It doesn’t take much effort to search Micechat and find the many references to me and my former co-workers…”Accountaneers,” “sharp pencil boys,” “bean counters”…the list goes on and on. Unfortunately those shout-outs are not typically followed by pleasantries or thanks. As a wise man (with freakishly large hands) once said: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

Hello Micechat…I’m the site’s newest columnist. Call me The Accountaneer. Over a series of articles I’m hoping to share with you some stories from my time pushing pencils and slashing budgets. I know that sounds incredibly dry and boring but I think you’ll enjoy the angle I can bring to the conversation. You see, there are all types of Accountaneers. Some fall squarely into the stereotype that is fostered online. One such example is a co-worker that once pointed to a park map in my office and asked “what’s in that building?” I’m sad to say he was pointing at Space Mountain. Most Accountaneers were not that far to the clueless extreme. I’d characterize most of my co-workers as incredibly smart financially, generally knowledgeable about the parks, and good intentioned.

I, on the other hand, fall into the opposite extreme of our Space Mountain friend. I was a long time Disney theme park nut from a young age who literally dreamt of working for the parks. I was lucky enough to start my professional career at Disneyland. Over the span of my career with Disney, I was fortunate to work in many departments, most of which called for a financial flare. For this Disney geek it was truly a dream job. And unlike my clueless Space Mountain co-worker, my passion earned me significant respect with the operations teams. I could not only talk the talk, but could also walk the walk.


My hope is that my stories will provide some historical context and enjoyment for the fan community.

Going back to being the bad guy…while I can characterize myself as a Disney Geek, I was still working with people who were shaving the greeter position from Space Mountain. Proposing we get by with one less open ticket booth to save the labor dollars despite making the lines slightly longer. And who put The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on the menu at “only” $40M rather than the $100M+ necessary to build Pooh’s Honey Hunt from Tokyo.

What I’m hoping to do over the course of my articles is to share with you the real stories behind some of these decisions. No decision was black or white…we were constantly balancing the art of driving profitability for the resort (despite what many of us believe, Disneyland DOES need to turn a profit) while trying to maintain what’s “right” from a Guest perspective. I fully expect that many of you will not agree with decisions made, I know I didn’t agree with many of them either. I just hope the articles provide some inside perspective that is not typically seen online.

In addition to the pure Finance/Business topics, I also want to share some fun stories from behind the curtain. For example, WDI’s Kuka arm project back in the early 2000s vs. an entire land called Carsland…I guess I won’t spoil the ending by sharing which project was picked. . . and why.

Speaking of sharing something new, I’ll tack a mini article to the end of this introduction with some pictures that I know you’ll find stunning:

What two words get Disneyland fans talking with a mix of anger, despair, frustration, and confusion? That’s right…”Rocket Rods.” I’m not going to go into the history that brought us this flop, it has been covered extensively online. I’m not going into details around the challenges in operating the attraction either (considerable). Most Disneyland fans know that it is a story of sky-high maintenance costs (side note: it is true that Disney had Goodyear design custom tires for the attraction since it was burning through tires at an alarming rate), woefully poor hourly capacity, and a ride experience that never lived up to Guest expectations (especially after waiting two hours to board).

The pictures I’m going to share relate to what happened AFTER Rocket Rods closed. You see, it was quickly decided in TDA that the attraction was unsalvageable. Despite the sign out front touting that it would re-open in Spring 2001, no one could justify the dollars needed to make it happen…especially given the massive capital outlay across the Esplanade and the subsequent emergency funding needed to fix DCA (more on that in a future article).

So, Disney was left with a bunch of useless ride vehicles that were too expensive to store anywhere and, believe it or not, had some pretty sophisticated/proprietary electronics onboard. While one vehicle was dropped off as a prop over in the back of Hollywood Pictures Backlot at DCA, it was time for the rest of the fleet to disappear. So the vehicles were taken to field far away from Disneyland and cut up for scrap and recycling. It’s shocking yet fascinating that practically new ride vehicles were destroyed like this. Despite the disdain for the attraction, the vehicles were unique and cool. I apologize for the poor quality…these were taken by a friend with a then-cutting-edge Sony Mavica and saved to a floppy disk. My how digital photography as evolved.

Next time we’ll jump into a larger topic. I’ll look forward to your feedback and/or questions! Until then, I’ve got pencils to sharpen and numbers to crunch.

  • Jeff Heimbuch

    This is great, thanks! I’ve very much looking forward to hearing more stories!

