Former Cast Member Remakes Heavenly Music
by Mark Eades
Music, trains, and theme parks are passions of Bill Reyes, and he’s found a way to work all three into his life. Unusually enough, it began when Bill’s dad learned his young son preferred music to sports—and rather than lose heart at not having a future athlete in the family, he encouraged Bill’s love of music.
Bill’s dad gave him records by Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, and Count Basie, sparking his first musical love—drums and percussion instruments. Bill learned to play and kept playing for many years.
“Once I hit high school, the band director there introduced me to various other instruments including all the horns and reed instruments,” Bill said. His music passions grew to include guitar, keyboards, and more, eventually recording and producing music in his own studio at his house.
But music was not always a good source of income for a person with a family, so Bill turned his hands to educational design—producing training and educational materials and programs for a variety of companies. Even while working at his day job, he still finds time for his first musical love. “I can play all night long live on drums and percussions.”
After music came trains. Bill’s childhood passion for trains was fired up by frequent trips to Knott’s Berry Farm. Back then going to Knott’s was a free place for the La Mirada family to go. “The steam engine, number 41, scared me as a kid, but I was fascinated by it,” Bill said. “I went and got books on trains and researched them a lot.”
Bill saved up so he could buy a ticket and ride not just the big steam train but also the Calico Mine Train Ride, where he heard the organ music—a piece called “Going to Heaven”—in the Cavern Room at the top of the big lift halfway through the ride. “The sound of that organ music in that room was wonderful,” he said.
Bill’s fascination with trains continued as the family began making annual August trips to Disneyland for his brother’s birthday. “I knew the first thing I’d see and smell when I got there were the trains.” Bill said it took a few trips for him to figure out there was more than one train at Disneyland, but once he realized that fact, he continued his diligent research. When he found out about Walt Disney’s affinity for steam trains and even his ownership of a scale model live steam engine, Bill began to dream about maybe working someday at Disneyland—on the steam trains, of course. “I love trains. I don’t really own any,” Bill admits, “but I love them.”
Bill’s Disneyland dream had to be tabled awhile as he worked on raising his family. Then one Sunday, just a few years ago, Bill and his son went to Traveltown in Los Angeles. They also went next door to the Los Angeles Live Steamers, and discovered Walt Disney’s Barn. During that visit, Bill met Michael Broggie, son of Disney Legend Roger Broggie and one of the members of the Carolwood Foundation, which maintains the Barn at the location. In 2009, Bill became a volunteer docent for Walt’s Barn.
Eventually, Bill joined the Carolwood Foundation and became a member of its board of directors. Now he can be found there on the third Sunday of each month, dressed in a conductor’s uniform, answering visitors’ questions.
When the last recession hit the U.S. economy, it pounded both Bill’s lines of work—hard. That’s when he applied to work at Disneyland. “I figured what the heck,” he said.
In 2011, Bill was offered a position as a Disneyland Attractions Host. After going through orientation with the Disney University, he was soon working on the west side of the park. Before long, Bill began getting calls for work back in his field, forcing him to resign his position after a few months. “I loved working at Disneyland, but there weren’t enough hours to support my family,” Bill admitted.
Meanwhile, he paid a few more visits to Knott’s Berry Farm and rode the Calico Mine Train Ride, where he found that the wonderful organ music in the Cavern Room had become less than heavenly over the years. “It sounded like it had been edited, and was very weak.”
Bill decided it needed improving, so he paid a visit to his friend Lonnie Lloyd, who was shop foreman for the legendary ride designer Bud Hurlbut. (Bud had designed and built the Calico Mine Train Ride. Walt Disney admired Bud’s ride designs and met with him several times.) Even though Bud had passed away, Bill was able to get a copy of the original sheet music for the Caverns Room from Lonnie and set about recreating it from scratch. “I am not an organist,” Bill said. “I’m more of a technician. But I wanted to do it as a tribute to Bud.”
The original organ music had been recorded more than 50 years before on a real organ. While Bill did not have access to the original, he did have a scratchy copy of it and started working on a new recording. Because he was not an organist, Bill took more of a technical approach, recording digital samples of organ music and matching them to the sheet music on his computer.
It took several months of finding and getting organ samples, plugging them in, listening, and adjusting before he finally got it finished. “I played it for Lonnie and he thought it was a new recording of the original.”
Bill’s work didn’t end there. When he heard that Knott’s Berry Farm was going to completely refurbish the ride, he wanted them to have the new recording and offered it to them gratis.
When the refurbished ride—with an all new sound system and more—debuted in June 2014, the organ music heard in the Cavern Room of the Calico Mine Train Ride is what Bill had produced, and he did it in line with all of his passions: music, trains, and theme parks.
This profile is part of a series featuring former Disney Cast Members being written for the Disneyland Alumni Club. These stories reveal the role working for Disney has played over the years in shaping the lives of the people who help "make the dream a reality," as Walt would say.
In honor of the 60th anniversary year of Disneyland in 2015, the Disneyland Alumni Club is reaching out to former employees, whether retired or younger, who may not be aware of the organization. The Club was started in 1983 by Disneyland executives Van France and Dick Nunis as a way to help Cast Members stay in touch after moving on to other careers. Is that you? If so and you'd like to take part in the Club's private celebration next August—or participate in their many other activities and benefits, please visit www.disneylandalumni.org and join today!
Here are some previous stories about Disneyland Alumni:
This article and photographs are copyright 2014 by Mark Eades, all rights reserved. Used by permission. Photographs supplied by subjects are used by permission, all rights reserved.