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On the afternoon of Friday, June 16, four of us arrived together at the park, accompanied by family members. Jesse and David, brothers, were neighbors of James and Ken. The four of us rushed to the attraction. Heavy testing was underway and lots of cast members seemed to linger in the area. General cast member previews were about to begin.
None of us were cast members, of course. The oldest person in our group (Ken) was barely 16.
As we stood among the loitering cast members, we noticed Imagineers Tony Baxter and Bruce Gordon emerge from backstage on their way into the exit of the attraction. There was a barricade extending from the exit of the attraction to the gate leading backstage behind Critter Country. They stopped to talk with us a moment over the barricade, suggesting that the time might be at hand for our first ride.
This was only the fourth time we'd ever even talked with them. In the preceding weeks, we'd approached them because we'd recognized them from pictures. We had two brief encounters and then one lengthy conversation at the very barricade where we were now standing. Tony was the person who first came up with the idea for Splash Mountain, and Bruce was the one who had kept the project alive and ended up being the Show Producer.
After they disappeared into the exit, Bob showed up, and Ken excitedly invited him to join us, if possible. Later, when Gordon reappeared, he noticed that the group had grown, but that, fortunately, was okay.
Ken Pellman had met Bob Barber only one time before when they both stood staring at the mountain. Instead of becoming rivals in their desire to be first in line, they decided to join forces.
There were many starts and stops in the attempt to get the ride running for a long enough time. The park was closing at 10pm in preparation for a party. We finally asked Bruce if we were going to get on that night for sure. He said "Yeah, unless there is an air raid or something."
The excitement level grew exponentially as a result of Bruce's reassurance. Most of us had watched the construction process since the beginning and studied every attraction model, photograph, and concept painting we could find. We spoke to our friends and classmates of what we thought the ride would be like, and even had dreams about the attraction during the past year. We were kids, and we were on the verge of fulfilling a dream...literally.
Around 7pm, we were told to come back at 8. That was the longest hour of our lives. Some of us had experienced a growing obsession with the moment that was now at hand for two and a half years.
We kept checking our watches as we visited the Disney Gallery and stayed close to Critter Country. After what seemed like an eternity, we hurried back.
Cast members were being let in past the barricade by showing their official identification. After more waiting, a security host suggested we go do something else, since only cast members were being allowed in. When we told him that we were waiting for someone, he responded that it could be a while. Right after that, Bruce Gordon emerged and waved us in. If only we had a picture of the expression on the security officer's face! It was 9:17pm, and we were being taken inside (for the first time) in case the park was cleared before the ride was running.