“Water Symphony of Children at Play”…Sculptured in Bronze by Augosto Escobedo.
The Tram Route for today’s tour. It can change hourly when production needs to use an area and needs room for all the equipment. Before each tour, recheck the route for changes. Driver responsibility, and failure to keep up has deposited fully loaded trams into filming sets. Trams can’t simply back out of their mistakes. It’s a process of disconnecting cars and loading guests on another tram headed in the right direction. This mistake happens as tours and productions fight for space.
Behind the screen of “movie rain” A mock naval battle is fought between McHale’s Navy destroyer and a submarine cruising the lagoon in Universal’s Entertainment Area-upper lot tours. Customers use this pond to toss coins and make wishes that will most likely- never come true!…
A panoramic view from up at the top of the hill, upper lot is tours, lower lot is Universal Film Production. Warner Brothers Studios is the large factory off in the distance.
The Entertainment Center of The World…”Follow Me”
Visitors see themselves on color T.V monitors as guest stars in ADAM-12 and Emergency at “Stage 70”
Stuntmen perform live action falls and fire their weapons along the way.
Yours truly-horsing around on the backlot in 6 Points Texas. As a kid, I did this all over the MGM backlot. Absolutely one of the funnest things to do on these old sets. At MGM, ammo from Combat was everywhere in the war torn villages.
These Cylons are protecting their Space Craft. This is the first animation on our tour.
Once inside, this Laser Show takes place, kinda like Laserium at the Griffith Park Observatory, without the music. This concept was ahead of its time for tourism. This is one of the first Laser Shows anywhere. The Glamour Tram is part of the battle.
Burning Building…Hollywood Style. This set, or fire is triggered by a garage Genie and is right after the tram exits BattleStar Galactica.
Preparing for an exterior shot, The camera man is on the boom of that old blue camera truck. Chapman cornered the market on more modern versions of this rig.
A tram is just about to attempt a crossing.
There are two drops this bridge performs, one for each two cars. If you speed up as it drops, the wind can be knocked out of your tummy as you scream in funny terror. It enhances the effect of the drop when you –step on the gas.
“Are we suppose to be up here” is the standard tour guide driver spiel. Many drivers don’t want to be included in the tour guide jive, not me, Tours is Fun!
Prop Plaza-No Longer in service for tours, used by production and sets now exist up top here. Part of the problem was the wear and tear on trams going up the hill. People have had weddings up here and you must hire a tram to get the guests to this location.
After leaving Prop Plaza, the tram travels down Appian Way arriving back into the lower lot. This is the original section of Universal’s Backlot.
At this stop , Thunder and Lighting warn you a storm is near. The tour guide will say, “When it rains, we get Flash Floods in this location” …start the rain from overhead sprinklers.
This area above the village below is fenced because 10,000 Gallons of water are released through these two chutes to create the Flash Flood. You don’t want to be- down stream on this slippery cobblestone road when released.
The water arrives in mass and is deflected away from the trams with the stone retaining wall. In summer, on busy days, this old animation can barely keep up. Sometimes it’s trickle. It takes about 4 minutes to pump back up the hill.
It arrives in mass and is deflected away from the trams with the stone retaining wall. In summer, on busy days, this old animation can barely keep up. Sometimes it’s trickle. It takes about 4 minutes to pump back up the hill.The water is recycled into the drinking fountains at prop plaza…”tour guide joke”
We exit the flood and end up in Little Mexico, The Alamo is located here.
Turn the corner and “Yea-Haw” your in 6 Points Texas.
My favorite Western was Alias Smith and Jones-filmed here. The sunlit saloon across the way was built for a movie titled Wild Bill, starring Jeff Bridges.We pass through the old west to head to the Red Sea. It’s here our guide points out the doors being a bit smaller to make our “Cowboys Appear Bigger”. Also the “outer wall” of the hotel I took the picture from is rubber padded for fight scenes.
I met Jeff at MGM as a kid on a film “Hearts of the West.” He would return a year later at MGM for the filming of King Kong. Funny to see him here-twenty years later.
Once again, a Genie operates the Red Sea parting. Tour Guides ask guests to ‘Part the Waters”-like Charlton Heston has done here. We often are followed at sea side by a submarine -as depth charges go off, shooting water into the summer breezes that carry the spray on to the guests.
The water is simply pumped into a catch basin hidden behind bushes and trees, this channel operates like a drain. The smaller Glamour Trams struggle to get traction on this slippery sloped exit. This Super Tram plows through without the same issues. 175 people in Blue Trams. 125 in Pink and White versions.
We exit and next traverse the cobblestone streets of Little Europe.
Out of the bushes comes Mr Heston himself!
1974 meets 2010-the curbs take a beating by the fourth car of these trams rubbing on the edge.
The legendary Spartacus set is where the tram does a u-turn…
These exterior sets have been replaced by 4 spanking new sound stages, taking over what was our Barham parking lot.
As we start to double back from the lower lot, we experience a near miss by a… run away train.
Here she sits to this day…as if wanting and waiting for more tram terror.
The train faced the opposite way as it points in my previous picture. It stopped alongside the barn, the oldest building on the backlot.
“Watch out-I can’t stop!” is a looped sound track on this remote control train that has a mannequin as a engineer.
You can see the train at the station on Denver street. The tracks use to run through this gap where this cart sits now. It backed into this spot alongside the old barn after each tram attack. It’s here, as a trespassing teen ager, I climbed into the engine as it sits waiting, and became the engineer for a few “can’t stop rides.” Like a train robber, this was where it happened. These tracks terminate behind Spartacus at a small depot, that can be disguised as the old west or Transylvania.
