Yesterland
Mike Fink
Keel Boats
“C” Ticket

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photos by Allen Huffman, 1997

The Keel Boat experience


Whether you saw the original broadcasts of “The Legends of Davy Crockett” on the Disneyland television series (ABC) in 1954 and 1955, or later re-broadcasts on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (NBC), you’ll remember that Davy Crockett and Mike Fink raced their keel boats down the river to New Orleans.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor

Steering the Gullywhumper with a large rudder

Davy Crockett may have won the race, but Mike Fink has the honor of having his name on this attraction.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor

Mike Fink’s boat, the Gullywhumper

Take a seat on the Gullywhumper, the legendary keel boat of Mike Fink, King of the River. You can recognize the the Gullywhumper by its simple, barn-door-like shutters.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, circa 1959, courtesy of Chris Taylor

Davy Crockett’s boat, the Bertha Mae

If you’re partial to Davy Crockett, you might prefer a seat on the Bertha Mae, the legendary keel boat of the King of the Wild Frontier. With louvered and decorated shutters, the Bertha Mae is fancier than the Gullywhumper.


The Mike Fink Keel Boats premiered in Disneyland on December 25, 1955—the park’s first Christmas. Over the years, the Keel Boats usually operated on a seasonal basis, primarily during the summer, but sometimes also on busy weekends.

The original boats were the actual boats used in the filming of the Davy Crockett programs, quickly converted to have seats and two windows on each side. These boats were replaced by higher-capacity boats with three windows on each side.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions

Keel Boats on the 1964 Disneyland Souvenir Map by Sam McKim

When it came to tickets, the Mike Fink Keel Boats ride was usually a bargain compared to the other vessels of the Rivers of America. For example, in 1972, Disneyland guests had the opportunity to circle Tom Sawyer Island for a mere “C” ticket on the Mike Fink Keel Boats. In comparison, the Columbia Sailing Ship, the Mark Twain Steamboat, and Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes all required a “D” ticket.

In 1994, at the end of the summer, the Mike Fink Keel Boats closed for the season. All through 1995, the Keel Boats never reopened. Had they closed forever? No! The Keel Boats reappeared on the Rivers of America at the end of March 1996.

Then came... The Accident. At around 5:30 p.m. on May 17, 1997, the Gullywhumper began rocking from side to side while on a routine trip around the island. The Gullywhumper tipped over, dunking a boatload of guests into the Rivers of America. Several guests were treated for minor injuries at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. Following the accident, the Gullywhumper was removed from the water for inspection.

Neither the Gullywhumper nor Bertha Mae operated for the rest of the 1997 season—or ever again.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Magic Kingdom

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1983

The Gullywhumper at the Magic Kingdom Park in Florida

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World had its own Mike Fink Keel Boats. Circling the Rivers of America from a dock at Liberty Square (and later from a dock in Frontierland), the two boats had the same names as their Disneyland counterparts. Originally launched when the park opened on October 1, 1971, the seasonal attraction closed April 29, 2001.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Magic Kingdom

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2005

The Coyote docked at Disneyland Paris

When Disneyland Paris (originally Euro Disneyland) opened in 1992, the park had its own keel boat ride, River Rogue Keelboats, with two boats, the Racoon and the Coyote. The Paris version closed in 2000. In 2007, after a seven year absence, River Rogue Keelboats returned to service and continues to operate as a seasonal attraction.

So if you want to experience a Disney keel boat ride, you’ll have to go to Disneyland Paris.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photo by Karen Weiss, 2004

Disneyland’s Gullywhumper serving as a prop

Back at Disneyland in Spring 2003, the Gullywhumper returned to Rivers of America—not to transport guests, but just as a prop. The Gullywhumper was moored at Tom Sawyer Island, providing another thing to see from the Mark Twain, Columbia and Canoes. Despite efforts to make the boat look like a historic artifact, it was obvious that it was a defunct ride boat. It looked sad.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2007

Disneyland’s Gullywhumper suffering from neglect

As the years passed, the condition of the Gullywhumper deteriorated. It was supposed to add life to the Rivers of America, but the boat looked rather dead.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland

Photo by anonymous, 2010

The new Gullywhumper, looking like an actual keel boat

As part of the 2010 refurbishment of Disneyland’s Rivers of America, the cabin that was once the Burning Settler’s Cabin became Mike Fink’s Cabin. His boat, the Gullywhumper, is nearby. And this Gullywhumper looks authentic, not like a former ride.

