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Interview with 20Ker Carl "Jumper" Dvorak

Carl worked 20K from 1973-1975, did a stint in the US Army, and then came back from 1978-1979. He was working the ride when it was brand spanking new! Must have been an exciting time...

—How did you get selected to work on 20K?

I interviewed at Disney Casting and was assigned (on the second try) to Operations to run an attraction. (My first attempt was unsuccessful because I didn’t have a car for the commute.) I was hired into what was then “Department 459,” I believe, which was Tomorrowland Operations as an “operations host” or a Disney ride operator. That was interesting because 20K itself was a Fantasyland attraction, albeit staffed at that time with Tomorrowland male cast members exclusively (no women in the Nautilus movie or novel’s crew). Later, with the opening of the Space Mountain attraction in Tomorrowland there was a realignment and 20K was shifted to Department 441, Fantasyland Operations. I happily transferred with the attraction, although I don’t recall that anybody actually asked me.

—At what point in your life did you sign on? What years?

I was a high school senior in 1973 looking for somewhat reliable part time work to carry me through the summer as I prepared to graduate from high school and enter college.

I began working at Disney as a “Casual Temporary” or “CT” cast member. That status meant that I was an employee generally expected to return for peak seasons such as Christmas/New Years and summer. In fact, I worked through the holidays of 1973, some weekends when I was called to help out (I started my studies at the then Florida Tech in Orlando) and throughout the Summer of 1974.

Later, at the conclusion of the Summer 74 “season,” I converted to “Casual Regular” or a “CR” meaning that I was scheduled to work weekends and holidays on a regular, routine basis. CR’s provided the weekend/time-off for Disney’s primary cast member, the “Permanent” employee. There were some benefits to being a CR employee such as CR seniority (the most senior CR was theoretically junior to the most Permanent cast member) and scheduled pay raises. The very modest amounts of those raises that I used to look forward to with such anticipation now make me laugh.

—Were there hazing rituals for new recruits?

I think that hazing, such as it was, came and went in cycles depending on the crew. Early on there may have been some, but it gave way as I recall. I recall that some trainees were sent by their trainers or even a lead to go find some “prop wash” or “shore line” in the caverns or dry dock area. They would return empty handed or were clued in by the maintenance guys. The maintenance guys were a very different breed at 20K. Some were divers, others tradesman. They tended to be older, better paid, and often treated us with a degree of contempt. So when a guy would come back frustrated at being the butt of a prank, even a rather tame one as described above, well, some took it better than others. Another prank often played on newbie and veteran alike was during swap out in a sub. I remember flicking the master switch for the tape deck off and leaving it off or just recycling it. If a guy wasn’t running the monotonous organ music cartridge (or “cart”) you could jam him up pretty quick, especially if he was new and feeling a bit task overloaded and unsure of himself. Another good little gag was running away from your “pack” if you were the leader and then stopping in the right-bearing curve of the black light area. You could scare the daylights out of somebody if he thought he was going to ram you (which was a big no-no and so always fun to do in small doses with a fellow good driver).

—Were the 20Kers a tighter knit group than other ride crews? If so, why do you think such camaraderie developed?

I think that 20K crews were generally a tighter bunch. Many of my memories are flawed because I was never a Permanent cast member and much of my life centered around non-Disney stuff. I lived 26 miles from the Park so there was always that drive to “look forward to” after work.

20K was an all-male attraction so there was a lot more of a locker room air about it. We were mostly young guys so many of us spent a lot of time looking for and highlighting attractive women that were making their way through the guest queue area or seated inside the boar.

I think that several of the main attractions, like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise had fairly tight crews. For my part, I worked very hard to stay at 20K although I was trained at a number of other attractions. In one respect, the costume which was very much like the crew uniform in the movie was not as goofy-looking as many of the other costumes such as the gondola driver-themed uniform of “It’s a Small World” (man, I hated that place) or the puffy, embroidered shirts of Fantasyland Skyway or Peter Pan’s Flight. Awful.

—What was your favorite section of the ride (i.e. Atlantis, the giant squid)?

