Someone, way back when, came up with
this brilliant idea to bring together
the employees at the beginning of
each summer by having canoe races
around Tom Sawyer's Island. Here are
a few memories of my first (and only)
Again a reminder that I am going
back to memories of 1969 and 1970
here. I will try not to enhance anything
and remember it as it really was.
I had just been hired on (I believe
that these are scheduled just after
Disney increases it's CM staff for
the summer) when the word got out
that they were organizing the canoe
races. Basically all you had to do
was find 10 people in your work area
that wanted to get together as a team.
This team would meet several times
a week for several weeks; prior to
DL opening every morning for practice
runs around Tom Sawyer's Island. Then
on a given day, your team was timed
to see how fast you could go around
the island. The team with the fastest
time wins. To this day I still don't
know what the winners got (obviously
we didn't win!). Sounds simple enough,
The initial meeting was held in the
Indian Village at the dance arena.
For you youngun's, that is where Bear
Country (or Critter Country) is now.
Check out those vintage Wonderful
World of Color shows of Disneyland
and perhaps you'll even see some of
the Indians performing their "war
dances". Anyway, I digress
we were, at the crack of dawn listening
to someone from Disney University
(i.e. human resources) give us the
"rules" for the competition.
Everyone was to get together teams
of 10 men, or the ladies team was
9 ladies with one of the canoe CM's
provided to steer (I guess they figured
that the girls couldn't steer one
of these canoes and all of us guys
.we'll show them!).
We were informed that the time trials
would be each morning from 6 a.m.
until about 7:30 with each team having
about 30 minutes on the water to practice.
Then on a given day we would be provided
with a time for our team to show up
to be "timed" for one lap
around the island. Next we were told
that we could go out and get team
t-shirts but if we did we were not
to wear the t-shirts in the park during
normal operating hours. Why you ask?
Well, it's because of the team names
that teams were known to give themselves.
Some examples of team names that were
given? Well there was the team of
girls from Entertainment who called
themselves the "9 Little Oarers"
or the team of girls from Merchandising
on Main Street who called themselves
the "Ladies of the Street".
There was the guy's team of ice cream
vendors who created t-shirts that
had a composite picture of an ice
cream bar and a topless girl - their
team name? Why Topless Bars, of course!
I won't even print what the team I
was on was known as
that I was in janitorial. However
we did try to honor one of our supervisors
at the time, who's nickname was the
Buzzard (for the way that he could
be found standing behind some bush
or trash can watching over us like
a buzzard), by having a buzzard on
the back of the t-shirts.
My most vivid memory of DL is the
first day I attended a practice. We
had one of those early times of about
6:30 a.m. to show up. I remember walking
across the hub all alone. I stopped
right in front of the castle and turned
to look down an empty Main Street
and my thoughts came to that one photo
of Walt standing in front of the castle.
I had always wondered what it would
be like to have Disneyland "all
to yourself" and at that moment
that was how I felt. It was truly
a rush! Well, off to Frontierland.
I met up with the rest of my team
and it was then I began to learn just
what exactly the canoe races were
all about - partying! It turned out
that most everyone who attended the
races held "all nighters"
prior to practice. Talk about hangovers!
It's true when they say that alcohol
and water doesn't mix! Well, of course
we are given the 5 minute explanation
of what an oar is and how to enter
a canoe and how to paddle and don't
worry, you can't sink one of these
get in the water!". So we take
our first effort to go around the
river. It is then we all realize what
it takes to get 9 individual to row
in cadence while the guy in back steers.
I think we went through 4 or 5 different
attempts to find someone who could
actually keep us from running aground
during the practices.
One of the benefits to the canoe
races (at least for me) was that Aunt
Jemima's Pancake House was opened
early for us to have breakfast (at
a discount rate, no less). So each
day after we would finish our practicing
the teams could be found chowing down
on pancakes while they discussed "tactics"
and watched the later teams.
Two instances have always stuck in
my mind. There was one of the first
days of practice. We had just gotten
off of the water and were standing
at the dock. We could hear several
of the other teams out practicing.
One of the teams, Coke Terrace, was
just coming around into view on their
first lap. I remember hearing one
of the team members yell out "ok,
we're coming near the dock, let's
look good!" and then he began
calling cadence "stroke
As the canoe came into view, imagine
our surprise as we saw that the canoe
was only about an inch above water
and sinking slowly as they paddled
by. It was like something out of a
comedy, with the team trying to look
so cool while they slowly sank. It
turned out that that canoe had a leak
but no one realized it until too late!
Then there was the day when, as we
were dining at AJ's after our practice
we watched as a team (again I think
it was Coke Terrace) came into view.
From where we were sitting we could
see the canoes as they came by the
dock where the Mark Twain was docked.
We all watched in horror as this canoe
headed straight towards the Mark Twain.
Only two or three of the team was
paddling. The person in front was
holding onto a rather large balloon
filled with helium. It appeared that
the entire team had been partying
all night long as they headed closer
and closer to the Mark Twain. Suddenly
the team started bailing out and the
canoe continued on, smashing into
the Mark Twain. Naturally, all of
the teams dining at AJ's stood and
gave them a standing ovation. It should
be noted that no team members were
injured in this incident.
I do remember the day that I was
wandering through the park on a day
off. I was heading through Adventureland
(wearing my canoe team t-shirt, of
course) when I spotted Baloo and King
Louie. For those of you who haven't
been following my adventures, Baloo
(a.k.a. Brer Bear or his real name,
Jim) was known to do some rather strange
things if he could get away with it).
There were several things that he
could do with his costume that could
really make you smile. None of these
are printable here and you didn't
want kids around when he made several
of his moves. Sorry, I digressed again
there I was walking down Adventureland
and Baloo spots me. He immediately
brushes past all of the kids who want
to grab him and all that and Baloo
walks up beside me, puts his arm around
me, bends over and as we walk through
Adventureland I hear him ask
how'd you guys do this morning?"
We spent several minutes discussing
that mornings practices (yes even
the characters had a team). Finally
I was able to free myself and go on
my way and the kids were able to get
their pictures taken with Baloo.
So just how did we do? Don't ask.
I remember us trying to get once around
the island without running aground
and we almost made it. We did get
around and we didn't sink our canoe,
but we definitely didn't even come
close to any awards. I think we were
all just happy to have endured those
early mornings. I did learn to respect
those CM's who worked the canoes on
a regular basis. I don't remember
seeing any of them ever take a canoe
full of guests into the rocks along
Tom Sawyer Island.
Steve (Main Street Magic) Simmons
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