Denver Street Red Gap Station takes you here-“Transylvania Last Stop!”
The lazy town know as Cabot Cove from Murder She Wrote.
A quiet morning on the pond…”Please don’t wake up Bruce, he’s temperamental.” The Blue House is from To Kill a Mockingbird, Elm Street. Back porch overlooks this. Airwolf once hovered here as low as it could get, blowing the water in every direction. My favorite series on the lot in my career.
A lot of tours past by this film set while filming on the backlot.
Cabot Cove, the dock entrance to experience the Shark Attack. It triggers through limit switches and a garage Genie opener sends signals to activate rides here. You too can trigger animations if you carry a genie in your purse, that would be a fun distraction. “I’m not triggering this, it’s the lady in the third row” she’s good!
We added fire years back to create a bit more mayhem, this ride is best experienced at night, drunk! V.I.P Tours thrown by private companies are very relaxed visitations, we do the driving, sit back and relax.
Ramping up for another attack of an innocent tram full of guests…
I start at 9 AM, can I get some sleep around here !”
“I had a rough night”…Bruce the Shark visiting guests.
We’re headed up the hill now to The Entertainment Area at Tours, but on the way let’s hang a left here, at The Pyscho House…
There’s mother upstairs having tea with my daughter Christy.” Don’t let her read your tea leaves my precious, just say No!”
Nobody drives this Ice Tunnel like Donnie Norden. I back-up, speed forward, back up a touch again, sit and listen to screams as the tunnel spins, and depending how the audience is holding up, may stay parked for a bit as the wolfs howl in this spinning tube. It takes getting use to this to drive through here, the company would frown on my backing up. Especially if anyone gags. That’s happened in here. The standard tour can be boring, I give you more for your buck!…”Let’s Have A Big Round of Applause for our Driver-who does this 6 times a day!” says our wonderful guides…is how this menagerie ends.
We Begin– with a simple admission...
First to park, then to get on board a tram. Just follow the endless lines of orange cones, a friendly parking lot attendant will greet you. It may be a long walk on a hot day but- so what. We have two restaurants, Whompoppers and Victoria Station, centered between the Flag Pole where you purchase admission. These filling stations are the same one’s you will find many guides and drivers after a long day of tourism.
Telly Savalas also owns a popular waterhole in the hotel area…called Telly’s. He likes to hang with tour guides, who doesn’t?
That’s afterwork stuff, but mornings, we shine brightly. Tour Guides and drivers get dispatched from different trailers and meet up on a fully loaded- ready to tour tram. A comfort level exists with certain flight crew members since we often unite after work. After a million brief safety rules, we begin our journey. Our first Que spot is behind The Universal Amphitheater, sometimes, on show nights, limousines pull up alongside red carpets to drop off artists and VIP’S for parties going on backstage. We wait here for clearance to proceed to BattleStar Galactica.
Only one tram can fit in the spaceship at a time. My tour guide has already introduced us, as we begin our tour. The Laser Show is a good way to start your day. We exit the craft and proceed down a steep grade, past a Burning House that is suspiciously located next to Fire Station 51. Our real fire department that has the Emergency television series connection. It’s located next to house …on fire.
Continue into our movie magic demonstration area, located in bungalows. You will exit the tram here to watch videos featuring Lucille Ball and Robert Wagner. Twenty minutes later we reunite on The Glamour Tram. From here, we drive you through a narrow warehouse full of props. Rod Serling’s Night Gallery Art stares at you as we slowly roll through. Accidents can happen here and do, some involve guests reaching out to touch props. A Ming Dynasty vase was broken that was worth a small fortune inside by a non compliant guest. I can’t understand why such an item was that close to any tram.
We continue into the front lot by where stage 41-44 our located, along with the shops and mill. We pass by Amblin Entertainment, then Alfred Hitchcock’s bungalow before cruising the backlot, after exploring New York Street and The Courthouse Square set used often in Leave It To Beaver, we work our way up a hill, first going over a bridge that creeks as you look at it. It is our Collapsing Bridge set built especially for tours but used in TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and WonderWoman.
From here we will increase our altitude and proceed upwards along pavement that is heavily grooved for traction. Tram often struggle here, you can’t let your foot off the gas or that’s it, you will start bouncing up and down rather than going forward. Your finished, pull the “Jake Brake.” Air locks up your tires so you don’t roll backwards while you radio for help.
This is so common we custom built a truck with a oversized front end and dual axles in the back. It’s operated by a Gentlemen named “Wild Bill.” He loves his job, he’s a tram mechanic. The only fix needed here is a push upwards, so on his command as he positions his front end on my fourth car, I let off the air brakes. Now we have rodeo, the tram needs to overcome it’s lack of inertia and it wan’t to bounce as the tire spool a white rubber smoke. The tourists had no idea this problem fix is -so fun.
We pull into Prop Plaza with na wing and a prayer. We drop off the guests to spin around a horseshoe to reload our tram. Interestingly, once Wild Bill made an appearance up here and started looking under seat cushions. When I asked “What are you doing?’-He said “Looking for Bombs,” “We received a bomb threat, not sure which tram.””Oh, that’s all this is, a simple bomb threat”
No bomb here, we continue, down towards the Flash Flood. It’s all backlot from here, and the rest of the journey is in all my pictures. Many of these tour stops and rides no longer exist, but they all did at one time or another. King Kong and EarthQuake would later be added and the backlot tour shortened. Besides our 400-plus acre backlot, it’s the iconic Glamour Tram that sparks the most fun and creates the most memories…
Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.