I always like to enter and leave the caverns because the waterfalls tended to undo some of the guests. It was amazing how nervous some of them would get. I also liked the Lost City of Atlantis (I dove into that once while the ride was in operation – I hope the Disney “statute of limitations” has run out on that prank) and the Giant Squid scene (when the strobes worked. It was a good climax to the caverns when you went from darkness/controlled lighting, through the strobes and the squid arms, and out into the bright Central Florida sun.

—Were your friends jealous of your job or did they make fun of it?

I suppose some thought it was “neat” to work at Disney which had a different level of attention to the guest back in those days. Some may have thought it was dorky. Disney’s pay was regular, the hours were very complimentary and accommodating to my College studies and the guest passes and employee passes were a nice bennie for friends and dates.

Of course, one thing that I have always retained in my current employment, is to note that I went from one “Mickey Mouse outfit” to another.

—Did you enjoy your job? What aspect did you enjoy/dislike the most?

Yes, on balance I enjoyed my job. I met some guys there that I liked a lot. When I left Disney for good in 1979, I lost track of most of them. Because of this 20K Ride web site I have been able to recontact some of my old crew friends like “Bass” O’Connor and Mark Drennan.

Some of the crew members were young guys just like me trying to pay for school or have a little outside income. Some of them were focused on a long-term career with Disney and have done well. I learned a lot about myself as a young CR lead there at 20K and a lot about working with people—both crew members and guests. I learned from some good, innate managers (leads at 20K and actual Dept 441 managers). Some were great and some were, well, pretty underwhelming. 20K was a team job. If you had good team members keeping the rotation going (the rotation was the way in which people worked through dock positions, sub driver positions and breaks) and kept a good guest flow to the boats, it was an enjoyable and productive day. In the end, 20K was about delivering an entertainment product to guests who were paying money (providing that “E” ticket) and expecting some Disney magic. We tried to do that safely, efficiently and courteously. When we did, Disney made money and we made smiles and memories. The prodigious number of former Disneyworld guests that visit this site and gush over a childhood memory from 1974 or 1978 brings a smile to me. Sounds goofy, perhaps, but it is true. It was a fun place to work most of the time.

—How seriously did people take their 20K jobs?

Some took it more seriously than others. Like any job, I suppose, you have people that were very reliable (no matter their employment status) and some that were dolts. As I have already said supra, some guys stayed on at Disney and made a real career of it, moving into management positions that gave them a good quality of life. Others were just “pit stopping” and were never reliable. At the end of the day, Disney was not the Army. It wasn’t that demanding, it wasn’t that hard and it wasn’t all that serious (unless you forgot to shave or your hair was too long).

—Any troublemakers?

Well, uh, yes, I have heard that there were troublemakers there at 20K. Don’t know that I ever met any…. And you know, with the passage of time I am unable to recall their names other than perhaps my own. As they used to say in World War II, “what you see here, what you hear here – let it stay here.”

I would prefer to say that there were “characters” at 20K rather than troublemakers. And those are characters as in memorable guys not dudes with big fiberglass heads from the 7 Dwarfs!

—Did piloting one of those subs fire up your imagination just like riding them did for the people below?

No, not the way you likely mean. I mean, I never thought I was one of the goateed mutes in the movie and I never thought I was James Mason. I spent a lot of time wondering where I would end up after working at Disney and some time wondering who the blonde was over there or the red head on the rear dock bridge and such.

—Did you get a kick out of seeing people and kids enjoy the ride?

Yes, absolutely. 20K was Walt Disney’s way of anchoring his company’s legacy into something tangible. It was a very inefficient ride which required time and effort to dock and load a boat. It wasn’t rocket science, mind you, but you had to be competent driving the boat and docking it or you could cause serious injuries to people and damage to the boat. You had to be careful to avoid hitting a guest with a descending ramp or dropping a hatch on their head.

In the end, however, I took pride in the “show” that I delivered (most of the time). I manually activated my tapes and modified my “show” so that it had as much drama as the audio and visuals allowed. I was also a trainer and took pride that my trainee product knew his job and understood the culture of 20K.

