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Disneyland horsecar driver Art Chapman hangs up his reins

Disneyland horsecar driver Art Chapman hangs up his reins

December 1974: Former cowboy Art Chapman retires after 20 years driving horsecars at Disneyland. He’s with “Joy,” one of the Disneyland horses.

In the Dec. 8, 1974, Los Angeles Times, David Larsen reported:

Art Chapman has spent almost the last 20 years staring at a horse’s behind.

“The only difference between me and a bartender is that I look at the same one most of the time,” he philosophizes.

Chapman’s outlook on life derives from the fact that he drives a horse car at Disneyland, and has done so ever since the park opened in 1955.

During those years, making a run of a little more than half a mile, he has logged more than 425,000 miles.

Chapman had been a cowboy in Wyoming, supplying livestock for Paramount whenever it made movies in Jackson Hole.

“Later I moved to Thermal and I was punching cows when I got a telegram,” he recalls. “I thought it was regarding another picture. I called the man and asked how long the job would last. He said forever.”

Chapman learned that a new entertainment park was about to open in Anaheim, and that the job involved drivers for the horses.

And so on May 16, 1955–two months before Disneyland opened to the public–a leathery old cowboy showed up at the gate and began breaking about 100 head of horses.

“Not all horses will adapt to this sort of thing,” Chapman concludes. “The animal has to have a certain disposition, mostly nice and calm.”

Most of the horses were bulky Belgians, and he was training them to mind their manners as they tugged a miniature horse car carrying  him and 23 passengers.

The run starts beneath the train station just inside the main gate and for 10 cents, takes a visitor on about a four-minute ride to the Central Plaza at the center of the park.

The car, of the type which provided mass transit about the turn of the century, is five-eights scale, as is everything along Main Street in Disneyland.

Everything except the horses. They average about a ton in weight and each eats about 30 pounds of hay a day. Their ages range up to 18 years.

“I have had more than one visitor ask me if they are animated,” Chapman swears.

Not only are they real, but they apparently have a good union. The horses work four hours a day, the drivers eight.

“On hot days people ask why we don’t give them water,” Chapman says. “We once tried putting a bucket down at the end of a run, but the horses would rather wait until their shifts are done.”

The 70-year-old Chapman, wearing a conductor’s cap, blue vest and red tie, began taking coupons and dimes from a new batch of passengers. He gripped the reins, and a mare named Joy began clopping along the inside of the tracks.

For a moment, Chapman’s eyes took on a distant glaze. He was thinking back to the time Harry and Bess Truman took the ride, and how the former President had conversed about Belgian horses.

And the time a long-lost cousin happened to be among the passengers one day.

And the time a man named Disney needed a horse for his kingdom.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

Follow Scott Harrison on Twitter and Google+

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