I have been very lucky to meet online, a fine person. His name is Jake McKinnon, and Jake was a Warrior at the Battle of Galactica. He also was the prop support for the team of guys that worked in the tour. He kept the props the warrior used in shape, and also built, and rebuilt as needed many of props. He also had a love for the show.
The interview was via email by myself, Dale Long and Jake McKinnon
Q.....When did you starting working at Universal?
A.....I worked in the Character Department of the tour from 1985-1992. It was mostly a really fun job. I would have stayed longer if the pay was better.
Q.....When did you start doing when you first here hired on?
A.....I started as a part time Transformer. There was a small stage on the upper lot where tourists could stand in line to go up and talk to a Transformer. There were 3 different vacuum formed plastic costumes of Starscream, Jazz, and Grimlock. A microphone in the helmet would play your voice through speakers in the chest so we could chat with kids.
I quickly moved on to playing most of the classic Universal monsters such as Frankenstein, The Phantom Of The Opera, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and The Creature Of The Black Lagoon.
Q.....What was your last job there?
A.....I was playing Harry from Harry And The Hendersons at the sound effects stage part of the tour. It was absolutely the easiest job in the department. Harry's involvement in the show less than a minute long. They could only squeeze 6 shows into an hour, maximum.
Q.....When did you start working on the BoG set?
A.....I started doing the show in 1985. The people playing Captain Apollo were referred to as "Heroes" by tour employees.
2 Heroes would switch off doing hour long shifts each day. The weekday positions were the most coveted since during slow times it was very easy.
There was an air conditioned break room, a stereo and TV (brought there by the Heroes themselves), couches, and we were isolated form the rest of the tour. The posters and decorations were "appropriated" from the tour gift shops.
Originally, the main break room wall had 70's style lunar landscape wallpaper.
At first, the show was controlled somewhat manually by people backstage. Later on, everything including lasers, lighting, sound, Co2 blasts, TV monitor playback, and the figures were controlled by 10 laserdisc players.
We had the whole building to ourselves.
Q.....Now I have heard that the tram came from every 2 minutes to 10 minutes. Random, or a set turn?
A.....During peak tram traffic, the show ran back to back. As soon as the exit door closed behind the tram, the entrance door would open. It really ran non-stop a lot of the time during summer, and holiday seasons. Trams would get backed up, waiting to get through the thing. (A big reason why the Tour was glad to get rid of it.)
There was no air conditioning on the stage. During the summer we would sit in front of a fan right next to the stage door. You'd barely be able to catch your breath before it was time to kick the door open, and go at it yet again. It was grueling at times.
At peak times, as many as 6 heroes would take turns doing hour long shifts each day.
I was a hero full time for quite a while. I tried to figure out once how many times I did the show. It was close to 2000 times. There's probably at least 75 different people that did the show over the years. They even had girls playing the part for a while!
Q.....What was some of your most memorable moments while working there?
A.....The most memorable for me were doing pranks on each other while doing the show. Hands down, the best place to nail someone was just after they kick open the stage door and are supposed to stand there while acting defiant towards the Imperious Leader. A slot in the floor was perfect for spraying a fire extinguisher through, right at ol' Capt. Apollo's crotch.
Plastic Sparklett's bottles were always fun. We'd climb the set and wait with a full bottle above the stage door. As poor Cap'n A made his stage entrance, glug-glug-glug-glug went all the water, soaking him wet. Then, as he makes his exit back up the ramp, we jump out, rolling 3 empty bottles down the ramp so he has to jump over them like hurdles.
Once in a while, we'd do 2 Hero shows. Half way through the show, Capt. Apollo would be gravely wounded, would stumble around, and fall down. Another warrior would leap through the door, catch his stomach on the rail, flip over it, and land next to his fallen comrade. While dragging his friend back up the ramp, they took turns shooting at the ee-vil, human hating, chromed bots. Great heroics, indeed. What goofballs we were.
3 hero shows involved 3 of us entering at once to do the Three Amigos Routine before running around out of control.
We had guest characters drop by on occasion. Woody Woodpecker saved the day a few times. I did the show in full Phantom Of The Opera wardrobe. I don't know how I crammed the helmet over my fat head and the latex mask.
Of course, we were taking big risks that we'd get in trouble for any this. All the Tour Guide, or Tram Driver had to do was call someone after their tour and we'd be sunk. Most of the time though, nothing ever happened. I think they were glad to see something different and they usually cheered us, using the tram p.a. system.
Back in the 80's, a hero was called into his boss's office early in the day. He was fired, but was told to go back down, and finish the rest of the day. He figured he had nothing to lose, so he did his next 2 hours wearing only his leggings, his helmet, and his tighty-whitey underwear! A minimum of 12 trams went through before someone blew the whistle.
That's a good example of how the tour was a sleepy, mom & pop type business up until the late 80's. It became quite corporate, structured, and a lot less fun afterwards.
Q.....Do have any horror stories?
A.....Nobody ever got injured too much. I once twisted my ankle badly halfway through the show. I lied there in a heap, unable to finish. I crawled to the kill switch so that the next trams would have to bypass the show while they sent a replacement down.