—Did any kid ever ask if you were Nemo or talk to you like you were really a submariner?

Yes, they did. Interestingly, one of the cast members in 1978-79 (I regret that I forget his name) was a US Navy veteran and a nuclear submariner. An adult male asked him once in a very condescending manner, “Heah, kid, you ever been in a real submarine?” to which he gave a deadpanned response along the lines of, “Yea, the SSBN so and so to a depth you’ll never know, sir”. It was an answer that was “nothin’ but net".

—Many people feel it was the best ride at Disney world, why do you feel the ride had such an impact on people?

I think that 20K was—and if one is to believe your site—and remains a popular ride for many reasons. First, simply the entertainment concept of “riding on a submarine,” even if it is on tracks filled with plastic seaweed is kind of cool. The movie 20K was amazing in 1954 and it ain’t bad today. The Nautilus submarine’s design in the movie was brilliant (even if it was a very liberal adaptation from Mr. Verne’s rendition in the novel) and the green sea monster/alligator look circling the lagoon or exiting the caverns couldn’t help but impress. I have a few mementos from the attraction that remind of those very enjoyable days at the “Mouse House” driving subs around the lagoon.

—Some people feel the ride was slow and boring and fake looking, what you think you think they’re missing that others clearly respond to?

Well, I am not sure. The ride had different levels of show in the time I was there. After it returned to service from one of its “rehabs” it looked great. If the water filtration system was working and the animation was all pretty much up, it was a good “ride”. If you went there thinking you were going to ride in a nuclear attack sub you were gonna be disappointed no matter what. If that’s what you wanted, you should have dialed 1-800-GO NAVY. If you wanted something that was entertainment, you were prepared to suspend a little bit of reality and you just wanted to have fun watching little Suzie or little Johnny peered through the port hole, you probably had a good time. All three of my now-grown children (wow, do I feel ancient as I type this) had a chance to go to 20K with me (often as the guest of my friends Mark and Debbie Drennan). I think they found it interesting that this was where Dad used to work, an interesting ride in the Disney World context but not a defining event in their lives. The opportunity to share the ride together, along with others at Disney is a great family memory along with a family photo I have on the dock with my entire family (while a frustrated lead paced over by the crewroom door!).

—Would you have been scared to swim in the ride tank at night? Did anyone do that? Or fall in?

What a funny question. I dove in the caverns one evening in several locations. The maintenance guys used to say that there was stray voltage in the water and stuff like that. A couple of guys and I dived into the Atlantis scene to recover coins that were caulked to the bottom. I used to climb on the top of the caverns (Vulcania) and relax with my feet in the water that ran to the front to form the perpetual waterfalls.

A number of guys used to “fall in” to the water so they could grab a break or hook up with somebody out of the rotation. Every now and then, somebody would fall off the dock or slip into the water. I heard that somebody did a dive off the caverns into cavern exit, but I didn’t see it and don’t ascribe much truth to it.

—What’s one (or more) crazy story you have related to the ride?

I remember a guy flying into the dock once with a non-responsive throttle. We sent a boat straight through the dock (with guests aboard for a second, “free” showing), had the guy turn off the engine (it was natural gas powered with a key controlled ignition like a car). Even though he was “coasting” he was flying through the dock so guys threw several of the heavy two-inch manila ropes on it to slow it down. They ropes exploded with the energy as the three heavy strand ropes gave up under the strain. We finally brought it to a stop at the frond dock position and used crew members to keep it in position while we unloaded the guests. They were given “re-ads” (complimentary “readmission” tickets to make amends). Several of the guests in the queue area were a bit shaken by the ropes shattered on the dock and asked to leave without boarding the boats (no small thing given our often long wait in the lines). Getting new ropes on the dock adjusted to the right length for the docking ramps was always a pain and it was after that as well.

—Any fun pranks people pulled to mix it up?