While the Gullywhumper stayed at Disneyland, the Bertha Mae had an entirely different fate.

Stills from Finding Kraftland

Four stills from Finding Kraftland, courtesy of Richard Kraft

Richard Kraft showing off the Bertha Mae in the film Finding Kraftland

The Bertha Mae showed up on eBay’s Disney Auctions site in December 2001. Disneyland pocketed $15 thousand, and some mysterious collector now owned half of the two-boat fleet of the Mike Fink Keel Boats. Who could it be? And what happened to the boat?

More than five years later, I was watching a “screener” DVD of Finding Kraftland, a father-son bonding documentary originally made for a single birthday party showing that went on to become a surprise hit on the film festival circuit. It turned out the buyer of the Bertha Mae was Richard Kraft, the father in the film.

I asked Kraft about his purchase for an interview that was originally published by MiceAge in August 2007. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

WEISS: The Bertha Mae, one of the actual keelboats from Disneyland’s Mike Fink Keel Boats ride, appeared on eBay’s Disney Auctions site in December 2001. The description said that the boat “is not actually a seaworthy craft. It is suitable for display and/or storage on solid ground only...” Someone paid $15 thousand. Now that I’ve seen Finding Kraftland, I finally know who bought the Bertha Mae!

KRAFT: I never went on the Keel Boats when they were in Disneyland. They looked like such a snooze. I was certainly not going to waste a ticket going on one. Then the Bertha Mae came up for auction. I felt possessed. I had always loved your website, Yesterland. I loved the idea of a cyber-space where all of the attractions of the past lived on. Owning a keel boat would be like really visiting Yesterland. So for quite a bit more than the cost of a “C” ticket, I can now visit Disneyland of the Past whenever I want.

WEISS: Currently, you have the Bertha Mae in storage, but your plans are to build a lagoon for the Bertha Mae on your property. How is that project proceeding? How will you make sure the Bertha Mae is seaworthy? How do you plan to use the Bertha Mae? As a floating work of art? Or perhaps as a floating outdoor dining room?

KRAFT: The original plan was to crane it over our house and build a lagoon in our backyard. I envisioned a picnic area with the keelboat as the centerpiece, sort of like the Chicken of the Sea Ship in Fantasyland. After a few meetings with various engineers and my business manager, reality kicked in. So it has lived in storage ever since.

For more, see my interview with Richard Kraft about his movie, Finding Kraftland.

When I previously updated this article in 2010, the Bertha Mae was still languishing in the same storage facility where it had been since Kraft took possession after his successful bid. Kraft had seen his purchase exactly twice—first backstage at Disneyland right after he won the auction, and then when he filmed the sequence for Finding Kraftland. He has no idea if it still floated, but there was no indication that it didn’t. Wrapped in plastic and stored indoors, the boat was still in the same condition as when Kraft bought it.

That was the problem.

“The boat has gone unvisited since Finding Kraftland,” explained Kraft in 2010. “It is sad and lonely in the storage facility. It is not getting the love it deserves. It should find flight in some fantastic way.”

In 2010, Yesterland readers posted ideas on MiceChat. Alas, none of those ideas helped the Bertha Mae find a new life.

As of June 2014, the Bertha Mae is still in deep storage at Dunkel Bros. off the “5 Freeway” in La Mirada, California. When asked what the future looks like for the Bertha Mae, Kraft replied, “I have absolutely no idea!”

Do you have an idea? Here’s another chance. Use the MiceChat link to post your ideas about how to give this historic Disneyland boat a new life.

Think of this as another competition between the Bertha Mae and the Gullywhumper. As of now, the new Gullywhumper is winning, proudly docked at Mike Fink’s Disneyland cabin since 2010.

With your great ideas, maybe the Bertha Mae can pull ahead with an even more illustrious future.

 

Click here to post comments at MiceChat about this article.


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Updated June 27, 2014.