The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 3

When I was born, Walt Disney had already passed away. So when I have an opportunity to talk with someone who knew him, I want to hear the truth directly from their memories of what Walt was really like. In this third and final installment of The Bob Gurr Interview, Bob shares some of his first-hand memories of his time designing many of Disneyland’s most iconic attraction vehicles. 

If you missed Part 1 of The Bob Gurr Interview, CLICK HERE.

If Part 2 of The Bob Gurr Interview is where you want to be, CLICK HERE

 

Freddy Martin: What do you wish that people knew about Walt that few other people know?

 

Bob Gurr: You know the funny thing, you know I worked with him for 12 years, and I would say he was about as open and ordinary as anybody you’d ever run across. Everything about him, in a way, it was kind of a paradox, because when, one moment you’re with him and/or you’re doing something and he just seems like such an ordinary guy in a way. You know, the use of language the choice of food, the little expressions that, y’know, a typical Midwestern kid would use.

And then at other times, where he’d be in a place where there was other people present at the company’s and corporations and stuff, and they’re all awestruck by him because they see him as a god. And Walt was, it was kind of funny in a way, and I’d seen this personally at other times, where he was very aware that people perceived him kind of like a real great guy. After all, he invented Snow White, didnt he? Y’know, he invented Mickey Mouse. And he’s done a Disneyland and now he’s trying to do an EPCOT.  

 

But in order for Walt to have a conversation with somebody, he’s got to be able to have everybody at the same level. And I would see him deliberately loosen his tie and leave it slightly askew. Or sometimes we’d be someplace where he was wearing a little hat, he had a pork pie hat, he’d just wad up in his pocket. Or when he’d take it out, he’d flop it on his head and not even re-adjust it. Just wherever it hit, it hit. Because it would send like little subtle signals that he’s okay. He’s okay to talk to. It’s okay to get close.

 

One day in Pittsburgh, we were at a party after a business meeting with Westinghouse up on a Hilltop Bar. And the bar was not very big. It was a little bit too small for the size team we had from Disney. We had 13 of us and the guys from Westinghouse, so you have to stand a little bit too close with your scotch mist in the afternoon.  

 

Now think about safe space between people. Like when you, sometimes somebody will come a little too close to you and you can’t define that space. But you know when your space has been invaded and somebody’s talking right at you, it makes you nervous. Alright, well, that’s a human thing a lot of people don’t even think of. But that little distance of space is a little different for everybody.

 

Well, I saw Don Burnham, the chairman of the board at Westinghouse, with his drink talking directly to Walt, and I’m in the conversation, and I notice the guy’s lower lip starts to quiver. He starts to sputter. (laughs) And Walt backs up a little bit, y’know kind of casually. And I notice, yeah, boy this place is tight. So many of the other places we’re not like that. That was the first time I noticed that. Then thereafter, I could see that, Oh yeah, people do get uncomfortable around some people.

 

And boy! Around Walt Disney, people that are very lofty can suffer the same thing as a Disney fan.

 

So a lot of people ask these kind of questions about Walt Disney and I think it’s probably because, Lord knows how many books have been written about him how many magazine articles. So I would say the majority of the world, when you say the word “Walt Disney,” it’s mostly misinformation.

 

And obviously the only people that could tell you something that was different are only the people that are still alive today, and which there’s not a lot of us left.

But I can assure you that’s the way it was, from the day I met him. I was never introduced to him. I was just suddenly, I was there working on the car, the little autopia car. It was just very simple.

 

And then I watched the way he worked with people. And I’d say around him I would say the only time I was close to nervous was, I had to drive one of the company station wagons with him in the back seat behind me down Highland Avenue, which was a wiggly Street. And I think it used to have railroad tracks in it. And I thought, “Oh my God! I don’t want to crash this car. I’ll kill Walt Disney. He’s sitting right behind me!”

 

So there’s some nervousness there. But you know, to Walt, it’s just Walt.

 

Freddy Martin: What you just said about Walt Disney was profound. “He was ordinary.” That’s not what people think. They think he’s a legend. No, he’s ordinary.

 

Bob Gurr: I know, but see maybe once or twice a week he’d come in my office. Y’know, I had a big office. I had a leather chair. He’d just come in. He liked to walk around, see what other people are doing. Some days he’d walk in, never said a word, just look around and walk out. Other days, he’d stand and look what I’m doing or sometimes he’d just sit down, and then I’d go grab the little stool and go ahead and sit down, see what he wanted. So just as ordinary as could be.

I can only tell you what I know about him from personal experience.

 

Freddy Martin: What was the last conversation you had with him?

 

Bob Gurr: Well, there was the Omnimover project, we were designing what later became the “Atommobile” for the Monsanto attraction. And the president of Monsanto, he and Walt kinda had words once in awhile because they were still trying to refine what the guy from Monsanto wanted and what Walt thought he ought to have.

 

And I’d built a cardboard model, a full size one of the shape of the car body with the speakers up in like the corners of it. And I made it one way and Walt says, “Gee, I like it! I think that’s good.”

 

And this guy comes over and, y’know, who am I to tell the guy that Walt liked that and the guy says, “Oh no. I would like to have it this way. I want these ears to stand up a little bit more here. Can you cut that up and put it back together with some tape or something?”

 

And I did it! And I think within a couple of days Walt comes in and says, “Well what did you do that for?”

 

And he was not happy. you know? And I had to say that “Mr. President,” he said to do it. And Walt had some words that I can’t really remember, but the look on his face was like God damn it this is my park. This is the way we do it!” (Laughs)

 

I don’t want to get between two guys that are disagreeing, you know? And I’m the one with the tape and scissors!

 

Note: I asked Bob about his experience with Walt’s passing at this point, but he politely declined to answer. His response was very direct and guarded. It seemed that he has decided that questions of this nature are too intimate and personal. I respectfully moved on with the next question.

 

Freddy Martin: You’ve been honored with a window on Main Street. Tell us about it.

 

It’s on Center Street. You go up [Main] Street at Disneyland, you come to the first block and make a right turn. Look to the left, it’s a little narrow building, has one window. But it has an actual, dimensional model of a bicycle bolted to the wall next to the window. Normally everybody gets a window if you’re going to have a window, they just have a window.

And then the guys in the machine shop in the back knew that I was a mountain biker, and so they volunteered on their own time, they scrambled up some parts and built this cute little funky bicycle that’s not recognizable as anything authentic, but it’s cute. And they bolted it on the wall.

 

And right after the ceremony they walked in and they said, “Hey, do you like the bike? I found the parts. I built that for ya, and they let me bolt it on the building.”

Oh, that set off a ruckus! Now everybody after that wants a dimensional sign, of course. I guess two years later Rolly Crump and Don Edgren, they got [windows], Rolly got a nice sign in front of his, so that kind of set the stage.

 

Freddy Martin: Is there a place in Disneyland that still feels to you like it did way back in 1955?

 

Bob Gurr: Up until a couple years ago The Rivers of America was exactly that. But the rivers of America, they tell me, got chopped up, modified put in a railroad bridge, and behind the bushes is some alien city. That’s all I know. But The Rivers of America is the prime one.

 

That is so, so Walt. It’s leisurely. It’s got a lot of nature. We still have immovable concrete deer. We sort of had a strange Indian village, that was very much how you’d tell stories in the fifties of that nature. And we had a great attraction that’s on water. And there was no rush. That’s the main one.

But the other things that are missing that is also “so Walt” that wasn’t necessarily there to begin with, but it’s so Walt was Granny’s cabin and the goat farm. They were later, of course, but they were very representative of the same feeling that a guest would have wandering around back there. It’s much the way with Knotts has never, almost never change their ghost town area because it’s “Walter Knott.”

 

But up to about 2015 Walt’s park was pretty much Walt’s park. But it is changing. Y’know, the world changes, companies get big. Disney is the premier entertainment empire on the entire planet. That’s its job.

 

Freddy Martin: Is there anything at Disneyland the you would improve if you could?

 

Bob Gurr: You know me better than to ask me a hypothetical question. (laughs)

 

I picked that up from Harry Truman. Harry Truman was the master of that because Washington politics is murder and nobody liked Harry Truman. And he dispensed everybody with just what I told you. Because the way he couched it which I vividly remember. “You boys know me better than that. You know I don’t answer hypothetical questions.”

 

Freddy Martin: You can’t fix it so why answer it.

 

Bob Gurr: That’s right. And the other half of it is, what did Bob Dylan say? Don’t look back. He wrote a book, “Don’t Look Back.”

 

Freddy Martin: Speaking of looking back, tell me how the WaltLand tours came about.

Note: Once per month, Bob leads a guided bus tour through Glendale and Burbank to various sites where Walt lived, worked, and played while he was alive. It’s called WaltLand Disney Bus Tours. Learn more at WaltLand.com.

 

Bob Gurr: Oh, sometime in the spring of 2016, Ernie phones up and said, “Hey Bob, I have an idea.”

 

I knew he did those ghost tours in the City of Orange. He said I have an idea for a tour of Walt’s early life, the original homes, and where the Hyperion Studios, and the Merry-Go-Round and the barn, and all that. And I says, “Ernie, I’ve been doing that for 17 years for family and friends. I have a standard route that I have done.”

I never envisioned you could make a bus tour out of it. So, within a couple of days, we got in his car and I had drafted up a route and figured out a timing chart preliminarily, because I’ve been doing it for so long. And it was near identical to what he’d been doing, or wanted to do, and we tested it. And the timing was perfect. We only made one adjustment a couple months later and that’s all we ever did to it.

 

And so there it was, a thing that’s been going on and he had an idea and the idea was so parallel. And I thought we might do one or two of them and it turned out this thing never ends! I think we just did the 14th or 15th one I think.

 

Freddy Martin: What’s next for Bob Gurr?

 

Bob Gurr: Part of it you never know because there’s all kinds of things pop up all the time. I know I’ve got a [manager]. Y’know Ernie’s my manager now. I kidded last year and I says, “Every time I get these questions from people I need to have an agent! Because Marty Sklar, many years ago, would snarl at us and say, “We gotta stop doing this free stuff for the Disney Company. They never pay us. We gotta get ourselves an agent.”

Bob Gurr signs posters at the start of his WaltLand Guided Bus Tour in April 2018. Photo courtesy of the great Dann Gillen. Follow Dann on Instagram @danngillen ©2018 Dann Gillen, all rights reserved.

 

But he never got around to really doin it. And so then I thought, well then, okay… Ernie’s the agent so we’ll see what he finds.

 

Freddy Martin: You started with a passion for cars. Are you still passionate about them?

 

It never changed. I had a Model A Ford I did extensive engine work on it. I did extensive engine work on my ‘35 Ford. And then by the late seventies I had an older Rolls-Royce and I thought, Well, that’s a 6 cylinder engine. It needs some more work, had a hundred forty-three [thousand] miles on it… It’s only a Rolls-Royce. It’s only parts. So I take it all apart, rebuild the engine, put it all back in the car and start her up. Runs normal. Doesn’t smoke anymore and that was a 70 day job.

I’m not afraid to tackle anything. One time in 1950 I think in ‘53 I had a something ‘51 MG. I thought, I’ll make this go faster. I’ll take the four-cylinder engine out and get a Willy’s F-head 6 and put it in there and do an engine swap. And I did an engine swap in about a month and I had a much faster car. People that fuss with cars and motorcycles, they usually figure things out.

 

Freddy Martin: Where’s the theme park world going next?

 

Well, in the broader sense, I don’t see anything drastically different because we’re still filling the world with theme parks. You see Walt was the first to do a real modern theme park, even though Tivoli Gardens and other places had existed for a very, very long time. But the idea of this generic theme park thing which would fit any size, any country, anywhere, y’know, what’s Disney got? 10, 11 of them now?

 

And it’s almost certain that the next big country that gets filled up is going to be India because there are so many people in India. Y’know, they’re going to grow in parallel to China. There’s so many theme parks in China. There’s so many companies in the Themed Entertainment Association. Vendors, they’re so busy all over China. And now Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they’re all starting to compete with one another.

 

And if you follow MBS, that’s Mohammed bin Salman, the guys only, what? 30? And he’s the Prince of Arabia. And he was just here for a couple weeks, here in the country going around talking to everybody. Yeah, he wants to make sure that his population, the Arabs are 29 million people or so, that they’re going to grow in parallel with the rest of the world, with all the things that are enjoyable in life. And well, they’ve got oil money and they they still need to generate other money here eventually in the decades ahead.

 

I think, looking way ahead, when we’ve got the countries that can support it, we will sort of have done the infill of conventional theme parks. And I would love to come back in a hundred years and see what that next wave of innovation [is going to be].

 

It’s almost like when you have something and you infill all the stuff and now somebody says, “Ok, we’ve done that. Now what?” The “now what” usually leads to some people coming up with some brilliant stuff.

 

I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I see it’s way down the road. But it’s not there yet.

So there might be some kind of stuff, obviously some of its going to be virtual reality. But virtual reality, I think, is coming to a point where it’s going to be very generic in another couple of decades in a way. And it’s almost like there’s going to be a semi-throwback to more naturalistic environments that are entertaining.

 

I can’t tell you very much, but I was paid recently for an entire morning with probably one of the most important, far-out theme park designers in the world, and I can’t say anything more than that. But that was the thrust I could see that they’re headed at. And this person has always been in the forefront.

 

So, all I can share with you, is that, yeah, I might be the 86 year-old guy on the bus, but I did get invited to poke my nose into that next wave of the future.

