Stories From The Graveyard Shift At Disneyland

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Features, From the Mouth of the Mouse

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Published on January 09, 2013 at 4:01 am with 16 Comments

After a brief break for the holidays, I’m back with a really interesting new cast member interview in today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We chat with Garrett, who worked 3rd shift at Disneyland (or as most folks call it “Graveyard”). He was one of those folks who helped make the Park shine for the guests arriving in the morning, and he has some great stories to share!


JEFF: So before we start, just tell the readers what you did at Disneyland.

GARRETT: I worked Night Custodial.  So, I would work from Midnight to 8 am.
JEFF: How did get into Disney to begin with? Any specific memory as a child that made you fall in love with it?

GARRETT: I grew up in Southern California and felt like I grew up at Disneyland.  We went few times every year.  I have always loved going to Disneyland.  I never thought about applying to work there until I met some former CM’s in college.  After talking with them, I decided to apply.  I’m glad I listened to them.

JEFF: Can you give us an overview of what that job entailed? What was a typical day there like?

GARRETT: I worked in such different places in the park, it’s hard to come up with a “typical” day.  I worked the night shift when the park closed.  I would come to Disneyland by 11:40pm and go up to the locker room and change into my costume.  I would head to custodial office to receive my nightly assignment.  The assignment would be to a land or area like Tomorrowland or Critter Country or where ever.  Then I would head off to the assigned area.  At the assigned area, the lead would give the specific work assignment.  Since I was one of the newer guys, I was often assigned to different areas.

However, all areas had some things in common.  We cleaned the bathrooms.  We would clean the toilets, sinks, mirrors, and clean the floors.  To clean the floor, we would spray soapy water on the floor, then use a broom to scrub the floor.  Then we would hose out the bathroom to clean the floor.  We would have to dry the floor to finish up.

I hated this part, but we would have to clean the kitchen floors.  The food CM’s cleaned all of the pots, sinks and everything above the ground before they left.  The Night Custodial cleaned the floors.  We cleaned them similar to the the bathroom floors.  We would spray soapy water on the floor, scrub with a broom and then hose out the floor to clean them.  The worst part was the kitchens had rubber mats.  There were big heavy mats that were an inch thick. We can take those outside and hose out the mats to clean them.  Then we had to put the mats back into kitchen.  It was like doing a puzzle to get the mats back into kitchen and in the right places.

We would vacuum or mop the store floors.

We would clean the rides.  Each ride was different.  I worked a long time in It’s a Small World ride.  We cleaned the boats.  When the park was opened pass midnight, we would clean all of the boats that were in boat storage in the IASW building. We could work backstage hidden from the guests while to park was opened.  After the park closed and the ride was cleared of guests, we would come onstage to clean the boats on the line.  There is a place where there is a hook tied to a rope and anchored to the ground.  We would use the hook to stop the boats there.  We worked in a two person team.  The first person would go through the boats, sweeping all of the stuff to the side of the boat and throwing out any big trash that wouldn’t get vacuumed up. The second person would unhook the boats and vacuum them out as they went slowly by.  For the first boat, we would vacuum only one or two boats, hook the rest and then jump in the boat and ride it around until just before the boats exited the building.  There was a second anchor hook there.  We would hook the boat there.  We did that to prevent the clean boats from going outside until the ride operators came in in the morning. We would have to cut back through the building, behind the sets to get back to where we were cleaning the boats.  We would unhook the dirty boats and vacuum them as they slowly passed use.

At the end of the day, the ride operators would turn off the It’s a Small World music but the animation would still run.  So all of the dolls are still moving.  It’s surprising how loud the blinking eyes are and how much noise just the animation on the dolls make.  It’s really pretty loud in the building even with the music turned off.  It took me a few days to get used to working on the ride with the dolls still moving and all the noise they made.  One night I came to work and all of the animation was turned off.  That was even more creepy to me.  All of the dolls silently staring at me as I worked…I decided I liked it more with them moving.

JEFF: That sounds like a horror movie waiting to happen!

GARRETT: YES IT WAS.  Sometimes I think I had too much of an overactive imagination to work the night shift.  I never felt comfortable around the animatronics.  Because you know, if you stay in the boat or car they can’t get you.  But, walking around them, they can get you!

