Interview with 20Ker Tom Lewis
Tom was a heroic 20Ker from 1976-1977 and he's generously agreed to share his experiences with us.
How did you end up working on 20K?
I was transfered from the Micky Mouse Revue in Fantasyland approx. 1976 late in the year. I was looking forward to it because all the guys seem to get along pretty good and they carried walkie-talkies. You see, in those days it was a rare thing to see unless you were in a very important job.
What sort of training/briefing did Disney give you before turning you loose?
Every attraction has a certified trainer, and you spend a certain time with him until you can go it alone. (Disney has a Standard Operating Procedure, or Rule Book for each attraction.)
Where there hazing ritual for new recruits?
Oh yeah, the new guys were called weinies, and the first thing they would do is put you in a sub in front of a veteran, and when you went to take the sub off of dock thrust so you could back up and have the bow-line released, the guy behind you would already be unhooked and forcing his sub against yours with full power, so you could not back up. It made you look like a jerk when you called in a problem to the attraction lead.
Also, the veteran would have the fastest sub, so he could shove you faster than you could play the spiel, or say it yourself (very embarrassing).
How seriously did people take their 20K jobs?
Our jobs were very important to us and we did it by the book, no slackers were there when I was there.
Were your friends jealous of your job or did they make fun of you?
They thought it was a joke, but you know what? They can K.M.A. in a nice sort of way of course!
Any troublemakers onboard?
No, most of the time we would either put pressure on someone to snap out of it, or they would just leave.
Did you enjoy your job?
Yes I loved it, i felt like i was a part of something great. But I hated taking tickets, like we had to in those days; people never had them ready, so you had to do it for them (very mundane).
Which section of the ride did you think was the coolest?
I guess the Atlantis part was OK, I know a lot of people thought the whole ride was hokey, but who cares? I just like working there, I didn't care if it was underwater strip dancers, or fake cheap lousey animatronics.
Did piloting one of those subs fire up your imagination? I know it would for me.
Belive 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.
Did you get a kick out of seeing kids and adults enjoy the ride?
Kids seem to enjoy it, most adults didn't seem impressed.
Many people feel 20K was the best ride at Disney world. Why do you feel the ride had such an impact?
The movie was pretty cool. And the spiel you heard as you were waiting in line about tidal power for the future and food from the sea, was kind of futuristic for its time.
Others feel the ride was slow, boring and fake looking. What you think you think theyre missing that others clearly respond to?
Most people I talked to did have that opinion. But hey, it was a cool operation. 11 million gallons of filtered and treated crystal clear water, 2 way radios on our hip made us cool, and important. 3 packs of 3 subs. Cool looking boats.
Would you have been scared to swim in the ride tank at night?
No I wouldnt have been scared to, but you would have to answer to the supervisors if you did. And they didnt have a good sense of humor.
Were the 20Kers a tighter knit group than other ride crews?
Not really, click groups formed at just about any of the attractions, but that goes back to the basic rule of relationships. You know, what you have in common with someone is the basis, and time spent together takes it to the next level working around compatible personality types.
-What was the oddest/craziest/funniest thing you ever did or saw happen involving the ride?
Too many to tell, like guests farting inside the sub stinking it up and everyone looking up at you as if you were the one who did it. And wildly dressed homosexsuals comming through, but by todays standards, it isn't really all that outlandish. Being stuck in rotation (inside a sub running it) for over 4 hours because of cutting back on man power, so you need to pee real bad, so you stop the sub in the caverns, open the front hatch and... ah, that's how you spell relief!
We had a great time when the status lead Chip Ford, came up with the idea of a competition, between us and the guys at the jungle cruise. We would set a date for which attration could put the most people through in one day. It would be a contest for the coveted "Kissimmiee Cup" (a cheap silver cup with an inscription written on it), and the losers, would have to pay for a party for the winners. They sent spies to watch us, and so we did too. When we saw them cheating, by spinning the turnstiles for more numbers, so did we. Ha! But we won anyway and they paid for a party that shall we say was not only a blast, but some chaps got a little too ruff and tore up the clubhouse in the apartment complex that the party was in. Heh heh.
[See an original Kissimmee Cup certificate on the Behind the Scenes photos page]
Do you keep in touch with other 20Kers after you left Disney World?
No, I lost touch, as most people do over time, as what you have in common is gone, and you see them less and less.
Did you come back to ride it often after you stopped working there?
Of course, but once you leave and there are new people there that dont know you, you don't have anything common to connect with anymore. But then memories come back and it brings a smile to your face. Man, the crap you got away with and the great times you had!
Why do you think the ride was shut down?
They more than likely went by public opinion on the ride and decided it was out of date with what people wanted. The cost of maintaining that water, and a fleet of subs, was not in the ratios of profits that Eisner the miser wanted.
How did you feel when you heard it was shut down?
Sad, now people in the future will say, "You worked at Walt Disney World, at the 20k? What is that?" and you will not be able to tell them. And it wont be there when I go back to enjoy those memories.
What would you like to see done with the area?
Maybe they can keep the 20k theme and build a life size mock up of the sub that you can walk through. That way their costs of maintaining it would be reduced. Or perhaps a restaurant with the same theme.
Have you been to the France or Tokyo attractions?
No I have not, so I cannot say if they're any good.