Yes, here it is, believe it or not. The Sugar Beet Conference Tale.
Everyone has sugar in their pantries at home, but how many people really know where it comes from? There are two basic sources of sugar throughout the world: sugar cane (grown in more tropical areas) and sugar beets. Sugar beets are a “tuber”, or root. They are about the size of an elongated softball and have a similar look as a large yam. As a matter of fact, many Europeans slice and fry these up like a potato. It’s a taste I could do without, however. The US grows both plants, with the market about evenly split. The growing areas for sugar beets is limited to about 1.7 million acres grown in the following areas: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho, Nebraska/Wyoming/Colorado, and until the last few years, California. Most sugar beet producers are farmer owned co-operatives, with only about three owned by public companies. I happen to work for one of them located in Michigan, Monitor Sugar Company.
The Monitor Sugar Company has been in existence for 102 years at its one location in Bay City, Michigan. It was started by German immigrants who had been working in the lumber yards of Bay City. Up until about 1905, Bay City, Saginaw, and Muskegon, Michigan were the three largest lumbering cities in the country. This disappeared after a series of worker strikes, and the near elimination of forested land in Michigan. Europe has had a thriving sugar beet industry since the mid-1800’s (and still has a very large, government subsidized program), and the Germans realized they could grow beets in this area. The Monitor Sugar Company is the third or fourth largest factory for processing sugar beets in the country (out of a total of about 22 factories still in operation). This one factory processes about 8,000 tons a day of beets, which results in over 2,500,000 pounds of sugar daily. Over the course of the beet processing campaign, which lasts from October thru February, the factory processes 1,200,000 tons of beets, which are grown on about 65,000 acres across Michigan by over 700 growers, and pumps about half a billion dollars into the local economy. These beets are delivered to the factory by rail and lots and lots of trucks, all within a short timespan of 6 weeks in October and November. At about 35 tons/truck, you can see that the traffic is very heavy for a few weeks as 30,000 delivers are made. The bulk of the sugar we produce is sold as “industrial” sugar, and goes into Sara Lee products, Marzetti salad dressings, Keebler products, Pillsbury, etc. We also sell several “store brand” sugars and our own “Big Chief” brand.
Now that I’ve bored you to tears with a little bit about the business of sugar, let me tell you about the conference the industry has, The American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists/Beet Sugar Development Foundation Biennial Conference. This year it was held in San Antonio, the last meeting was in Vancouver, and the next will be in Palm Springs. You get the picture that these are held far away from the areas where beets are grown, and more than anything, its to get to some warmer weather as the processing campaign ends.
This conference has representatives from almost all of the beet sugar producers, suppliers and vendors. The business of sugar beets is very much a “family”, as many of the people in the sugar industry have been in it their whole lives, starting as production workers and working their way up the ranks. Also, the number of suppliers to the industry is limited, so everyone knows each other. I came to be in this industry about 3 years ago, as I left my former employer (a large chemical company) to find something less “corporate”, and that I found. I am a mechanical engineer, but have spent most of my career in environmental compliance/operations. Now I add this because, as I mentioned, sugar is a very “family” – style business. Now the downside of this is that there is not a lot of “progressive” thinking on anything other than getting more sugar out of the beets. The US Chemical industry has been fairly pro-active on reducing environmental impact, so I have been taking on a lot of this challenge in the sugar industry.
Now, the conference itself is a rather remarkable affair. There are several days of rather informative presentations covering agricultural issues, operational issues, and research and development. That’s the business side of it. The other side is the vendors and suppliers “wooing” the various companies with quite expensive meals at various 4-star restaurants around the town. 5 days of conference easily leads to a five pound weight gain. The most amusing part is that the diversity of the sugar beet industry becomes readily apparent during the course of these evenings. Now I am a city boy raised in NJ, Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, Columbus, OH. Many of the sugar people have never really left their small towns where they work. So they become very easily swayed by vendors, overwhelmed by exotic food and drinks, and really enjoy themselves at the hospitality suites that the vendors also provide. They are some of the best, nicest people around, but at times, can be slightly overwhelmed by the big-city. Now being the cynical city-boy I am, this doesn’t sway me, and usually ends up frustrating vendors who deal with me (but that’s part of the job I enjoy).
