108-year-old Disney legend Ruthie Tompson shares her memories of Walt, and the secret to longevity

The year must have been around 1955: Walt Disney is sitting in the front of a stagecoach pulled by ponies. These stagecoaches were originally intended to circle the soon-to-be-opened Disneyland, a plan that was later scrapped, but for now, Walt was just showing off the design and testing it with employees at his Burbank studio. The carriage is filled, with at least four women inside and two more sitting on its top. One of the women, smiling, is Ruthie Tompson.

“Before the park opened, [Disney] had a fellow who was a master carpenter build a stagecoach, and this was the first day that the stagecoach came out to see everybody,” said Tompson, looking at the photograph. “Of course it’s build five-eighths to scale. It’s not as big as a regular carriage. We were sitting on the front lawn at lunchtime on a Saturday, and working overtime because Saludos Amigos was having paint troubles — the paint was sticking and we had to redo a lot of stuff, and of course it was last minute. And Walt gets up there [on the carriage]. I got up on the thing, and he looked over at me, and said, ‘Ruthie could drive these in the park!’ He decided not to do it because ponies get frisky and kids might scare ’em or something.”

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