Disneyland guests turned away from Big Thunder Mountain Sunday didn't hear the real reason for the popular coaster's closure the night before it had been one guest's final ride.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The loading area of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Photo by Al Lutz.

Just before midnight Saturday, 50-year-old James Margolin and his son took one last trip on Big Thunder. After exiting the ride, the two walked about 500 feet, when Margolin complained of chest pains. He collapsed, losing consciousness, according to Susan Gard, spokeswoman for the Division of Occupational Safety & Health (DOSH).


Disneyland emergency personnel quickly responded and administered CPR. Margolin was rushed to Western Medical Center in Anaheim, where he arrived at 12:20 a.m. Unfortunately, 35 minutes later, he was dead. Deputy Cullen Ellinburgh, of the Orange County Coroner's Office, attributed cause of death to advanced coronary arteriosclerosis, or heart disease.

DOSH, meanwhile, wanted to make sure there was no correlation between the death and the ride. The agency closed Big Thunder all day Sunday to investigate. "The comprehensive inspection revealed no problems or violations, and we gave Disneyland permission to reopen ride [late Monday morning]," said DOSH's Gard. "The man died of natural causes."

Spaced Out

Cast members continue to receive conflicting information on when Space Mountain will go down for—or return from—its mega-rehab. At this point, the rehab is to include rebuilding the track after "totally gutting the entire building... nothing inside the Space Mountain Complex will be the same when it returns." Possible timelines include closing as early as Labor Day 2003 or as late as January 2004, until reopening 12 months to two years later.

One ride operator is convinced that "this is your last Christmas season to be able to ride Space Mountain as we know it."

Another joked: "One thing is for sure, though, the station will have station gates!"

[Ed. note: See David's article, "Idiot-Proofing the Parks" for more information on station gates.]

Costume Gloom

Enough is enough. Disneyland's Wardrobe Department is determined to stem its losses that it has been racking up since the division went self-serve (Costume Shopping) and began allowing cast members to take costumes home with them (FasTrack). For background, see "Costume Foolery."

Last week a memo went out revealing the losses. Said one cast member: "What [the memo] basically says is that cast members are not turning in costumes or costume pieces. That we should look in our lockers or at home and return extra pieces because wardrobe is experiencing a shortage. The memo also states that the number of missing costume pieces is easily in the thousands, and the value lost is in the tens of thousands of dollars. It has also been reported that if a cast member FasTracks a costume and quits, the company does not take an effort to get the costume back."

Unfortunately, the two-year-old systems have made theft and mistakes easier. "It's fairly easy for cast members to walk out of the costuming building without having their costumes checked out," admits one worker. "There are stories of cast members with more than 10 costumes out at one time. In most cases, cast members can only have three costumes out, but that policy was fairly lax, and most of the costuming cast members would issue costumes even if one already had more than three out. Basically it is easy to walk out with a costume without it being checked out; just put it in your bag and no one knows the difference. This became practice with some cast members who were unable to check out costumes due to a large number of outstanding ones. It was also easy to grab an extra hat or jacket and just put it on as if you already checked it out, and the costuming cast members would not think twice about it.

"Even with security religiously checking bags upon entering and exiting back stage areas, if they saw an extra costume in the bag, nothing would be said because many did check out an extra costume to take home to avoid the costuming trip the next day. I saw that in most cases cast members just failed to return the pile of costumes in the trunk of their car which would cause them to 'sneak' the costumes out. I never directly heard of anyone taking costumes for the specific reason of selling them, though I am aware that there are bad apples out there that will take advantage of the relative ease in removing extra costumes to sell them for their own gain."

In addition, another employee noted, "Cast members who quit rarely turn in their costumes. The company is supposed to withhold the final pay check in that case, but usually the high turnover cast members never worked much to begin with and there isn't much to withhold."

Earlier, the department tried to solve the problem of cast members who steal small articles such as belts and ties by placing those items on the wall behind the checkout counters. Previously, the little pieces were in a back corner, unsupervised, making it too easy for klepto-inclined cast members to slip them into their pockets or backpacks.

