Missouriland at Yesterland.com Midget Autopia 3.0?
Plans for the Return of a Classic Ride

When Disneyland’s Midget Autopia closed in 1966, Walt Disney gave the ride to his boyhood hometown, Marceline, Missouri. The Midget Autopia operated for a number of summers on a new track in Marceline’s Walt Disney Municipal Park. Eventually, the little cars from 1957 wore out; parts were no longer available; and that version of the ride closed too.

But this article isn’t only about the past. It’s also about the future. Yes, there are plans to bring back the Midget Autopia at a new location to delight a new generation of children.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, May 21, 2010

If you’ve ridden Disneyland’s Autopia since 2000, you might have noticed a bronze statue of a little car mounted on a pedestal at the right side of the track. It’s a nod to the past. The statue was once an actual Midget Autopia car in Anaheim and Marceline. It carried countless young children of the Baby Boom generation.

Midget Autopia statue at Disneyland
A bronzed Midget Autopia car

A plaque on the pedestal reads, “Midget Autopia, Fantasyland, 1956-1965.” (That’s close. The Disneyland ride actually opened in 1957 and closed in 1966.)

The plaque doesn’t mention that the Midget Autopia had a second life two time zones away. You’ll have to look at a different plaque for that. That plaque is in Walt Disney Municipal Park in Marceline, Missouri.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri

Just beyond the plaque, remnants of the ride are still there. But the actual ride has been gone for around forty years.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
The track in Marceline offered a series of hairpin turns, just as at Disneyland.

The former load station now provides shade for picnic tables. The old Midget Autopia grounds now serve as a play area. The children of Marceline can follow the winding 630-foot path on foot.

Adults—including visiting Disney Imagineers and the Curator of Yesterland—have enjoyed walking the entire route of the ride too.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
There’s still evidence of the rail that guided the little cars and provided power to them.

The Midget Autopia ride operated in Disneyland until April 3, 1966.

On June 2, 1966, The Marceline Press announced the gift, but, by then, the move was already well underway:

BURBANK, CALIF. -- Walt and Roy Disney announced today the donation of a former Disneyland ride to Marceline’s Walt Disney Municipal Park.

In the announcement, it was said that the purpose in giving the children’s auto ride to the City is “to help make the park even more attractive and enjoyable to Marceline families” and to express appreciation for the honors the hometown has bestowed on Wait Disney.

At Disneyland, the ride was called “Midget Autopia.” It consists of ten junior-size automobiles designed for younger children, who drive the cars around a predetermined track.

Donation of the ride is unprecedented In Disneyland’s 11-year history and will probably be the only one ever taken to a new location from Disney’s famous Magic Kingdom In Anaheim, California.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
Inside the tunnel, the concrete is cracked from decades of settling and the ice from dozens of winters.

The gift to Marceline included the ten little cars, electrical equipment, power rails, and guidance on how to build the track and operate the ride. The cars and equipment were reconditioned by Disneyland before being packed for shipment. Marceline paid for the shipping costs and the installation and material for the winding concrete roadway.

The article in The Marceline Press quoted part of a letter to officials of Marceline from Admiral Joe Fowler, who oversaw the construction of Disneyland and then managed its operations:

“We expect to ship the ride to you by truck so that it will arrive not later than the second week of June. As soon as information for concrete forming and pouring is received, it will be forwarded to you immediately. I believe that with this information you can proceed with preparation of the site so that it will be ready to receive the track, bus, bar, etc when it arrives.

“As you know, I am planning to have a well-qualified representative in attendance while you are laying the track and bus bar so that we can make a complete installation check for you and also furnish any additional Information which you may desire pertaining to operation and maintenance of the ride.”

Walt Disney planned to be at the ride’s dedication in Marceline. Days before the ceremony, Walt cancelled, explaining he had a cough that he could not shake. He died of lung cancer before the end of the year.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
An original Midget Autopia car is on display at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline.