Over the course of the five-day conference, you get to talk with old friends, meet new ones, learn more about your business, learn how to improve your factory’s performance, and basically, to quote Roger, “a good time is had by all.”
Well, I hope I haven’t bored you to tears, but after making you wait as long as I have, I figured I would make it worth your while (plus, I didn’t want to work that hard today anyway). If you are interested in finding out more about sugar beets, and Monitor Sugar, visit the company website.
Ok, so how do they make sugar from beets?
You can find specifics on the Monitor Sugar website, or here’s the basics that I usually use to describe it:
1) Slice the beets into cossettes (basically a french fry shape OK, pcschnebs, I’ve edited out the silly name here)
2) Boil the beets to remove the sugars
3) Evaporate the water, leaving the sugar-laden juice, purify, then thicken the juice
4) crystallize the sugar, and centrifuge to separate the sugar from the molasses.
5) Dry, package, and add to coffee.
Pretty basic process that takes huge amounts of energy and big equipment.
Here is my tale of sugar beets…
California also had, and I say had, a good-sized sugar industry once upon a time. Lot’s of towns had processing plants where beets were received by rail primarily and then by truck.
There was Manteca, Tracy, Woodland, and Betteravia. The last was owned and operated by the Union Sugar Company and got beets several times during the year from various locations around the state. Water is always an issue for farming in the state, with many places only viable for farming thanks to imports or pumping. Beets made a good crop while they lasted. In the San Joaquin Valley, beets were harvested in the spring and sent to plants for a few months after. Beets also were grown in the northern Sacramento Valley and in the south in the Imperial Valley.
So why the interest? Well, it has to do with trains. Here’s a few links to images of beets on the move by rail on the Southern Pacific.
The plant in Tracy was owned by Holly Sugar. To switch cars at the plant, it obtained a diesel switch engine that was surplus from the Southern Pacific. However, this was not just any locomotive. It was previously SP #1000, the first diesel locomotive owned by the railroad. Various groups have tried to acquire it for preservation, but it still sees occasional use at the plant.
Beets were big business for the Espee, even if they were seasonal. So the railroad took a series of general service gondola cars which had doors on the bottom for easy unloading and modified them by adding extensions onto the sides of the cars to increase their capacity. That was sometime in the mid-50’s. The cars were mostly wood with some steel hardware. They rode on wheels with friction bearings.
Fast forward into the 1990’s.
The sugar beets still move from field to the plants by rail, using the same old wooden cars. As they aged, they became maintenance nightmares, but they still got the job done. Modern freight moves in cars with roller bearings and are pulled by high speed, microprocessor controlled diesel locomotives. Not so the beets. They tended to get older first-generation diesels. In short, it was like a time machine at work as these rolling museum pieces carried beets to meet their fates.
So, fans of this older technology made pilgrimages to watch it in action. Places like South Dos Palos and Sargent saw beets loaded under the watchful eyes and cameras of railroad enthusiasts.
Train crews on the other hand, saw the whole thing in a different light. Old worn out equipment meant long days and nights on the road. Expecting to get home early was sheer fantasy if you got called for one of these jobs. Twelve hours on duty was more the rule than the exception. Couplers failed, brakes failed, and sometimes, the car just failed. Imagine beets everywhere on more than one occasion.
Union Sugar’s Betteravia plant was a major destination for these trains from all over the state. Transferred from the mighty Southern Pacific to the lowly Santa Maria Valley Railroad, these cars soldiered on. SP finally told Union Sugar that if they wanted the beets carried by rail that they would have to buy and maintain the fleet of worn out relics. Carrying the reporting marks of USGX, they did just that for their final years.
