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Hello again to all you Disneyland lovers. I thought I would share a different angle on things this time. A HAPPIER one!!! I’ll tell you a little more about myself and some of the crazy things I did just because the canoe crew and I truly loved the Rivers of America at Disneyland. When I started working at the park in the end of ‘95, I was like a child in a candy store. See, I grew up with my oldest brother working there from ‘74 till ‘92. That played a huge roll in my life as a child, constantly influencing my desire to be a part of the magic.
When I started, I was not planning on focusing on being a part of a certain attraction or area in the park. But over a few weeks, I was drawn to the shore of the river. So one day I asked the management staff if I could try out for the canoes. And that’s what happened. I landed a spot on the team. It was really hard to be on the crew because you had to try out. And if the trainer didn’t think you could pull water, well…let’s just say you would probably be at Splash Mountain the following week being trained there. I was taught that you really had to pull your own weight and the weight of 20 guests on some occasions.
Now, when I came aboard that tight knit crew, it was like a football team. The guys treated each other like family members as, over time, you gained more and more respect. The guys on the crew were ogres and, man; these guys could pull water like no one’s business. All the guys took pride in the attraction giving it whatever they could that was best inside them. Some were great jokesters, and some just had that childlike attitude that kids loved. And, well, others were just nuts with the adults making the trips outrageously funny.
As for me, well, I was fun but wild when it came down to it. I remember when I took my first solo trip around the river after being trained. I was so, so nervous. Over-cranking the canoe side to side scared of hitting the big boats, and just barely making it around the river stage area with guests looking on while we passed by. Anyhow, the river operated like a secret society. The way I used to explain it to the guests was like this, (since the water is green and it’s about a mile, just like the movie Green Mile). “What ever happens on the mile stays on the mile”. But the guests loved it. We used to do all kinds of crazy things that are no longer known about or done at the park due to strict changes with ride safety.
I will give you an example. When you were done with your training, you got baptized into the club. Now there were different levels of seniority, but after about a year strong on canoes, I am sure you would have done it or had it done to you by your fellow canoe brothers to put you at your senior level. Like my first day on the river, I got hooked. Hooking was a form of jackknifing a canoe by forcing another canoe to spin around, thus leaving the canoe that had been hooked, facing the wrong way. Now when this was done, the guest safety was always kept as priority number one. We would never do it in front or near the Twain or the Columbia. Hooking was always done in secret from the management and only at the back of the island. Usually it would take place in front of the Indian village or a little past that. As well as we would tell the guest who were involved with the attempted hooking, what was going to happen to see if they were on board with our plan. Now I will admit that some seemed shocked at first but never was anyone ever hurt guest during the prank. So like I was saying, I was coming up to the Indian village when two of the senior guys came out of the Fantasmic cove right after I passed them. The guide of their canoe came up behind me. I was steering my own vessel. He would grab my pull rope used to pull the canoe at the dock, and proceed to tell his boat full of guests to paddle as hard as they could. My canoe was completely turned around facing upstream, after which they let us go and took off – with only their laughter being heard the rest of the way down the river. Man, it was embarrassing to have that done to you, but it was fun. Oh, and the guests loved it; even the ones being hooked. But that was all stopped after about ‘98 when the unfortunate death took place with the Columbia. But till then, oh, we had a ball.
Other things happened that were just as fun. We would scare the guests at times by having the driver of the canoe slapping his paddle on the water which gave off a shot gun bang sound. We told them it was a croc. Or we would ride the edge of the (no longer there) Angel Falls waterfalls - giving the guests a little water break, as we would call it. Other things that happened were guys talking to the guests as they walked backwards on the dock…until they walked right off into the water. Yet another “welcoming to the crew” tradition was to wedge the driver’s paddle into the back of the canoe. Now, they would not know till they left the dock and were headed straight for the Hungry Bear restaurant.
We also used to “shoot the gap” and charge the big boats. Shooting the gap was really a blast if your entire boat had the guts to do it. See, this would happen when a canoe passed along side of either the Mark Twain or the Columbia while in motion anywhere on the river. We were allowed to get as close to the big boats as possible if we thought we could get through the undertow created by the paddle wheel from the Twain. Now, charging the big boats was getting a running start with a third cast member pushing the back of the canoe, in order to get in front of one of the big boats which was passing right next to the canoe dock. This was only done for seniors, not rookies. But as for the joking around, we would push the limits.
I remember passing the burning cabin during one of my daily tours, telling the guests the history of the river. As I pointed to the burning cabin, I heard “Get out of here you claim jumpers”. I was stumped to where it came from, but then I saw one of the canoe crewmembers with a straw hat on, an older style critter country jacket and a bandana hanging from his waste. He was pretending to live in the cabin and was acting like he was drinking a jug of whisky. Oh man, the folks on board thought it was hilarious. He told them to look out for man-eating ducks and a dancing bear ahead. The bear he was referring to was the audio-animatronics grizzly bear that’s scratching its back against a tree. Man, oh man, the horseplay out there was nuts. We used to play a game between the canoe crew and the Fantasmic float drivers, or Show Support as they are classified. See, there is this fake dog that sat at the Indian village. Well we use to move the dog around every day and try to outdo the other department. So one day, I took the opening canoe out with a full load of guests, but this trip was to be a showstopper. As we came upon the burning cabin, we found the dog in the eagle’s nest with an Indian headdress with feathers, a spear standing straight up next to it, and small canoe paddle wedged in its mouth. Just try to visualize this. Once again the guests died of laughter, including myself, making the trip another one for the books.
I think one of the best memories I have is the old school canoe crew taking the “Bertha Mae” keel boat out for the last time before it was to be removed from the river forever as an attraction, due to its sister vessel the “Gully Whomper” sinking in the summer of 1997. The lead that day had pulled some strings in order to have everyone who was involved with the keel boat rescue to be scheduled that day so that we could have some fun and take the boat around the river before her farewell later that night. Now, I must say, it was far from a calm cruise with the canoe members on board. It was a magic morning, so guests were roaming around the outer edge of the river watching as 20 plus canoe crewmembers hung off the side of the vessel singing the theme song to the Davy Crockett movie out loud. We zoomed past river stage rocking the boat, doing donuts, and cheering “DC” which stands for Davy Crockett. But then, as normal, when a cast member leaves the clan, we throw them in the river. But since it was the boat leaving, we all took a dive off the top balcony of the Bertha Mae into the water below. Then all of us cheered once more in a synchronized chant, “DC” “DC” ‘DC”. The lead yelled out “Who are we” and we all answered “WE ARE DC” and clapped showing our love for what was to be a part of Disneyland history. What no one knows is that the canoe crew rescued the guests on board the day the keelboat sank. They got there before the Twain ran into them; unaware of what had happened around the river bend. But through all the trials, accomplishments, and failures, the canoe crew of the 90’s grew closer as a family. I have been involved in football and other sports in my years, and never have I been involved with a team that cared for each other so much so as the DC crew.
About the Author
Robert Baca is a southern California local.
He worked at Disneyland in Anaheim California from 1995 to 2003 as an Attractions Cast Member.
Other Articles by Robert can be found at http://DLDHistory.com