Salvageland: Walt Disney World’s Final Frontier
Ever wonder where old amusement park rides go to die? What happens to once cherished attractions when the powers that be decide they are no longer magical enough? In the case of Walt Disney World, discontinued rides, or at least parts of them, could end up in warehouses, their private junkyard, or even buried in landfills. If they are very lucky though, they might take a trip to Salvageland, the graveyard of lost Disney attractions.
Brian Ramsey is the proprietor of Mousesurplus.com, a unique salvage operation whose sole focus is Walt Disney World cast offs. At any point in time, his warehouse of inventory may include props from rides (both current and retired), costumes from attractions, or even leftovers from Disney gift shops and stores. The Disney surplus business has been so successful that Mousesurplus has recently relocated to a larger warehouse including a storefront that is open to the public. In addition to allowing for a retail sales space, the new location is also closer to Walt Disney World to make the logistics of transporting all these treasures less time consuming. In the coming months, Mousesurplus will be featuring Disney Christmas ornaments, arcade games, animation desks from a recently closed studio, plus pins, watches and figurines of popular Disney characters.
As a follow up to my article on the destruction of Walt Disney World’s immensely popular 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride, I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Brian Ramsey on his business of uncovering buried and forgotten treasures and transferring them to an appreciative group of fans and collectors.
ED Tucker: How long have you been in the surplus business?
Brian Ramsey: I’ve been dealing with Disney and their surplus memorabilia for about four and a half years now.
ET: Are you the only one who gets surplus from Walt Disney World?
BR: There are a couple of other vendors who get stuff but we are the only ones who deal in props, displays, and the more unique items.
ET: In the four and a half years you have been dealing with this surplus, what are some of the props and attraction pieces you have acquired?
BR: I’ve had Dumbo cars from the ride. I have had Figment cars from the Journey to Imagination ride. We’ve had a couple of cars and parts from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and coming up in the next few months I will have all the props and displays that came out of that ride. We’ve had costumes and displays from just about anything you could name.
ET: OK, how about the Haunted Mansion?
BR: The only thing we have really had out of the Haunted Mansion is a lot of the light fixtures and stuff like that. We got those when they remodeled the outside but we don’t really get much stuff from inside there because there is such a fight over it.
ET: Do you get more items from rides that have been discontinued as opposed to the ones still operating?
BR: We get stuff from the ones that are operating now but it will usually be if something is broken or doesn’t fit or if there is a rehab. For example they are redoing It’s a Small World so we will be getting all the old boats out of that.
ET: Some rides that are still operating, like The Jungle Cruise or Pirates of the Caribbean, have been modified over time and had things removed to make them more politically correct. Do you ever get pieces like that?
BR: I haven’t seen any of that stuff, it probably went to the archives. There is one Jungle Cruise boat in the lot that is beyond repair so we might get that. Some things will sit in warehouses for ten to fifteen years before they will get rid of it. The Dumbo car we just got was scheduled to go to the 1997 Disneyanna convention.
ET: Let’s take a moment now to talk about one of my favorite rides that no longer exists at Walt Disney World, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Did you ever go on the ride?
BR: Yes and I thought it was cool! I was little at the time but I liked it. I think 1989 or 1990 was the last time I went on it. I liked the backgrounds and the way they took you through it. It was just a very cool ride. You would never have thought that the exterior of the subs were just pieces of fiberglass. You start tearing that stuff apart and you realize there was nothing to it but it looked real. I grabbed one of the rear fins from one of the subs and just snapped it right off. It was nothing but fiberglass and foam.
ET: When did the props from the 20K ride first become available to you for surplus?
BR: It was about three months ago, so June 2004. We made a deal with Disney and went out and spent one morning just stripping everything we could get off the subs. We were also working with them as they were dismantling the ride. We kept telling them we wanted these parts because they are worth money. We started getting stuff out of the lagoon but then the demolition crews started crushing it too fast. They just went crazy so we didn’t get as much out of there as we were supposed to. A lot of it was just timing.
ET: What were you able to salvage out of the lagoon?
BR: We got to remove some of the glaciers out of it. We got a walk through of the interior building but after that Disney decided it would be safer to have their crews remove it, so the items removed from there were taken out by actual Disney employees.
ET: What kind of condition was this stuff in after sitting in chlorinated water for ten years in the Florida sun?
BR: It was junk. It was just totally deteriorated. There were some pieces that had already been removed before we got there, so over the years people had been through there and removed a little souvenir for themselves. We got some of the props from the Atlantis area like the jewels. We got a couple of parts from the sea serpents and a lot of the seaweed.
ET: You actually had to chip the pieces from the Atlantis scene out of the ground didn’t you?