 

Because it’s out there. ~

 

Many thanks to Bob Gurr for his time and generosity. Connect with him at BobGurr.com

Thanks to Bob’s manager, Ernie Alonzo for arranging the time and for giving Bob a platform to share his fascinating stories with us. Click the image below to get on board the next WaltLand Tour.  – FM

 

If you missed Part 1 of The Bob Gurr Interview, CLICK HERE.

If Part 2 of The Bob Gurr Interview is where you want to be, CLICK HERE

The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 2

When you have a legendary Disney designer on the line, you never know what amazing stories you might hear. In this second installment (2 of 3) of The Bob Gurr Interview, Bob tells how he thinks through a project at the beginning, and how it never abides by a prescribed process.

He reveals some of his most incredible show pieces made for clients other than Disney. Can you say King Kong, the King of Pop, and Queen? And he tells how he keeps a careful eye out for that most deadly of Imagineering traps, no, not hippos. Hubris.

Click HERE if you missed The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1

Click HERE to skip ahead to The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 3.

 

Freddy Martin: In building the nuts and bolts of somebody else’s dreams, how did you work through some of the big ideas?

 

Bob Gurr: Well, first off you’re okay. You didn’t say the word “process.” When I’m doing my lectures and somebody says, “Bob tell us about your process,” I start laughing, and look at them. And then they catch on that they’d asked a boo-boo question.*

 

So many people are highly educated, they’re trained in college, they got a 4-year course. Everything is by rote. In other words, if you start with A and you end with Z, and you do all the steps in between, ergo, you will have a successful outcome of whatever it is you’re doing.

 

Well, that’s the theory, but I can assure you that’s not the way the world works.

 

And specific[ally] at Disney, and for the 27 years that I was there, I jumped on whatever it took to get started on anything, and modified it as I went – [without] a total idea of “process.” And that methodology, if you want to call it that, went 45 years of doing things exactly the same way, in which you do not have an organized way of doing anything.

 

Because every job is different. Every client is different. Every question is different. Some are big and take years. Some are quickie and might take a day or two.

 

You do whatever it takes, making it up as you go, based upon the goal that you see the thing is ultimately going to have to go through and everything that’s involved in it.

 

The only thing that might be [considered] “process” would be, as you’re looking very quickly at everything that’s going to be involved, you sort of form a general idea as to what our, what we would call, “long lead” items or expensive items or things that are items that would be a make-or-break as differentiated from a lot of conventional stuff that will come along in its own time.

 

And that way you can automatically prioritize what are the big sticky ones you’re going to jump on immediately, to get those solutions underway, so that you can then share it with anybody else working on it, generally where you’re headed and what has to be done first and why.

 

For example, later in life I had this 26 year-old kid who can do a moon dance, a guy by the name of Michael Jackson. He comes over. I show him around our place for two hours, and then he asked me if I can do a custom lighting device.

 

I know nothing about lighting, but I’d be willing to learn. And within two days we were having a business meeting to seal the deal. And then he says, “What do you need?”

 

I said, “Well I need fifty thousand bucks in the bank from you tomorrow, because this is a 9 week job and the hardest parts to get that are very expensive, that are long lead, are a thing called servo valves for some of the pneumatic controls. And to get this in time, it takes several weeks to get em, but I’ve got to order em tomorrow morning and we gotta have a deposit paid.”

 

It’s things like that. In other words if you had a process, and you were a trained engineer, and you had a license, well first off, you would lay out your parameters of the job. You’d begin to identify the elements and then you would do estimates of labor and materials. And then you would assign people to it, and then you would gather a budget, and then you would submit the budget, D’you follow me?

 

No! Don’t do it that way. Goodness sakes!

 

Sometimes you have to, on complicated jobs that are going to take a couple of years. Yes, you better do it that way. But you can see the futility of applying a standardized way of working across the board as if you were a licensed trained engineer. The less training you’ve got means generally, I think people have their minds really wide open as to, “Okay, what do we do next? What do we jump on?”

 

Freddy Martin: What did you build for Michael Jackson?

Bob Gurr: Do you remember The Victory Tour back in 1984? It went to, I believe, 27 different venues for the entire summer. A massive amount of trucks. It’s still the biggest rock and roll tour show ever done in America because it had so many sets. It was such a massive, massive collection of stuff, normally in the lighting business you write out your lighting plan, and you select the instruments, and most times you rent the instruments at a lot of venues. And then you rent the lighting trusses and all that stuff, because this is store-bought, catalog stuff that’s available all over the world.

 

He [Michael Jackson] wanted something that is not rentable. He wanted something that is different than anybody else is going to have. And he’d been looking at people outside the rock and roll industry and he happened to wind up looking at our shop (which at that time I think we were called, let’s see, it was before The Sequoia Company, Applied Entertainment Systems. That’s what it was) because we’d done a little of the rock and roll stuff. We reworked some of lighting equipment for Queen, a band called Queen.

 

So he was looking sort of outside of the industry. And then I guess he was kind of surprised to see, “Oh my gosh! They’re doing some Queen stuff.” So then that’s when he, at the end of the tour, he just went off the top of his head, and said, “Could you do lighting? It was the same thing as the business of going to Disney. “Well I don’t.” I didn’t, but I said, “Yes.” Because you always say, “Yes.”

 

So it was a 9-week, very fast job. Learned a ton. Got to meet a whole bunch of people in this industry. A lot of them from England to do with lighting, audio, set direction, y’know, putting stuff together, taking it apart. I learned how roadies work, all that kind of stuff. Great people to learn from.

 

And out of that job came another job which was only 5 weeks long. The guy that designed the custom stages for Michael, a guy name of John McGraw, he was working on a deal for a flying saucer for the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Los Angeles in August of 84.

 

And then he ran out of time and money, but he had a lot of vendors pulled together on the “if come,” nobody paid. And then he said, “Oop, can’t do it, so why don’t you take the job?”

 

And I said, “Why sure, I’ll do it.” (laughs)

 

So I wound up with a 50-foot diameter flying saucer held by a helicopter and more lighting stuff. But this time I knew more about lighting so it went quick.

 

Freddy Martin: I’m going to have to look that up on YouTube.

 

Oh yeah! There’s pretty good videos of it that last a couple minutes and it gives you an idea, “What in the world was that?”

 

Freddy Martin: What was your biggest challenge?

 

Bob Gurr: Y’know, that’s the other word I don’t respond to is the word “challenge.” Challenge implies that you’re stuck and you’ve been brought to a halt.

 

I’ve always seen that in the other way around. It’s like when you get in a discussion with some people about a new project up potential thing to do, I can see several ways to do it very quickly in your mind, if you’re talking and looking at something.

 

So by the time somebody says, “Well hey! Yeah let’s go do this thing. Yeah, hey, let’s do it. Okay, make a deal. We’ll do it,” you actually might have two, three, or four general ideas. And the challenge, if there was a challenge at that moment, you would say, “Well, which one has the most likelihood of being successful and can get going the easiest?” Knowing that, if the one you just picked starts to bomb out in a day or two, or in a week or something, don’t worry about it. You have these other ideas, We can shift over to the other ideas.

 

So it’s kind of a long-winded way of saying I don’t ever recall seeing a challenge. And the only thing that would have come close is when you’re designing something that’s super simple and it’s only a two-week job or something and then suddenly a part of it doesn’t work.

 

That’s usually because you trap yourself in your own hubris.

 

And those are the ones you that I absolutely hated. I don’t think there was more than just two or three. Cause I really did not like the idea of I’m standing there and the shop guys are there and their money is burning and the time is burning and my thing doesn’t work. And then the look on everybody’s face, if you can visualize this in a way, they generally know my stuff works. And then, all of a sudden, they’re standing there and my stuff doesn’t work. The look on their face kills. You know, you’ve seen people, just like, “Okay smarty-pants. Oh look, you bombed out. We’re standing here and we’re watching.”

 

In one case it took 2 hours to come up with a brand new design and they stood and waited and watched me draw. (laughs)

 

The only worst one was we were putting King Kong together at Universal. We had the legs installed. We had the whole upper middle body installed and we were getting ready to install the torso, which was a big assembly and it had never made it up to the pelvis frame because we couldn’t do it in the shop. It was physically impossible. Everything else had been pre-fitted.

 

And this great big thing is hanging from a big crane and we were starting to set it in place and there’s a bind! There’s about a half inch of metal in the wrong place and I’m mortified. And so I look at the crane operator and I say, “Oh, just a minute. Hang on. Hang on. Go get a grinder. We’ll get this thing cleared here. Just give me a little bit of time.”

 

And the guy looks at me and says. “Mr. Gurr, the crane is $600 an hour. Take all the time you want.” (laughs)

 

If there was a challenge, it was like, “Oh God! How can I make this thing less than $600?”

 

It was only about 15 minutes, and I would just grinding off a little piece. But it was something that had not been pre-fitted. Cause I like to prefit everything. Because if you’re doing a field installation and and it’s big and expensive and there’s a big crew, your burning money. So you try to not get in that fix.

 

Freddy Martin: As a Jungle Cruise Skipper, I’m always curious about Jungle Cruise stories. Did you have anything to do with the Jungle Cruise?

 

Bob Gurr: Jungle Cruise? Yes.

One of my more spectacular, unsuccessful pieces of show action equipment was a couple of charging hippos. And this was long before good animation systems were available, and I was trying to do something – this was in like 1957 or 8, I think.

We were trying to do stuff where the hippos would come out on two different tracks to attack the boats. And then, when the boats go by, the hippos would turn and go back to where they were, and then turn around and reset themselves. And I was trying to do it with a spring set up, so that it went out one way and came back another way.

Due to the unpredictability of, y’know, falling leaves in the machinery, and water, y’know, and you never know what the hippos were gonna do anyway, every once in awhile the Jungle Cruise guys would come back with a report to the management and say, “You got to do something with the hippos!”

“What’s wrong with the hippos?”

“Well, some days they come out backwards and they moon everybody in the boat!”

And so the mooning hippos had to go. (Laughs)

Freddy: (Laughs) There’s a “backside of water” joke in there.

Bob Gurr: You probably caught my joke on the bus tour, where we stood out there (behind Imagineering headquarters in Glendale) and we talked about 1401 Flower –  everyone knows 1401 Flower, and this bland colored building here, “That’s the backside of 1401!”

 

Which is about as important.

 

Freddy Martin: You were there with the original team that mapped out Epcot. How did Future World and World Showcase actually come together?

 

Bob Gurr: Epcot was a very lengthy development. It was, I would probably say, the classical, long-winded committee project with people coming and going. Obviously then opinions would change from week to week. You know it was just a long, long arm wrassle [sic].

 

The company figured out about where they were going to put Epcot, so that pretty much stayed the same. And then we had a place called TCC or Transportation Control Center where the Monorails, and the parking lot trams, and the ferry boats that go over to the Magic Kingdom. That’s kind of a central place.

 

And there was an area Southwest of that juncture where the land was very good. Everything [else] down there was pretty much sinkholes.

 

And somebody started an idea where, and I think they did refer to it as, like a “world showcase.” This was like an extra activity. It had nothing to do with Epcot.

 

And the idea was that it was going to be a round installation where if you were in the center of the thing, if you look all around at these different countries, they all had the same width frontage. But if you look at it in the plan view, some countries might be tiny and some might be massive. And of course the property would be like expanding pieces of pie going way out pretty much unrestricted behind the opening. And they made they made models. They made drawings of this stuff, nice paintings. And somebody from marketing, I guess, comes in and says, “What makes you think all these competing civilizations are going to share the same front window?”

 

 

I mean it was such an obvious, obvious fact of history. But everybody was so close to the idea of this thing, nobody bothered to draw back and look at the historic reasons why civilizations fight to kill one another. And they’re still doing it!

 

You know, we’ve got the Ayatollahs, y’know, are bound and determined that, y’know, the Shiites are going to beat up the Sunnis, even though the Sunnis got them outnumbered by 5 to 1. But they’re not going to give up. That still goes on and on and on. You know, that’s just the way civilizations behave.

 

The United States says, “Well, we’re on top. We’ll be on the top forever and nobody can challenge us… Hello! China? Who? Who’s China?? What? How many? What? You got a billion people? You got a big Market! Let’s sell you something!” (laughs)

 

Well, what happened was, one day John DeCuir Jr was working on the job – he had a famous father. That model (World Showcase) just sort of slid over into the Epcot area and they said, “Well, it’s different. Well, we’ll put a lake between them. And they built quite a few models and then one day somebody said, “How big is this? It looks good on the floor, here in the model [shop] on the table. How big is this?”

 

And then they went out and they measured how big it really is and they had to cut the whole thing in two! They were making it twice as big as you could do it, (laughs) and they’d built models and drawings and everything before somebody said, “Well, how big is it?”

 

I remember that was, sort of, everybody looked at everybody and everybody went, “Oops!”

 

Freddy Martin: Wow! They were dreaming way too big.

 

Bob Gurr: Yeah, so designers, you know, there’s a hubris in every endeavor throughout history. I imagine, y’know, there’s a reason why the Greeks invented the word hubris, cause you know, you can be good at what you’re doing and one day you will fall on your Plutarch.  

 

And it’s something you really, really have to pay attention to. Don’t let that happen to you.

 

You know we’ve got a famous guy that’s got a rocket company. It’s very successful and he’s going to build a half million cars a year and he can’t even get the first cars to work… Mr. Musk, up there. He made some assumptions that, ergo, if robots are good for some things well, ergo, there good for everything.