Yes, occasionally. Guys would get caught on a boat as it left the dock and end up having to ride it into the caverns and through the waterfall. Lots of the intentional stuff happened at night, often after 9:00 PM. After the evening fireworks at 9:00 PM the crowds would think out dramatically and we’d begin to take boats off the line either on the spur line in front or off the maintenance spur in the caverns into the dry dock. All kinds of stuff could happen in those slow hours under the cover of darkness—and they did.

—Was there any legendary figure among the 20Kers?

I remember a number of people for different reasons. I can’t remember, for example, who my trainer was in 1973. I can remember a number of my trainees, including a couple of Area Supervisors. Tim Yukanavich was one of the early guys I remember. He had very strong views of “old crew” versus “new guys” like me in 1973. He once spent an entire day in a sub to set a record for duration and cycles. He was very, very good. Paul Shepherd was one of the old crew that stayed on for quite a while and then he transitioned to the maintenance side. He was very good, very reliable. Bill Cork was the Status Lead in 1974, I think. He was pretty good and then one day disappeared. Mark Drennan and I were leads together in 1978 and I used to train guys with Bert O’Connor. Reedy Williams was another friend I met as he transitioned from college graduate to his eventual professional endeavor.

—Did you come back to ride 20K after you stopped working there?

Yes, I rode on 20K a number of times after I left Disney. I stayed in contact with only a couple of old crew buddies after I left Disney. As employees they were generous to me and my family “comping” us into the park. If I had to go to Disney with my family while we were back in Orlando visiting our folks, well, I was going to ride 20K and go to the Disney Story on Main Street and see the scale model from the movie (it is now out at EPCOT somewhere).

—Do you keep in touch with other 20Kers?

Yes, I keep in contact with a couple. I reestablished contact with them through this web site (thank you Dave).

—-Why do you think the ride was shut down? What was problematic about it?

I think several things signaled 20K’s demise. It was an expensive attraction to operate. There was little you could do to change its hourly capacity. At peak, we could run nine boats an hour, with each boat making five cycles optimally. Each boat had 20 seats per side for a total of 40 passengers per boat. If you do the math, you can see that Disney was running only 1800 guests per hour. Now point in fact, we sometimes had competitions to beat that statistic but we also had to contend with broken seats or seats tied up due to an overhead drip. Also, the “grouper” had to nail each boat with 40 people and the dock work had to be crisp and precise. The maintenance on the boats was never easy and only got more expensive as they aged and sprung leaks. Divers had to be used on night shifts to service failed animation and that was its own cost. 20K was a ride that required clean water and lots of it. It was actually the first place that the water was cycled through since that was where it was presumed to be at peak clarity.

As well, 20K as a new attraction in 1971 was 17 years after the movie was out and when interest in the ride was renewed every time the movie ran on Sunday nights on the Wonderful World of Disney. Once videotapes and CDs came out, I think a lot of the shine came off the 20K penny. It was simply an expensive to operate attraction that was grounded in a different era—it didn’t have a lot of draw for increasingly “sophisticated” audiences used to computer animation and such. As well, it required a degree of skill to operate the boats even though they were floating on boagie wheel assemblies that were affixed in a track. The docking procedures were somewhat unforgiving and the load/unload ramps and sub hatches were accidents and law suits waiting to happen. I can’t imagine how Disney could have met the statutory access requirements for disabled guests at 20K after the Americans With Disabilities Act came into law. (I remember carrying more than a few guests down the steep steel steps that were otherwise wheelchair bound!) Lastly and most lamentably, Disney World is a very different enterprise than it was when I worked there. The use of single media admission and reserved time slots means that there is little guest contact and virtually no reason to operate any attraction efficiently. After all, guests pay all their money up front when they buy their “passport” admission. If they see 20 attractions or ten the cost is the same. Disney is not forced to provide efficient or necessarily high quality attractions for a public that has paid up front and likely has simple expectations for their park experience. It has changed since I first went there as a guest in 1972 and started working there in November 1973.

—How did you feel when you heard it was shut down?

I am glad I got to see it, glad I got to work there, glad I had a chance to share it with my children (“Dad, this is dumb”) and a little sad that it is closed. Of course, I also miss .99 cents a gallon gasoline and that cute little blonde girl at front dock in December 1973.