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Disneyland’s Old Hands Ready for ’86 : Looking Back and Ahead as Fantasy of 1955 Prepares for Record Season

Cora Lee Clines says the biggest problem she encountered when she applied for a job at Disneyland was geographical. She couldn’t find it.

But that was in the almost unrecognizable past--by Orange County standards, anyway--when Disneyland was not a household word, Harbor Boulevard was a two-lane road and Fantasyland had just sprung out of an orange grove.

In 1955, you could miss it.

Still, Clines got the job and became a ticket seller. Nearly 31 years later, at age 63, she’s still selling tickets.

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Clines is one of a handful of original Disneyland employees--who on opening day, July 18, 1955, numbered only 600--who are still on the job. All have seen the park grow from what they describe as something of a disorganized hodgepodge during the first week of operation to an entertainment institution.

Also, in their 31st year of employment, the veterans are preparing for what may be one of Disneyland’s busiest summers. Summer traditionally finds the park visited by more people than any other season, but the fact that many American vacationers are choosing holidays at home this year has fueled speculation that Disneyland will be packed with more visitors than ever.

Cautious on Predictions

Park spokesmen, however, remain cautious, remembering when the expected overflow crowds during the Olympic summer of 1984 failed to materialize, apparently scared away by predictions of traffic snarls and other unpleasant overcrowding.

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“It was the big bust of ’84,” said spokesman Joe Aguirre.

Whether the summer of 1986 shapes up as a boom or bust, however, Disneyland’s veterans will have seen it before. Working at the park for 31 years makes one tend to expect the unusual, Clines said. But, she added, it was not always so.

“That first day was very confusing,” she said. “Nobody really knew what they were doing. I spit in Ronald Reagan’s face that day.”

That great faux pas , she said, occurred during a meal for celebrities attending the opening-day ceremonies, one of whom was Reagan. Clines was allowed to attend the meal at the Carnation Gardens, and when a friend mentioned that Reagan was sitting behind her, “I just turned around and said, ‘Ronald Reagan! ' I’m sure I spit on him accidentally, but he and Nancy were very gracious about it.

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“In those days, none of us had ever seen celebrities. I remember seeing Bob Cummings walk down Main Street dressed in a jump suit. I wasn’t worth anything for the rest of the day. Now, though, we see celebrities all the time, so it doesn’t have that effect.”

Clines, who now lives in Anaheim within walking distance of the park, had only been in California for a few months, having moved from Texas with her husband in 1954, when she saw an advertisement for Disneyland employees on television. She applied for a job as an office worker and was asked if she would like to be a ticket seller. She agreed.

The job’s benefits and increasing pay have kept her at the ticket booth for 31 years, she said.

Her Second Home

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“After a while, it’s your security blanket,” she said. “There are people out here with two college degrees who are still selling tickets. It’s been my second home for a long time.

“I don’t think you’re aware of the changes out here when you work here from day to day,” she said. “But I am sorry I didn’t buy post cards over the years that would show how things have changed.”

Ron Dominguez’s personal post-card collection would have to go back even further. Although he began his tenure at Disneyland along with several other current employees, Dominguez, Disneyland’s vice president of operations, can say that he has worked on the property longer than anyone.

Dominguez and his family lived on 10 acres of land on which they raised oranges and which later become part of Disneyland after his parents and 17 other growers and residents sold their land to Disney in the early 1950s.

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In fact, the land was Dominguez’s first home. He was brought there by his parents only days after he was born in St. Joseph Hospital in Orange on Aug. 10, 1935.

It wasn’t until he began attending college in Arizona that Dominguez began to think about a job at Disneyland. He knew a new Disney theme park was being built on the site of his former home and had heard that employees were needed.

“I’d worked at home in the orange groves for years,” he said, “but that year I felt it was time for a change.”

He worked as a ticket seller at the main gate for two weeks before being transferred to the park’s operations division, which is responsible for running Disneyland’s rides. He became a conductor on the steam trains that circle the park.

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“I ended up getting caught up in the work,” he said. “My boss at the time convinced me that I should go to school here locally part time and work at the park part time. It really got me to thinking about my future here.”

Enrolled in College

In the following year, Dominguez enrolled as a business major at Fullerton Junior College and worked on “just about every attraction we had at the time.”

