1980’s Disneyland Stories (That I Can Tell), Part 1
Doug Bain is a themed attraction writer and concept developer at “Starts with a Story”.
He is frequent contributor to ThemedAttraction. Here are some of his stories from back stage at Disneyland during the 1980’s,
A long time ago, in the early 80’s, I worked at Disneyland – twice. The interview the second time is more memorable, since the interviewer had previously been a Disneyland Ambassador. By recognizing her, I made a good first impression. I asked it I could go back to where I had been before – in the kitchen for the Plaza Inn/Inn Between. (the cast member cafeteria).
Both times, I started out as a PK/DMO. PK meant the same as the military KP or Kitchen Patrol. I never did find out why the letters were reversed. DMO stood for the position of Dish Machine Operator. This included the dreaded pot room, which was mostly scraping the pots that had day long, baked on gravy semi-permanently glued to the whole inside and a good part of the outside. Every once in a while, cleaning pots was a desired position, mostly for the solitude. The pot room and the dish room were both very steamy, and therefore sweaty. This was especially difficult in the summer, working nights after spending the day getting sun burnt at the beach. It was a tough lesson to learn!
We used 1 inch and 4 inch putty knives as scrapers for the pots, dishes, counters, floors… and kept them extremely razor sharp. This helped especially for the pots, but mostly for pranks, as in cutting apron strings and slicing paper cups in the Inn Between. They were so razor sharp that the cup would hold together, until picked up by the unsuspecting thirsty soul, and spilling out all over the table, floor and person. Great fun we had back then!
Speaking of sharp things, there were more than a few dangers in the kitchen areas. Dishes and glasses could get broken in bus tubs or in the dish machine. Meat slicers and a band saw in the prep area were always a known hazard, no matter how careful you might try to be. Lots of things could burn you, too. Stoves, ovens, anything coming out of them, and the oil in the fryer! The fryers were easier to clean when they were still hot, like many other things. Once, when taking the old oil out of two of them (a few gallons worth, still boiling a bit), I was near the 55 gallon drum, getting ready to dump it, some of the molten lava-like fluid splashed out onto my hands. We always used towels wrapped around the hot handles, but it burnt my hands, causing me to drop the whole pot, sloshing even more into the air and coming down inside my knee high, dishwashing room wader boots, and burning my legs and feet on the way into them. I did have some trips to the first aid department in my career there.
We also had many fun times. The head chef for the park would sometimes use our kitchen to test new recipes and we got to be on the tasting side of those experiments. The training for Tokyo Disneyland was going on during my time there, with a few trainees at all levels coming through. Part of that included the gifts that cast members would receive sometimes, and we were given a few things to commemorate the opening of that new park. The most fun was the canoe races. My second time working in the P.I. fell at just the right time, for canoe teams to form. The restaurant already had just enough for a team, and a few more that were interested. We found enough more to make a second team. If I remember correctly, I was made the team captain, and, also learned to steer. We weren’t strong competitors, but it was great to be out on the water with teams from all around the park, as well as some teams from Burbank and Glendale. Another huge extra was flying with one of the cooks from the Inn Between. He just needed the passengers to cover the cost of the gas. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I had the privilege of going up with him once. We got to come near enough to see the fireworks going off and then, he let me take the controls from there until we got out over the ocean.
There were many lessons to be learned from working for Disney. Discipline and a strong work ethic, working with many other people in different shifts and positions, guest service, and high quality control were just a few of the things I have kept with me throughout many years since I was there. We had to do extreme cleaning – every night, and always (clean as you go) to make the cleaning a bit easier. End of night inspection included not just counter tops, but also, underneath, to keep stuff from building up. Also, it was nice to have boxes all around (sort of like a suggestion box), that anyone could write down any problem that they saw – light bulb out, touch up painting needed, safety issue… and it would usually be taken care of by the next day.
One last memory is one that a few have had – standing alone on Main Street. My situation happened when our dish machine broke down one day. We were shuttling our dishes back and forth to the Plaza Pavilion to use their machine. That had to be done the long way around during operating hours. With both restaurants using one machine, it took until almost daylight the next day to finally get caught up.
When we were finished, I was walking back across the street alone, full lights and music going on, apparently just for me. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy it. Such a magical place.