Today, the plant at Betteravia is closed and being torn down. Manteca has redeveloped its plant site for other industrial uses. Tracy lingers on, as does Woodland. Holly Sugar bought a fleet of newer steel cars and most of the beets shipped go to their plant at Woodland. What other beets are still grown go by truck.
So that’s the rest of the sugar beet story from my side of the Rockies…
But lest you think it ends there, here is a link to a preserved German railroad that also has a connection to sugar beets!
I’ve never been, but it sure looks interesting. Something to save for that next trip I think. And along those lines, fodder for another column as to why I would go back to Germany!
Don’t say we don’t cover a diverse selection of topics on those boards! More tales in the weeks to come…
But, it would be darn nice of you, if you could show your support and click on the link for his Amazon Honor System Paybox and throw a few million Turkish lira (1 dollar equals 1,595,100 lira) his way to keep him plugging along at the keyboard. To quote Homer Simpson, “Oooooh, how convenient.”
Private Car Service is working on an all-day trip this fall. Details will be posted soon on the Private Car Service web page. Stay tuned!
The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown
Disneyland in Anaheim, California, holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans worldwide, I mean heck, it’s where the magic began after all. Over the years it’s become a place that people visit in search of memorable experiences. One fan favorite area of the park is Mickey’s Toontown, a unique land that lets guests step right into the colorful, “Toony” world of Disney animation. With the recent reimagining of the land and the introduction of Micky and Minnies Runaway Railway, have you ever wondered how this land came to be?
There is a fascinating backstory of how Mickey’s Toontown came into existence. It’s a tale of strategic vision, the influence of Disney executives, and a commitment to meeting the needs of Disney’s valued guests.
The Beginning: Mickey’s Birthdayland
The story of Mickey’s Toontown starts with Mickey’s Birthdayland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, this temporary attraction was met with such overwhelming popularity that it inspired Disney executives to think bigger. The idea was to create a permanent, immersive land where guests could step into the animated world of Mickey Mouse and his friends.
In the early ’90s, Disneyland was in need of a refresh. Michael Eisner, the visionary leader of The Walt Disney Company at the time, had an audacious idea: create a brand-new land in Disneyland that would celebrate Disney characters in a whole new way. This was the birth of Mickey’s Toontown.
Initially, Disney’s creative minds toyed with various concepts, including the idea of crafting a 100-Acre Woods or a land inspired by the Muppets. However, the turning point came when they considered the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This film’s popularity and the desire to capitalize on contemporary trends set the stage for Toontown’s creation.
From Concept to Reality: The Birth of Toontown
In 1993, Mickey’s Toontown opened its gates at Disneyland, marking the first time in Disney Park history where guests could experience a fully realized, three-dimensional world of animation. This new land was not just a collection of attractions but a living, breathing community where Disney characters “lived,” worked, and played.
Building Challenges: Innovative Solutions
The design of Mickey’s Toontown broke new ground in theme park aesthetics. Imagineers were tasked with bringing the two-dimensional world of cartoons into a three-dimensional space. This led to the creation of over 2000 custom-built props and structures that embodied the ‘squash and stretch’ principle of animation, giving Toontown its distinctiveness.
And then there was also the challenge of hiding the Team Disney Anaheim building, which bore a striking resemblance to a giant hotdog. The Imagineers had to think creatively, using balloon tests and imaginative landscaping to seamlessly integrate Toontown into the larger park.
Key Attractions: Bringing Animation to Life
Mickey’s Toontown featured several groundbreaking attractions. “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” inspired by the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” became a staple of Toontown, offering an innovative ride experience. Gadget’s Go-Coaster, though initially conceived as a Rescue Rangers-themed ride, became a hit with younger visitors, proving that innovative design could create memorable experiences for all ages.
