Monday, September 17, 2012

Between Books - Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers

Cover - Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers
There is a chance that you have never heard of Arrow Development.  But if you have ever visited the Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World Resort you probably have experienced their work.  While you are likely aware of the legendary Imagineers who designed and themed the early attractions introduced by Disney, it was Arrow Development Co. which manufactured and built many of the classic rides we still love today.
Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers: The Story of Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon Ride Inventors of the Modern Amusement Parks by Robert R. Reynolds documents the growth of Arrow Development from a start-up company to the premier manufacturer of theme park attractions.  Reynolds alternates between narrative sections on the background and history of Arrow Development and founders Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon and transcripts of interviews with Morgan and Bacon.  The author and interviews chronicle how Morgan and Bacon started a small machine shop after World War II, with a truck as one of their most valuable assets and grew their successful business.  Their early jobs included contracts with the U.S. Navy, Stanford Linear Accelerator and a crop dusting company, not entertainment companies.  Morgan and Bacon decided to bid on a merry-go-round in San Jose, California, their first steps into the amusement industry.  Arrow’s later small scale paddle boat, the Lil’ Belle, caught the interests of Disney which was making it own strides into the amusement industry in the early 1950’s with a project called Disneyland.  Arrow would be contracted to build the creations of Disney’s talented designers including King Arthur’s Carousel, Casey Jr., Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures for Disneyland’s opening day.  With the success of these attractions and the successful contributions Arrow Development provided, they became a highly influential ride manufacturing firm within the growing amusement industry.  Reynolds outlines the continued successes with both Disney and other companies.  Reynolds’ narrative discusses continued successes such as it’s a small world, the Monorail, and Pirates of the Caribbean working with Disney and other clients.  The author also outlines Morgan and Bacon’s relationship with Arrow Development and Arrow’s legacy today including the roller coaster design firm D.H. Manufacturing led by Ed Morgan’s son Dana.       
I had heard of Arrow Development, but reading Bob Gurr’s Design: Just for Fun hit home for me the key role this company had in the early days of Disneyland.  Gurr made it clear that Arrow delivered what Imagineers dreamt.  And Gurr’s book led me to pick up Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers.  Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers pays off in providing greater detail in Arrow Development’s early and ongoing role with Disneyland and later the Walt Disney World Resort.  What are especially gratifying are the long sections of Morgan and Bacon in their own words discussing Walt Disney, other Disney personalities and the complexity of designing the attractions and ride vehicles tasked to them.  Their stories literally go into the underside of many of our favorite Disney rides and provide explanations of how they were engineered.  Though Reynolds’ commentary is readable and helpful, it really is the words of the founders of Arrow Development that catch the reader’s attention.  I have seen some reviews that have noted the text is highly technical and unreadable.  I am allergic to math and though some of their explanations were above my head I never found them so distracting that I had to stop reading.  Instead I found the book easy to read and the technical aspects are just a small detour.            
In many ways my thoughts on Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers are a value question.  To buy a used copy on at the moment is a minimum of $40 with some copies over $100.  This is collector book territory for me and I expect rarity or a bonus to make the purchase worthwhile.  I honestly could not see ever paying $20 for this book.  I would need a specific research reason to pay this much for a non limited edition autographed collectible book.  Luckily the Between Wife is introducing me more and more to eBooks.  While I cannot see spending $40 for this book, I think the $4.99 for the Kindle version is a steal. 
However, I do want to add that for me there were issues with images reading this text on Kindle apps across several devices, none of them an actual Kindle.  The text includes a number of black and white images.  However, for me they were difficult to see.  They were not scaled well typically not taking up the full screen.  And they did not enlarge well, making it difficult for me to look at the fine details.  I am sure in the print version the pictures are very beneficial but in the electronic form they were almost distracting at times. 
Who is Arrow Development, Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon and why as a Disney fan should I even care?  Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers makes it clear that they were key partners in the foundation of Disneyland and the later expansion into Florida.  Robert P. Reynolds provides us a useful commentary of this relationship, one that relies heavily on the words of the Arrow Development founders.  And at $4.99 for an electronic version readers can add a useful book to their Between Book library.    

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