I waited a week to see if the buzz from our excursion to the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour would wear off. Nope. Still there, and it renews itself every single time I look at photos of our excursion.
For those tuning in late, last weekend (May 5-7), my writing partner and hetero life mate, Kevin Dilmore, and I traveled to scenic Ticonderoga, New York. I’d never visited that area of the state before, and it is as beautiful as advertised. I can definitely see a return trip to that part of the country, ideally as part of a road trip which would take me up into the New England region and other places I’ve never visited (looking at you, Boston, etc.).
So, Kevin and I joined fellow Star Trek word makers Keith R. A. DeCandido, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, David R. George III, Bob Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Bill Leisner, David Mack, Scott Pearson, and Aaron Rosenberg for what ended up being something very special. Wanna see?
For this weekend, though, we had a singular mission: Joining ten of our fellow Star Trek word pushers and (in some cases) spouses, friends, and/or significant others as we all took in this one-of-a-kind trip into an odd combination of fantasy and time travel. Unlike traveling exhibits or the gone but not forgotten Star Trek: The Experience attraction in Las Vegas, this tour’s mission isn’t to make you feel like you’re on an actual Star Trek ship like the Enterprise. Instead, tour creator and owner James Cawley along with a small army of dedicated fans seek to send visitors back to the Desilu soundstages of 1966, at the time of the original Star Trek‘s production.
The result: A near bang-on recreation of Desilu Stage 9, as it was configured during the filming of the original series. The sets are a 1-to-1 representation of the real deals as designed all those years ago by the great Matt Jefferies, and laid out in the same configuration. To get an idea of what I mean, check out this floorplan of the original Stage 9:
(Click to Biggie Size)
I added the note to show how the tour is set up. As your guide will tell you, you enter the sets through a door which on the show was depicted on a few occasions as (among other things) the entrance to the shuttlecraft landing bay. Once it closes behind you, the immersion process begins, and you start to feel that you’re on the set as used by the production crew…..but you also kinda sorta feel like you’re actually on the Enterprise.
First stop? The transporter room! Time to beam on down for adventure (or beam back from a helluva weekend. You decide.), hopefully with somebody at the controls who won’t transport you down without your pants. I mean, unless that’s your thing. Whatever.
Moving to the first corridor intersection, this for me is when it really started to get to that point where I’m thinking “ZOMG! Holy shit I’m on the Enterprise! I’ve walked this hallway a million times in my mind!” It’s uncanny how you feel sucked right in.
As noted on the diagram, this is the main “curving corridor” which was used to such great effect on the show. With the exception of the bridge, all of the Enterprise interiors are accessible via this passageway, adding to the illusion that you’re on the actual ship.
As you hit that first intersection after exiting the transporter room, you cross the hallway and find yourself in Sickbay. It’s here that Doctor McCoy treated patients, cured diseases, and got the last word (usually).
Moving out of McCoy’s office gives you access to more of the corridor as well as the briefing room and Captain Kirk’s quarters. Both sets were redressed to serve as other shipboard locations throughout the run of the series. The quarters obviously became the berthing space for whichever character had an appropriate scene in a given episode, while the briefing room stood in for a recreation room and even a chapel.
Once you get to the end of the curving corridor, of course you have to turn and look back the way you’ve come, so that you can appreciate the full effect at work here. It’s damned eerie, ain’t it?
As we continue our tour, we begin entering the realm of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott. The hum of the ship’s mighty warp engines is just audible, adding to the effect. Before we can enter engineering proper, though, we have to go to that crazy cool “tiny set” that fans of the show remember: the Jefferies tube! It’s here that Scotty (or Kirk, on occasion), performed some miracle to save the ship from certain doom.
With the ship and the day saved, we moved on to Main Engineering. On the original show, a technique known as “forced perspective” was used to sell the idea that the ship’s engines were big and long and powerful, all while the actual set pieces were constructed in a very limited space. James and the gang were able to duplicate that effect with amazing results:
This is a good place to note that the sets are under continuous improvement. James is a stickler for accuracy, and he’s not above tearing out something and rebuilding it if it doesn’t meet his exacting specifications. Also, there are areas of the set which aren’t yet completed. Two prominent examples are the other side of the engineering set (seen only on rare occasions during the show), and the hyperbaric chamber area of Sickbay. It’s all going to look amazeballs when it’s done.
And then, finally, we arrive at the bridge. The heart of the ship, the center of the action, the jam in the Star Trek jelly roll. It was, in a word, breathtaking. Everything lit up, background sounds on a loop, all of the display screens active and showing some aspect of the ship’s operation, and so on. You press a button? It might well make a sound, or set off a red alert. Everything is real, everything is tactile. Everything was awesome. Even the forward “main viewscreen” through which we got to see so many strange new worlds, ships, and aliens every week was a fully-functional big-screen TV. We could’ve watched the game there, if we wanted. Or, you know….a Star Trek episode, and you can do it right from Captain Kirk’s chair.
After our tour, we set up tables in the lobby and laid out books to sell to interested fans. I’m happy to report that our visit attracted quite a few dedicated folks, including entire families showing up to take the tour in full Star Trek uniform regalia. Even Balok approved of that action.
What an amazingly fun day this ended up being. James and his crew went above and beyond, opening their doors and sharing the fruits of their labor and passion with us. They were so generous with their time and their creation, and the day was made all the better by so many wonderful Star Trek fans taking time out of their weekend to enjoy it with us. To cap off our visit, the tour’s event coordinator, Marybeth Ritkouski, moderated a Q&A session with all of us — on the bridge, which was just surreal. The whole thing was video recorded and should be available soon.
Some friends from StarTrek.com even made the trek (hah!) from New York City to cover the event. Well, they were there to do a story on the tour, and we just happened to be in the way so it worked out for everybody. You can read their version of the day’s shenanigans here: Visiting the Original Series Set Tour.
The best part of the day was that I got to experience all of this not just with Kevin, but also a group of friends and fellow writers, from people with whom I’ve “climbed the ladder” as our writing careers flourished largely at the same time, to a few veterans whose work I was enjoying years before I got the silly idea to try my own hand at the whole word pushing thing.
Many thanks to James Cawley and everyone who had a hand in realizing the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour. You can bet all your dilithium crystals that we’ll be back one day in the (hopefully) not too distant future.