We’re now back to the 21st century. In addition to the old track, Marceline’s Midget Autopia lives on as an exhibit at Marceline’s Walt Disney Hometown Museum. A green car is on display. Large vintage photos show the ride in operation.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
A wall-mounted photo at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum shows the Marceline version of the ride in 1966.

Eight additional Midget Autopia cars are in storage, perhaps destined for a future exhibit in Marceline or elsewhere. They’ll never operate as ride vehicles again.

That brings us to the subheading of this article: “Plans for the Return of a Classic Ride.” What’s that all about—considering that the track and cars are beyond repair?

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
Kaye Malins, Director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, has a way of making things happen.

An Imagineer at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) with an appreciation for the past thought it would be a good idea to bring back the Midget Autopia in Marceline.

He shared his idea with Kaye Malins, Director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Together, they came up with a brilliant plan: Instead of rebuilding at the original location a mile from the heart of town, the new site would right in the middle of everything, between the museum, Marceline’s E.P. Ripley Park, and the historic Carnegie Library. Most of the other landmarks and visitor attractions of Marceline would be a short walk away from the site. The location would have much more visibility to visitors and locals alike. It would be easier to manage, operate, and promote the ride at such a central location.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
The site is adjacent to the museum (two-story brick building) and the beanery (one-story brick building).

Currently, the proposed site is mostly asphalt. It looks like a street, but it’s actually part of the museum property. The museum building was originally a Santa Fe Railroad depot. When the museum organization acquired the depot from the railroad, the transaction included the property.

A simple one-story brick building is adjacent to the museum on the museum property. Now unused, it served as a lunchroom for many decades. Locals still call it the beanery. The museum recently invested in a new roof and other improvements to the aging structure. Plans call for the beanery to house railroad exhibits because Marceline has a rich railroad history (and Walt Disney was quite a rail fan himself).

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
A stack of large documents contains the plans for a new Midget Autopia at a new location in Marceline.

Working on his own time, the Imagineer drew up plans for a third incarnation of the ride that Walt Disney had given to Marceline in the final year of his life. It turned out that the original ride layout fit nicely onto the site.

Everything would be new, including the cars. The new cars would retain the style that made them look modern in the 1950s and dated in the 1960s. Now, in the 21st century, the style invokes an earlier era of automotive design, with round headlights, a hood ornament, and a distinctive grill. The style is now old-fashioned in a good way rather than a bad way. Kaye Malins found a company in Missouri that can build the new cars.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
The old, yellowing 1966 blueprints were the basis for the new plans.

At this time, there’s no money to bring back the ride. The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is not a rich institution; it relies entirely on volunteers, donations, grants, and admission fees from relatively few visitors. Marceline is an out-of-way location; it’s not like San Francisco, with millions of visitors each year, and home of the big-budget Walt Disney Family Museum. And as a small town of around 2,500 residents, Marceline doesn’t have city funds for such a civic improvement.

Although the third Midget Autopia sounds good, is there any real chance that it will ever be a realty?

The answer is yes. There is real chance. The reason is that Kaye Malins and other dedicated Marceline residents seem to be able to work miracles.

Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri
The new plans call for a track that follows the same route as the two earlier versions.

You need look no further than the beautifully restored Santa Fe Depot that now houses the museum. Or the content of the museum (which will be the subject of a future Yesterland article). Or Marceline’s annual ToonFest, which attracts famous cartoonists and thousands of attendees to Marceline each fall, even though Marceline has only a 13-room motel and a 4-room bed-and-breakfast.

Marceline has built a Midget Autopia before, and they can do it again. Land acquisition is not an issue. Kaye is already talking about sponsorships and naming rights. And you’ll notice that Kaye successfully planted the idea for this Yesterland article.

It’s too bad the Yesterland website doesn’t have the financial resources. Otherwise, Kaye would be erecting a construction wall with a sign proclaiming: Midget Autopia 3.0, presented by Yesterland.com.


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© 2010-2014 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 4, 2014.

Photograph of the Midget Autopia statue at Disneyland: April 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Eleven photographs of the Midget Autopia in Marceline, Missouri: April 2010 by Werner Weiss.
Thank you to Kaye Malins at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum for her assistance.