Shelby County Indiana
By Andrew Edwards, Press-Telegram
Los Angeles, California
July 14, 2017
Engineering Space Mountain: Long
Beach resident still thrilled by his
William Watkins is a retired engineer with Disney Imagineering
who helped design the Space Mountain roller coaster.
(Photo by Steve McCrank, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
William Watkins was an aerospace engineer who had worked for companies like Honeywell and Lockheed when he replied to a newspaper ad for a job at Disney. On the job interview, he brought pictures of race cars he had worked on — a decision he credits with the company’s decision to hire him. They wanted a mix of both mechanical and artistic proficiency, said Watkins, now 86 and retired in the Bluff Park area of Long Beach. He worked on a number of projects for the company, but his best known: he was the engineer behind Space Mountain, the iconic ride that marked its 40th anniversary this year.
Watkins’ focus was on solving such engineering problems as making sure the park’s roller coaster cars had enough momentum to take riders along the entire distance of the rides’ tracks. Artists handled the aesthetic side of ride design. “It’s all mathematics and physics and all those things you have to use in any kind of engineering,” he said in a recent interview. He was initially hired by Disney in 1966 to design the Anaheim park’s PeopleMover attraction. “Up ’till then, they didn’t really have any engineers,” Watkins said. “It was a lot of artists deciding things, and they decided they needed an engineer to complete the job.”
Watkins was born in Shelbyville, Indiana, and he spent his youth in the Hoosier State before studying mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University, where he graduated in 1953. He followed that achievement by taking a job in Burbank with Lockheed Aircraft Co. the same year. He spent more than a decade working on aerospace projects — including NASA work — for The Marquardt Corp. and Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co. (now simply known as Honeywell Inc.), according to his personal bio. Watkins followed up his work on the PeopleMover with assignments to design bumpers for Autopia’s cars and as Disneyland’s project engineer for the cars that carry guests through the park’s Snow White’s Scary Adventures Ride. He then proceeded to roller coaster design, serving as project engineer for both Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which opened in May 1977 and September 1979 respectively.
Michael Kouri, author of “The Ghost of Walt Disney & Me,” which tells the stories of people who have reported encounters with Disney’s specter, said he was present for Space Mountain’s debut. “I remember it really well. A lot of astronauts were there, and people just loved it,” he said. “I rode four times in a row.”
Contributed by Arliss Hoskins
The Kokomo Tribune
Mr. and Mrs. Milton Somers have their week-end guests, their daughter, Miriam, who is a teacher near Shelbyville, and Miss Mildred Watkins,
Russell Wampler and Wilbur Sprinkle, all of South Bend.
September 20, 1930
Contributed by Janet McColley Franklin
The Daily Democrat
Joseph E. Woods and Miss Eva Watkins, who secured a marriage license at the clerk's office last Saturday afternoon, were united in marriage at 3 o'clock at the home of the Rev. H. N. Spear, on west Broadway. Mr. Woods is a cabinetmaker and is employed in one of the local furniture factories. The couple will reside in this city.
November 20, 1916
Page 4, Column 3
MARRIED HERE LAST
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming
The Shelby Democrat-Volunteer
Charles Watkins has managed to get himself into jail very soon after his marriage. Charges were preferred against him for keeping a bawdy-house, the mayor found him guilty as alleged, and not being able to pay the fine imposed, the young man was put into the "cooler" to soak.
Thursday, February 26, 1880
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming
The National Volunteer
William Watkins advertised his furniture and chair ware-room at Harrison and Broadway. He had a complete stock of cabinet ware and chairs and was puttting up a steam engine for the purpose of doing turning of all kinds, such as bed posts, bannisters, newel posts, wagon hubs and chair stuff. He wanted 50,000 feet of good cherry and walnut scantling. Grain of all kinds would be taken in exchange for furniture.
February 24, 1854
Abstracted by Maurice Holmes, in his book Shelbyville, Indiana, Newspaper Excerpts: 1853-1859.
Submitted by Sherry Badgley Ryan, with permission from the author.
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