 

So he said, “Oh, well then we’ll have the cars final assembly. We don’t need people to put the parts together. We’ll have the robots put the parts together, you know, the self assemblies of course will build the car. And he says, “It will be so perfect. We don’t need to build a prototype, pre-production pilot line to prove it out. We’ll just save all that time and money. Hmmm, read the continuing story of Mr. Musk’s Tesla Model 3.

 

Well, I’ve been up to the factory. I met Musk years ago. And I’ve got a lot of friends with Teslas, but I follow two things; the technical decision-making side and the financial side.

 

So that hubris is there, and I’ve got burned a couple of times, but not too bad.

 

As long as you’re on that subject, one of the things about while you’re designing stuff, you’re in a constant reiteration, literally hourly as you’re doing stuff. You keep going around and around and around, looking at the stuff, trying to say, “What is wrong with this? What is the Achilles heel of everything I’m sketching, or thinking about doing?”

 

And you go round and round. And you got to do that all the time, cause you want to be the first person to find the Achilles heel in your designs and then fix them before anybody knows about it. You don’t want to know that you’re a proud and famous designer and have someone else point that out after you spent the time and money.

 

So this anti-hubris thing is, I think the people are pretty good if they pick that up early in life.

 

Click HERE to jump to The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 3.

Click HERE if you missed The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1

*Full disclosure: I did actually ask Bob what his “process” was, but he somehow missed it. I edited it out above because it was confusing.

The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1

Some days you’re just going through the motions. No big deal. But some days, you get to interview Bob Gurr.

Bob Gurr is the wildly energetic and witty industrial designer who created the vehicles for most of your favorite Disney attractions. From the Autopia cars and the Monorail to the Main Street Omnibus and the Haunted Mansion’s Doom Buggies, Bob’s drawings and mechanical intuition brought them to life.

He’s an official Disney Legend (the Disney Kingdom’s equivalent of Knighthood) and one of the last living designers of Walt’s original theme park dream-come-true, Disneyland.

I got to know Bob via his guided bus tour through Walt Disney’s Los Angeles stomping grounds. When I asked him if he would interview with me, I expected a polite “no.” Instead, and to my great surprise, Bob said, “Yes!”

It turns out that saying “yes” is Bob’s M.O. 

In this first installment of The Bob Gurr Interview, we meet a World War II kid with an endless curiosity for machines that go, and and a penchant to follow after anything that interests him. That’s what led him to his first job at Disney, designing the vehicles for Disneyland’s Autopia. 

 

Freddy Martin: What motivated your curiosity in planes, trains and automobiles as a kid?

 

Bob Gurr: You remember we started the tour over on Los Feliz Boulevard before we went over to the Lyric Avenue housing sites, I pointed out that we lived on the hill, up on the right, just to two blocks down from Walt.

 

I do remember two things when I was like, my father said I was 18 months old, I knew the sound of the metal bells on the front of a Good Humor ice cream truck (laughs). It was something in tune, that I’d hear that jingle and then I’d make a big ruckus. And then, of course, they’d take me out there and buy me an ice cream. And that was kind of a regular thing, so I was like, (beginning to understand) “Okay, okay!”

 

It was an horizontal bar with bells, and had like a string on it. It was not electronic, I mean it was really bells on a truck!

 

And at the same time, I’d be out in the yard sometimes and an airplane would fly over and I was just entranced when I saw something! Because, obviously later on, from where the Grand Central Air Terminal is, the aircraft would take off and fly to the South, which meant they went right over Grandma’s house.

 

So those are two of the most vivid, vivid memories, very very early on. And then sometime not long after that, but before we moved to Glendale in 1934, it was cars! I was just fascinated with cars.

 

And then there was actually a fourth thing that I do recall. My grandmother was getting some painting done inside the house. And there was a truck that showed up that was configured like an old fashioned banana wagon cart. Y’know, it’s got a bed on the back and it’s got a canvas roof on it. In there was a compressor for compressing air for the paint. And this thing had open connecting rods and a crankshaft and somehow I was fascinated and completely terrified by it. Couldn’t get near it.

 

So those are the seeds that were strictly visual. There was the first clue. And as children’s synapses develop and are filling up by the millions a day, those got locked into my brain real quick.

 

Freddy Martin: Tony Baxter recently talked about the importance of being 12 and how, when he was 12, he started modeling things. That’s when he started to get ideas of who he might be as he grew up. Who were you at 12 and where were you headed at the time?

 

Bob Gurr: Well, at 12, I would have been, lemme see, I’ll do some math here. I would have been building model airplanes for about 5 years by the time I became Tony’s age where he started modeling things.

 

Let’s see. 12 years old? That would have been 1943. Okay, well World War II has been going for 2 years. I’m utterly fascinated by it. And in the third grade, just before the war, before Pearl Harbor, I was making model airplanes and I was a troublemaker. And I got thrown out of the third grade and I was immediately put into this Military Academy as incorrigible.

 

But the good part was, they had a little shack on the marching field where there was model airplane kits available that the students could build. So thereafter, I thought, “Boy, the more you misbehave you have more opportunities to do stuff.”  

 

At the same time, the classes were very small. The teachers were men and they had ties, and we had to wear wear ties. And instead of just doing a stupid test like you did in the third grade, they gave us little projects we had to research and figure things out. And that, really, I vividly remember that, because my assignment that the teacher gave me was, “Go to the library and read about oil wells and see if you can make a model of an oil well derrick.

 

In hindsight, what that said [to me] was, what if students were given stuff that they could think about, go learn about, and then go DO something with it rather than sitting there with a standard, y’know, arithmetic & spelling (sheet) over and over and over. I do remember the third grade. That got me out of there.

 

Do you know doing multiplication tables? When you multiply three numbers by three numbers? If you’ve been shown that in 5 minutes, ok! You know how to do that on the day you need it. Why do you sit there and do it over and over and over for a test paper? I mean that is really dumb!

 

So [I left] the really dumb public school system, where you do multiplication tables, three by threes… and [then] I’m building a model airplane in a military academy!

 

So going back to being 12 years old, you can see that by the time I reached, 12 I was already busy doing all kinds of things.

 

So when 12 comes along, World War II, I’m utterly fascinated by it. I’ve got a paper route I’m delivering the Hollywood Citizen News. When I got home, I loved to lay the newspaper on the floor and read about the war, and follow the maps of the Pacific War and the European War. I was just fascinated by progress on stuff you could hear about on the radio, of course. But then when you look at the pictures of the charts, and you could really see what’s going on.

 

So there was a whole bunch of interests right off the bat. And of course you know pre-pooberty and pooberty [sic] was raising its wild head in the middle of all that. And I lived sort of on a half-acre Farm in the middle of in North Hollywood, which was all pretty much Farm area so I pretty much grew up in the wild-farm-kid-on-bicycles era, and building bigger model airplanes.

 

Freddy Martin: There are stories from San Fernando Valley residents having extremely vivid, imprinted memories of Pearl Harbor because there was a terrible train fire in Chatsworth that same week. The smoke in the air made a deep impression for some people. Do you remember that?

 

Bob Gurr: No, not the smoke, but I can certainly understand why people were concerned, because I remember Pearl Harbor was such an instantaneous shock. Anybody who lived through it, you can remember exactly what you were doing, where you were, what the weather was like, what everything sounded like, what everybody did.

 

And within a day or two I think we were all sensitized to… “Oh my God they’re going to attack us next!” So anything that was startling made you very scared. Even little stuff like sounds in the night. Like we had a railroad track that ran 1/4 Mile from us. You knew it was a train but all of a sudden you were waking up by clanking or clunking or hissing or something and you thought, “Oh my God, they’re here!” So I think you can lay in bed at night and you can imagine terrible things are now coming your way. So, yes. I could see any local thing that didn’t mean anything became an emblazoned memory.

 

Freddy Martin: What was your path to becoming an Imagineer?

 

Bob Gurr: Well, [to your] curiosity thing, here’s what’s curious. A lot of people, sort of in hindsight, they will make up a good story as to their chosen path and how they planned their curriculum, and how they have their goals, and all that. I didn’t have a lick of that.

 

I was just having such a good time choogling through everything in life that by the time I’m up in high school. I wanted to be an aircraft engineer over at Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute (Which I failed to mention about the Grand Central Air Terminal building – That was also after the war was the Curtis Wright Technical Institute) But I got an A in algebra and I got an F and a Pass in Geometry one in the 10th grade and so there went my engineering dream. My math was no good so I can’t design airplanes. Okay, well, I’ll just draw cars instead. And I’d been drawing ‘em both Anyways so I thought, okay, you don’t need math to do cars.

 

So that was the prime feature all the way through High School. And then at about halfway through, y’know, I was taking drafting which is an obvious course. Then I had architecture class.

 

And then the architecture teacher noticed I was drawing cars all the time and suggested, “Say, when you graduate from 12th grade, why don’t you go down to Art Center? They teach cars.”

 

And so that set that in place that I would, “Oh, I could go down there and I could learn…”

 

Note:At this point in the interview, we briefly lost connection with Bob. Here he explained his timeline that he was given a scholarship from General Motors to study industrial design at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and then was recruited to Ford Motor Company in Detroit.

 

Bob Gurr continued: …that’s not too expensive. I’ll take Detroit.

 

Before I even graduated, John Wards picked me out and said, “Come on back now,” about a month before graduation. Then I got rated out of that job into the Ford Motor Company.

 

And then a year and a day later I didn’t want anymore of Detroit, so I came back to California. I popped in on a friend of mine who had a typewriter company, which was also a publishing house, where I’d published my books earlier, and was there. Then I went to help an industrial design company whose employees all quit. They needed staffing immediately.

 

And then while there, I get a phone call to go to the Disney Studio.

 

So you can see how random this path to being, ultimately being what’s later called an ‘Imagineer.’ And it was not on the horizon, not thought of, didn’t know anything about it.

 

I knew where the Disney Studios were, because my father would drive me to his shop in Glendale and pointed out this new building, “Ooh, that’s where Donald Duck lives there.” Because I knew the comics. I know I didn’t like the mouse. I liked the duck a lot better. And my father would always say, “Well that’s where the duck lives over there.” That’s all I knew about Walt Disney.  

 

So you see what I mean by people have their grand plans, which, usually they answer the question after you’ve asked it, which is after they did what they did?

 

I don’t have a story! Because I was always open to any idea anything that looked interesting. And all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, that looks interesting!” Y’know? And it turned out to be!

 

But it was strictly off the wall. In other words, from the time I got the call to go out to the Disney Studios and then actually going in the front door was only about 20 minutes. So in other words the getting ready to being an Imagineer was only about 20 minutes long.

 

Freddy Martin: So who introduced you to the folks at the Disney Studios?

 

Bob Gurr: That’s another kinda complicated story. The Art Center School, like all colleges, they had, let’s call it a job placement officer. And the job placement officer makes deals with the car companies before graduation because the car companies like to raid the good students before the other companies get there. So they’re always trying to get there before graduation.

 

And of course I was one of two guys that got picked out of the school immediately. And the arrangement was made by a guy by the name of Johnny Thompson who was a professional drunk, who was sort of like a lobbyist in Detroit with Art Center. And so he had made the deal and he also made the deal to get me out from General Motors and to go to the Ford Motor Company on a weekend before I would go to work on a Monday. Y’see he was a deal maker.

 

Well anyway, the same guy was at Art Center in 1954. I went down to see a friend. In fact, the friend was Alex Tremulis, the guy that designed the Tucker automobile, which was a good friend of mine. He was visiting there.

 

And in the course of walking through the corridor of Art Center School, there was Johnny Thompson again, the drunk. And just in passing, just going by, he stops and says, “Oh, by the way Bob. I know you’re working at Channing Wallace Gilson company. Do you ever do outside work?”

 

Well, I didn’t, so I said, “Yes.”

 

Simple as that. And the next day he calls because he had been making a deal between Disney and Art Center. (laughs) I just happened to walked by! Ten seconds one way or the other and I never would have been an Imagineer.

 

And so he calls and he’d been talking to Dick Irvine out there, who was running all of the designers at that time, which was October of ‘54. So, I go out there. And I know, maybe a couple weeks before, that there was a new project called Disneyland. It was in the LA Times, a great big drawing on the front of the paper.

 

And at about that same time I knew there was a little car, a little chassis, running around the backlot of the studio, because Ub Iwerks, who was a good friend, he was on my paper route. And I was friends with his two sons, one of which was my age, and we were in the same car club together. He (Ub) always showed movies at their after church Sunday meals about what’s going on on the lot. And one of his pictures was this ugly little car, green and yellow car, with the name Disneyland painted on it. And they also had another car nearby that was just a chassis, no body. And the Ugly car had Kirk Douglas giving his two boys a ride.

 

So in the 20 minute drive to go out to the studio, I thought, “Do you suppose that picture of the amusement park in the LA Times and that little car that doesn’t have a body on the back lot at Disney, where the guy told me to go, if they’re connected?”

 

And so, I can recall being at the front gate and meeting Mr. Irvine, who came out to the gate to meet me, rather than a guard sending me into the building. I had figured out, “Aha! Those two things are connected! Sure enough, Mr. Irvine walks me out to the back lot and there’s that little chassis. So I knew what they needed. So, y’know, I go,“Yeah, I can make some drawings. I’ll bring them in Saturday.”

 

And that’s how it careers get launched with a 20 minute warning. So, I have no grand story for ya.

 

Freddy Martin: That is a grand story! Often times, people will say, “No, I can’t.” But it sounds like part of your story is saying, “Yes, I can.”

 

Bob Gurr: Yep.

 

Read Part 2 of The Bob Gurr Interview HERE.