    And wow, those pictures of the Rocket Rods, all cut up and beat to hell, are amazing! They couldn’t get rid of those things fast enough, eh?

    • The Accountaneer

      Cut up and beat to hell for sure! I remember the first day I saw those pics 10+ years ago and my jaw hit the floor! I knew we were sending them to the scrapheap but had no idea it would be in such a messed up way!

  • davidrusk

    Loved the article and pics. I’m looking forward to reading more, thanks for contributing a perspective I never thought I would see!

    • The Accountaneer

      Can’t wait to write more…unfortunately I don’t have any more never-before-seen photos but I think the stories will stand on their own!

  • Eric Davis

    Incredible article! I really cannot wait to hear more! I look forward to these accounting stories!

  • Ju-osh

    This sounds GREAT! You can sign me up as a regular reader right now!

  • A huge thanks to the Accountaneer. These are the sorts of inside stories that we just never hear about. We all know what happened with so many stories over the years, we just don’t know why. Really looking forward to seeing some of our favorite stories retold from the other side of the pencil.

    • The Accountaneer

      Technically it would be the other side of Excel but I digress… Thanks for the warm welcome everyone! Can’t wait to share more.

  • Kevin Yee

    Welcome! I apologize for lumping all Accountanteers into one category in the past πŸ™‚

    • The Accountaneer

      That’s OK Kevin, I knew what I was signing up for! Many in TDA lump all bloggers into one category so I think we’re even! πŸ˜‰

      • red014

        Well I hope you realize now you’re both. You’re blogging about how you used to be a bean counter! πŸ™‚

  • RosevilleDisfan

    Welcome aboard! I am looking forward to reading your stories. It will be very interesting to hear some business perspectives on the decisions that Disney makes. (I am a business student, so it’s kind of right up my alley)

  • StevenW

    ” I’m not going to go into the history that brought us this flop, it has been covered extensively online.”

    So the online reviews are telling the truth? I never would have guessed.

  • Bill

    Quite good.

  • nunz

    Love this!! Super interesting and wow..those poor Rocket Rod vehicles..looking forward to many more articles:)

    • wedwaypm

      “Poor Rocket Rods”? If it wasn’t for that screw-up ride, we might still have our PeopleMover! Heck, we would probably have had multiple PM stations set up throughout Tomorrowland by now!
      Besides, we all knew we couldn’t trust TDA when they said that the RR cars were going to a place filled with ‘Lollypops, Unicorns, and Gumdrops’!

  • SpectroMan

    Great inside article; can’t wait for more.
    The scrapping of the vehicles is yet another misstep in my opinion: These could have easily been sold off without the proprietary electronics installed. Everyone wants a piece of Disney and some have deep enough pockets for these types of things.
    They do it with parade floats, too. Whereas in the past, the past was preserved, at least for a while, now, they can’t wait to do away with anything – Light Magic floats, Blue Fairy from MSEP, et al. Shame, but what can we do.

    • The Accountaneer

      I understand this perspective, but I believe there is a significant difference between selling off beloved pieces of Disney history and this situation. A few thoughts:
      – There was no love for the Rods. It is a perfect situation of wanting to simply put a mis-step behind you and move on (granted, moving on is leaving an empty rotting track but that’s a story for another time). The last thing you’d want is those vehicles out “in the wild” with no control over how they are used or displayed. If one landed up on display somewhere the plaque would not describe it in the greatest light! There is only downside from a public perception perspective. I can only imagine the mock YouTube video we’d have today of people sitting in a stationary vehicle and complaining how it broke down again!
      – We needed to take a financial write-off on the Rods. They had not yet reached the end of their useful life and once the decision was made, a one time write down had to be recorded on the books. It was much cleaner to simply write them off rather than trying to record the difference between the value of the asset and the sale value. That gets into all sorts of questions around the true “value” of the vehicles. Something like a MSEP light bulb, the original Disneyland sign, or a ride vehicle from Toad are already fully depreciated.

      Painful to see, no doubt…but probably the right thing to do.

      • DifrntDrmr

        Plus you can’t tell the fans that the ride is reopening at the same time that you are selling them the ride vehicles.

    • DisWedWay

      Witness to quite a few Disney ride vehicles and show props being sent to the Death Star for scraping and De-construction over the years, I find your article and writing style top notch. I really was hoping maybe I could drive a Rocket Rod over on the Cars Land track one day, which may be possible with the 1 still in existence. Just a few thoughts as I write on my clip board inside my Matterhorn version 1 Bob Sled. Keep them coming. PD

      • DisWedWay

        PS I bought several of those MSEP light bulbs that supposedly came out of the actual floats, but more likely off the shelf.