BR: Yes, the pieces themselves were made of fiberglass but they were set into concrete. Most of the things in the scene, like the coins and jewels, were hot glued onto it. For the time period it was built it was very primitive but you couldn’t tell that when you were looking at it from the subs.
ET: Did you feel a little sick to your stomach as you walked through the drained lagoon and remembered how the ride was when you were a kid?
BR: No, I was like – I want that and that and that and that! I was hoping to get it all because I knew how badly people wanted this stuff. The day the lagoon was walled off, we started getting E-mails from people wanting to know what parts we would be getting from it and what they could get. The attention that this received from the crowds and the fans was incredible. People wanted a piece of it bad! I even had people willing to pay for water and dirt!
ET: Based on the Disney collectors and fans you have dealt with, do you think that if Walt Disney World took a ride scheduled to be discontinued, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and made it known to the public that they had a year left to see that attraction, that they would see increased profits from this strategy?
BR: Possibly. With 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by the time they decided to shut it down, a lot of the parts were just so worn out and what they were doing to keep it running was so involved that they couldn’t have kept it open for another year. I think it would have cost millions of dollars to get it back up and running the way it should be. They couldn’t make that back in a year. The subs were already over twenty years old when the ride was shut down and, it’s like owning a car, they’re not going to last forever. I think, even through all the controversy, that was a big part of it, the age and how constantly the things were being run.
ET: That’s true and you make an interesting analogy between the subs and a car. When you buy a car, however, you usually expect that it will last about ten years if you take good care of it and then at the end of those ten years you will go out and buy a new car. You don’t run your car, without maintaining it properly, until it breaks down and then bury it in a landfill and hope everyone forgets you ever had it.
BR: Some people do! The reason I say that is I have had a close look at those subs and I realized that a lot of it is just fiberglass. After being out in the sun and all that it takes its toll. I think it would have just cost too much to rebuild all of those parts.
ET: What are some of the bigger Disney items you have sold?
BR: We’ve had some of the concession stands from MGM, including one shaped like a Model A car. We’ve had cars from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Space Mountain. We even had one of the monorail cars. That ended up going to a private collector.
ET: What percentage of your business are auctions versus private sales?
BR: I would say it is about fifty, fifty. The private collectors want the bigger items like ride cars and signs. The gentleman who bought the monorail has one of just about every ride car. When they redid Typhoon Lagoon at Blizzard Beach, they took one of the waterslides out and he bought that. His yard looks like an amusement park.
ET: Do the private collectors specialize in certain characters or eras of Disney?
BR: One of my customers is in to all the movieola machines that came out of the Main Street Arcade. Another customer in North Carolina is really into the old artwork and wartime Disney stuff. One of them just wants Winnie the Pooh items.
ET: Do you collect Disney items yourself?
BR: I like a lot of the artwork and pictures that were around the park. I don’t like to have the same stuff that everyone else has so I have a lot of models and displays and pieces of rides.
ET: To you personally, what is the coolest item you have?
BR: I have a five-foot hand carved wooden Mickey. I also have a Scrooge McDuck from one of the Disney stores from way, way back. I have several statues from there and even some of my furniture and pictures are things that came out of the resorts. I’ve got some very cool stuff!
ET: Do you get the inside information on which rides are going to be the next to be shut down?
BR: Yes, a lot of the time I know what is happening and what is being remodeled before almost anyone else. From the sound of it, The Wonders of Life at EPCOT will be the next to go. It’s closed down most of the time right now so I think it will be the next to go.
ET: What is your favorite open ride?
BR: Well I don’t really know if I have a favorite. I guess the ones I like the most right now are Mission Space and the test track. I think my favorite thing in the whole park is Mickey’s Philharmonic. That’s just awesome.
ET: I’ve heard that the speedway is actually getting sticky and people are complaining that it isn’t running like it should.
BR: The last time I went on it, there was a lot of stuff on the inside, before you get to the actual ride, that wasn’t operating properly.
ET: If you could have any one item for yourself out of Walt Disney World, from the time it opened until now, what would you choose?
BR: The statue of Walt and Mickey in the center.
ET: What if it was one item to sell?
BR: I think it would be one of the animatronics from The Pirates of the Caribbean. That would be a big draw. My wife wants one of the It’s a Small World people.
ET: Thanks for all the great insight Brian!
BR: My pleasure.
You can visit Mousesurplus online at http://www.mousesurplus.com. The website is currently under construction but should be up and running and filled with rare Disney goodies in the next few months.
The Mousesurplus retail outlet is located at 1475 Pine Avenue in Orlando, Florida. Be sure to tell them Cap’n ED sent you and he’s still looking for his Nautilus!