Monorail guru Bob Gurr talks about Monty … and his concept drawing of the famed transit vehicle

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Bob Gurr’s original drawing of the monorail, sketched in late 1958. The color was added by Disney Legend John Hench.

Hey, Bob Gurr … now that you’ve completed a documentary showing the world just how you designed some of the world’s most innovative theme park attractions, what are you going to do next?

“My next project is gonna be a movie about Monty the Monorail.”

Makes sense. Gurr, the father of Disney theme park monorails, has intimate knowledge of the sleek, futuristic modes of transportation that glide along on a single beam of concrete. When Walt Disney wanted to place a monorail system within the confines of Disneyland in the late 1950s, he turned to Gurr, his go-to transportation guru, to make that dream happen.

All these years later, the affable 85-year-old wants to turn a monorail into a living, breathing entity. Enter Monty the Monorail.

Here’s the backstory: Turns out there’s a guy who bought the front carriage of a Walt Disney World Mark IV monorail and turned it into something of a tourist attraction. “The guy treats it as if it’s a character,” Gurr said recently. “He fills it up with rock music and flashing lights and smoke and rides it around on an old flatbed trailer.”

“I’ve met the guy and I want to do a movie about the monorail where I do a long voice-over. I look at the situation of a monorail who is a living character. And he has relatives and the relatives go way back to his great-grandfather in 1959. The movie will be really funny, full of graphics and this voice talking like it’s his mommy.

“It’ll be very tongue in cheek, taking an inert machine and making it into a human. When Monty was traveling across the country, every city was waiting for him and they’d throw a big party. Hundreds of people met Monty all across the United States.

“That’s the next project.”

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Bob Gurr takes a walk around viewing area atop Disney’s Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World.

Bob Gurr is uniquely qualified to talk about the monorail, be it the nuts, bolts and Fiberglass version or the living character reincarnation.

It was Gurr who was tasked with getting the monorails designed and up and running for Disneyland in 1959. Mind you, he also was challenged with designing the track system for the Matterhorn Mountain bobsleds, as well as designs for a new Autopia car and the submarine voyage … all at the same time!

Like most of the things he designed over his illustrious career, the monorail started with a simple sketch.

“I did the first sketch of the monorail in October of 1958,” Gurr said. “I did about a 10-minute sketch in my house one morning and I brought it back to the office the next day and it took about two hours to complete it because I knew exactly what I wanted.

“Then [Disney Legend] John Hench put the coloring on it. Disney publications are always full of errors; they said John Hench designed it. Then one day years ago, the Disney Archive Department suddenly showed up with my original drawing. And they said, ‘See, John didn’t draw it, you did.’

An almost life-size mural depicting Gurr’s iconic drawing currently adorns the Top of the World Lounge atop Disney Vacation Club’s Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World. In the lower left-hand corner is the signature R.H. Gurr.

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Bob Gurr, center, offers some suggestions to Imagineers working on a refurbishment of the Autopia attraction in Disneyland several years ago. [The Walt Disney Company]

“If you go up there slightly after the sun rises, in the morning when the bar is closed, go over to the windows on the west side. The mural is back-lit so gorgeously in that room. It’s just a stunning sight to see,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not when the bar is open.”

His signature on the mural proved to be a bit problematic.

“The first time I signed it, the cleaning people came in and wiped it off. The next time after I signed it, they broke the corner off one of the panes. The third time I signed it, they sprayed plastic on it” to preserve it.

“That picture is actually what I’ve been saying all along: The inspiration comes from the top, not the bottom. Somebody asks you to figure something out and somehow, your brain has life experiences and suddenly, you can’t sketch fast enough. It’s so vivid in your mind. You’ve got to get it down on paper really quickly.

“The fact that that thing [the monorail] has turned out to be an icon at Disneyland and all over Florida … The fact that that picture of the Mark I is in a bar at Walt Disney World, well, that’s kinda cool.”

Chuck Schmidt, bitten by the Disney bug at an early age, remembers watching The Mickey Mouse Club after school in the mid-1950s. During his 48-year career in the newspaper business, he channeled that love of Disney as the Sunday News and Travel editor for The Staten Island Advance. Chuck has written or co-authored six books for Theme Park Press, including Disney's Dream Weavers, On the Disney Beat, An American in Disneyland Paris, Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History. Chuck has shared his passion for all things Disney in his Still Goofy About Disney blog on AllEars.Net since 2016. He resides in Beachwood, N.J., with his wife Janet. They have three adult children and six grandchildren.

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