It all started with a box of animation cels, back in the day when you could get them for less than a small fortune. “I basically handed over my paycheck,” Kevin Hicks admits. And that’s how he got hooked on collecting Disney history.
As a Disneyland Cast Member from 1980-1987, Kevin collected memories—working at Café Orleans as a busboy and lead, as a cash handling Disney University trainer, and as a member of the Cast Activities Advisory Board, refereeing canoe races, escorting stars like Julie Andrews and once accompanying musician Julian Lennon on a Tom Sawyer Island raft while filming a TV special (“He told me about how his dad took him to Disneyland. That made it so much more special!”). He even got to drive his car down Main Street, USA (before the park was open of course) and once hosted a Cast Member trip to the Rose Parade.
Since then, Kevin has spent a considerable portion of his Alumni years perfecting his Disneyland history collecting skills. He’s learned, among other things, that the best time to find amazing items is in the wee small hours of the morning—when they pop up on sites like eBay or Craig’s List; that the best items to collect are one of a kind (at least, if you hope to one day sell them at auction); and that sometimes—no matter how much you want a spectacular collection for yourself—you need to do the right thing by the original owner.
Kevin Meets Beulah Rake
Case in point: “I look for bargains, so I’m up late one night deep-diving [going beyond the first page] on Google and I found this post that was six years old. It said, ‘I have Disney railroad memorabilia.’”
His attention fully captured, Kevin decided to go ahead and follow the unlikely lead. As it turned out, Beulah Rake, widow of Disneyland Railroad contractor Don Rake, still had those items.
“‘My husband worked on the Disneyland Railroad before Park opened,’ she told me. It made my heart stop! You know that’s going to be good,” Kevin recalls.
Although the 84-year-old Beulah lived two hours away, Kevin was willing to make the drive and Beulah was willing to let him take a look at what she had. “How was I going to do this?” Kevin thought, worried about earning Beulah’s trust. “She doesn’t know me from Adam. So I stopped on the way and picked up flowers to thank her for letting me into her home.
“I knew right away that this was a pretty incredible find and it became more so as I dug through it. She pulled out a Marvin Davis* brown line and I knew it was significant. It was in perfect condition. ‘How much would you sell these for?’ I asked. She didn’t know, but guessed maybe $1000-2000.
“Now I'm not hesitant to make a good deal and I’ll negotiate—but I knew she needed someone she could trust.”
Since he’d come to know Mike Van Eaton of the Van Eaton Galleries, Kevin gave him a call. “He’d sold a similar brown line for $25,000 the year before, but I knew this was better. He told me what to look for.”
So with mixed feelings, knowing he couldn’t personally afford these pieces, Kevin went back to Beulah and let her know what she should expect to get for the brown line. But it turned out that wasn’t all Don had left behind.
“She had hundreds of drawing, notes, equations—even a pre-opening car pass.”
Don had been brought in near the end of Disneyland’s creation because of his railroad design expertise. The other designers could do roads, but Don knew railroad tracks.
“I offered to help her,” Kevin said. “‘Let me package it and put together a marketing plan to sell it.’” Why would he take his own time to do this, knowing the collection wouldn't be added to his? “It was the right thing to do,” Kevin said. How very Walt-like.
By auction day, Kevin was nervous. While even Mike Van Eaton admitted the Don Rake Collection contained items he’d never seen before, Kevin wanted Beulah to do well. And sure enough, many of the other pieces in the auction ended up going for their minimum price.
Learn more about Kevin and Beulah’s amazing story here [http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2016/06/17/unprecedented-piece-of-disney-history-to-hit-auction-block-this-weekend/]
What happened with Beulah’s collection? The video on the other side of this link [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t902g_VX7tc] tells the rest of that story.
It’s safe to say that Kevin and Beulah are still good friends.
Learn about Don Rake here [http://micechat.com/128561-unknown-engineer-disneyland-railroad/].
What’s In Your Attic?
As Alumni, we all have “stuff” we collected during our Disneyland years and maybe a little more because, well, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Is it worth anything beyond sentimental value? The best way to know, Kevin says, is to find a collector you can trust and have them look at what you have. He’s offered his personal services to any Alumni with questions and can be reached at [email protected]
Do You Have a Café Orleans Story?
Kevin is also currently working on a book about Café Orleans—rich with its history, menus, Cast Member stories, photos of its evolution, and more. It’s a true “labor of love.”
“There are lots of histories of attractions, but you almost never read about the restaurants,” Kevin told us. “And that’s a shame!” We agree. There is so much amazing and undersung history hidden in the Park. What history do you know?
If you worked at Café Orleans or Creole Café, or know anyone who did, Kevin would love to hear from you. Contact him at [email protected] He’d also like you to know about cafereunions.com [http://www.cafereunions.com], a website devoted to Café hosts and hostesses.
*Marvin Davis was the master architect who helped Walt Disney put his Disneyland dream into three dimensional reality. Read about him here .