The department also formed a "garment recovery team" to track down cast members with too many costumes and look after damaged and tampered costumes. "So far," says a Costumer, "they have been doing in excellent job in taking action now it's up to area management to take disciplinary action."

Yet, some loss is accidental. "I've lost a jacket or two that have yet to ever be found," admitted a ride operator. "I like the take-it-home system, but from a company standpoint, it was a dumb idea to begin with. What did the company expect to happen?"

To save money, wardrobe's Main Issue has also begun closing on Wednesdays and leaving only one window open for "emergency service." Explained one pessimistic source: "They are forcing cast members to go to Window 1 to get 'emergency costume replacements.' To encourage cast members to get two sets of costumes on Tuesdays, they close the entire building on Wednesdays, and have the slowest costuming cast members work Window 1 to annoy people into getting two costumes on Tuesdays. It does take about 10 to 15 minutes to get through a line five people deep. Slow."

The Customing Building
Photo by Al Lutz.

In fact, several cast members pointed fingers at the workers in Costuming. "I'm not surprised costuming has experienced huge losses," said an employee. "They can blame a lack of consistency among their cast members, in part. Those of us who still hold permanent lockers can expect a variety of experiences each time we visit H-5. Some cast members automatically assume you are on FasTrack and will issue you the moon if you ask them to. If your account shows more than your limit of pieces and they mention it to you, you need only state you have turned the items in and they take them off of your record, no questions asked. Other cast members assume the role of Costume Nazi, refusing a belt or a pair of socks to someone who has faithfully turned in every piece ever issued to them because they are 'over the limit.' They instituted the return bin system to save time and labor, yet it doesn't work and they blame the on-stage cast for their problems. One never knows what to expect. I always grit my teeth while costume shopping, half expecting pleasant banter with a costuming cast member while I pick up the costume I am well entitled to, half expecting a fight to the death for it. I have diligently followed every rule and procedure they have inflicted on us, yet I am harassed and believed to be a liar at least once a week."

Added a co-worker: "The computer system that Costuming uses is a complete travesty and really needs to be updated. Either that or the Costuming cast members need to pay attention to what they are doing. I turn in my costumes every night after my shift. For the past six months or so, the computer has said that I have multiple costume pieces out. That's impossible because I turn in all my costumes. The Costuming computer control can't even keep track of its own inventory, and it's really sad. No wonder articles are walking away."

He suggested, "A perfect solution would be to abolish FasTrack all together. However, I do not think that will happen in the near future. All the trainers are teaching the new cast members to use FasTrack and the new cast members do not know any other way. The cast members who use FasTrack now will probably gripe or quit altogether because they are inconvenienced. I would also like to see all cast members assigned a locker, like in the old days. There are more than enough 'day lockers' on the second floor of Costuming. Most of them are never used. Why build lockers and not use them?"

Yet, the majority of employees seem to prefer the new system. "The Costume shopping is actually a good idea, in some respects," said one worker. "Since I'm the one that picks out my costume pieces, I'm the one that makes sure that the shirts aren't stained or ripped (which a few of them are, despite me bringing it to their attention) or that the trousers are well-pressed, neat and tidy, and still have their buttons, zippers, etc. It's a way to get a quality costume for myself, and for the guests."

Agreed a co-worker: "I feel bad for the cast members who are honest, because the one thing I can see resulting from this is going back to the old method of not allowing any costumes off Disney property, and forcing cast members to change at work everyday."

Concluded another: "Unfortunately, I think this mess was a long time coming."

Bye Al

Starting yesterday, co-founder and former editor-in-chief Al Lutz has left MousePlanet to form his own Web site (www.miceage.com). The parting was amicable and the decision was Al's.

MousePlanet owes Al a great deal for his years of hard work and I, in particular, thank him for all the wonderful layouts he created for my articles – 61 articles, 38 mailbags: that's 99 layouts over two-plus years. I appreciate it.

Love him or hate him, Al and his Disneyland Information Guide could always spark a lively conversation. He will be missed. Hopefully, I and the rest of the staff will pick up the slack to continue earning your readership on a daily basis.

Talk about this article and more, on the MousePad community forums.

(Send an email to David Koenig)

David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.