You know, the Walt Disney Company has this nasty habit of rewriting its own history. Of editing out the somewhat messy parts that don't fit in with the official, cleaned up version of events.
That's why it's so nice to discover a book like D. M. Miller's "What Would Walt Do?: An Insider's Story about the Design & Construction of Walt Disney World." Here's a history of the construction of the resort that hasn't been cleaned up. Where you can learn -- from someone who was actually there -- what it was really like to build Disney World.
And D. M. Miller WAS right there from the beginning, my friends. He was a civil engineer who worked for a firm that was hired by Walt's right hand man - General William E. "Joe" Potter - back in 1968 to do the survey work for the numerous drainage canals that had to be cut through the Central Florida property.
So in a way, Miller was one of the very first folks to visit Disney World. Only D.M.'s concerns weren't long lines or overpriced eats. But rather, avoiding all the alligators, water moccasins and blood-sucking leeches that he's encounter while hauling his survey equipment through the swamp.
Once this messy job was completed, Miller stayed on with the Disney World construction project right through to the resort's official opening in October 1971. Which -- given his "I was there" perspective -- D.M. is able to give "What Would Walt Do?" readers a front row seat for the actual creation of the Vacation Kingdom.
Mind you, I don't think that the Walt Disney Company would exactly approve of some of the anecdotes that Miller chooses to share. Things like how various construction companies took advantage of the Mouse (I.E. Bribing on-site employees so that they would count "phantom trucks," which resulted in Walt Disney Productions being radically overcharged for the amount of clean fill that was trucked in to the site). Or even how individual construction workers pulled their own elaborate scams on Disney (Miller reveals how one construction worker built an entire camper top for his truck out of materials that he swiped from the WDW construction site).
But there are some nice stories in this book as well. D.M. singles out Roy Disney for particular praise, talking about how down-to-earth Walt's brother was. How -- before the Magic Kingdom opened -- Roy Senior made a point of riding each and every one of the theme park's attractions (Dumbo and the Merry-go-round included) to make sure that they were up to snuff. How Roy marveled at all the behind-the-scenes technology (Pointing up to the ceiling of the Utilidors, Roy Senior remarked to D.M.: "This must be what the inside of a spaceship looks like."
Miller also shares tales about Admiral Joe Fowler, the Disney Productions vet whose favorite part of the entire WDW resort was the behind-the-scenes maintenance area in the northwest corner of Bay Lake (Why there? Because it reminded Admiral Joe so much of all the maintenance facilities that he built in the Pacific for the U.S. Navy back in WWII). As well as yarns about some lesser but no less colorful characters who worked at the WDW construction site (Like *** Inge, the Bible toting civil engineer with a trick knee who still able to stroll out onto the bare steel limbs of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house).
So is "What Would Walt Do?" worth purchasing? Well -- if you're an inside info pig like me -- that answer would have to be a resounding "Yes!" I mean, where else are you going to be able to read about Roy Disney ordering that -- on WDW's official opening day -- that women who weren't wearing bras wouldn't be allowed to enter the theme park? (Roy was forced to rescind that order just an hour after the theme park opened because of all the chaos and confusion that his edict was causing at the Magic Kingdom's turnstiles. It seems that there were more women waiting in line who were not wearing bras than there were ladies who WERE wearing).
If, on the other hand, you're not much of a Disney history fan, then you may want to take a pass on Miller's book. Why for? Well, while "What Would Walt do?" isn't exactly expensive (typically retailing for $11.95), it is a bit on a thin side. The whole book is barely 124 pages long (and those 124 pages include two different tellings about how D.M. learned -- while he and his pick-up truck were parked on the still-dry-and-sandy bottom of Seven Seas Lagoon -- that his son, James David, was about to be born in a Tampa hospital. Sure, that's a nice story and all. But did we actually have to hear it twice?)
Still, if you're interested in reading a folksy, wart-and-all take of the pre-opening days of the Disney World resort, "What Would Walt Do?: An Insider's Story About the Design & Construction of Walt Disney World" may be the book for you.
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