  • Big Picture

    Thanks for the great perspective – glad to hear the story from another angle!

  • George Taylor

    Welcome to the family!

    There’s no turning back now…

  • JLindley2003

    This perspective and knowledge is a very welcome addition. Thanks to all for making this happen.

  • margerforce

    Awesome! Can’t wait to read more and find out more about behind the scenes. This would be a dream job for me. ΒΊoΒΊ

  • Tink60

    Thank you. I look forward to reading your articles in the future.

  • Puck2DaHead

    Wow!! I’m very much looking forward to reading more of your stories. You write very articulately and in a manner that is fun, interesting, and exciting. I can’t wait for your next article!!

  • yoyoflamingo

    Always wonderful to see a new columnist that I already can’t wait to read the next article.

    Welcome to MiceChat and thanks for the insight – I am glad you’re giving such a unique perspective.

  • bookwyrm

    Welcome, and thanks for the article! I think I am one of the few who loved the Rocket Rods – but then, I didn’t know any of the troubles behind them at that point. Also, I got to ride them sitting BEHIND MICKEY HIMSELF! They were doing a photoshoot, and asked if we minded not being able to sit in the front row. Nope! Didn’t mind at all! Sadly, we weren’t quick on the draw with our own camera, so don’t have photo evidence of the ride, but at least we have the memory of it!

  • aquaboi77

    Welcome to Miceage! I am looking forward to your articles!!

  • xboxtravis7992

    I am excited to learn about some of the realities in theme park finances from this series, looking forward to the next column.

    Those Rocket Rods though are a sad sight, while an infamous ride those vehicles at least looked very cool and it would have been nice to see a few more saved. On the upside, it is kinda cool to watch them scrapped in a ‘post-apocalyptic’ sense.

    • The Accountaneer

      “Post-apocolypitc”…that’s the perfect term! I think that’s why the pics hit so hard. We all think of Disneyland as something that will always be there and to see a piece of it destroyed so violently quickly brings a does of reality!

  • scarymouse

    I always wondered what went on behind the scenes. It will be an interesting read, and I look forward to more in the future .

  • Mr. Disney

    Great article!! I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

    I am taking accounting 201 right now (Theatre Major/Business Minor) and… well I’m having a rough time :/… so hopefully these articles will help me see things in a different light! πŸ™‚

    • The Accountaneer

      Ironically despite the term Accountaneering, it has very little to do with Accounting. Accounting handled more of the transactional side of the business while our focus was more on Planning & Analysis. Now we obviously had to have an understanding of core Accounting principles, but it wasn’t the job. I, personally, have never taken take a pure Accounting class despite double-digit years doing Finance for large companies! At the end of the day though, FinancialPlanningeering just doesn’t have the same ring πŸ˜‰

      • Mr. Disney

        Hehe right!!! You still have the whole business/finance side of the thing though, so it’ll be pretty interesting to see! πŸ™‚

  • mamabot

    Excellent first column! After years of reading about the seemingly heartless Sharp Pencil Boys, it is nice to hear stories from the sharp end of the pencil.

    Did you ever have serious conflict between your job and your passion for the parks?

    • The Accountaneer

      Were some decisions hard to make? Absolutely! I never had a conflict that compromised my ability to do my job. Most of them were heart versus logic decisions. When we made the decision to evict the Country Bears the Disney-loving side of me was bumming. What a classic piece of old-school Disney we’d be losing. But when looking at the broader picture factoring in Financials, operational metrics, and other constraints it was probably the right thing to do…I’ll cover that more in a future article.

      I always liked to think my passion brought something extra to the job. I was always able to say “but did you think of X?” when others may not have seen it. And I firmly believe that the passions enabled me to do my job better and helped me get promoted into jobs that I never imagined I’d have.

      • StevenW

        What bothers me about the Country Bears is the attraction was closed around the same time the film version was released. It didn’t make any sense as a “corporate” decision. I don’t quite remember if the closure was before or after the film arrived, but it was very strange that it happened as if the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.

        This is no different than what happened when Star Trek Experience closed at the Las Vegas Hilton (now the LVH). I know the series was in a downturn, but who knew that the property will be so quickly revived with a reboot within 5 years after the attraction’s closure. Couldn’t they wait?

