Warp Factor Eight, Lieutenant
Coinciding with the podcast episode ‘It’s Big Enough’, number 53 for those counting, I’m releasing this detailed overview of my trip to the set of the original Starship Enterprise in Ticonderoga, New York. If you just had to know all the minutiae of my day, here it is. Enjoy.
Some weeks ago I happened upon an article about the rebuilt Star Trek Original Series sets, which have been accessible to the public at a location in Ticonderoga, New York for the better part of the last two years. Ticonderoga is just a few scant hours drive from the Pint O’ Comics studios, which aggrieved me to no end, having not been conscious of it prior. Had I been more attentive, I might have been able to appreciate this site earlier and with more breadth than present.
Regardless, Star Trek Tour (www.startrektour.com), a fully actualized rebuild of the original sets from the Desilu studio lots, taken from blueprints owned by famed costume designer William Ware Theiss, had a special event on the 23rd of June that I just had to investigate. Once again, the others in the Six-pack were unavailable to join me for Author’s Day at the Tour, which included previous Pint O’ Comics guests Keith R.A. DeCandido and Bob Greenberger, among others (see it here). Instead, I gave my friend Michael Castellano a ring, and I think I made the right call. More on that in a bit.
Coffee in hand, Michael and I left his home bright and early, with the intent on arriving around noon – which we did, with a rather uneventful drive up the NY State Thruway and beyond. Ticonderoga is a historic town, having seen much military action on the southern shores of Lake Champlain during the earliest days of the New World Colonies and American independence. I had been there once before as a kid on a family trip to visit Fort Ticonderoga, of which the memories are few and fleeting, but still attainable.
We arrived in Ticonderoga on time, but had grown mighty peckish and were searching for a place to grab grub. With no service for either of our fine technological hand-held devices, we stumbled onto the Hot Biscuit, a rustic-looking little eatery that ended up being a worthy stop. With some quality food and drink (bacon and cheddar cheese grilled sandwich? O yes!) filling our bellies, we moved on to find the Tour location, which wasn’t supposed to be too far down the road.
I’ll say this for Ticonderoga; they are not for inventive names. With such establishments as “The Pub”, or “House of Pizza” or “Optics of Ticonderoga”, you know you’re in an area of very specific directives. Still, the Tour site was not far from the Hot Biscuit, and had I not spotted the extremely large sign pointing it out (I was more than a little amused at the storefront names), we’d have driven right past it. The Star Trek Tour is housed in its own building with its own parking, so don’t be confused by the title. It is a permanent site in a lovely spot in northeastern New York State.
Quickly entering the building and greeted by friendly staff members in a variety of Star Trek uniforms, we purchased our tickets from (I came to learn later) James Cawley, the man who puts the “fan” in fandom – or even fanatic. I have to admit, both Michael and I were getting that feeling of true nerd excitement, as the energy of the place just permeates you as you enter. It’s a fairly nondescript entryway, as the building was obviously once a retail store of some sort. There are a few items for sale alongside displays of signed photos and a collection of some of the coolest original series props and ephemera I’ve ever seen in one space. The writers were lined up in front of the largest display, but most were away from their tables at the time we arrived. We were ushered in through the reverse side of the “automatic” doors by our guide, with another fan whom had been through the tour before. The doors were fully detailed out by our guide Marybeth, explaining a long-known fact how they were operated with a simple pull on a string-and-pulley system by stagehands. That’s when everything changed.
The doors opened into a specifically lit hall leading into the set of the original NCC-1701 USS Enterprise. To call it surreal to an old fan of the original series such as myself is to be sublimely understated. I have no doubt Michael felt the same, and the feeling only grew as our guide pointed out the corridor that curved off to the right, with all the proper coloring, detail work and specifics as seen on the now 50 year old television series. The hum of the engines could be heard immediately, as well as other ship sounds to fully immerse you into the tour.
Our next stop was one of the most profound, which is interesting as that feeling continued in ebbs and flows of complex highs throughout the tour. Marybeth led Michael and I (and our fellow tourist – sorry I didn’t get his name) into the Transporter Room. Every aspect of the room is there, from the console to the wall unit station to the pads on the transporter floor that remain lit. After some photos and an absolutely perfect explanation as to how the transporter effect was handled, we moved on to join another tour group in Sickbay, fully decked out with every detail in the series, along with McCoy’s office, medical research bay and hyperbaric chamber. Though the hyperbaric chamber was not a permanent set on the series, it and other sets seen in the show are being added as time, money and space allow.
We got bounced around a little from there, moving to Captain Kirk’s quarters (which doubled as other crew quarters when needed), then to the Briefing Room, the Jeffries Tube, Engineering, and the coup de grace, the Command Bridge. Each and every set build was amazing to view with all sorts of minute detail taken care of as much as possible. In Kirk’s quarters you’ll find all his background accessories, with detailed minutiae to appeal to Star Trek fans of all levels, passive and fanatical. Specifics of this sort went into every section of the set. Everything lit up, everything moved as it should, the colors were as to be expected, and it made us fans feel more than incredulous. Once Michael and I joined the larger group, you could see the reactions of shock, surprise and amazement from our fellow fans. It’s just something far beyond the pale. To explain how far my heart leapt up my chest when walking off the lift onto the bridge is just not possible. It’s an experience one has to feel for themselves. For this fan, it’s a destination I’ll be planning again in the near future, and one I can heartily recommend to anyone even remotely interested in Star Trek, regardless of which era you prefer. And yes, you can sit in the Captain’s chair.
The whole tour lasts shortly over an hour. It’s inexpensive and fully immersive. Photos are encouraged, but hands off! Some of the stuff is delicate and some of it is extremely difficult to get, besides the expense involved. Considering this was all initiated by one guy, respect the wishes of the guides. I want to see this site last a long, long time, so let’s treat it as real fans would, thanking James Cawley for the opportunity on the way out.
Once we completed the tour, I picked up some of the Precinct books from Keith DeCandido (you can get them here, and they’re so damned good!), had a fine chat with him and Bob Greenberger, then chatted with a few others from the Tour site while we waited until Bob hosted his seminar, which was held in the town hall, a short walk away. It was quite the way to close out the day, with a little exposition of Star Trek from a writer’s point of view.
James Cawley has done an amazing thing for fans of Star Trek. The Tour is a fully immersive experience that fulfils the desire of all fans of the show. It’s completely acknowledged by the owners of the franchise, Paramount. It’s a continuous build, as the men and women working on the Tour maintain and improve on the set. To hear the tale of William Shatner’s first time at the Tour and be amazed as he’d never seen a complete Bridge set (as filming would have portions removed for work) is just as interesting as how pieces were gathered for design. The Star Trek Tour is an achievement above and beyond the call of fandom.
Visit the Star Trek Tour in lovely Ticonderoga every Tuesday through Sunday 10am-6pm.
Find everything Keith R.A. DeCandido at his website here.
Read about Bob Greenberger and his upcoming works at his blog page.