 

If you want your own unique experience with the one-and-only Bob Gurr, get on board the WaltLand Disney Bus Tour departing monthly. This is a limited opportunity, so don’t hesitate to get your tickets. You won’t be sorry you did. 

Bob Gurr Moons Disney Guests – A Jungle Cruise Story

bob gurr's story of building a machine to move hippos back and forth on jungle cruise doesn't turn out as he planned.

Later this month, I’ll post my interview with Imagineer and Disney Legend, Bob Gurr. You’ll get his true story of growing up the curious and inventive child who ended up helping Walt Disney build many of the incredible attraction vehicles for his one-of-a-kind theme park. 

Bob told me so many amazing stories that I can’t wait to share them with you. So here’s one he told about an attraction that is obviously close to my heart – The World Famous Jungle Cruise. While many of his accomplishments were spectacular, here’s one that didn’t go quite as planned. Enjoy.

Freddy: Did you have anything to do with the Jungle Cruise?

Bob: Jungle Cruise? Yes.

One of my more spectacular, unsuccessful pieces of show action equipment was a couple of charging hippos. And this was long before good animation systems were available, and I was trying to do something – this was in like 1957 or 8, I think.

We were trying to do stuff where the hippos would come out on two different tracks to attack the boats. And then, when the boats go by, the hippos would turn and go back to where they were, and then turn around and reset themselves. And I was trying to do it with a spring set up, so that it went out one way and came back another way.

Due to the unpredictability of, y’know, falling leaves in the machinery, and water, y’know, and you never know what the hippos were gonna do anyway, every once in awhile the Jungle Cruise guys would come back with a report to the management and say, “You got to do something with the hippos!”

“What’s wrong with the hippos?”

“Well, some days they come out backwards and they moon everybody in the boat!”

And so the mooning hippos had to go. (Laughs)

Freddy: (Laughs) There’s a “backside of water” joke in there.

Bob Gurr: You probably caught my joke on the bus tour, where we stood out there (behind Imagineering headquarters in Glendale) and we talked about 1401 Flower –  everyone knows 1401 Flower, and this bland colored building here, “That’s the backside of 1401!” 

Want to read the whole magical interview? Check out The Bob Gurr Interview – Part 1 HERE.

 

If you’d like to hear Bob Gurr’s funny and amazing stories first hand, you still have a chance to tour Walt’s old stomping grounds with him with the Waltland Disney History Bus Tour. There are tours scheduled on the third Sunday of every month from now until September 2018. Bob takes you to Walt’s homes, former and current Disney studio sites, Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park, and the merry-go-round where Walt first thought of his idea for Disneyland. Buy your tickets now. This tour won’t be available forever. Visit Waltland.com for details. 

Moving to Disney (Part 2) – 8 Tips To Know Before You Go

A lot of people say they want to move to Orlando or Anaheim to be closer to the Disney parks, but very few people actually have the guts to do it. In part one, I interviewed Sarah and Peter Brookhart of The Brookhart Project whose dream of moving to Disney was so strong that they pulled up stakes in Chicago to relocate just outside of the Walt Disney World bubble.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

Eureka! Forget bitcoin. There’s a gold rush in full swing and the miners are flocking to Disney in droves!

If you run in Disney circles, you’ve seen the explosion of cottage industries surrounding the Disney brand. There’s Etsy shops full of Disney inspired swag. Thanks to Disney Bounding, you can find outfits, ears, and costumes to match every major, minor, and obscure Disney character ever made. There’s Disney bloggers (yours truly), vloggers, and podcasters galore. And don’t miss the Disney-attraction-flavored coffees, scented candles, and fan fiction.

Moving Day! The Brookhart Project is on the road from Chicago to Walt Disney World. Still from YouTube video “Moving Day Road Trip! Part 1 – Chicago, Illinois to Atlanta, Georgia” Click to see video on YouTube.

But the true heroes of the Dis-zealot movement are those who have cast all caution to the wind, quit their jobs, sold their homes, and migrated thousands of miles to live within a firework’s boom of the Disney parks.

When I interviewed Sarah and Peter Brookhart, the young couple who left their hometown to live 20 minutes outside of Walt Disney World, I learned a few things about following dreams and taking giant leaps.

So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “What would it take to live the Disney dream?,” here are 8 tips I learned from the Brookharts for how to move to Disney.

Tip 1: Plan Like You Mean It

You know how a vacation to Disney takes moon-landing level planning? You have to make your restaurant reservations 180 days in advance, for crying out loud! Well, moving to Orlando or Anaheim takes a little more planning than that.

The Brookharts recommend that whatever you do, don’t play it by ear. Do your research and create a plan that will work. Read a ton and ask a LOT of questions.

They also suggest you do the math. And then do the math again. “Our job offer did not include moving assistance,” said Sarah, “so we ended up taking a lot more from savings than we had expected.”

You’ll never be able to plan so well that you avoid all surprises and obstacles, but without creating plan, you’ll only end up frustrated and floundering.

“Get a good idea and stay with it. Do it, and work at it, until it’s done right.” – Walt Disney

Tip 2: Location, Location, Location

“Location is super important,” says Peter. You must minimize your commute from home to the parks. “We live 20 minutes away from property, so that’s why it’s so easy for us to get here Monday through Friday. We have friends who live 40 minutes away and it’s much harder.”

Spoiler Alert: Peter and Sarah moving in to their apartment in Florida.

Again, do the math. For every 5 minutes away from the parks, you lose 10 minutes to driving. All that driving will wear on you. If you live 45 minutes away, and you plan to go to the resorts after work, you will spend 1 hour and a half of your precious evening hours in the car. And during non-peak seasons when the parks are only open until 8, timing is crucial

Find a place 30 minutes or less from a Disney parking lot. That will keep your drive to and from the magic under one hour total.

Tip 3: Expenses Are Real In Fantasyland

Have you heard that it’s cheaper to live in Florida? Well, that’s only partly true. If you want to live within a few miles of the parks (refer to Tip 2), the cost of living is not much better than anywhere else in the country.

“The biggest thing we heard from people who don’t know anything about moving to Florida from Chicago is ‘Oh, it’s so cheap to live in Florida!,’” said Peter. “The thing is, we not only live in Florida, we live in the Orlando area. And not only that, we live in the Orlando tourist area. We actually pay more for rent here than we did in Chicago.”

Expect much worse in Anaheim. The average one-bedroom rental behind the Orange curtain is over $1,500 per month, and things like groceries and gas follow suit.

“We’re not eating in the parks every night,” said Sarah. “You don’t see us downing PB & Js in the car before we head in. We’re making it a lifestyle but real life is still real. We both need to work full time jobs to make the lifestyle possible.”

Not much you can do about that. Just be prepared to pay the price to live next door to talking mice! (Hey, that rhymed!)

Tip 4: You WILL Get Tired Of It

Ever hear of the “law of diminishing marginal utility?” That’s the phenomenon that happens to you when the first piece of pizza tastes like heaven while the next two, three, and four pieces start to taste like cardboard.

Sadly, it’s the same with going to Disney every day, or every week, or even every month. You’re bound to get less and less enjoyment out of every visit.

Peter warned that many magic-migrants run the risk of losing interest. “Maybe not at first because of the excitement, the honeymoon stage of living here, but eventually after a couple weeks or months, you could probably just resort to coming here just on weekends.”

So what can you do to keep from losing interest? Live for something more than just having fun at Disney.

“Live everyday, no matter how small the accomplishment,” said Peter, “as if that single day had something going for it or something worth remembering, even if it’s playing cards after dinner.”

It helps that the Disney resorts have so much to offer. But every day can’t be all parades and attractions. If you live each moment with the idea that each moment is a gift, you’re bound to stay excited, no matter where you live.

“We’re setting a bar for ourselves,” said Sarah, “to really enjoy life.”

Tip 5: Keep Your Eyes Open

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts about hidden Disney details, you know how important this tip is for me. (See the S.E.A. at Disneyland or Walt’s initials on Tom Sawyer Island for some of my favorites.) Disney has packed the parks and resorts with so many unusual details and spatial storytelling hints that locals like you are likely to find something new and surprising every time you visit.

“I knew there was a lot to offer here,” Peter said, “but now living here we realize how much there actually is.”

You may have ridden every single ride on the map, but there are too many food and entertainment offerings for any guest to taste and see them all. “We had no idea who ‘Yehaa Bob’ was,” remembered Peter. “He’s a piano player who’s been playing the piano (at Port Orleans Riverside Resort) for twenty-plus years.”

As a local, you’ll also begin to see and experience other guests in a different way. “Since we’ve moved here, I can pick up on more of the other guests’ vibes. I hear more of the happy in other people’s voices, but I also can hear more of the anger and frustrations. You can just tell this family’s exhausted, or this family is having the best time of their life over here.”

Now that you’re able to enjoy the parks without a to-the-minute agenda, allow yourself to take it all in in a way that would have been impossible for your before moving.

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney

Tip 6: Preset Your Mindset

Making a major life change like moving halfway across the country to follow a dream is a risky proposition – especially for your frame of mind. You’ve set pretty high expectations for how wonderful and carefree your new Disney life will be. But unless you’re prepared to stay positive and generous no matter what, your high expectations are bound to come crashing down.

“Being down here for a week,” said Peter, “the odds of you seeing an upset cast member or an upset family, or to see something weird happening that would ruin a day or a stay in a resort is far less than if you’re here 7 days a week for your whole life.”

“In bad times and in good, I have never lose my sense of zest for life.” – Walt Disney

“You’re gonna see upset cast members. You’re gonna see a ridiculous guest causing a fit or an accident happen, or an extra 25 minute wait at the monorail… You have to be able to brush those off because you do have the luxury to see it when it’s not a wait, when Main Street is empty, when there’s a walk-on to Space Mountain, which never happens.”

“You can’t have the good without the bad.”

Tip 7: Be Generous & Humble

Disney annual-passholders get a bad wrap. In some ways they deserve it. I hear the word “entitled” thrown around a lot with regard to the way “APs” act toward cast members and other guests. To the Brookharts, the antidote for entitled-passholder-syndrome is to think of yourself less and to think of others more.

“There’s really no reason why we’re any more important than any other person here,” said Sarah. “And I might say we’re less important because people could have saved for the past 5 years to get their 7 days here.”

“Why would we take up extra space in line on a Saturday night in July when people on vacation could be utilizing it themselves,” Peter added.

Letting other people go first might be the most difficult adjustment for a Disney pilgrim like yourself, but it’s this kind of attitude that will sustain your positive mindset (see Tip 7) for the long haul.

“It’s hard to be like, ‘Oh, if you’re not a humble person, don’t take the move,’” said Sarah, “but it’s just that you’re going to be a more pleasant person to be around. And your experience as a guest will be much more pleasant if you go into it with a mindset of humility.”

Tip 8: Own It

As much as you want your family and friends to be supportive of your Dis-placement (see what I did there?) most of them won’t understand.

Let’s be honest. Some people just don’t get the whole Disney thing. When they hear what you’re thinking of doing, they roll their eyes and write you off as weird. Fair enough. Others might be jealous and take it out on you with snide comments or talking behind your back. Still others are simply afraid of the unknown.

“Sarah was basically the first person in her family to leave the south side of Chicago,” Peter said. “We did something new that was scary for us and scary for the family because nobody does this!”

Even if they don’t say it, you’ll be able to sense that friends and family are judging you (a little, or a lot) for following this dream.

But here’s the thing. It’s not their dream. It’s yours. You have to own it.
Moving to Disney is no different than moving to the mountains or the beach or the city. Some people work their tails off to realize their dreams and move to the places they love the most. Nobody faults them for that.

Peter said, “We had to look at ourselves honestly and say, ‘What is really going to make us happy?’” For Sarah and Peter Brookhart, the answer was to pursue their passion and move to Walt Disney World.

So if you’re serious about relocating to be near a Disney resort (or to follow whatever your dreams might be), your first move is to take a hard look at your motivations. Then, you’ve got to count the costs and survey the obstacles. Finally, when you’re ready to face down your doubts and fears to pursue your dreams then there’s only one thing left to do… embrace what you love and own it.

To follow Sarah and Peter Brookhart’s daily vlog adventures from Walt Disney World, subscribe to The Brookhart Project on YouTube.

To read about how Sarah and Peter made their Dis-cision to relocate to Orlando, go back to “Moving To Disney (Part 1)

In preparing this article, I learned about several other interesting people who did something similar to the Brookharts. I encourage you to check them out:

Mr. Peter Tu: This retiree is known as “the clapping man of Disneyland,” spends every morning walking through the park getting exercise and encouraging every cast member he sees. His trademark handshake and recognizable clap makes him one of Disneyland’s most adored citizens. Watch a day in Peter Tu’s life HERE.

Lisa Dinoto Glassner: Lisa was a lawyer by day, runner by night, and Disney fanatic through and through. When her father passed away, she decided to quit her career and run after what she loves. So she and her family relocated to a neighborhood just behind the castle. Follow her story at TheCastleRun.com.

Jeff Reitz: On a whim in 2012, Jeff challenged himself to visit Disneyland every day for a year. But once the habit was formed, he didn’t stop. With some visits as short as a half hour, he still makes time to visit Walt’s original theme park once a day. Read Jeff Reitz’ story HERE.

Tom Bricker: So you want an opposing viewpoint? Want somebody to help you level you expectations and maybe talk you out of migrating south? Tom’s post about the downside of moving to Disney has some good points you should consider – although he says he has “no regrets.”