Another crown jewel of Toontown is Mickey’s House, a walkthrough attraction that allowed guests to explore the home of Mickey Mouse himself. This attraction was more than just a house; it was a carefully crafted piece of Disney lore. The house was designed in the American Craftsman style, reflecting the era when Mickey would have theoretically purchased his first home in Hollywood. The attention to detail was meticulous, with over 2000 hand-crafted, custom-built props, ensuring that every corner of the house was brimming with character and charm. Interestingly, the design of Mickey’s House was inspired by a real home in Wichita Falls, making it a unique blend of real-world inspiration and Disney magic.
Mickey’s House also showcased Disney’s commitment to creating interactive and engaging experiences. Guests could make themselves at home, sitting in Mickey’s chair, listening to the radio, and exploring the many mementos and references to Mickey’s animated adventures throughout the years. This approach to attraction design – where storytelling and interactivity merged seamlessly – was a defining characteristic of ToonTown’s success.
Executive Decisions: Shaping ToonTown’s Unique Attractions
The development of Mickey’s Toontown wasn’t just about creative imagination; it was significantly influenced by strategic decisions from Disney executives. One notable input came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who suggested incorporating a Rescue Rangers-themed ride. This idea was a reflection of the broader Disney strategy to integrate popular contemporary characters and themes into the park, ensuring that the attractions remained relevant and engaging for visitors.
In addition to Katzenberg’s influence, Frank Wells, the then-President of The Walt Disney Company, played a key role in the strategic launch of Toontown’s attractions. His decision to delay the opening of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” until a year after Toontown’s debut was a calculated move. It was designed to maintain public interest in the park by offering new experiences over time, thereby giving guests more reasons to return to Disneyland.
These executive decisions highlight the careful planning and foresight that went into making Toontown a dynamic and continuously appealing part of Disneyland. By integrating current trends and strategically planning the rollout of attractions, Disney executives ensured that Toontown would not only capture the hearts of visitors upon its opening but would continue to draw them back for new experiences in the years to follow.
Global Influence: Toontown’s Worldwide Appeal
The concept of Mickey’s Toontown resonated so strongly that it was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland and influenced elements in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Each park’s version of Toontown maintained the core essence of the original while adapting to its cultural and logistical environment.
Evolution and Reimagining: Toontown Today
As we approach the present day, Mickey’s Toontown has recently undergone a significant reimagining to welcome “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” in 2023. This refurbishment aimed to enhance the land’s interactivity and appeal to a new generation of Disney fans, all while retaining the charm that has made ToonTown a beloved destination for nearly three decades.
Dive Deeper into ToonTown’s Story
Want to know more about Mickey’s Toontown and hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, then check out the latest episode of Disney Unpacked on Patreon @JimHillMedia. In this episode, the main Imagineer who worked on the Toontown project shares lots of interesting stories and details that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s full of great information and fun facts, so be sure to give it a listen!
Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel
Pixar Place Hotel, the newly unveiled 15-story tower at the Disneyland Resort, has been making waves in the Disney community. With its unique Pixar-themed design, it promises to be a favorite among visitors.
However, before we delve into this exciting addition to the Disneyland Resort, let’s take a look at the fascinating history of this remarkable hotel.
The Emergence of the Disneyland Hotel
To truly appreciate the story of the Pixar Place Hotel, we must turn back the clock to the early days of Disneyland. While Walt Disney had the visionary ideas and funding to create the iconic theme park, he faced a challenge when it came to providing accommodations for the park’s visitors. This is where his friend Jack Wrather enters the picture.
Jack Wrather, a fellow pioneer in the television industry, stepped in to assist Walt Disney in realizing his dream. Thanks to the success of the “Lassie” TV show produced by Wrather’s company, he had the financial means to build a hotel right across from Disneyland.
The result was the Disneyland Hotel, which opened its doors in October 1955. Interestingly, the early incarnation of this hotel had more of a motel feel than a hotel, with two-story buildings reminiscent of the roadside motels popular during the 1950s. The initial Disneyland Hotel consisted of modest structures that catered to visitors looking for affordable lodging close to the park. While the rooms were basic, it marked the beginning of something extraordinary.
