Yesterland
Mike Fink
Keel Boats
“C” Ticket

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland
Catch a boat at the Keel Boat Landing. Sit on top or inside.

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
Relive pioneer days, as your skipper steers the boat 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
Mike Fink’s boat, the Gullywhumper, has simple, barn-door-like shutters.

Take a seat on the Gullywhumper, the legendary keel boat of Mike Fink, King of the River.

Mike Fink Keel Boats, Disneyland
Davy Crockett’s boat, the Bertha Mae, is fancier than the Gullywhumper, with louvered and decorated shutters.

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.


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.

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
The Gullywhumper at the Magic Kingdom in Florida passing the Haunted Mansion. (1983 photo)

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, Disneyland
The Gullywhumper serving as a prop. (2004 photo)

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
The Gullywhumper suffering from neglect. (2007 photo)

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
The new Gullywhumper looks 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
Richard Kraft shows 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.

As of May 2010, the Bertha Mae is still languishing in the same storage facility where it’s been since Kraft took possession after his successful bid. Kraft has 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 floats, but there’s no indication that it doesn’t. Wrapped in plastic and stored indoors, the boat is still in the same condition as when Kraft bought it. That’s the problem.

“The boat has gone unvisited since Finding Kraftland,” explains Kraft. “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.”

Kraft wants creative ideas from Yesterland readers. Here’s your opportunity to help give this historic boat a new life. Use the MiceChat link below to share your ideas and to comment and improve on the suggestions of others.

Think of it as another competition between the Bertha Mae and the Gullywhumper. Right now, the new Gullywhumper is winning, proudly docked at Mike Fink’s Disneyland cabin. With your great ideas, maybe the Bertha Mae will have an even more illustrious future.

 

Click here to discuss this page on the Yesterland Discussion Forum at MiceChat!


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© 1998-2010 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated May 31, 2010.

Montage of four photograph of the Keel Boat attraction: Allen Huffman, 1997.
Photograph of Gullywhumper with people on the shore: Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor.
Photograph of Gullywhumper passing the mill: Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor.
Photograph of Bertha Mae: Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor.
Photograph of the Keel Boat at Walt Disney World: Werner Weiss, 1983.
Photograph of the Gullywhumper as a prop: Karen Weiss, 2004.
Photograph of the Gullywhumper sinking: Werner Weiss, 2007.
Photograph of new Gullywhumper at Mike Fink’s cabin: anonymous, 2010.
Montage of four stills from Finding Kraftland: courtesy of Richard Kraft.