        Now, we are faced with the fact that Mr. Toads will become a new feature film, but they closed the ride at the WDW’s Magic Kingdom. We haven’t heard any new news on this, but it seems like this haphazard decision making continues.

      • Norman Gidney

        The Country Bears is something that I REALLY want to hear about as it is still, in my opinion, one of the more egregious moves. But again, that is only as seen from my perspective as a park lover. Can’t wait to hear deeper discussion on the matter.

  • cal4iri

    I have a feeling this is going to be my new favorite! Great idea to bring this to MiceChat!
    Working in accounting myself, these are the questions and topics I’ve always wondered about.

  • Bonster

    More peaks behind the decision making curtain please. I’m especially interested in the balance of art/culture/fun and economics.

    • The Accountaneer

      That “balance” was definitely more art than science! I have some good stories to share in the future which will touch on that… Thanks!

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Thanks for the story. It is fun to hear about stories like this. Sometimes when I try to pinch every penny, I end up spending more than I should on replacing cheap products that should have lasted longer or on buying something that really did not live up to my needs. I have found that sometimes buying something of quality lasts longer and thus saves money.

    I feel that Walt was way ahead of me on this. From comments I have read, he really believed that quality would win out and make more money than going the cheap way. The Tomorrowland ’98 project shows how trying to pinch every penny ends up costing a whole lot more in the long run. We are still living with the ramifications of those fateful decisions, with empty Peoplemover track and a Astro Orbitor blocking the entrance. Sometime I would hope that management would learn from their waste of money, but it seems that the initial cost of building is the only criteria that is considered sometime. Carsland is a testimony of how when you don’t cut corners but spend extra for spectacular rock work and a high quality ride, Disneyland makes MORE money. If only Disney management can remember this and avoid repeating the mistakes of the original DCA and Tomorrowland ’98.

  • Norman Gidney

    TOTALLY AGREED! While I do blog about standards and show and all that, I want desperately to know WHY these decisions are made. Having the opposite perspective promises to be a real eye-opener and bring levity and understanding to how why the park is run the way it is.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    This sounds like it will be a very interesting column. I still shake my head over the decision not to bring Hunny Hunt to Anaheim, and look forward to hearing some of the ‘why’ behind that decision.

  • ScottOlsen

    Thanks for the pictures of the Rocket Rods laying in the field.

    Frankly, I don’t think they’ve ever looked better.

  • Mr Snappy

    Thank God!

    I won’t call out any of the other columnists on this site, but I always have to bite my cyber-tongue when I see everthing bad being placed at the feet of the “bean counters”

    As and MBA and having worked in Finance departments for over 25 years, I know the type of hard (and mostly unappreciated) work that goes into this career. I also know that the guys in the Finance dept’s know the REAL story of almost every success and failure.

    You will be my new favorite writer by default. Keep it honest and juicy. Don’t get fired.

  • victoriaskitten

    Another wonderful perspective for us MiceChatters to learn more about our beloved Disney. Thank you for the new information. Welcome to The Magic.

  • Princess K

    As a fellow accountant and Disney fanatic, I am super excited to read your upcoming stories! This is right up my alley πŸ™‚

  • DyNaH428

    Very cool! I’m looking forward to future installments, and reading up on a different perspective that most ppl do not see. Thank you.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Wow, seeing all those Rocket Rod vehicles like that… looks like something out of a Mad Max movie or something.

  • MasterA1024

    Great article! Can’t wait for the next one!

    • MasterA1024

      Hey and if you have any tips to share with a fellow “numbers” guy who’s dream is to work for Disney in the future, they would be greatly appreciated!

  • CupcakeTerror

    Brilliant idea for a regular article! Love hearing all about Disney and this would be a side I don’t know much, if anything, about. Thanks!

  • techskip

    I think what bothers me about the way the RR sleds were handled is that there was no foresight, no recycling. If Disney had scrapped the Charging Rhino and sent it to the dump than Davis wouldn’t have given us the Trapped Safari. If Lucas had scrapped an old army truck after a film shoot we wouldn’t have one in the Indy queue. Granted you can’t use all of them… I get that… but WDI didn’t even try to strip parts and reuse them elsewhere.

    I will give you a prime example that haunts me to this day. Glendale had one of the old Jungle Cruise boats in storage. They were looking for an excuse to get rid of it. Instead of shipping it down to Disneyland on a bulk ship with everything else they put in an order to have it scrapped… WDI EASILY could have cut it in half and had a wrecked boat scene on Jungle for the fraction of the cost…

    That’s what bothers me. Old Disney and Old WED found ways to make things work because they DIDN’T have the money to just scrap something. New Disney just tosses the toy aside and pays for a new one.