The Evolution: From Emerald of Anaheim to Paradise Pier
As Disneyland’s popularity continued to soar, so did the demand for expansion and improved accommodations. In 1962, the addition of an 11-story tower transformed the Disneyland Hotel, marking a significant transition from a motel to a full-fledged hotel.
The addition of the 11-story tower elevated the Disneyland Hotel into a more prominent presence on the Anaheim skyline. At the time, it was the tallest structure in all of Orange County. The hotel’s prime location across from Disneyland made it an ideal choice for visitors. With the introduction of the monorail linking the park and the hotel, accessibility became even more convenient. Unique features like the Japanese-themed reflecting pools added to the hotel’s charm, reflecting a cultural influence that extended beyond Disney’s borders.
Japanese Tourism and Its Impact
During the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland was attracting visitors from all corners of the world, including Japan. A significant number of Japanese tourists flocked to Anaheim to experience Walt Disney’s creation. To cater to this growing market, it wasn’t just the Disneyland Hotel that aimed to capture the attention of Japanese tourists. The Japanese Village in Buena Park, inspired by a similar attraction in Nara, Japan, was another significant spot.
These attractions sought to provide a taste of Japanese culture and hospitality, showcasing elements like tea ceremonies and beautiful ponds with rare carp and black swans. However, the Japanese Village closed its doors in 1975, likely due to the highly competitive nature of the Southern California tourist market.
The Emergence of the Emerald of Anaheim
With the surge in Japanese tourism, an opportunity arose—the construction of the Emerald of Anaheim, later known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. In May 1984, this 15-story hotel opened its doors.
What made the Emerald unique was its ownership. It was built not by The Walt Disney Company or the Oriental Land Company (which operated Tokyo Disneyland) but by the Tokyu Group. This group of Japanese businessmen already had a pair of hotels in Hawaii and saw potential in Anaheim’s proximity to Disneyland. Thus, they decided to embark on this new venture, specifically designed to cater to Japanese tourists looking to experience Southern California.
Financial Challenges and a Changing Landscape
The late 1980s brought about two significant financial crises in Japan—the crash of the NIKKEI stock market and the collapse of the Japanese real estate market. These crises had far-reaching effects, causing Japanese tourists to postpone or cancel their trips to the United States. As a result, reservations at the Emerald of Anaheim dwindled.
To adapt to these challenging times, the Tokyu Group merged the Emerald brand with its Pacific hotel chain, attempting to weather the storm. However, the financial turmoil took its toll on the Emerald, and changes were imminent.
The Transition to the Disneyland Pacific Hotel
In 1995, The Walt Disney Company took a significant step by purchasing the hotel formerly known as the Emerald of Anaheim for $35 million. This acquisition marked a change in the hotel’s fortunes. With Disney now in control, the hotel underwent a name change, becoming the Disneyland Pacific Hotel.
Transformation to Paradise Pier
The next phase of transformation occurred when Disney decided to rebrand the hotel as Paradise Pier Hotel. This decision aligned with Disney’s broader vision for the Disneyland Resort.
While the structural changes were limited, the hotel underwent a significant cosmetic makeover. Its exterior was painted to complement the color scheme of Paradise Pier, and wave-shaped crenellations adorned the rooftop, creating an illusion of seaside charm. This transformation was Disney’s attempt to seamlessly integrate the hotel into the Paradise Pier theme of Disney’s California Adventure Park.
Looking Beyond Paradise Pier: The Shift to Pixar Place
In 2018, Disneyland Resort rebranded Paradise Pier as Pixar Pier, a thematic area dedicated to celebrating the beloved characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios. As a part of this transition, it became evident that the hotel formally known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel could no longer maintain its Paradise Pier theme.
With Pixar Pier in full swing and two successful Pixar-themed hotels (Toy Story Hotels in Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland), Disney decided to embark on a new venture—a hotel that would celebrate the vast world of Pixar. The result is Pixar Place Hotel, a 15-story tower that embraces the characters and stories from multiple Pixar movies and shorts. This fully Pixar-themed hotel is a first of its kind in the United States.