A Lifetime of Disney Adventures – Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe (Part 2)

The Story So Far: Tom Nabbe started his Disney career at the age of twelve shilling newspapers on Main Street in Disneyland. A year later, after bugging Walt Disney like only a twelve-year-old can do, he was hired to be the Tom in Tom Sawyer Island. Taking pictures, signing autographs, and baiting fishing lines with worms. (Read Part 1 of the interview HERE.)

But his story doesn’t stop there. In fact Tom Nabbe’s Disney career is one of the most enviable and storied in the history of the Walt Disney Company.

In this second part of Tom Nabbe’s story, we meet him as a teenager. He leaves Tom Sawyer Island and begins working Rides and Attractions throughout the park. After an unforeseen tragedy cuts his military career short, he ships off to Orlando to help open the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. After an incredible string of historic attraction openings (you won’t believe his list), Tom is called to serve on the opening crew of EPCOT Center.

As if that weren’t enough Tom was honored with a window on Main Street AND received the moniker of Disney Legend. “Legend” doesn’t begin to describe this journey.

As the interview continues, I slip in that I worked at the park for a while as a Jungle Cruise Skipper under Dick Nunis.

Tom Nabbe – Oh, okay. Well, I was a Jungle Cruise Operator back in winter ‘61/62 through ‘65 and then I left to go to the Marine Corps and then I came back. I worked, depending on what seniority bought me, I probably worked a few times on the Jungle Cruise in ‘68/‘69, and then I was promoted into management in 1970.

Freddy Martin – Wow! I did not know that about you. A fellow Skipper on the phone! That’s Fantastic. How long were you in rides and attractions

The 55 Club

T – Rides and attractions for 25 years, and the the last 22 years was in support and warehousing. So 47 years total the way the company counts it. But I count it 48, because they don’t give me credit for the year that I worked for the lessee (selling the Disneyland News in 1955).

F – But you have a paycheck stub somewhere that says 55 on it, right?

T – No. I have my original hire status from 1956. Does Ron Heminger mean anything to you?

Disneyland 1955 alumni Tom Nabbe, Bob Penfield, Dick Nunis, Ron Heminger, Ray VanDeWarker
Club 55: Tom Nabbe, Bob Penfield, Dick Nunis, Ron Heminger, Ray VanDeWarker, all men who started working at Disneyland in 1955, celebrating the park’s 40th anniversary in Walt Disney’s Apartment above the Fire Station on Main Street USA. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

Ron and myself always contested with Dick that we were both there in the beginning and that we should be members of the 55 club. And when Ron Heminger’s dad passed away… he was going through the paperwork. He found his hire status from 1955. So Ron Heminger, Myself, and a guy by the name of Marshall Spelzer (sp) that worked in decorating, all had the same hire date; June 18, 1956.

“He didn’t change my hire date, but he did recognize that I was an honorary member of the 55 Club.”

Dick had always told us that if we could prove we were there in ‘55 and worked for the company, he’d make us members of the 55 Club. So when Ron found his paperwork, Dick followed up on his promise and changed Ron’s status to whenever the date was on his paperwork was in July of ‘55, I believe. And at the same time he gave me credit to be a member of the 55 Club. He didn’t change my hire date, but he did recognize that I was an honorary member of the 55 Club.

The Battle of Pacific Coast Highway

F – Let’s transition into your career at Disney World, you already had a ton of roles and it sounds like you went off to serve in our country’s service for a while?

Disney Legend Tom Nabbe in his US Marine Corps uniform circa 1964
US Marine, Tom Nabbe circa 1965 before his “Battle of Pacific Coast Highway.” Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

T – In ‘64, I got a letter from my other uncle, Uncle Sam. And Uncle Sam sent me this letter that he wanted me to participate in Vietnam. And I decided then, I’m sort of a John Wayne fan, if I was gonna go to Vietnam, I wanted to be best trained. And as far as I’m concerned that was being trained by the Marine Corps. So I went down and I enlisted in the Marine Corps.

And I enlisted on a 3-year hitch. And the reason I did that is because a 3-year hitch basically said I had no active reserve time. So it was 3 years active duty, 3 years inactive duty to satisfy the 6-year obligation. And the reason-being is the schedulers didn’t really like the “weekend warriors.”

“I always call it my “Battle at Pacific Coast Highway,” but the drunk hit me head on on Pacific Coast Highway and put me in Long Beach Hospital for 5 months. He tried to kill me, but didn’t succeed.”

If those people that signed up in the reserve or ended up getting drafted, they were “active reserve” (for) 2 years. So they had to play soldier one weekend a month and one week out of the summer. And I didn’t want that obligation. I just wanted to do my active duty time and the inactive reserve portion of it.

What I didn’t realize is that by signing up on that 3-year hitch, that I was in turn eligible for school. I scored extremely high in electronics. They decided to make an aviation radio repair man out of me. And the incentive to graduate from that was that if you failed being a radio repairman they made a radio operator out of you.

A radio operator’s life expectancy was just slightly longer than the first lieutenant of the platoon. So you didn’t want to be a radio operator. I graduated fourth in my class. And I ended up (with) orders for Da Nang.

And I guess someone up there was looking out for me… because I was hauling all my stuff back up to – my mother lived in Newport Beach – and I was hauling my stuff up to her apartment because I had orders to Da Nang. And a drunk hit me head on.

I always call it my “Battle at Pacific Coast Highway,” but the drunk hit me head on on Pacific Coast Highway and put me in Long Beach Hospital for 5 months. He tried to kill me, but didn’t succeed.

Then after that, I ended up getting mustered out on a medical. So I joined the Marine Corps in the height of the Vietnam War. I never got more than 82 miles from home, and I didn’t have to go to Vietnam.

F – What a story!

Joining The Florida Project

T – Then, when I came back I had dreams of grandeur going to Cal State Fullerton to become an electronical engineer. And I went to school on the G.I. Bill. Tried that for almost a year.

Right about that time frame they were interviewing people to come to Walt Disney World. And so I went through a round of interviews, getting promoted into management. I sort of realized I wasn’t going to be a fantastic electronical engineer, and what I really wanted to be was a rides and attractions supervisor. So I ended up taking a job offer.

I hadn’t been east of Phoenix, that I was aware of. My mother told me that we went to Chicago on a train one time, but I don’t remember that.

So, I ended up getting married in ‘68, while I was still in the Marine Corps to a lady – we worked together at Oaks Tavern (The Stage Door Café today) in Frontierland, and she was (also) working for the Anaheim School District. We ended up getting married and relocating to Florida, in January of 1971.

Monorails, Steam Trains, and Back to the Island

Two of the attractions I had never worked as a ride operator was the steam train and the monorail. And you probably know why, is they were operated by Retlaw. And in order to be a monorail operator you had to be six-foot tall, and I was never gonna be six-foot tall.

The monorail system opened in 1971 with two routes and with Mark IV monorail trains, expanded to three lines in 1982, and switched to Mark VI trains in 1989.
View showing monorail near Disney’s Contemporary Resort hotel at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida by State Library and Archives of Florida under no known copyright restrictions.

Pete Crimmings was my manager for years and one of my mentors. Pete was going to be the manager of the transportation system of Walt Disney World. And he wanted me to operate and run the Monorail system. So when I got back from the service and got promoted, I ended up getting trained on the Monorail and the Steam Trains by Retlaw. So I finally got to work those two attractions, which is sort of neat.

“Very few people on the east coast, and that’s why the New York World’s Fair (1964) was a gigantic testing ground to see how Disney attractions go over on the East Coast.”

F – You were there early on in Florida. What was it like to see Walt Disney’s Dream go to that next level? You’d been there at the beginning of the other park.

T – It was phenomenal. The people of Florida, if you look at the demographics of the people who were going to Disneyland during that time frame, only about 13 percent of the people came from east of the Mississippi. Very few people on the east coast, and that’s why the New York World’s Fair (1964) was a gigantic testing ground to see how Disney attractions go over on the East Coast.

And all the attractions at the fair were the most popular ones. So in turn, that’s how he ended up in Florida.

“Tower of the Four Winds, 1964 New York World's Fair” by Dada1960 is licensed under CC by 4.0.
Tower of the Four Winds, 1964 New York World’s Fair” by Dada1960 is licensed under CC by 4.0.

And Bob Matheison was the director at that time frame and Bob had run the Small World attraction at the New York world’s fair. And when he came back he was assigned to the Florida Project by Walt.

“So after opening the Monorail system, they decided that they were gonna build Tom Sawyer’s Island. I had a little expertise in that area…”

The neat thing of that was to see things in the conceptual stage and to actually see them constructed and to know that you’re going to operate them and actually transport guests, in whatever it was you were looking at; Monorails, Osceolas (the double-deck, side-paddle wheel, walking-beam steam boats that operated on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, “The Ports-O-Call” & “Southern Seas”), Mark Twains, except it was the Admiral Fowler. That’s what the original boat was (called) on the Rivers of America.

So after opening the Monorail system, they decided that they were gonna build Tom Sawyer’s Island. I had a little expertise in that area, so I went from the transportation system operating the monorail to Frontierland/Liberty Square for the construction of the Richard F. Irvine, which was the second sternwheeler, and Tom Sawyer’s Island.

And we did the same thing there. We invited the winners of the Hannibal contest there to participate in the opening of the island, and that was in, I wanna say June of ‘73,

Spaceships, Submarines, and Wild Mine Train

T – And then right after that, I ended up going to Tomorrowland because they were gonna build Space Mountain, the Star Jets, WedWay, Carousel of Progress, and Space Mountains. So I got tagged as a sort of nuts and bolts project guy so in turn I would go to where we were gonna build something new, and then go through the training of the people, and then actually operate it after that.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction at Walt Disney World, Bay Lake, Florida, circa 1979. Photo by Alex Reinhart
“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction circa 1979” by Alex Reinhart is licensed under CC by 3.0.

Then after we opened Space Mountain the decision was to when we opened Walt Disney World, 20k, the submarine ride, the water for the submarine ride was pumped out of the aquifer into the submarine ride, and from there it went into the moat, and from the moat it went into the Jungle Cruise, and from the jungle cruise it went to the rivers of america and then from rivers of America, it went down the light boat channel into the seven seas lagoon.

All the art directors that came down here in the beginning would go to silver springs,

“…the divers every morning had to go down and scrub the portholes of the submarines and scrub the fish and scrub the mermaids…”

And were just amazed at the clarity of the water at silver springs, and so they decided that we would get the water out of the aquifer that they wouldn’t have to chlorinate it and filter it like they had to do at Disneyland at the subs.

But in turn that wasn’t a good decision because you weren’t moving the same quantity of water through the system that was coming out of silver springs. So it started getting algae built up. And so the divers every morning had to go down and scrub the portholes of the submarines and scrub the fish and scrub the mermaids, and so the decision was to enclose 20k, and go through an entire rehab, and update everything. And we had to close it and chlorinate it.

So I went to Fantasyland to oversee that project and retrain all the sub operators and we came back up.

And once we finished that, the next thing on the horizon was Big Thunder Mountain and so I went back to Frontierland/Liberty Square for the construction of Big Thunder Mountain.

And once we opened Big Thunder Mountain, the next thing on the horizon was Epcot.

Seeing Walt’s Dream Through

And so I was moved onto the project team for Epcot into PICO. PICO’s an acronym for Project installation coordination office. And Orlando Ferrante, the Vice President of WED, actually a football player with Dick and Ron Miller, and Tommy Walker back in the good old days.

Spaceship Earth under construction in Epcot Center circa 1982, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Walt Disney World
Spaceship Earth Construction” by BestofWDW  is licensed under CC 2.0.

Ferrante pretty much established P.I.C.O. when they built the New York World’s Fair. And had developed that whole process, and what it was to take the people out of the operating side of the business, to be involved in construction, and once the construction was over with to be involved in the training of the people to operate the new ride and attractions, and then to be part of the management group going forward. So that was sort of the evolution of PICO.

I thought I was going to be a pavilion coordinator, but my boss at that time, Norm Doerges, decided that they wanted to develop an item tracking system for everything that we bought or built for show installation and we needed a warehouse in order to do that for that product that was gonna be stored prior to installation. Some of the product was delivered directly to the site and installed and so I ran that operation. That’s how I got into warehousing.

“The manager of distribution went on vacation at Christmas time of ‘84 and he didn’t come back. I don’t know if it was an alien abduction or what…”

F – And that’s where you were for the next 22 years?

T – Yes. Actually ‘79 through 2003.

So in ‘84, when the company went through the entire restructure and went through the greenmail all that other stuff that was going on during that time, and I don’t know if you’ve read The Storming of the Magic Kingdom, but all that was going on and I end up having the opportunity to go into Distribution Services for Walt Disney World versus being in rides and attractions at Walt Disney World, so I ended up going into the warehouse operation as the superintendent of general supplies and long term project storage.

The manager of distribution went on vacation at Christmas time of ‘84 and he didn’t come back. I don’t know if it was an alien abduction or what, but he didn’t come back and six of us interviewed for the job and I ended up getting it.

That’s how I ended up being the manager of distribution services for Walt Disney World.

And Everything Else

F – What didn’t you do in the parks?

T – I was in food in ‘65 just prior to going into the Marine Corps. When all the lessees contracts started to run out, most of them were on 5 or 10 year contracts. And ABC owned United Paramount Theaters, UPT, which ran all the fast food operations at Disneyland. In ‘65, their contract was up and Disneyland Incorporated took over the fast food operations. And I worked as the Assistant Supervisor in Frontierland outdoor foods in the Oaks Tavern area.

It’s A Small Team After All: Tom Nabbe (far left) along with other Walt Disney World managers on duty for the Cast Member Christmas Party, 1975. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

And then at that point then I went into the marine corps, and when I came back, I came back into rides and attractions.