Being late for the cue to enter the stage was always a really crappy feeling. We got so used to the sounds of the show before our cue that I fell asleep a couple of times. Missing a show entirely was a cardinal sin. A horrifying, panic ridden sensation is when you're working the opening shift, and as you walk to Galactica from the wardrobe building a 1/3 of a mile away, you hear the audio from the outside portion of the show. OH, NO!! They sent the first tram out early!!
You then have scarce time to sprint full speed down a hill, past the tram garage, and get to the front of the building. If you're lucky, you see the tail end of the tram being swallowed by the entrance door. You bound up the steps backstage, tear you backpack open, yank out your costume, and try to put it on as you take your street clothes off at the same time. If you're lucky, you'll get half of your wardrobe on and you don't pass out before the show ends.
The prior scenario happened at least twice with me kicking the door open to an empty stage. No tram, just two Attraction Maintenance guys looking at me dumb-founded. They were testing out the show to make sure everything was working. Uggghhh....You could have knocked me down with a feather.
I'm not the only one who had occasional angst-ridden "Opening shift Galactica" nightmares long after the show closed.
Q.....Did you ever see any of the cast or crew of the show that came to see the tour?
A.....No. They may have been there when it was brand new for publicity purposes.
Q.....I heard that some of the helmets didn't have mouth pieces, any truth to that, or were those just lost over a period of time?
A.....I doubt that. If a helmet was missing a mouthpiece, it would be retired. When the show opened, the original helmets from the series were used. Even the lights inside worked. Since they were made of fiberglass, and built as wardrobe pieces, they didn't last long. They were quickly stolen, or destroyed by the rough treatment of the Heroes.
When I started, the Daggit style converted motorcycle helmets from Galactica 1980 were being used. Since the mouthpiece is an integral part of the helmet, it couldn't be lost.
Q.....What were you in charge of when it came to maintenance of the props?
A.....Since I was a young, wanna-be prop maker/ fx artist, they let me maintain the helmets because I did it for next to nothing.
I eventually made new Daggit helmets when the originals couldn't be repaired anymore.
I also made the blasters that the Heroes would use. The tour rented the last blaster in decent condition from the Hand Prop Room on the lower lot, so I could make a silicone mold of it.
I poured the blasters out of steel reinforced semi-flexible, black urethane resin. None of them had lights. Universal was too cheap to pay for that. Besides, they would have been wrecked in no time.
I made a personal blaster for myself. It had a strobe in the barrel that I could flash in sync to the sound effects. I was the only dork doing the show with all the correct wardrobe details. (Collar pins, correct holster, and black moto-x boots instead of the pleather and Velcro leggings used by others).
Q.....Did you work alone, or work with others in a central location do do the prop repair?
A.....It was just me. I did all the prop repairs and building in my Parent's garage. Occasionally, I would do spray-paint touch ups at Gallactica.
Q.....Did you get to see any studio filming like "The Nude Bomb" or the "A -Team" Steel episode that involved the tour or Cylons?
A.....No, the only time I ever saw someone in a Cylon suit was during the first Halloween Horror Nights. We cobbled together the last, sad looking Cylon parts that the studio still had, and put him in front of the exterior of the facade. As the tram entered the building, he would spring to life, and grab for people in the tram. Pretty silly.
Q.....I have heard maybe the building stood a few years before it was taken down, any rumor to that, or was it torn down shortly after it closed.
A.....The building was torn down a few days after it was closed in order to start construction of the Back To The Future Ride. It was built on top of the Galactica foundation as well as the old Rockslide Attraction, which was on the hill to the left of Galactica.
Q.....What do you thing happened to the larger props like the Cylon track blaster out in front?
A.....The Cylons sitting in it were removed immediately. I remember seeing the vehicle parked next to some storage containers on a service road on the lower lot for a while. It was either demolished, or left to rot until it fell apart. That was standard practice.
All of the Cylons, and the Ovions were put in storage. I'll bet they were thrown away as more space was needed to store something like Christmas decorations for the park.
On the last few days of operation, a security guard was there all day roaming around to make sure nothing was stolen. Somehow, someone got in there between shows, past the guard, and stole a head from a Cylon in the control booth. There were no back-up parts to replace it with. There were flyers in all the backstage areas of the tour demanding that the thief be caught.
Q.....What do you think of the new show?
A.....I've only seen snippets. I may rent 'em on DVD.
Q.....Any thing else you would like to add?
A.....When the Battle Of Galactica opened in 1980, it was the largest and most powerful, permanent laser display in the world. However, through the years, as the show became very dated, it was sort-of a "red-headed stepchild" for the Tour.
They desperately wanted to change it into something else, but the only big new movie of theirs that could be used was DUNE, a flop. At one point, they even considered getting permission to make it an ALIENS attraction.
It was enjoyed best by kids, whose parents chuckled at the Cylons splitting so cleanly in half when blasted. I was 13 when I first went through it on a tram. I thought it would be so exciting to do as a job.
Honestly, it was open for far too long. When I think back to my time there, I'm reminded of repetitious monotony of it, but also of good times spent hanging around in the break room backstage with the other guys. I'm still friends with some of them today.
Facts, myths, stories, and photos of the Universal Tour ride that opened in 1979 and closed in 1992.
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