JEFF: Did you have a favorite attraction to work on / clean?

GARRETT: I worked the longest on It’s a Small World.  So I was the most familiar and comfortable on that ride.  But I did like cleaning the Autopia tracks.  Every so often I would be assigned to take a large outdoor vacuum (like what they use after the parades) and vacuum the leaves off of the tracks.  I would do the left side of the track and push the vacuum around the track. Then the right side of the track.  Then the left side of the next track, etc.  It was loud enough that I would have to use hearing protection.  So I was like in my own little world.  The hearing protection and noise of the vacuum blocked everything out.  I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.  I was in the middle of a small forest. Couldn’t see or hear anybody else.  It was sort of surreal.  I would have to remind myself that I was in the middle of a city.

One of my favorite assignments was when I worked on the hose crew.  We would hose down all of the streets and sidewalks and dry them before the parked opened each day.  Each person on the hose crew was assigned a three-wheeled scooter or cart.  The scooter had a spool to carry the hose.  We would hide just off stage until the park closed and our area was cleared of guests.  When we would ride out from backstage to onstage and start unrolling our hose. We would hose down the streets, sidewalks, outdoor restaurant patios, just about everything outside.  One the back of each scooter was a squeegee that we could rise or lower from the driver’s seat.  So, after we finished hosing our area, we would drive the scooter and use the squeegee to dry the ground.  Then we would attach a mop bar, a bar with five or six mop heads attached to it.  We would drag that behind the scooter.  I liked working the hose crew because I was outdoors all night and be able to drive around the scooter.

JEFF: Since you worked midnight til 8, do you feel like you missed out on the fun stuff that happened during the day, or was it more special to you, since you almost had the entire park to yourself at night?

GARRETT:  I have sort of mixed feeling on this.  I loved having the park to myself.  I saw so many things that guests or day CM’s never do.  I used to go up to the closed Skyway station in Fantasyland, stand on the open edge where the buckets entered and left the building and watch the sunrise from there.  I would feel like a cowboy walking down the sidewalk of Fronteerland or like a knight standing in my castle courtyard.  (Can you tell I read too many books?) I loved Adventureland at night, being in a lonely jungle village.  Then in the morning before the park opened, they would play the sound from the Jungle Cruise boathouse.  It was that old 30′s music and radio announcer.  I’ve taken naps during my lunch break on the Storybook Canal Boats. The mats are soft and the boat would gently rock. It was pretty neat working nights.

But on the other hand, sometimes I felt like I missed the excitement of when the park was opened and full of people.  Ok, I’ll be honest.  I was a young single guy in my early 20′s.  When I first started, I hoped to be able to meet and date other CM’s.  However, working nights, I rarely had the chance to meet many.  My shift didn’t have many girls my age working on it.  Each department stuck to their own pretty much.  When the park was opened late and day CM’s were still around, when I walked into the break room, it was kind of funny.  All of the security CM’s were at one table, and other table had the ride operators and the night custodians were at another.  The break room was color coded by our costumes.  Also Disney would have some after-hours parties for the CM’s.  Like a car rally or other fun stuff.  I always had to work on these nights so I could never go.  So at times I felt I missed out.
JEFF: Any times you can think of that you went out of your way to make a guest’s visit more magical?

GARRETT: I rarely interacted with the guests on my job.  Depending on what time the park closed, I may see guests as I walked through the park to reach the custodial office or my work assignment.  Some mornings, we would see the guests arriving.  However, when guests were in the park as I worked, I would try to hide from the guests as I worked offstage.  I felt like one of the little elves who hides from people and only comes out to clean when everybody is gone.
JEFF: Any other fun stories that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!

GARRETT: So many… I loved being in the park at sunrise.  The morning just before and at sunrise was my favorite time of the day.

Some nights I would clean a small CM break room in the Matterhorn.  After cleaning the break room, I would rush up to where the basketball hoop is.  There is a small tunnel that leads to the outside of Matterhorn.  It’s where the Alp climbers start their climb to the top of the Matterhorn.  I would go out there and quickly look around (It faces towards Its a Small World.)   It was fun to stand out there for a few minutes looking around.

