – Walt and his designers at WED Enterprises were offered the chance to design and develop four headlining attractions at the 1964 – 65 World’s Fair in New York. Disney jumped at the chance and designers got to work. The end result of their work was the creation of four one-of-a-kind, groundbreaking displays for the Fair.

  • Pepsi-Cola Presents Walt’s Disney’s “it’s a small world” – a Salute to UNICEF and All the World’s Children would be the world premier of “the happiest cruise to ever set sail,” selling millions of tickets (the proceeds from which benefitted UNICEF) and setting a precedent for a new, high –capacity ride system that would be adapted for the in-development pirate attraction at Disneyland.
  • Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln debuted an unprecedented Audio Animatronics figure at the State of Illinois’ pavilion.

  • General Electric Progressland – A Walt Disney Presentation was an Audio Animatronics show in a revolving theater, showcasing how GE’s electrical innovations propelled the American family forward.
  • Ford’s Magic Skyway toured guests through elevated highways along the Ford pavilion’s exterior and into massive show scenes depicting the Primeval World of dinosaurs.

Of course, it’s easy to immediately recognize the role that a few of these attractions played back at Disneyland. After the Fair’s closure, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln arrived at the park’s Main Street Opera House in 1965, and “it’s a small world” was packed up and shipped to Disneyland for a 1966 debut.

Image: Disney

Now with their projects finished and only the earliest initial ideas for “the Florida Project” in development, Imagineers turned their attention to Tomorrowland. They were determined to make the land as vibrant and innovative as Walt had envisioned. Luckily, their work at the World’s Fair had given them just the ingredients to build a great, big, beautiful tomorrow.

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Comments

I had the opportunity to ride the Rods in the spring of 2000, not long before they closed. Wait time in the queue was about 45 minutes, and the ride itself was okay, but not overwhelming. Fortunately, they seemed to have most of the block management issues worked out, and we didn't experience any unexpected stops. The wheelies were working as well. All in all, not bad, but not worthy of being considered a headlining attraction, and I'd have preferred the Peoplemover. Being a monorail driver at WDW, I was far more excited about being given the opportunity to drive Monorail Blue during my Disneyland visit. :-)

I rode the Rocket Rods fairly often and liked them just fine. I missed their cheerful sounds when they went away, because Tomorrowland had no area music (except the occasional Observatron tune) until they brought in the WDW loop later on. I don't remember waiting too tremendously long to ride. We used single rider once it was available. I still have one of the original color-printed, laminated single rider passes that I randomly "inherited" from a friend. Those were quickly replaced by plain red paper slips because too many people were walking off with them. Oops.

I did ride the Rocket Rods and loved them!!! I don't remember how long the wait was but it couldn't have been too bad. I would love to see the same kind of ride put back there! They really were a lot of fun!!

I went on this ride and the wait wasn't long at all. I thought the ride was fun and different. I don't know why they don't try to bring back a similar ride and fix all the issues that made it break down all the time. Since they have to keep the track because of structural issues, just make the track similar to Test Track.

The Peoplemover WILL return to DL sometime in the future, Pessimistic Brian!

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