Interview with 20Ker Mark Drennen
Mark was a daring 20Ker from 1978-1979 and here his unique outlook is preserved for posterity.
How did you get selected to work on 20K?
I was originally hired for the Jungle Cruise. During my first meeting with our supervisors, someone stuck their head in the door and said "we need another person for 20K, does anyone want to drive subs?" My hand flew into the air, and the rest is history.
-At what point in your life did you sign on? What years?
I was hired for work at Disney on 2-18-78. I was a college student at the University of Central Florida, and I worked weekends at 20K. This was referred to as a Casual Regular Cast Member. I piloted subs until June of 1979, at which time I assumed the role of Statused Lead at the attraction. The Lead played a lead role in the attraction, and ran the minute to minute operation. This included responsibility for the hourly capacity goals, setting up rotations for breaks, and overseeing any mechanical challenges.
Where there hazing ritual for new recruits?
Hazing, no. We did have a fixation with how shinny our shoes were. We spent our breaks putting spit shines on our shoes.
What was your favorite part of the ride (i.e. Atlantis, the giant squid)?
To be a good operator at 20K was not an easy task. The show inside the sub was just the beginning. To give a good spiel only set the stage. A certain skill was developed over time to run the tapes, in the sub, to correspond to the show scenes being seen by the guests. A show out of sync really spoiled the entire experience. On the dock, we all played the role of a submariner. Hitting the sub with the docking rope, and making a loud bang. Talking in mariner terms on the radio. All of these items contribute to the show. And it was all great. I can not say I had a favorite part of the ride. It was all a wonderful experience.
Were your friends jealous of your job or did they make fun of you?
In 1978, Disney was recovering from poor community relations. During the gas crisis in 1975, Disney reduced its workforce to cut costs. While this was needed due to the small operation at the time, the community took great offense that this "gold mine for the area" would turn its back on the community during hard times. At the time, people and friends, were not jealous, but rather offended that you would help support the Disney product. Those wounds have since healed.
Did you enjoy your job? What aspect did you enjoy/dislike the most?
I did enjoy my job. It was very relaxing and enjoyable.
I enjoyed being in the Magic Kingdom prior to opening. It is wonderful to have the entire park to yourself. It is so beautiful.
I really dislike the fact that some people find it necessary to hide their children's dirty diapers in the plants in the park. I never did understand why people would not just throw them away.
Did any kid ever ask if you were Nemo or talk to you like you were really a submariner?
Absolutely. If the kids did not ask, you were not doing a very good job of playing the role.
Did piloting one of those subs fire up your imagination? I know it would for me.
Believe it or not, most of us were oblivious to the attraction, and the people down below. The real action was the conversation over the radios, about good looking women or any thing unusual, especially in the crowd of people standing in line. For example if someone said,"914!" that meant some woman was bra-less and a looker. Keep your eyes out for her and see.
Many people feel 20K was the best ride at Disney world. Why do you feel the ride had such an impact?
Walt Disney once said "Fantasy, if it's really convincing, can't become dated for the simple reason that it represents a flight into a dimension that lies beyond the reach of time."
Others feel the ride was slow, boring and fake looking. What you think you think they're missing that others clearly respond to?
Apathy, in the sail of the Sub, spoiled many Journey's that took you 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A good sub driver could make or ruin the experience.
People who saw the flaws in the show were not being entertained by a good sub pilot.
This ride was an adventure. And all on board participated. It was a team effort as a member of the crew. Diverting attention here and there. Slowing the sub, or hitting a switch at the right speed to rock the boat. Pausing under the waterfalls to make the sound of the sub surfacing. These all played into the show. Anyone who had time to look out the portholes and find flaws had not been brought into the fantasy of the experience.
Would you have been scared to swim in the ride tank at night? Did anyone do that? Or fall in?
Many sub operators, returned from the caverns, with wet clothes. You could tell if they had been swimming by just how wet their clothes were. If they had fallen in, they were drenched, if they had taken a dip, their clothes were partially wet, and their hair was soaked. This happened during the routine of parking the subs in the "Dry Dock" area, behind the attraction, after the attraction closed for the day.
The water is very clean and has a filtration system that is beyond compare. I would not have been scared to go swimming, but I never did by choice. I did however fall off of rear dock one day, right in front of my supervisor, and ruined a brand new radio on my hip.
What's one (or more) crazy story you have to tell.
It was common to go above the caverns and watch the fireworks. The elevated potion above the falls kept you out of view of the guests in the park, and gave a wonderful vantage for the show.
An operator had gone above the falls to watch the fireworks show. By the conclusion of the show, he had changed into his swim suit, and proceeded to create his own finale to the show. He did a swan dive from the top of the waterfalls into the lagoon. He had planned this well, and must have had help. His clothes were no where to be found on top of the falls. And upon investigation, he had gone to the cavern cat walk, exited the water, and disappeared. There were only rumors of who this person could have been.
-Any fun pranks people pulled to mix it up?
It was a common practice to refer to a good looking girl as a 914. This had funny applications when you are operating an attraction where every person is essentially in a numbered seat.
The operator at turnstiles would chat with a girl and tell her to identify herself as number 914 to every cast member she encountered at the attraction. She would reach the grouper position and say "Hi, I am number 914" and the operator would respond, "yes you are!! Be sure to tell that information to the sub driver". Off the girl would go, down into the sub, and pull on the pant leg of the sub driver, "Hi, I am number 914". Harmless, good hearted humor.
Was there any legendary figure among the 20Kers?
Yes. Ben Skelton. Worked 20K opening day. Worked 20K the day I left in 1981. Worked 20K the day it closed. Ben is still working in Fantasyland, 32 years with the company. Most people would not refer to Ben as a legend, but who else can brag about the achievement above ...... no one.
Did you come back to ride it often after you stopped working there?
Not as often as I should have.
Why do you think the ride was shut down? What was problematic about it?
The ride was shut down because of the advancement of technology. Modern attractions are designed to operate on a minimum amount of labor verses the number of people moved in an hour. 20K was a very labor intensive attraction.
The submarines were old. All needed new audio systems. The hulls had cracked and allowed water seepage, which added to electrical challenges.
A team of SCUBA divers were needed to adjust the animation and decorate under water. This was also expensive.
And, as with any pool, it had to be cleaned. Every three years the water was drained, and a crew of people took fire hoses and began the 6 week wash down. Stomping through the muddy bottom in boots. Then after the mud had been washed away, a team of painters came in and painted the rocks, the decorating folks installed new props, maintenance refurbished the track, and maintained the subs. It was a very expensive process.
[See a photo of the tank drained for cleaning on the Behind the Scenes photos page]
How did you feel when you heard it was shut down?
Saddened. I went to the attraction on closing day, and helped unload the last sub. It was sad.
What would you like to see done with the area?
I think the lagoon should stay just as it exists today. It is quite lovely. And maybe, someday, 20K will be re-opened for the next generation to experience.
Have you been to the France or Tokyo attractions?
I have not had the opportunity to visit these parks.