Then in ‘79, after we opened Big Thunder, I worked in Area 3 food in Walt Disney World. And that was back when they were talking about Generalists. They wanted people with backgrounds in rides and attractions, and merchandise, and food. And so I had gone in and talked to Bob Matheison about getting some food experience.

And I ended up being the food manager in what they called Area 3 Food, which was Frontierland/Liberty Square and Adventureland. And I had that for just a little less than a year until I got the job offer to go to Epcot.

The only thing I haven’t done is actually operate a merchandise location, but I was in charge of all the warehousing to support merchandise, so one of my warehouse managers used to call me a merchant wannabe.

F – I would take issue with that. I mean you sold newspapers in 1955. That’s merch, right?

T – Oh yeah. Ok. Yes, I had merchandise in 1955 as a newspaper boy.

Great Moments With Mr. Nabbe

F – I know you got Disney Legend status but did you get any other honors along the way?

Main Street USA window honoring Disney Legend Tom Nabbe at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World
A Window On Main Street: Tom Nabbe’s window tribute is located above the Main Street Cinema in the Magic Kingdom. Photo Courtesy Sarah Brookhart of TheBrookhartProject. ©2018 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.

T – Well, I ended up with a window on main street when I retired in 03 at Walt Disney World. I tried for both parks but I didn’t make it. But they did give me a window on Main Street. It’s above the cinema on the right hand side. And the window says Sawyer Fence Painting, Proprietor, Tom Nabbe, Lake Buena Vista, Florida and Anaheim, California.

 

Tom Nabbe’s Window on Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Florida
Tom Nabbe’s Window on Main Street: “Sawyer Fence Painting Co. Tom Nabbe, Proprietor, Anaheim, California, Lake Buena Vista Florida” Photo Courtesy Sarah Brookhart of TheBrookhartProject. ©2018 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.

F – What were some of your greatest moments in your Disney career.

T – Every 5th anniversary for Disneyland, with the exception of the 10th cause I was gone then in the Marine Corps, my goal is to be on Main Street on July 17, and I’ve managed to accomplish that ever since 1970.

And when we were out there for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, the alumni club out there had a dinner dance, and we had gone to the dance, and while we were at the dance, Jim Cora (James Cora), does that name mean anything to you? Well Jim sorta looked at me and said, “Well, Tom, I’ll see you in September.” And I don’t know if you ever worked with Jim, but Jim was one of those guys that if he could pull your leg, and throw something out there, he’s always looking to razz you, and so I’m sort of a little curious here, but I says, well, no I won’t be back in September.

He says “We’ve been nominated and going to be inducted as Disney Legends.” I thought, “Well that’s sorta neat.”

Partners and Legends: Tom Nabbe with his Disney Legends award at the Legends Plaza at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Statues “Partners” and “Legends” by Disney sculptor, Blaine Gibson.
Partners and Legends: Tom Nabbe with his Disney Legends award at the Legends Plaza at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

So when we got back to the hotel room after dinner, I had called my sister who was house sitting for me, and said, “hey is there a letter from the studio there.” And she said, “oh yeah.” I said, “How about opening it up and looking at it?” And sure enough it said that we were invited back in September of 05 to be inducted as a Disney Legend, and so Cora wasn’t pulling my leg. It was an actual event that was occurring.

So we were able to come back out and they treated us like royalty. Because of the anniversary, they normally had the ceremonies at that time frame at the studio. Because of Disneyland’s 50th, they had it at Disneyland, which was sort of neat.

F – Where did that take place? At the Hub?

T – Opera House. We had lunch at a restaurant there at Downtown Disney, the Napa Rose restaurant. And I had the opportunity to have lunch with Roy Disney at that lunch. The Legends program was very much Roy’s baby. Sorta neat.

Roy E. Disney with Tom Nabbe at his Disney Legend induction dinner held at the Napa Rose in The Grand Californian Hotel. Note Disney Imagineering Legend, X. Atencio
Roy E. Disney with Tom Nabbe at his Disney Legend induction dinner held at the Napa Rose in The Grand Californian Hotel. Note Disney Imagineering Legend, X. Atencio looking on. Photo courtesy the collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

Plus Roy’s a sailor and I’m a sailor. The only difference is my boat is 16 foot and his boat is 60 feet, but sailing is sailing so we were both able to talk a little bit about sailing. He had just finished up on the Honolulu race.

NEXT: We go back again to Disneyland on July 17, 1955, when a celebrity makes Tom Nabbe’s dreams come true with a couple passes to the fateful Press Opening. You won’t want to miss one magical moment with Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe in Part 3.

Cover of From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend - The Adventures of Tom Nabbe by Tom Nabbe
From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend – The Adventures of Tom Nabbe

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Read Tom Nabbe’s auto-biography, From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend – The Adventures of Tom Nabbe available at TomNabbe.com (autographed and personalized) or on Amazon.

To learn more about Walt Disney’s affinity for Mark Twain and a mysterious mark inside a cave on Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, check out “The Hand of Walt – A Disney Secret Hidden For Decades Is Finally Revealed!”

 

Did you miss Part 1? The story of how Tom Nabbe became Walt Disney’s own Tom Sawyer is the kind of magic every Disney fan dreams of. Read it HERE.

Walt Disney’s Own Tom Sawyer – Chat with Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe (Part 1)

I don’t know about you, but when I see old footage of Disneyland – footage from the 1960s or 1950s, before I was born – I feel something like an ache to turn back the clock. Inside me springs an anxious desire to travel back through time and visit the park in its infant stage, to experience it as my parents would have experienced it, as Walt Disney did.

So when Tom Nabbe, the boy who Walt Disney personally hired to play Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer on Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island, agreed to share his story with me (with you, my readers) I felt my time machine had arrived.

Tom Nabbe might be considered the Forrest Gump of Disney Parks history. His outrageous luck had him present at some of Disneyland’s and Walt Disney World’s most pivotal moments. He was a twelve-year-old when Disneyland opened less than a quarter mile from his house.

His mother weaseled him tickets to the Disneyland press opening on July 17, 1955. The very next day he landed a job as a newspaper boy, peddling the Disneyland News to park guests. He became the go-to “All American Boy” for the park’s publicity office.

In 1956, he managed to convince Walt Disney himself to hire him to play Mark Twain’s literary boy-hero, Tom Sawyer. Walt all but handed off his new island paradise for this thirteen-year-old to rule.

From then on, apart from a brief adventure in the U.S. Marine Corps, Tom embarked on a lifelong career doing nearly every possible job within the Disney organization, including helping to open the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in Walt Disney World.

Upon retirement, his career was honored with a window on Main Street. And then he was named a Disney Legend in 2005 as part of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Today, he is still sharing the magic by providing Disney Heritage training for cast members and Disney enthusiasts.

In this 3-part interview, Tom Nabbe shares his incredible story and amazing adventures as Parade Magazine once dubbed him, “The Luckiest Boy in the World.”

Becoming Tom Sawyer

Freddy Martin – How did you become Tom Sawyer?

Tom Nabbe – I was working at Disneyland as a newspaper boy. The news was one of the lessees.* Joe and Ray Amendt had the Castle News operation and they had the newspaper office on Main Street. They also rented wheelchairs, strollers. And it was one of those things where they put your name in the headline of the paper if you wanted. They did wanted posters… same thing. So they had a little printing operation to tie in with the newspaper.

Milton Berle and Jerry Lewis with Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe, when he was a Disneyland newspaper boy, circa 1955. Framed photo located in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel.
Disneyland Newspaper boy, Tom Nabbe, delivers the funny papers to Milton Berle and Jerry Lewis in 1955. Photo in lobby of Disneyland Hotel. ©2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Disneyland News was a monthly publication and pretty much told the history of Disneyland, current events, and coming events… little bit of history. And all the lessees at Disneyland would advertise in the paper. It was probably 40, 50 pages long and about the size of, well, more of a Chronicle or turn-of-the-century newspaper you’d see. So it’s not a full-size newspaper. Probably about a quarter of the size, page wise. And they sold for 10 cents a copy.

The deal was, if I sold over a hundred papers outside the gate in the morning then I could get inside and continue to sell newspapers for the rest of the day.

F – What do you think the purpose of that was? Incentive for you to work hard? I suppose they would want to sell papers inside too. 

T – I think it was to generate money! (Laughs) They got 7 cents a copy, I got 3.

And if you look at Disneyland and Walt Disney World (and I’m assuming Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong) the merchandise location on the left hand side of the entrance is called the Newsstand. Well back at Disneyland, it was really a newsstand and it would have all the newspapers of LA and Orange County, and some nationals, the New York Times and that on sale. And that’s back when people would actually, y’know, read the paper and there was a morning edition and an evening edition.

And one of the jobs I had was, the manager of publicity, Eddie Meck, his office was at City Hall and what he wanted was a copy of every newspaper every day, so he could see what sort of articles were being written about Disneyland or the Studio. So Joe or Ray, the owners, would separate the newspapers out and I would haul them up to Eddie’s office. And so I developed a good rapport with Eddie Meck.

And any time they had a publicity shot or that type of thing, and Eddie’d go, “Hey! Get that red headed kid, that Tom guy, and we’ll use him in this shot. He’s the All-American boy with the red hair and the freckles.”

And so I ended up in a lot of the publicity shots along that line.

“Hey! Get that red headed kid, that Tom guy, and we’ll use him in this shot. He’s the All-American boy with the red hair and the freckles.”

And almost for the next year, any time I could find him in the park, I’d ask if he was still thinking about hiring me for Tom Sawyer.

One of the shots that I have is myself and Milton Berle and Jerry Lewis when they visited the park in August of ‘55. And that was one of those. They put Uncle Milty and Jerry’s name in the headline of the paper and then I posed for the picture with them out front. So that was sorta neat.

While I was doing that, towards the end of the first summer. Somebody, and I don’t remember who, told me that Walt had decided to build Tom Sawyer’s Island on the Rivers of America in Frontierland. “And you look just like Tom Sawyer! You should ask for a job.” And I thought that was a hell of an idea.

Walt was in the park quite frequently during that time frame. He used to come down on Friday nights and stay in his apartment over the weekend and drive back up to the studio on Sunday.

He was in the park, so I was able to find him. I introduced myself and I told him that I heard he was building Tom Sawyer’s Island. And that I look just like Tom Sawyer and he should hire me.

Well, he didn’t, but what he said was that he’d think about it.

So actually, I think I talked him into the character. And I think he thought about it. And almost for the next year, any time I could find him in the park, I’d ask if he was still thinking about hiring me for Tom Sawyer.

And almost for the next year, any time I could find (Walt Disney) in the park, I’d ask if he was still thinking about hiring me for Tom Sawyer.

Then, in April or May of ’56, I remember I was playing the baseball machine in the Penny Arcade, and Dick Nunis… came up and tapped me on the shoulder.

He was a supervisor of Frontierland at that time, and he says, “Tom, come with me.” And when Dick says “come with me,” you don’t argue with Dick. You go with Dick. And we went over to Frontierland and walked over the bridge there by the Chicken Plantation.

And Walt and Bill Evans (Morgan Evans), the landscape architect, was coming back off the island and we went down to the dock. And Walt said, “Tom, do you still want to be Tom Sawyer?” And I told him, “Absolutely, Mr. Disney.”

Walt said, “Tom, do you still want to be Tom Sawyer?” And I told him, “Absolutely, Mr. Disney.”

Young Tom Nabbe in 1955 catching bullfrogs on the Rivers of America at Disneyland.
Tom Nabbe gets groggy as Tom Sawyer before he was hired by Walt Disney to be Tom Sawyer in a Disneyland publicity shot. Photo courtesy of the personal collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

And you realize Walt dealt with a lot of kids during this time frame. Y’know, he had the Mickey Mouse Club and had a lot child actors, and they had two teenage daughters, so he was pretty comfortable talking with kids.

And one thing nice about talking with Walt is he never talked down to you. It was almost like having, I guess I would call it, having an adult conversation with a 12-year-old.

But he told me, “You need to get a work permit and a social security card. And once you did that, they’d put you to work as being Tom Sawyer.”

So that’s how I got to work as Tom Sawyer.

What did Tom Sawyer do? Tom Sawyer posed for a lot of pictures as a face character.

And they had stocked the Rivers of America with blue gill, sun perch, and catfish. We had 50 fishing poles, 25 on each of the fishing piers that were opposite the Mark Twain landing. And I maintained the poles and put bait out every day, which were worms. And if the guests wanted their hook baited, I would bait their hook.

But old, dead, smelly fish started to show up in the park. And so the decision was to make it a “catch and release” program.

Tom Nabbe as Tom Sawyer on the cover of the April 7, 1957 issue of Parade Magazine.
“The Luckiest Boy in the World,” Tom Nabbe, as Tom Sawyer on the cover of Parade Magazine, circa 1957. Photo courtesy of the personal collection of Tom Nabbe. ©2018 Tom Nabbe, all rights reserved.

When we originally started the fishing operation, it was a “catch and clean” program. So if the guests really wanted to keep their fish, then I would clean the fish and put it in a plastic bag for em.

But old, dead, smelly fish started to show up in the park. And so the decision was to make it a “catch and release” program. So we de-barbed all the hooks and I didn’t have to clean any more fish. At least I sort of liked that part of the job.

Photo of the carved names of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in the tree on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland, Anaheim, California
Tom Sawyer’s and Becky Thatcher’s names carved into the treehouse tree on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

And the other part of the job was to pose for pictures. I would answer to either “Tom Sawyer” or “Huckleberry Finn.” I wouldn’t respond to Becky Thatcher or Indian Joe. But whatever the guests wanted me to be between those two characters, I would respond to that.

