The bridge, part 1: construction

“According to Nichelle Nichols, our set was a hair smaller than the original, but it took her the same number of steps to go from one end to the other.” — Gregg Hagglund

Toronto Star Trek ’76 sported a large and quite accurate replica of the Enterprise bridge. It served as the set for the presentations on the main stage and it fascinated me from the beginning of this project, because it was a big and audacious undertaking for an inaugural convention.

Nichelle Nichols on stage. Photo by Joseph Aspler

The main designers and builders were Gregg Hagglund and Phillip Stephens. The pair were mentioned in the Ovation section of the program: “For Gregg Hagglund and Phill Stephens who designed and built the Bridge of the Enterprise especially for this convention – using all their spare time over the past nine weeks…”

Stephens was a prop designer who worked on the (it must be said) terrible Canadian sci-fi show The Starlost. He died at a fairly young age. Michael Wallis said “He was the guy who kept refusing to build the giant ship’s wheel they wanted on the bridge (on The Starlost). He was a great guy.”

A screencap from the closing credits of The Starlost, episode 3.
Stephens’ first credit on The Starlost was for episode 3, The Goddess Calabra.

Grant Millard was a teenager when he met Stephens at the con, and the two were friends for many years. “He was amazing at model making. He was on the cusp of something great. He was such a smart guy, and he was so passionate about what he did. His death was a waste of amazing potential.”

A black-and-white portrait of a young man, Hagglund, with a beret and moustache.

If you Google Gregg Hagglund, the main hit is an exhaustive article detailing his history with the Church of Scientology. Hagglund opposed the church and suffered for it, as members harassed him and his family. Read the article; it is quite interesting.

I tried to get in touch with Hagglund for a long time, with no luck. Then he contacted me after this site went live, and I have now updated a number of the articles here. He added immeasurably to the following story.

Bridge building

Pearse and her friends had seen a bridge set at conventions in the US, and her initial idea was to rent it for Toronto. Hagglund told me the guy who owned it “was not a Star Trek fan” and he wanted $30,000 to bring it up to Toronto for one day of use. “When I told Phill that, he said ‘We can build one for a hell of a lot less.’”

The bridge was constructed at Clarkson Machinery, an equipment import business owned by Tony and Elizabeth Pearse and located on Dixie Road in Mississauga. Hagglund was the office secretary and supervised the building of the mockup, which The Globe and Mail said cost $1,500. The set was constructed in sections and the Ottawa Citizen reported on July 22, 1976 that it was 35 by 20 feet (10.7 by 6.1 meters).

That $1,500 number is only part of the story, Hagglund told me.

A lot of the suppliers, when they found out what we were doing, cut the costs, and that’s why the materials were only $1,500. We got some free lumber and screws, and all of the plastics we used were free, because the company that manufactured plastic things for people had off cuts, and they allowed us to rummage through the bin for free and the guy who did the cutting said, “I think I am going to make a lot of mistakes tomorrow.” We gave him a template and he said, “For a dollar a cut, I’ll cut all these for you.” So, we got $2,000 or $3,000 worth of plastic for about $10, because he was a Star Trek fan.”

Even the paint was comped; the crew paid for it but the paint guy liked Star Trek, so he gave them their money back.

The Nimoy foot

I had thought the design was based on the Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph but not so, Hagglund said.

We had the dimensions from the Technical Manual, but Phill didn’t want to use them. He said “It’s crap. I know how sets are built for TV and…I suspect this is all wrong.”

He said “We need to find something that we know the absolute dimensions of, then we have to find that object against any portion of the set and then we can compare that to everything else.” We were brainstorming what we could use at Elizabeth’s place and she said, “How about Leonard Nimoy’s hand?” There were dozens of pictures of Nimoy’s hand on the set, so I asked, “We’re going to ask Leonard to send us measurements of his hand?” and she said “We don’t need to. I have it.”

Elizabeth had offered to knit a pair of gloves for Nimoy a few years earlier and he sent her a tracing of his hand. “So, we had Leonard Nimoy’s hand size exactly and we extrapolated from that, using photos of him on the set. We called it the ‘Nimoy foot.’

Later, they found photos with props, like the phaser, on the bridge and they got measurements of the original props.

“And according to Nichelle Nichols, our set was a hair smaller than the original, but it took her the same number of steps to go from one end to the other.”

Michael Wallis spent a weekend working on the set. “I came in from Waterloo to cut and hammer and paint things. It was designed and built mostly by Gregg Hagglund as a working stage-production set. The design was…made to look as close as we could to [the original]. It was fun to do.”

The set included the captain’s chair and podium, and the back stretched from the console beside Spock’s station (labeled Navigation Station in the Star Fleet Technical Manual, above) to Communications and across the turbolift to the Engineering and Environmental stations. It did not have the helm and navigation console.

The construction crew was originally doing its work at night and disassembling the set every morning, returning the space to the company for its daily operations. After weeks of this, a large workspace opened up next door when a company that sharpened skates closed down for the season. The crew and the bridge pieces moved there, and the pace picked up.

Phill Stephens and Gregg Hagglund in a photo published by The Mississauga Times on July 21, 1976. Scan supplied by Chris Meredith.

Lighting the way

Chris Meredith was a 20-year-old sci-fi fan when he met Pearse in 1973 at a one-day con held in the basement of Humberside Collegiate. A few years later, he was tasked with bringing the bridge set “to life with lights, sound and controls.” And that was a challenge, Meredith told me.

Lighting was a nightmare. It was the ’70s. There were no flatscreen monitors or electronic sequencers. Personal computers were a decade away. Everything had to be individually socketed, wired, soldered, switched and powered. There were eight lit background panels per station. Each one was reproduced as closely as possible from stills and screen photos using coloured gels, then fronted onto a light box, egg-crated inside to isolate each lit section and lit by individually socketed incandescent bulbs. To simplify things (and keep them in budget) the lights were a combination of steady-state and self-blinking bulbs, arranged to approximate the sequencing of the displays on the television bridge.

Each of the eight displays on each station could be turned on and off by screen-accurate rocker switches on each console. The rest of the consoles were dressed with cast acrylic non-functional “buttons” backlit from below, as on the television bridge. I hand-built the rotating backlit moiré screen on Spock’s science console. The overhead and under-console lighting was clip-on incandescent lamps.

Work continued until July 22, the Thursday before opening day. That afternoon, the bridge sections were trucked from Mississauga to the Royal York’s freight elevator for overnight assembly.