  • 4Apples4Disney

    Really looking forward to reading the next article!

  • tenchikiss

    Are you using the Pooh’s Honey Hunt as a comparison of what people were doing or is this a real example of what people DID do? Because I was under the impression that OLC had the rights to Pooh’s Honey Hunt until a certain amount of time had passed. Therefore there is no way that the The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was built instead of Pooh’s Honey Hunt.

  • eicarr

    I don’t get replacing old attractions(with superior craftsmanship and higher original budgets) with inferior lackluster ones like pooh and RR. It would have been cheaper to keep or improve The People mover and Country Bears.

  • Gwendolyn Dreyer

    Welcome to the family, Accountaneer!

  • DobbysCloset

    …maybe a bean counter, but they were MAGIC beans… I am totally looking forward to more!

  • Disneykin Kid

    Great article! I love to hear about the decision-making process. Actually, people working for Disney who are clueless about the product don’t bother me, unless they are in the top positions. The top people DO need to know the product, and no amount of job skills can compensate for that.

    Besides that, what bothers me is people in creative positions who think that Disney is dumb and corny. This happened when Broadway-types were brought in to ‘improve’ Disney and make the entertainment relevant, hip and edgy. One result was the Snow White stage show in Disneyland a few years back. Trying to make Snow White hip is much worse than the old-fashoned but still appealing original.

  • Scotty

    So does anyone know what happened to the one RR vehicle that was saved and used as a prop at DCA? Is this one in storage or has it also been scrapped?

  • Ravjay12

    Great article! Looking forward to more! Seems “Light Magic” suffered the same fate as Rocket Rods..

  • JDN

    I’m really looking forward to reading more! Thanks!

  • GrumpyFan

    Welcome to the site! Looking forward to future installments!

    Maybe I’m the only one, but I would be curious of some more detail. Since you were involved and somewhat intimate with the numbers on these projects, are you at liberty to share any of these? For example: What did it cost to build RR, what were the expenses incurred in trying to fix it, and what did it cost to write it off? Like I said, maybe I’m the only one, but still kind of curious, although, it may be somewhat sickening to know these.

  • GrumpyFan

    I would also be curious to know what the original budget WDI asked for on this project was, and what it was cut to, then how much extra time and money was spent trying to fix it, then scrap. My hunch would be that if they spent what WDI had asked for in the beginning, it would have been equal to or less than the final cost to build, try to fix, then scrap.

  • TikiRoomLiz

    Welcome, and thanks for sharing with us yet another facet of what creates the gem we call ‘Disney’.

  • QPerth

    Dear Accountanteer, only on a recent comment I mentioned the words Bean Counter and assumed complete ignorance towards people working in TDA. I apologise for any offence caused.
    Andid also like to say this introductory column was a fantastic read, and I have a feeling it will quite a popular one for Micechat, and I for one will be a regular reader, and am very interested in your side of stories and knowledge shared. Thanks for bringing this to us, I look forward to the next installment! -Q.

  • CrispyCremez

    I can’t wait to hear more! I’m actually going to school for accounting/finance and working for Disney is my dream job too! Hopefully I’m as lucky as you were.

  • nickelslot

    I am an economist, a profession perhaps more hated than accountants, who loves accounting. I hope you cover how Disney makes trade-offs. How do they determine the value, to patrons, of shorter lines? (I talking about dollar value: how does that translate into dollar revenue?). Or, how do they determine how much customers value rides? Do they take into account that some, but not all customers, really, really like ride X and if ride X were gotten rid of, they might lose more customers (dollars?) than if they got rid of ride Y, a generally like but not loved ride? How do they put a value on parades, turkey legs, and refurbishing a ride? You get the idea. Finally, I find Disney ticket pricing very interesting. If one buys a N day ticket that has to be used in two weeks, the added cost per day (after 5 days) is $10 (or was when I figured this out). The added per day cost (after 5 days) of a non-expiring ticket is $35. After 10 days (or so), one might as well buy a annual pass, which implies that the value to the marginal customer of days 11 thru 365 is zero. OK, you get idea!

  • aznshrek88

    Hi,

    I love this article. It’s exactly what I want to do, I know this is a bit random, but if I was looking at transitioning careers would you know how to get a foot in the door at Disney? Is there another way to contact you? Thanks!

    Sincerely,

    ~Shrek