So I did the Tom Sawyer bit all through Jr. High School and High School. And then, in order to be a ride operator at Disneyland you had to be 18. So when I turned 18, and that was June of ’61, then I became a ride operator. Actually, I became the relief foreman on the rafts. That was my first job and I was a raft operator and relief foreman, four days weekly during that summer.

They held a contest in ’61 and replaced me with a kid by the name of Keith Murdock. And he lasted about 3 years, only at Summer time because he lived in Utah and only came down in the Summer time and lived with his Aunt and Uncle.

And after that they didn’t stock the rivers anymore, didn’t have fishing poles anymore, and didn’t have a Tom Sawyer.

F – Was there ever a Becky Thatcher?

T – No. There never was a Becky Thatcher. When the island opened in June of 56, and I think it was the 16th of June was the opening ceremony for the island, Walt invited the winners of the Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher contest that they hold every year in Hannibal (Missouri, Mark Twain’s hometown) to come out. So if you see publicity shots from that time frame, those are the kids. That was a picture of the winners of the contest. I didn’t start until June 18, 2 days after the opening of the island.

And after that they didn’t stock the rivers anymore, didn’t have fishing poles anymore, and didn’t have a Tom Sawyer.

F – Let me ask you a little bit about being a kid, in that situation…

T – (cuts in laughing) Yeah, it happens to most of us!

F – Tony Baxter the Imagineer, in some of his recent speeches, talked about ‘the importance of being twelve.’ He said that when you’re twelve, your talents and passions start to coalesce and come together into who you will become in the future. What part of being that boy on the island contributed to who you became as a grown up?

T – Creative people probably started out at twelve. I’m not sure if I fall in that same category. (Laughs) Actually, Tony and I worked the subs in the ‘60s.

The Mark Twain river boat on the Rivers of America in Frontierland at Disneyland, in Anaheim California. Shot from Tom Sawyer Island.
The Mark Twain Sternwheeler from Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

F – How do you feel about Tom Sawyer Island today? Do you have a sense of nostalgia? Is it just part of your past? Or is there something else about the island that…

T – Well, I haven’t been on the island in quite a while. Disneyland changed their format to a little bit more along the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Walt Disney World stayed with pretty much the Tom Sawyer aspect.

I haven’t seen the island since they shortened the trip because of building of the Star Wars area. A lot of the change is out there, so I don’t know how to answer your question, Freddy. (Maybe) if it was something I was going to every other month. I rode around on the steamboat on the Mark Twain when I was out there for Disneyland’s 60th. I went around the island but didn’t go on the island.

“And I sort of liked that area and I watched the water flow down the flume into the grist mill.”

F – This may sound strange, but I just want stand in the same spot that Tom Sawyer, Tom Nabbe, stood on, to breathe the same air, and sort of try and picture your experience way back then. Is there a spot on the island that you remember sitting and enjoying way back then?

Water channel on Tom Sawyer Island that feeds the gristmill.
Just below the treehouse, on the Eastern side, behind a large box structure, is the water source for the channel that turns the wheel on the gristmill. This remains exactly as it did in the 1950s when Tom Nabbe worked on Tom Sawyer Island. ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

T – Yeah, well back when the island first opened, they didn’t have a treehouse. It was called lookout point. And just down from lookout point was a little pond and that pond is where the water for the grist mill came from.

And I always sort of liked to sit right at the edge, on benches and everything. And I sort of liked that area and I watched the water flow down the flume into the grist mill.

And I don’t know if they still have that there or not. The island has changed so much with the fireworks show, the Fantasmic show. You know, with all the stages and everything they’ve built on the front part.

F – Is there anything you hope they don’t ever change about it?

T – The way I sort of look at it, Freddy, is change is inevitable. One of the things, if you go back, that Walt basically said was that the park was gonna always be evolving.

So if they make a change for a new attraction or something better in the future, then super! I’m all for that.

NEXT: Follow Tom Nabbe’s life-adventure as he goes into the Marine Corps, then comes back to run nearly every ride at Disneyland and then heads east on the opening crew of Walt Disney World.

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Cover of From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend - The Adventures of Tom Nabbe by Tom Nabbe
From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend The Adventures of Tom Nabbe

Read Tom Nabbe’s auto-biography, From Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend – The Adventures of Tom Nabbe available at TomNabbe.com (autographed and personalized) or on Amazon.

To learn more about Walt Disney’s affinity for Mark Twain and a mysterious mark inside a cave on Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, check out “The Hand of Walt – A Disney Secret Hidden For Decades Is Finally Revealed!

*Disneyland lessees were independent businesses that leased space inside the park to sell their wares.

Moving to Disney (Part 1) – How One Young Couple Took Hold of the Disney Dream

YouTube personalities Sarah & Peter Brookhart left Chicago for Florida to follow their dream of Moving to Disney World. (10 Minute Read)

Moving To Disney

Did you ever dream about living at Disneyland? I know I did. I clearly remember being nine-years-old, drooping sadly out the gates after the fireworks and thinking out loud to nobody, “If I could just stay hidden in one of the caves on Tom Sawyer Island, I could wait out the security guards and have the place all to myself… forever.”

But that’s unrealistic, right? Eventually fantasies give way to reality and childlike dreams fade away.

However, sometimes when you’re not looking, the dream stirs again. Enter YouTube personalities, Sarah and Peter Brookhart.

Magic Kingdom Kids

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Peter and Sarah Brookhart on board a ferry boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon in Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

The Brookharts are an insufferably cute pair of high school sweethearts from Chicago (seriously, folks, they’re adorable) who just recently pulled up stakes and moved to Walt Disney World to follow their dreams.

Sarah Brookhart's family at Walt Disney World
Sarah’s family vacationed at Walt Disney World every two years as far back as she can remember. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Sarah, an expressive young woman whose animated eyes, snowy complexion, and icing-blonde hair makes one think of the wooden-shoed Dutch maidens on the It’s a Small World attraction. Born into a Disney-loving family, her parents honeymooned at Walt Disney World and raised their three daughters to love castles, princesses, and talking mice. Every two years like clockwork, Sarah’s family traveled from Chicago to Florida for two weeks at a time to experience all that Disney has to offer.

Peter, broad shouldered and gregarious, did not grow up going to Disney. His family did other things on vacation, but when he fell in love with Sarah, it became inevitable – he’d have to fall in love with Disney too.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart accepted to Disney College Program
Peter and Sarah receive their Disney College Program acceptance packages. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

During their college years, Peter convinced Sarah to join the Disney College Program so they could spend a Summer or two working as Cast Members. Until then, Peter had never visited a Disney Park, so Sarah insisted they go down to Florida a week early because, as she says, “He has to experience the magic before he can be behind the magic.”

Sarah and Peter Brookhart with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse at Walt Disney World
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Sarah welcome Peter to Walt Disney World on his very first visit. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

They were married in August of 2015, and you’ll never guess where they honeymooned. That’s right – Niagara Falls! Just kidding. They drove Route 66 to California to spend a week at Disneyland.

Back home in Chicago, surrounded by close family, working good jobs, and enjoying the support of a network of lifelong friends, the Brookharts lived a life marked by stability.

Somewhere in their hearts, however, discontent was brewing.

Home Is Where?

From time to time, Sarah and Peter toyed with the idea of moving to Orlando permanently.

“Since 2011, the thought has been in the back of our mind, ‘What would life be like if we moved out here?,” Peter said. “‘What would we be missing? What would we be gaining? Would it be forever? Would it not be forever?’ And I think it’s been just sitting on our mind for the last 6 years.”

In February of 2017, after a weeklong visit to Walt Disney World, Sarah and Peter sat near the pool at Saratoga Springs Resort sipping a vacation favorite, the Lava Smoothie. They were intent on soaking up the last few moments of Florida sun and Disney magic before the airport shuttle arrived.

And they weren’t happy.

If you’ve vacationed at Disney – or anywhere else for that matter – you’ll remember these three stages of vacation emotions. First, you experience the dogged intensity of planning and preparing for the trip. Second, you’re giddy with excitement as you finally arrive at your home-away-from-home. Third, you descend into a fog of melancholy as you reach the vacation’s final day.

The Brookharts were in that third stage.

Peter spoke in a low voice, apparently trying not to disturb the air. Sarah leaned her head against his shoulder, her eyes billowed like the Florida sky, threatening rain. So many times they’d left Disney World, and they felt sad every time, but this time was different.

“We just looked broken,” said Peter. “And it was like something (had) snapped in us.”

On the flight to Chicago they didn’t talk much. When they did speak, they could only describe a looming dread that they weren’t just going home. They were leaving their dreams behind.

“I didn’t want to be 85, talking to my grandchildren,” Peter remembered thinking, “and let them know that Grandpa didn’t follow his dreams. Grandpa didn’t try, at least, to see what living at Disney World would be like.”

After a week of hard conversations thinking and talking about what a move to Disney World might mean, Peter finally asked Sarah, “We’re doing this, right?” And that’s when their journey began.

Courage Givers

It’s a scary thing to leave the comfort of home to follow a dream. Like the gold-rush 49ers who headed West in pursuit of fortune and glory, true courage is required to face down the fears, doubts, and obstacles that will come your way.

Sarah and Peter found courage in a growing number of pioneers who were making their own way and documenting their life journeys on YouTube; folks like the Ballinger Family or Casey Neistat.

Still from Tim Tracker Video
YouTube stars like Tim Tracker make the idea of living at Walt Disney World a little more plausible. Still from “TheTimTracker” video: 9 Parks In 1 Day Theme Park Challenge!! | Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens & More!!

More to the Brookhart’s interests, Disney park video bloggers like Joey Beth & Josh Bugg (It’s The Bugg’s Life), Brock & Promise (Ears2You), and the current king of the craft, Tim Tracker (TheTimTracker) proved that there is a growing demand for true-life human adventures that take place at Disney.

These trailblazers paved the way for Sarah and Peter to courageously ask, “If they could do it, why couldn’t we?”

But courage from strangers wasn’t going to be enough to uproot them from the community where they were raised.

The Ties That Bind

Sarah and Peter grew up on the Southside of Chicago in a village where you’re known by the church you attend. The small-town in a big-city vibe afforded them some of the most close-knit and satisfying community connections the Midwest has to offer; friends, jobs, lifelong connection to a city that they love…

Sarah Brookhart and her sisters at Walt Disney World
Sarah and her sisters, partners indeed. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

And family. Sarah and her sisters were an inseparable trio who had gone through everything together. To Sarah, leaving her family to go live at Disney seemed like betrayal.

“We were used to being the people you could lean on,” Sarah said.” So telling someone we’re not gonna be there is a pretty harsh blow for them and it’s a pretty harsh blow for us because, you know, we enjoy being there for others.”

Even though their family was supportive of the move, the knowledge that they would be missing important family moments made it even more painful to leave.

At one point, Sarah’s sister, Christina, announced that she was pregnant. In the midst of the joy and excitement, Sarah was struck cold by the realization that she would be in Orlando throughout much of the pregnancy. With her sister-senses tingling, Christina wasn’t about to let Sarah call off the dream. She looked Sarah in the eyes and said, “You still have to go to Disney.”

The good news is, unlike the 49ers, Sarah and Peter have FaceTime, Snapchat, and their daily video diaries on YouTube to make communication with their families easy.

“Luckily for them, every single day of our lives is on the internet so they can see what we’re up to,” Sarah laughed. “But it is still up to us to make sure that we stay updated on their lives too.”

A Goal, a Plan…

Once their minds were made up to go, all they needed was a goal to aim for and a plan to get there. For Peter, a zealous foodie, there was one target he could focus on that would keep them moving forward.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart moving into their apartment
Spoiler Alert: Peter and Sarah moving in to their apartment in Florida. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“I didn’t know what job I’d have,” said Peter. “Didn’t know if we’d both have to work full normal jobs. If I’d be working weekends, second shift, third shift, first shift? We didn’t know! But all I said is, ‘I wanna be in Florida by Food and Wine festival.’”

So with Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival as the carrot to draw them on, they set about to make their plan.

Sarah is a freelance graphic artist with a steady client load. Her job would be portable. Peter would have to find a job, and searching for work from half a continent away wasn’t going to be easy.

They also needed to find an affordable place to stay (hopefully within 10 minutes of the resorts), a vehicle to get around in, and a whole lot of money for moving expenses.

Step by step, hour by hour, week by week, for 4 months they researched, saved, asked a lot of questions, and patiently pursued their dream until at last, most of the pieces had fallen into place.

Sarah Brookhart and Eve
And Eve makes three! Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Peter got a promising job with a timeshare company that would be waiting when they arrived. They found a place to rent seven minutes from the gates of Disney World (a feat they are still super proud of). They managed to save just enough to pay for all the expenses of the move, and even had something socked away to buy a car once they arrived.

Along the way, they welcomed to the family a cute little sidekick to share their adventures, a Pomeranian puppy named Eve.

But there was one more puzzle piece they would need to complete the picture. A name.

…And a Name.

Still from Sarah and Peter Brookhart's wedding video
Scene from the Brookhart’s wedding video on “The Fab 5207”, their original YouTube channel. Still from “Peter & Sarah’s Wedding Highlight Film” Click to view on YouTube.

Their original YouTube channel, named The Fab 5207 , was a collaboration with friends from their Disney College Program days. If they did actually make it to Florida, Sarah and Peter intended to create a brand new YouTube channel to share their adventures with their established audience and friends back home.

