May 1998 - September 2000
The Rocket Rods were a grand experiment that, largely for budgetary and political reasons, was doomed from the start.
The Rocket Rods were conceived as a high-speed attraction that would both spruce up Tomorrowland and make use of show areas left empty by the extinction of Circlevision, the People Mover, and the Rocket Jets, and by the city's abandonment of an extension to the I5 freeway. Guests would enter a queue through the old Circlevision building, pass under Tomorrowland through a section of Disneyland's network of secret underground corridors that had been sealed off for years due to persistent gas leaks, up the central column of the old Rocket Jets support, and on to what had been the People Mover loading platform. There, guests would be sign a waiver and be strapped in to a ride vehicle. After a brief "count down," the surplus rocket engine attacked to the back of the vehicle would be ignited, accelerating the Rocket Rod at some 100 feet per second. The high-speed journey through the old People Mover track, with a brief detour to scenic San Diego, would take less than a minute.
It was going to be the most impressive attraction ever built for the park. But...
Trouble came just after Imagineers proposed the ride. Management was pleased that NASA was going to donate a bunch of old rocket engines, but they were unhappy that modifications to the People Mover track were part of the design. First, the proposed ride was going to have to be shorter, with no extension beyond the existing track. Second, modifying the People Mover track so that turns were "banked" seemed like an unnecessary expense. Why couldn't the track be used as it was? Imagineers argued that a vehicle experiencing 3g acceleration while turning an unbanked corner would be "uncomfortable." Management argued that banking the turns would be "expensive."
So the turns remained unbanked, and the first Rocket Rod to be tested shot completely off its track, flew through Tomorrowland, and crashed in the park's central hub, knocking a pigeon out of the sky and narrowly missing some very nice trees. The ride had to be scaled back even more.
With the NASA-donated rocket engines no longer tenable, Imagineers settled for more traditional means of propulsion. Management offset the increase in budget by declaring that the sleek, streamlined, fiberglass bodies of the Rocket Rods would be eliminated completely. The finished ride vehicles would be a basic metal frame, with no exterior shell at all. "It'll look cool that way," one accountant said. "No, really." Imagineers were not convinced.
Part of the ride's proposed queue area was eliminated to make space for a small space-exploration museum (to placate a disappointed NASA) and for a souvenir shop (because paragraph 32 of Disneyland Management Directive 32774b -- passed in January of 1998 -- indicated that at least 20% of all new construction in Disneyland (and 56% of construction in Disney California Adventure) had to be retail space. The animatronic and multimedia "transportation for the future" demonstration proposed for the queue was also to be largely eliminated. Management gave permission for the area to be decorated with old, abandoned, or defective ride vehicles from the park's storage warehouse, although they did allow budget for the vehicles to be painted (so long as no more than two colors of paint were used).
After months of testing, it was found that the Rocket Rods could be operated safely on the unmodified track with an acceleration of five feet per second and a top speed of eight miles per hour. The ride opened in May of 1998 to crowds of guests who seemed moderately pleased with the attraction, largely because they had no idea what they were missing.
But the problems didn't end there. After only a few weeks of operation, the Rocket Rods became plagued by troublesome minor difficulties, such as their axels unexpectedly snapping. Imagineers blamed management's decision to replace steel, titanium, and machined carbon parts with wooden ones. Management blamed poor design. In any case, it was discovered that the problem could be permanently solved by making modifications to the ride track costing some $10,000.
The attraction was closed permanently in September 2000.
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