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Theme park cast member stories: Everyone loves a parade

By Robert Niles
Published: September 28, 2009 at 9:50 AM
Going to Parade Audience Control [PAC] always broke up the day when I worked in the Magic Kingdom, giving me the chance to see friends I hadn't seen yet that day, as well as to spend some extra time chatting with guests. The PAC crew gathered anywhere from a half hour to two hours before the parade, depending upon the day's attendance. Most folks on PAC would set up and man the crosswalks along the parade route, keeping them clear and making sure that park guests stayed off the parade route itself.

On the west side of the park, where I worked, the PAC crew had an additional, important duty. We had to "roll out" the parade route itself. On Main Street, the parade just drove up the street. (These days, it goes in the opposite direction, down the street.) But in Liberty Square and Frontierland, there's no defined "street" for the parade to travel. We had to define a route, with ropes and stanchions.

That was my favorite part of PAC duty. We had two roll-out crews, one for each side of the route.

The plugger would use a metal pin to pull up from the ground the round brass or rubber plugs that filled the stanchion holes.

The stanchion (that's what we called him, and it was almost always a male) would pull a stanchion from the box and place it in the hole. In later years, Disney switched from plain, metal stanchions to themed ones - white, carved wood for Liberty Square and rough-hewn rails for Frontierland. That led to the addition of a second stanchion position, one person to push the cart and a second to pull and place the poles.

The clipper took the rope from a large spool and clipped it to the stanchions along the route.

Finally, the roller walked along, with the 30-some-pound spool of rope strapped to his chest.

Once we had the route set up, we each were assigned a crosswalk to work during the parade. The rollers worked the bridge between Liberty Square and the hub, cutting off to foot traffic when the parade reached the top of Main Street. (Again, the Magic Kingdom parades flow the other way these days, so the timing's a bit different.)

As the end of the parade approached, the roller would strap the empty spool back on his chest, and the rest of the crew would gather at the bridge. The clipper would clip the end of the final rope to the spool as the "rope girls" who followed the final float would step off the bridge, then the crews would walk alongside them, taking up the parade route.

It's really an impressive feat. One moment, you've got a defined parade route, with ropes and poles holding back the crowd. And the next... it's gone. That can happen because Disney has a crew of four (or five) cast members on each side of the route, working together swiftly to take up the route.

The clipper unclips the two ropes on either side of a stanchion, then clips the ends together. The stanchion pulls the pole and places it on the cart. Then the plugger drops a plug into the hole.

Meanwhile, the roller rolls up the rope, like he's fishing on Lake Butler, only he's hauling in a catch the size of Shamu.

Robert on the parade route
TH's favorite photo: Me, as roller in the early 1990s, with my clipper, in Haunted Mansion garb, behind me.

The roller and the clipper have to work together. The roller has to let the rope keep a little bit of slack so that the clipper can easily clip it to the next rope, once he or she's unclipped it. But the rope can't hit the ground, or even sag so low that guests might cross it. Worse, if that happens, and the roller has to roll a double speed to take in the feed, a set of clips might fly over the top of the spool, tangling the line.

That is a blown roll, and it's the biggest hassle on PAC. With the rope tangled and the spool jammed, PAC crew have to wind the parade ropes by hand. Supervisors usually jump in at this point, winding the rope around their hands and elbows for the rest of the way.

The big hassle comes after the parade, when the spool must be untangled and the ropes would back on it. But the ropes must be wound on the spool in a precise order. The rope sections between stanchions are all different lengths, and if those sections are clipped together in the wrong order on the spool, the next crew won't be able to set the route.

So the lines are unwound backstage, then laid on the ground so that they can be replaced in the correct order, before being respooled. With several people working, that could be done in half an hour or so, depending upon how early in the rollback the roller lost it.

Needless to say, if you were rolling and lost it, you were not a popular person for the remainder of the day.

And yes, I blew a roll-out. Like almost everyone who works roller, I blew my first rollback. I got it right the second time, then blew my third. But give credit to one PAC lead who gave me a third chance - I never blew a roll-out again, rolling the route out and back more than 100 times my final two summers at Disney.

Each Monday morning, Theme Park Insider editor Robert Niles shares stories from working inside the parks. If you have a story you'd like to share, e-mail him. Here's the archive of previous stories.

Readers' Opinions

From 64.9.50.200 on September 28, 2009 at 10:37 AM
I worked one parade shift while I was at Disney (2007). It was Easter week, at the Magic Kindom (it was a day that they were so busy that they were restricting who was entering the park), and I was stationed by the Liberty Square River Boat. I got to be the person that placed white arrows on the ground in tape that directed people where to walk. Once that was over I got to make sure foot traffic kept moving and people weren't sitting on walls. Although it was a great day, I couldn't even count the number of times I was told I was running someone's day because I wouldn't let them sit on a wall and watch the parade. When it was all over I tried not to get trampled as I removed the arrows from the ground!
From Anthony Murphy on September 28, 2009 at 10:58 AM
Thanks for bring back the famous picture!
From 67.194.4.63 on September 28, 2009 at 10:59 AM
I was a stanchion all-star on Frontierland PAC, and I'm a girl. Just saying...
This post brought back some good memories, even though I was never totally in love with PAC. Unless it was one of those days when I was stuck in Photohell on Splash.
From 173.20.39.234 on September 28, 2009 at 12:08 PM
Wow, those brought back some nightmarish memories of my CM past. D-PAC was the most coveted position ever when it comes to Ad/Lib CMs. During the day parade, it starts off in Frontierland and heads towards Main Street, and therefore Frontierland has to roll up behind it, so Ad/Lib gets off easy. N-PAC on the other hand is what I consider torture, especially during the summer when we pull double spectro. I've had the misfortune of doing 5 N-PACs before, and have done all the positions except for roller, and I'd have to say that clipping is by far the worst position ever (although I could be wrong since I've never rolled.) The rope is measured out just exact so that way it's taught between stanchions, but has a very little wiggle room for you to unclip. This wiggle room is always non-existant due to the fact that everyone loves to lean on or pull down the rope. So here you are, standing in front of a stanchion with your leg wrapped around it pulling it towards you to give you a little slack so you can unclip it, and then quickly clip it to the line and unclip the other end from the next stanchion.

Plug is also pretty bad, but you won't get blisters and sore thumbs when you're finished. You might however get your hands trampled on as you're trying to find where the hole was and plugging it back up. This normally isn't that bad of a job, but keep in mind that this is during the night parade, the lights are still OFF in your area, so you're feeling around for the hole in front of a crowd of people eager to run ontop of you and head towards Splash Mountain.

Stanchion isn't that bad, just tiring after you get done with Liberty square and then you still have Frontierland, which by that time you're tempted to use those things to ward off those guests trying to cross the line before we're finished rolling that area up.

I have no idea why Jungle skips love N-PAC. I much prefer quieter cruises at night with people that actually want to hear your corny jokes, but that's just me. Some of them just get so tired of Jungle they want out, which I understand. I look forward to my night cruises, and use that to get me through the day of the below-average boatloads of guests. Good times.

From Bob Miller on September 29, 2009 at 6:58 AM
Robert, believe it or not, my daughter Stefanie and I actually talked to you in the early 90's. Don't remember the year, but you had that big roller on your chest, and Stefanie(about 9 years old) asked you if it was heavy and you said yes but that you were happy to be doing it, so that she could see the parade safely. I wanted to tell you that, ever since I saw that photo of you awhile ago.

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Stories from a Theme Park Insider

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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