Yesterland Guest Contributor
Walt Disney at Storybook Land
Who is the Storybook Land boat operator behind Walt Disney at Yesterland’s Memories (1996) page? Yesterland guest Sheryl Fisher isn’t 100% sure, but she thinks it might be her. In fact, the picture might have been taken on the very day in 1959 that the following incident occurred.

The Storybook Land Candy Caper
by Sheryl Fisher, August 2002

I worked at Disneyland throughout college, first as a summer casual on several attractions, and then, from early 1959 through 1962, as a permanent part time employee on the Storybook Land canal boats. During my employment as a boat operator, a non-stop journey through the miniature landscape of Storybook Land was timed to take approximately seven minutes. Ride operators were cautioned not to depart from the script and reverently recited the same “official” spiel more than 100 times a week. Adjusting to this monotony did not fit the student’s ideal of working at Disneyland.

One summer, a Casey Jr. Circus Train “engineer” initiated a game of skill to fend off boredom. Each day he bought a bag of salt water taffy at a concession stand. He would carry the candy with him as he drove the train around and through Storybook Land passing within a few yards of the canal at some locations. When he judged he would be in close proximity to a boat, he blew the train’s whistle signaling the boat operator to get ready. She would then hold up the corners of her apron to catch a piece of candy tossed into her lap. If the attempt was successful, the candy was set aside until the ride had ended and boat was at the dock.

This engineer’s timing was really quite remarkable—slowing the train until just the right moment then successfully targeting the apron of the boat operator seated at the stern. Occasionally, an off-course piece of candy flew into the canal, but to my knowledge none ever fell into the seating area. Because the attention of the passengers was generally in a forward direction, the diversion went largely unnoticed. Unfortunately, the possibility of being observed from some other position was not considered.

Walt Disney was frequently seen around Disneyland in the 1950s, but during the time I had been assigned to Storybook Land he had never gone on the ride. I was somewhat surprised one day to see him enter the gate and escort a group of businessmen to a boat just ahead of mine. I boarded my passengers and followed the VIP boat into the ride, trying to keep a respectable distance. I had paused at the Alice in Wonderland scene when I heard the untimely train whistle. Ignoring the signal, I continued with the spiel pointing out Peter Pan Park, a small island to the right in the center of the canal. It was at this moment that I made unintentional eye contact with Mr. Disney who was seated at the front of the oncoming boat on the opposite side of the island. On my left, the Casey Jr. train was bearing down. I saw the engineer’s outstretched arm and began to panic. I gestured toward the boat carrying Mr. Disney, I shook my head back and forth and held up the palm of my hand attempting to convey the circumstances to the Casey Jr. engineer. As Mr. Disney’s boat passed, he turned around to watch events unfold. As the unwanted candy bounced off my lap, the delivery of my spiel had never been so animated.

When the ride was over, Mr. Disney and another gentleman were waiting for me at the dock. The man who accompanied him was directing people through the turnstile so they wouldn’t gather for autographs or photos. Mr. Disney walked over to my boat after it had been unloaded. He began with “My dear young lady,” and continued his reproach for “playing games.” I apologized and promised to be more considerate. The exchange lasted only a minute or two and was never mentioned by anyone afterward. I was certain, however, my character had been called into question, my entire future compromised, and even worse, that I had earned the undying disdain of Walt Disney, the most important man alive.

Several months later, I had heard that Mr. Disney was at the Park to examine the damage from a minor fire on the Jungle Cruise ride. I didn’t expect to see him in Fantasyland that morning but on my way to the Pirate Ship for lunch, once again we were face to face. He was standing at the back entrance to the ship’s food concession engaged in conversation with another man. I didn’t want to risk further embarrassment, but rather than appear rude (as well as irresponsible), I said “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” and I asked if the Jungle Cruise was back in operation. Mr. Disney smiled and assured me it was. As I walked away, I heard the other person say, “Do you know her?” and his reply, “No, I thought you did.” I breathed a huge sigh of relief!

Posing with Aunt Jemima
Disneyland in the 1960s

© 2007 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks
Updated September 23, 2006.

Photograph of Walt Disney at Storybook Land: 1958/1959 by Merrill A. Garner.