On this day in 1955, Walt Disney hosted a Fourth of July picnic for a select group of Disney Studios employees and their families at Disneyland, just days before its grand opening on July 17, 1955. Those lucky enough to attend would be among the very first to ride some of the attractions and see Walt’s highly anticipated project. Construction was still ongoing in many areas of the park, so the party guests were restricted to Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland and Frontierland. Guests were able to ride the Jungle Cruise, Mark Twain steamboat, as well as the pack mules, Conestoga wagons, and stagecoaches in Frontierland. The Disneyland Railroad was also steaming along, with none other than Walt himself and Disney Legend Ward Kimball (look for him in the photo below wearing a bowler hat) assisting the conductors.
Just getting to Disneyland was an adventure in itself in 1955. One of the guests that day was eleven-year-old Alan Coats, the son of Disney artist Claude Coats, who at the time was helping complete the painting of the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction. Years later, Alan recalled “It took a long time to get to Disneyland from the studio because the freeway wasn’t finished… So we got off in Buena Park somewhere and wandered through the orange groves. It was a very rural experience.” When the Coats family rode the Jungle Cruise, Alan remembers Walt coming on the boat and greeting everyone “Well, thank you for coming! And I hope you have good time! Welcome to Disneyland!”
From all accounts of that day, Walt had the most fun with Ward Kimball on the trains. Even after most of the guests left for the day, the train lovers stuck around. Kimball later said “This was a big day for Walt, on that 4th of July. To the 80 or 90 people that were there that day, the Park was basically a big empty place, with a lot of work going on. They rode the trains and the Mark Twain, looked at how the construction was going, ate a picnic lunch and that was about it. People began leaving, when the sun went down. But to Walt, the locomotives were under steam! We were like kids, playing trains.”