Long before the moon landing and Woodstock, there was one historically significant event in a small California town that helped shape the future lives of almost all baby boomers. Today, The Twentieth Century Express is making  an unscheduled stop in a small suburb of Los Angeles called Anaheim. The date is July 17, 1955 and it is opening day for Disneyland. For me it was also the start of the Great Disney War.

The war started because, despite living on the east coast, I wanted to go to Disneyland and my parents were unreasonably resistant to packing the car and driving 3,000 miles to spend all of their savings for me to go on a three-minute whirlygig ride. Of course I did want more than that, or they could have simply taken me to nearby Palisades Park.

My ultimate goal, the thing that would make my small life complete, was to go to Frontierland and find Davy Crockett. I probably would have let it go after a few days of begging, but my father told me that Crockett was dead. He said Crockett had “bought the big one” at the Alamo. “No,” I insisted. He lives in Frontierland at Disneyland.” I had to prove him wrong.

It is a little known fact that guerrilla warfare derives tactics from children. You may believe that The Art of War by Sun Tzu is about war and strategy, but it’s not. The original version was actually a book about raising children that was mis-translated into English.

I had a small record player someone had foolishly given me for Christmas, and among the half-dozen or so records I owned was the Davy Crockett theme song. I started playing it non-stop, over and over, taking short breaks to let my parents relax and think it was finished before starting again. Even at that young age I understood the tactics of the Chinese water torture.

Walt Disney did his bit to help me. Every Sunday evening on the Disneyland TV show he would introduce some new feature of his growing theme park, and tie that in with an adventure story. Just in case no one was listening to Walt’s fascinating, educational and enlightening commentary, I would turn up the TV volume. That would be followed by a loud voice from the other room to “turn it down!” When I heard that, I knew that Walt and I were getting through. It wouldn’t be long before my parents would cave in and we’d be off on a wondrous journey across America.

For special effects I wore my official Davy Crockett coonskin cap day and night. I had a genuine cowhide Davy Crockett wallet, because I was sure Davy had one just like it, and I also carried a Davy Crockett pen knife just in case I had to fight off a bear on the walk to school. Yes, kids were actually allowed to carry pocket knives back then.

One thing kids hate the most is being ignored. When they do or say something annoying you are supposed to stop everything you are doing and give them your full attention. If you fail to do that, the child is then entitled to say insulting things to you like “You’re not my real mother,” or “You’re SO mean to me!” or even the ultimate, “I hate you!”

All those kiddie insults may bring a modern parent to tears, but parents from the “Greatest Generation” just handed it back. If I were to say “You’re not my real mother,” I would get the response “So how did you find out?” I also learned at a very early age that crying as a tactic was strictly out. If I cried the response would be “Stop that before I give you something to really cry about!” To this day I’ve still no idea what that “something” might have been because I always stopped sniveling.

The Great Disney War ended abruptly when one day after school I found my precious Davy Crockett record had been broken in two and left neatly next to the record player. I tried to tape it together and play it anyway, but that was a dismal failure. I had no money in my genuine cowhide Davy Crockett wallet to buy another record, and asking the enemy to fund their own torture was out of the question. I removed my Davy Crockett coonskin cap, and put my empty Davy Crockett wallet in the drawer of my desk along with my Davy Crockett pen knife.

Then I strapped on my official Hopalong Cassidy leather holster and cap guns, put on my official Hopalong Cassidy hat and light-up string tie, and resigned myself to the fact there would be no 3,000-mile trip to see Frontierland. I wandered out of my room to ask my mother where Hopalong Cassidy’s ranch was.


Postscript: When I was sixteen my mom had to go to California on a business trip. She came home and presented me with tickets to go along and we had an amazing long weekend at Disneyland that I still remember like yesterday. Thanks mom, best trip ever!

Pat Townley at Disneyland, circa 1960-something, waiting for me to finish looking for Davy Crockett.