Their new adventures, to be filmed and published every day, would center around their relationship as a couple, their highs and lows – even their starting of a family – all within the context of their shared love for the Disney experience.

Now, every good story has a title and every YouTube channel needs a name. The Brookharts wanted to choose something just right, so they decided to look for inspiration from the man whose mouse started it all, Walt Disney.

Back in the 1960s, Walt was looking for a place to build his outrageous dream of a master-planned vacation kingdom and city of tomorrow. He settled on Central Florida as the ideal location. Long before he had a name for the place that would become Walt Disney World, Walt and his team simply referred to it as “The Florida Project.”

Whenever Walt spoke of “The Florida Project”the words seemed to flow off of his tongue with a sort of reverent excitement that revealed his true feelings for what he was certain his dream would one day become. His brother Roy reported that Walt was still scheming about the project on his death bed, using the hospital ceiling tiles as the gridlines of a map to point out where he wanted certain features and attractions.

Sadly, Roy would be the only Disney brother to see The Florida Project become a reality.

Still from The Brookhart Project video
Moving Day! The Brookhart Project is on the road from Chicago to Walt Disney World. Still from “Moving Day Road Trip! Part 1 – Chicago, Illinois to Atlanta, Georgia” Click to view on YouTube.

Influenced by that same spirit of hope and vision for the future, the Brookharts’ new life and video channel was sure to become a long-running documentary of their very own Florida project.

So, on July 28, 2017, The Brookhart Project set their cameras to record, kissed their families goodbye, and hit the road, bound for a brand new life in Walt Disney World.

At Home in Disney World

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Sarah and Peter enjoy date night at the Beach Club Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Six months later, Sarah and Peter sit on a bench at the Beach Club Resort just few short steps from the entrance to Epcot. They’re reflecting on the what they’ve experienced and learned since their journey began one year ago.

“What has been the child, almost, of The Brookhart Project,” said Peter, is really the lifestyle that Sarah and I have adapted and been growing into since we moved down here – and that’s just appreciating every single day, and every single minute, every single thing.”

Moving to Disney has developed a deeper appreciation for the obvious things like the rides, architecture, and the food (they did make it in time for the Food and Wine Festival after all). However, they’ve found themselves appreciating the little things even more, like the way cast members work so hard to give each guest a special experience.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Always on, the Brookharts film a day in the Disney parks for their YouTube channel, The Brookhart Project. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“Even though we live in such a grand place, it’s this humble view on life has been the biggest gain for us.”

Naturally, they have experienced every parade, show, and attraction many times. Still, it hasn’t been all churros and Dole Whips for the couple.

“We’ve heard few snide comments,” Sarah said, “where people are like, ‘Oh, you live in Fantasyland.’ I mean we still have laundry! We still have dishes. We still have bills, we’re not eating out at the parks every night. You don’t see us when we’re downing PB & Js in the car before we head into the parks!”

And it hasn’t been easy being so far from their families.

“My family is just used to being obsessed with each other,” Sarah said. “We FaceTime every other day almost. I talk to my mom every night on the phone. But, you know, we just miss being able to stop by and shovel the sidewalk for her.”

Nonetheless, the happiness they’ve experienced as a couple and the friendships they’ve built are valuable beyond measure.

“Because we are constantly interacting with others who watch our videos, we’ve had some incredibly humbling messages sent to us about what our videos do for them.”

Once, they heard from a woman in a nursing home who was feeling trapped and hopeless. She told Sarah and Peter, “You guys give me my freedom because you take me away from this place every day.”

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Sarah and Peter Brookhart sharing their story with me on the phone from California. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“Stuff like that makes me realize, this isn’t just a YouTube channel,” said Sarah.

Now that they have realized their dream of moving to Disney World, the Brookharts feel a responsibility to inspire others to pursue dreams of their own.

“Even if it’s inspiring them to do something of their own. Maybe Walt Disney World is not their ‘Disney World.’ Maybe going to explore South America is their ‘Disney World,’” said Peter.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Peter and Sarah Brookhart at the Magic Kingdom. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

For Sarah and Peter, Walt Disney World has become more than a vacation destination. In many ways, it has become the laboratory for a grand relationship experiment.

“No matter what,” said Sarah, “it’s kind of been strengthening us as a couple just to figure out how we want to live.”

Ask any marriage counselor and they’ll tell you that the best ways to perpetuate the romance and insulate a relationship against divorce is to share a hobby and to keep a regular date night.

If that’s true, then Sarah and Peter’s story will end in “happily ever after.” From the day they arrived in Florida, they’ve enjoyed date night every night, wandering hand in hand together and capturing every moment in the most magical place on earth.

Freddy’s Move to Disneyland – An Epilogue

Freddy Martin at Disneyland
Freddy Martin doing actual work on board the Disneyland Railroad during the first day of “office hours” at Disneyland. Photo shot by a nice tourist lady. ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

I wrote the first words of this story on board the “Ward Kimball” steam train while taking a grand circle tour of Disneyland. If you had been there, you might have thought it a little strange to see me working on my laptop as though the tunnels and tracks were a suburban Starbucks.

After observing people like the Brookharts, Peter Tu (the clapping man of Disneyland), Lou Mongello, and many others, I decided to turn what I do into something I love by doing it in the place where I feel most creative – Disneyland!

Although I didn’t actually “move to Disneyland” (I still live over an hour away), I started 2018 with the commitment to hold my “office hours” one day a week at the Disneyland Resort. You might find me running reports at the Hungry Bear in Critter Country, drafting an appeal letter on the old Motor Boat Cruise launch, or editing content on Tom Sawyer Island.

And yes, I am actually working.

Next:

How To Move To Disney World – 8 Tips To Know Before You Go

Here’s what I learned from the Brookharts about how to follow your dream to live at Disney in 8 practical steps.

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Space Between Places – An Interview With Artist Morleigh Steinberg

“I kind of pushed him to do it.”

Morleigh Steinberg is in the midst of producing the first public showing of her husband’s series of desert photographs. “I just said to him, ‘You really gotta do something with this. People should see this. I think it’s important. And with the closure of the tour, now is the time to do it.’”

Preparation for the opening of “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” at Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

Perhaps I should mention that Morleigh’s husband is The Edge, U2’s revered lead guitarist and atmospheric sound architect.

Back in 1986, when the Irish rock band visited California’s Death Valley and Mojave Desert to shoot images for the cover of their upcoming album, The Joshua Tree, U2 photographer, Anton Corbjin, wasn’t the only one taking pictures. The Edge took up his own camera to capture the desert as he saw it.

“I think he’s got a really good eye.”

With a quiet enthusiasm that projects genuine confidence in her family’s artistic competence, Morleigh also can’t help but sound like her husband’s biggest fan.

“I think he’s got a really good eye. And it’s photography, so I said, ‘Let’s just do this.’”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh is co-owner of Arcane Space (along with singer & artist Frally Hynes), a bodega studio a couple blocks from Venice Beach in Venice, California. When we first met, I asked her about her “gallery” and she politely corrected me.

“It’s not so much a gallery as it is a space,” she mused.

That caught my attention. As a spatial storyteller with Storyland Studios, I’m fascinated by the ways people use space to express something of meaning or significance. Whether in cathedrals, office cubicles, or amusement parks, creative people are able to transform space to express something about themselves and the way they see the world. So I had to go see Arcane Space for myself.

“I think a gallery is very defined,” Morleigh later explained. “There’s a certain structure that a gallery has to set up to present artists. But we’re still trying to find out what this is and how it’s gonna work. And it feels so free. Space can be so many things.”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

The entire gallery… er, space is surprisingly small and painted stark white, from the floor to the ceiling. It gives one the impression of a blank page or canvas to be used freely for artistic expression.

“We want it to be a place where we can share,” Morleigh said, “that we can express what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on in other artists’ lives. And give them an opportunity to present work, or make work, or explore work, or push work, but not in a defined gallery. But just in the space.”

Opening of Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Like a brand new journal or drawing pad, starting with a blank space fills a creative heart like Morleigh’s with a churning sense of potential and curiosity.

“How do you occupy space? How do you change space? And how does that make you feel? And how does it make other people feel? That’s more my curiosity. So that’s where Arcane Space came from.”

Lines In The Sky

Power lines in Venice Beach. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Arcane Space’s first installation was a collection of Morleigh’s own photographs entitled “LA Sky Lines.”

Each piece featured the blue, California sky criss-crossed with telephone wires and poles, double-exposed for a disorienting kaleidoscopic effect. In most shots, the illusion confuses the eye with lines that converge in reflective patterns and unnatural vanishing points.

Some look like reflections on water, and others recall the arches and gables of a transparent greenhouse roof.

LA powerlines and palm trees. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads. We live in this very detached society. There’s something so tangible and so real about these wires going from pole to pole to pole to pole.”

And person to person.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads.”

As I viewed the pieces myself, I recalled a childhood memory. Riding in the backseat of my parents’ car as we travelled through the San Joaquin Valley, I watched the wires and poles pass by in rhythmic waves. I remember being enchanted by the idea that there are people on either end of these wires, with miles of space between them, and they’re talking to one another.

“It’s really about the infrastructure between the sky and all these lines and wires that are connected above our heads,” she said. “I find it really delightful and very reassuring.”

True to her intention to allow the space to guide the work created there, the photographs weren’t hung on the walls. They were on the floor, leaned against the wall to create a sort of blue baseboard that follows the walls’ hard angles wherever they may lead.

“I was really looking at the whole space, and my images, and how I would use them, and that was the way they ended up. On the floor.”

Morleigh Steinberg making use of space at Arcane Space in Venice Beach, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. Copyright © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

This unusual arrangement allowed visitors to view the images, not as individual pieces, but as part of a larger complete work. The space itself had become the work of art.

“There’s purity in putting a picture on the wall. But you never just put a picture on a wall, do you? You always put a picture up in the relationship it has to the rest of the space.”

The Space Between Places

Sculpture at LACMA in Los Angeles. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s perspective on space and our relationship with it springs from a lifetime of movement. As a lifelong dancer and choreographer, movement within space is what defines the artform she loves most.

She also grew up in Los Angeles, which, due to its never-ending sprawl connected like power lines through its notorious freeway system, forces its inhabitants to leave one defined space and move to another if they want to experience everything the city has to offer.

“There are several places in LA that are so unique, but you’re going to have to drive to them. You’re going to have to get in the car to go to them.”

Circle walk at Dos Lagos in Corona, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s parents were people on the move with a passion for exposing their kids to experiences througout the city. Morleigh developed a keen interest in both the destination and the space between places.

“And I got it. I didn’t mind going from place to place to discover.”

“I lived in New York for a time and there you don’t have to drive to experience a lot of different things. Here there’s always somewhere to go. That comforts me more than having the same places within reach all the time.”

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

New Orleans Square at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

One Southern California place she rediscovered for herself recently was Disneyland. Walt Disney’s cartoon kingdom in Anaheim might not be the first place an artist thinks of when seeking authenticity and genuine inspiration, but Morleigh went into the experience with eyes wide open.

“I was so impressed by it. I was really impressed by the landscaping, all California drought tolerant. But then in Tomorrowland, the landscaping was all vegetables, like kale, and chard, and herbs and it was quite remarkable and I was like, ‘Right on!’”

“Then, going into the haunted house, all the things that held the chains they were all these beautiful kind of patinaed bats. And they were real! They weren’t like plastic fake stuff. They were real materials.”

Brass bat stanchion in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Photo provided courtesy of Todd Young Photography ©2017 Todd Young Photography, all rights reserved.

While Morleigh seemed genuinely surprised at the authenticity achieved in Disneyland’s fantasy worlds, she agreed wholeheartedly with the premise that creating space for people to respond to produces genuine emotional results.

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

Outside, It’s America

Flyer for “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” taken from arcanespacela.com, used with permission. Copyright © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

At the time of this writing, Morleigh is putting the finishing touches on Arcane Space’s newest installation; The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge.

To music fans around the world, the photography for U2’s fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, is widely considered the most iconic and beautifully integrated album art of all time. In many ways the photographs on the record sleeve created a unique space for the music to inhabit.

“The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record,” U2 bassist, Adam Clayton, told Hot Press magazine at the time of the album’s release. “Most people would take the desert on face value and think it’s some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But, in the right frame of mind it’s also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.”

“So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

The Edge in the California desert pictured on the 12″ single for “With Or Without You” from the album “The Joshua Tree” by U2. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh recognized that an opportunity to display never-before-seen images of the same brilliant landscapes captured by of one of the band members would be unique and intriguing for many people. And the timing isn’t bad either. The band just finished a worldwide tour celebrating the album’s 30th anniversary.

Co-owners of Arcane Space, Morleigh Steinberg and Frally Hynes, at the opening of The Joshua Tree – Photos by The Edge. Photo courtesy of Scott Fifer, Founder of the Go Campaign, used with permission. © 2017 Scott Fifer, all rights reserved.

“It doesn’t make sense to do it 6 months from now,” said Morleigh. “That would feel like going back, you know? So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

With the confidence of a woman at the vanguard of creative exploration for her family, Morleigh convinced her husband to do the unexpected, to use the space to explore and share his own story. ”Let’s not make this about the band. Let’s make it about the landscape. And the landscape that you saw at that time.”

The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge runs from November 22-December 17, 2017. 100% of the proceeds from sales supports the Go Campaign, which funds grass roots organizations that serve children and youth around the world.

Arcane Space is the collaborative effort of Morleigh Steinberg and singer/artist Frally Hynes.

Visit ArcaneSpaceLA.com for more information.

 

The author and his daughter taken by Morleigh Steinberg in Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.