Eventually he dropped out of college to work full time. Throughout the years he worked his way through supervisory positions to the vice presidency of the operations division.

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Although Dominguez, who now lives in Villa Park, might be called Disneyland’s oldest resident, he said he has little sentimentality about his background.

“I have an attachment to the place not because I was born here but because I grew up with the park during my adult life,” he said. “It doesn’t really feel like I used to live here. I guess I’m not that much of a sentimentalist about that part. But the work here always keeps me excited and generated. It keeps boredom out of your system because there’s always something new to do. I never think, ‘Geez, I have to go to work today.’ ”

Frank Pfannenstiel already was a Disney employee of one year when he started work at Disneyland two months before opening day. Pfannenstiel, an experienced horse handler, began working at Disney’s Burbank studios in 1954, preparing specifically for the day when the first of many generations of large draft horses would pull the brightly painted horse cars along Disneyland’s Main Street.

Today he is in charge of the park’s Circle D Corral, where the horses are boarded and trained. Pfannenstiel regularly trains new horse-car drivers, makes harnesses and takes his turn at the reins in his driver’s costume.

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Born on a Kansas farm and raised on a Colorado ranch, Pfannenstiel, 61, said Walt Disney’s saddle is still kept at the corral.

“Walt would come in here and saddle up his horse and ride around the park” during off hours, he said. “You’d come out here at 3 a.m. on Main Street and there he’d be. He was really one guy, and this place was his baby.”

Close to Horses

Pfannenstiel said he probably has cultivated a closer working relationship with Disneyland’s horses over the years than any other person.

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“They really know what’s going on,” he said admiringly of his four-legged charges. “They really look forward to coming out in the park. They follow me around like puppy dogs sometimes.”

John Catone, now Disneyland’s manager of communications services, found himself in a changing situation during the park’s first days. After a three-day stint operating the Richfield Autopia, Catone was put into a silvery spacesuit with a large plastic bubble helmet. He was told to mingle with the crowd in Tomorrowland.

“The Kaiser people, who were lessees in the park at the time, asked me to come in and try on a suit,” said Catone. “Little did I know that it was a spacesuit. This was before the astronauts, so this was supposed to be the suit of the future. It had oxygen tanks and knobs and all sorts of things on it, and I put it on and just walked around the area. And because everybody wanted a picture with the spaceman, I was sort of like a crowd-control person. If the crowd bunched up in one place, I’d go somewhere else and a lot of them would come with me.”

It was supposed to be a temporary promotion, a sort of gimmick, said Catone, but it proved so popular that spaceman John ended up wearing the suit for two years, both in the park and on promotional trips for Kaiser.

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Catone’s employment at Disneyland was almost a pilgrimage.

“I was the manager of a city swimming pool and a lifeguard in Ohio, in a town called Girard,” he said, “and I read in the paper that Disney was going to open a park, so I came out to California and put in an application, and I was hired that day.

“I’d never seen a place like Disneyland at that time,” he said. “It was a miracle the way the workers moved along and got it finished in time. Sometimes we’d walk on asphalt that had just been poured an hour before.”

Confusing Day

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Still, said Catone, opening day on a Sunday was so confusing “that we called it ‘Black Sunday.’ Everything that could go wrong went wrong. And there was a plumbers’ strike so none of the water fountains were working. We had guys going around with containers of water strapped to their backs handing out water to people.”

Often, he said, it was Walt Disney himself who would lend a hand.

“I worked in operations in various lands for a time,” he said, “and once when I was walking out to the Matterhorn, I was carrying a couple of training manuals we’d put together for it under my arm. All of a sudden someone behind me pulls on the books and I turn around and it’s Walt. We ended up sitting down and talking for about 45 minutes about the Matterhorn and when we were done, he said, ‘If you need any help with anything, here are the people you can call about it.’ He was always out there doing things like that.”

And, said Catone, Disney apparently was not afraid to spend money, particularly to keep Tomorrowland ahead of the present. One such instance provided what probably was Catone’s greatest heartbreak in his 31 years at the park. It was a reminder that, along with the rest of the world, time passes at Disneyland, too.

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“They used to have the House of Tomorrow out in Tomorrowland,” he said. “It was supposed to be a home of the future, and I thought it was great. It really broke me up when they tore it down. But after a while, I realized it wasn’t a home of tomorrow anymore. The present caught up with it.”


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