Wow part 5 of this amazing structure!
Because the Matterhorn had such a tight Inner Space there was no way to build a wooden roller coaster where essentially you can go as far and as long and as high as you want. You don't have the flexibility of endless turns; that's where the steel tube came into play.
With an early sketch of what Matterhorn was going to look like, imagineering was given the task of figuring out how to lay out a track inside of the Matterhorn. But as pointed out before, there's over 2100 steel girders inside, the track would not only need to fit inside the mountain, but it would need to avoid every vertical and horizontal support that kept the mountain standing. Imagine having 10 months to try to figure out how to put a roller coaster inside of a sketch, looking at the architectural blueprint and try to dodge every single support beam that would make the mountain stand!
With two roller coaster tracks, the most practical idea was to design a lift that would take guests up as high as possible inside of the Matterhorn, for a Fantasyland side and a Tomorrowland side. An absolutely amazing feat of architecture and design if you consider that this is an incredibly crowded space.
That's where the tubular steel comes in. A wood roller coaster could never make all of the turns and the banks and the curves that were needed to get gas from the lift down to each side of the Matterhorn and get dropped back off in nearly the same spot. The only way to bend the tracks inside of this incredibly tight footprint was to use something that could bend. Steel became a part of the Matterhorn because steel can be heated and curved in any direction needed to create all the banks, inclines, twists and turns required to get two sets of track inside of this footprint.
With older traditional roller coasters, they're designed more like a train where a cart rides on top of the track and the train track takes you on all kinds of twists and turns. But the turns can't be that tight and couldn't exist inside of a mountain nor would a train be able to replicate the smoothness that one would feel if they were actually going down a mountain on a bobsled through snow and ice. It would need to be a very smooth ride.
The steel tubes created another problem, they realized they couldn't run steel wheels on a steel rail because it would be way too bumpy and way too noisy. Imagineers figured out a solution using rubber and they would run tests on small sections. They quickly realized that a traditional rubber wheel wouldn't last and keep up with the demand of this roller coaster. It was then that they came up with the idea of using polyurethane, a relatively new plastic in manufacturing in America that originated from Germany in World War II.
Disney began working in partnership with Dupont and they were able to figure out a proprietary urethane wheel that would actually ride on this steel beam. The polyurethane wheel rolls on top of the steel tube giving a smooth ride, while all of the lifting is done on the mechanism that hits the horizontal plane. As a result there's actually two sets of wheels. The vertical wheel and then the horizontal wheel does all of the lifting on the incline and helps with the braking process.
Stay close for part 6!
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".