My best time working was the night Ariel waved to me… It was in the fall.  Fantasmic! wasn’t running but they were practicing and preparing to run for the Christmas season.  For days, they were running through the music and lights after the park closed. No performers, just the music and lights.  So I was getting used to hearing the Fantasmic! music as I worked near the Rivers of America. I was standing on the Mark Twain dock hosing leaves into the river.  I had my hoodie on and an ear bud in my ear.  I looked up just as the Mark Twain got lite up and all of the character dancers were doing the finale of Fantasmic! I quickly turned off my hose and took my hoodie off.  I must have been standing on the dock with my mouth hanging up.  Ariel sits at the first of the Mark Twain.  She smiled and winked at me.  It made my night.

JEFF: In your original email to me, you talked about taking a peek at the model for the Indiana Jones ride before it was built. Care to elaborate on that bit? 

GARRETT: I worked when the Indy ride was being built.  The construction crew had a trailer I would clean each night.  In there, they had concept paintings and a scaled model of what the ride would look like.  I would stop and drool over the model.  I was getting excited for the park to open.  There was an entrance to the tunnel that became the Indy queue near a backstage New Orleans door.  It was near where I cleaned the NOS kitchen mats.  Every so often I would sneak up and enter the tunnel to walk the queue.  I never went too far.  I was afraid of getting caught.  But I watched the tunnel go from a cement tunnel to the final queue over time.  I never walked the whole queue.  Just the little bit that was near the door to the NOS kitchen area.

I remember the CM preview for the Indy ride.  I felt like it was a big party.  A few friends and I went straight from work.  We didn’t change out of costumes.  We just clocked out and went straight to the line.  We would see other people from our department as we waited in line.  Everybody was so excited, everybody waving to other CM’s they knew.  It was a big party when the ride opened.  I had a great time that day.

JEFF:  Also, you talked about the Main Street vehicles in your first email, too. Any stories to share about those?

GARRETT: Some nights part of my duties was to clean the Main Street vehicles.  The vehicles were parked offstage on the west side of the park.  (Near the Pirates show building).  I would go get the vehicles and drive them back to behind Toontown where we had a shed with our cleaning supplies.  Cleaning the vehicles was never much fun.  There was a lot of brass to polish.  But I did like driving the vehicles around.  One night I had to get the double decker bus and bring it to the back to clean.  It was lunch time, and the bus wasn’t cleaned yet… so I drove the bus to the InnBetween CM cafeteria.  I drove it through the parade gate near IASM.  Drove down through the park to the Inn Between behind Main Street. As I saw CM’s I knew walking towards the Inn Between, I would stop and offer them a ride.  After lunch, I drove them back and stopped along the way to drop people off.  It was pretty fun.  However, I was later told not to do that anymore.  But it was fun playing bus driver!

 

Thanks for sharing with us, Garrett!


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16 Comments

Comments for Stories From The Graveyard Shift At Disneyland are now closed.

  1. What a great and interesting article!

  2. So interesting! I’ve always wondered what the night shift was like.

  3. That was an excellent interview, Jeff!

    When I worked there I felt like an insider when I was in the park after it closed.

  4. Bless the people who get the park ready for the next day of people overnight and through into the morning.

  5. Awesome article!

  6. After reading this, custodial doesn’t sound too bad actually! Well, aside from never seeing people… I would love to get to walk the rides and clean them after closing! Talk about a whole new perspective on them!

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  8. Wow! Another great article!! I have a tremendous respect for those CMs who never work the park in the daylight, per say, but still put everything they’ve got into the experience that guests enjoy all day. Great job!

  9. Great article!

  10. Fantastic!

  11. This is an awesome article!

  12. Garrett, thanks for the wonderful answers to something most people wouldn’t even contemplate as they enjoy their day in the park, and sadly too many people wouldn’t appreciate the hard work that the 3rd Shift does to bring the Disney magic to life. But there are plenty of people, and I dare say the majority of readers of a site like Micechat that DO very much appreciate your hard work and attention to detail. So thankyou very much, your efforts are noticed and appreciated here! And also thanks Jeff for bringing us another interview that is well worth the read and a share. -Q

  13. Very cool, always wondered what it was like on the graveyard shift,hope to hear more.

  14. How incredible! I can only imagine being able to experience the Park in that way. I would love to do that (well, minus the actual work)! ;) Thanks for the great article and behind-the-scenes insight!