The Future of Pixar Place and Disneyland Resort
As we look ahead to the future, the Disneyland Resort continues to evolve. The recent news of a proposed $1.9 billion expansion as part of the Disneyland Forward project indicates that the area surrounding Pixar Place is expected to see further changes. Disneyland’s rich history and innovative spirit continue to shape its destiny.
In conclusion, the history of the Pixar Place Hotel is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Disneyland Resort. From its humble beginnings as the Disneyland Hotel to its transformation into the fully Pixar-themed Pixar Place Hotel, this establishment has undergone several iterations. As Disneyland Resort continues to grow and adapt, we can only imagine what exciting developments lie ahead for this iconic destination.
If you want to hear more stories about the History of the Pixar Place hotel, check our special edition of Disney Unpacked over on YouTube.
Stay tuned for more updates and developments as we continue to explore the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.
From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be
In the latest release of Episode 4 of Disney Unpacked, Len and I return, joined as always by Disney Imagineering legend, Jim Shull. This two-part episode covers all things Mickey’s Birthday Land and how it ultimately led to the inspiration behind Disneyland’s fan-favorite land, “Toontown”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It all starts in the early days at Disneyland.
Early Challenges in Meeting Mickey
Picture this: it’s the late 1970s and early 1980s, and you’re at Disneyland. You want to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse, but there’s no clear way to make it happen. You rely on Character Guides, those daily printed sheets that point you in Mickey’s general direction. But let’s be honest, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, you got lucky; other times, not so much.
Mickey’s Birthdayland: A Birthday Wish that Came True
Fast forward to the late 1980s. Disney World faced a big challenge. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was under construction, with the company’s marketing machine in full swing, hyping up the opening of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, MGM Studios, in the Spring of 1989. This extensive marketing meant that many people were opting to postpone their family’s next trip to Walt Disney World until the following year. Walt Disney World needed something compelling to motivate guests to visit Florida in 1988, the year before Disney MGM Studios opened.
Enter stage left, Mickey’s Birthdayland. For the first time ever, an entire land was dedicated to a single character – and not just any character, but the mouse who started it all. Meeting Mickey was no longer a game of chance; it was practically guaranteed.
The Birth of Birthdayland: Creative Brilliance Meets Practicality
In this episode, we dissect the birth of Mickey’s Birthdayland, an initiative that went beyond celebrating a birthday. It was a calculated move, driven by guest feedback and a need to address issues dating back to 1971. Imagineers faced the monumental task of designing an experience that honored Mickey while efficiently managing the crowds. This required the perfect blend of creative flair and logistical prowess – a hallmark of Disney’s approach to theme park design.
Evolution: From Birthdayland to Toontown
The success of Mickey’s Birthdayland was a real game-changer, setting the stage for the birth of Toontown – an entire land that elevated character-centric areas to monumental new heights. Toontown wasn’t merely a spot to meet characters; it was an immersive experience that brought Disney animation to life. In the episode, we explore its innovative designs, playful architecture, and how every nook and cranny tells a story.
Impact on Disney Parks and Guests
Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown didn’t just reshape the physical landscape of Disney parks; they transformed the very essence of the guest experience. These lands introduced groundbreaking ways for visitors to connect with their beloved characters, making their Disney vacations even more unforgettable.
Beyond Attractions: A Cultural Influence
But the influence of these lands goes beyond mere attractions. Our episode delves into how Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown left an indelible mark on Disney’s culture, reflecting the company’s relentless dedication to innovation and guest satisfaction. It’s a journey into how a single idea can grow into a cherished cornerstone of the Disney Park experience.
Unwrapping the Full Story of Mickey’s Birthdayland
Our two-part episode of Disney Unpacked is available for your viewing pleasure on our Patreon page. And for those seeking a quicker Disney fix, we’ve got a condensed version waiting for you on our YouTube channel. Thank you for being a part of our Disney Unpacked community. Stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to “Unpack” the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.
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