WED Imagineer / Engineer
Paul Saunders was an architectural engineer working for WED and MAPO in the 1960s. He is responsible for many design elements of the ride mechanisms in the Haunted Mansion, and he worked extensively on the building of New Orleans Square. Saunders wrote this article as an afterword for the official DoomBuggies.com guide to the Secrets of Disney's Haunted Mansion, which you can purchase online here.
I came to WED Enterprises in 1965, and soon found myself working under Vic Green and Chuck Day. One of our projects was the rehab of Tomorrowland and architectural work on the Monsanto exhibit. Of course, MAPO and all our talent was brought to bear on the exhibit but the concept of the turntable loading and unloading of continually moving "cars"was one of the things I personally worked on, by analysis of people walking at normal speed, and walking onto the turntable to sync with the moving cars.
We feared that people would trip and fall, and would need moving handrails and someone to catch them if they didnt make it. As it turned out, people had no trouble getting on or off the turntables. I was involved in all aspects of getting the facility drawings made under Vic. Since that exhibit was so successful, I was told that I would work next on the Haunted Mansion, which would have the same ride mechanism. I had been told - being new to Disney - that Walt never really felt good about "walk through" exhibits in capturing the publics attention to the "story."
I was raised mostly in Aurora, Illinois and in the mid 60s I knew that All Steel had taken over moving sidewalk and speed ramp manufacture [in Illinois], so I suggested they be contacted for the moving sidewalk to load people in the cars of the Mansion. And so it was.
[I also] figured out the timing of the two 20 foot elevators to load people into the tapered hall leading to the moving walk so that we didnt create a jam up of people. I suggested that the side frames of the elevator expanding pictures be made of soft rubber-like material to unroll as the pictures expanded. I also suggested a blast of cold air from an air conditioner onto the back of the necks of people as they [traveled] past the hall to infinity. Vic liked the idea, and I think it was used. We were all a team in those days with little pigeon-holing of job descriptions. So much talent!
One day many of us went over to the studio for a screening of a black and white movie that I think was "Haunted House on the Hill,"where we got some ideas, like the raging monster pushing at a door from the other side.
I worked on the Mansion in 1967 and 1968, and in February of 1968 my brother, a Navy doctor in Vietnam was killed. I remember how all the "ghost stuff" seemed different to me afterwards. After essentially finishing my work, I took a vacation and came back to go through with the public on opening day, and feeling almost sick to see much of it gone in the gloom of the lights being down, since I had been involved with so much of the details with the work lights up. However, Im grateful that the "gags"were on the light side and more appropriate to family members of all ages. It was a fun project, to say the least.
Walts death did affect us all at WED, and some openly cried at the news. Four of us just got into a car and drove around LA a good part of the day, not saying much. One day I was in the [Haunted Mansions] lower hall and I saw a painter wood graining the elevator doors. I turned to him and said "why are you wood graining the doors when no one will really see the doors, as they will have their backs to them as they leave and besides, it will be dark?" He replied, "Walt would want it that way" - meaning the wood grain. I felt dumb, as I had worked at WED long enough to know that truth.
All the success for your book and DoomBuggies.com. The culture at WED Enterprises was unique in its time, and I dont know of any corporations that had a visionary leader like Walt Disney. We all had our parts to play, and we had the freedom to work with others in a creative way that is hard to find in these days of corporate decision-making by economics. Walt gave us the gift to think of the enjoyment of the "guest" first, and whether it paid off second - if even at that. Thanks for keeping the story alive for following generations.
Paul is a musician and architect. He is a tuba player in a Dixieland jazz band, and he has been an architectural designer for past Disney projects and a designer of theme park rides including the first loop roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California. He is a custom home designer (since 1956) and has worked in Colorado, California, New York and Ireland. He is also a designer, a teacher in the field of fiber optics as displays and art, the editor of the a weekly arts newsletters, and the resident Santa Claus year-round in his Colorado hometown.
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