Today’s Wheel of Years stopped at 1954, so here we go.
Shortly after I began making design sketches at home for Disneyland’s Autopia Car, I received an early Saturday morning call; “Gurr, do you draft?” – sleepily “yes” – “come over now”, click. Roger Broggie Sr., manager of the Walt Disney Productions machine shop in Burbank, California had seen my sketches and wanted to hire a draftsman. Thus began a 20 year association with Roger, Walt’s trusted mechanical production guru.
His first words were certainly short, and remained so those 20 years with few exceptions. He had very little in the way of personality, a very brief manner of speaking, and a somewhat cold formal manner, typically dressed in business attire. Almost like a Vermonter, Roger would leave folks a bit puzzled since most Studio people were very friendly.
I learned later that he was known as the Prince of Darkness at Disneyland. But everyone seemed to be quite used to his style, except for Studio visitors. Once time, a very outgoing automotive parts salesman greeted Roger with a cheery hello – roger stared back expressionless. “Something I said?” Nope, that’s just Roger. A few months into building equipment for the new Disneyland, Roger asked me to accompany him on some outside business calls. The moment we drove off the Studio lot, chatterbox! All day as we made the rounds, story after story, usually about Studio characters and the goofy stuff they got away with. Back on the lot, clammed up tight. I told the shop guys what a wonderful non-stop talker Roger was. “No way kid, no way, Roger never talks”.
Maybe not to them anyway, but all the rest of those 20 years, I loved every minute with him. We traveled to San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Germany, and many times to Florida. He taught me so much about Disney history, the special insights about Walt, and more railroad tales than I could ever understand. I learned to fully appreciate Walt’s unquestioning trust in anything Roger would do. The man had a knowledge and integrity of the highest standard – but oh that Vermonter manner!
The first airline trip we made together, he has me drive the rental car. “pull in here” – fabulous lobster lunch place. In the afternoon, “stop there” – vodka gimlet at a famous seaside saloon. Night falls and my ears are burned off by now. “Drive to Sausalito, we’re eating scallops for dinner”. Every trip featured the best restaurants. His vast knowledge of great food amazed me. When we started the Florida project (WDW), Roger would invite a few of his key guys to join him at the best steak houses in Tampa and Orlando. He slowly loosened up over the years to these fellow’s great delight.
But he still maintained that stiffness during the business hours on all company properties. Roger did have a couple of cute mannerisms however. Rather than return a hello, he’d raise his eyebrows about an 1/8th of an inch. You could tell when he was in a good mood; a slow twisting wave of the hand with the fingers opening and then closing. But you better be fast to catch it or you’ll miss. But he had a complete change around Walt – best described as a loyal pet honoring it’s master!
After Roger retired to Carmel, I paid him a visit. Totally shocked to find him smiling, wearing Levi jeans, and puttering in his vegetable garden, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Mary’s cooking squid, you and I will drink a bottle of my best chardonnay”. Since I was in town for the Pebble Beach Concours ‘d D’elegance driving my 1955 Rolls~Royce, Roger had me chauffeur him slowly around Carmel so everyone could see him riding in a shiny black Rolls~Royce. He never looked so pleased.
If you enjoyed what you read here folks, let me know in the comments below. And before you know it, we’ll spin that wheel again!