A Disneyland Balloon Boy, The Treb Heining Story Part II

Written by Catherine Ramirez, Photos Provided by Treb Heining (unless otherwise noted)

Nat Lewis Teaches Treb About the Balloon Garland

In 1969 Treb Heining was cast as a Disneyland Balloon Boy in one of the greatest shows of all time and his stage was Disneyland.  Lucky for Treb, he worked for Nat Lewis, whose career prior to working at Disneyland was to put on a show under the Big Top. For 22 years, Nat was the #1 Go To producer for Shrine Circuses.  A fact Treb never knew about him until many years later while in the process of co-writing his biography.   I find it interesting that Nat worked for the circus most of his life and yet, curiously, never shared with the balloon boys the very important role he once played.

Nat Lewis and Disneyland Balloon Boys 1971 Opening of Magic Kingdom
Notice the cigar, Treb (first row left), says he always had one in his hand

Nat was certainly an interesting man, who described himself as a “cold blooded pro.”  By others, he has been described as a short man with droopy eyelids that always wore a Mickey Mouse watch.  While Treb describes Nat as someone who always had a cigar in his hand, well spoken, gruff, and yet possessed a heart of gold. 

Treb said, “You could go to him and say you were down on your luck and Nat would immediately ask us what do you need to borrow? When are you gonna pay it back? And he’d then take out his wallet and hand us the money.”

Nat would have a lot of people from the circus come by and visit him in the balloon room (at Disneyland) and he would often do things for the circus industry parties. It’s at one of these parties that Treb learned a basic balloon garland formation.  Treb explains, “At one of these parties, we started putting 4 round balloons on a paper clip and putting it on a line, the same kind of line used at Disneyland, and then you would pack those clusters of 4 very tightly and that formed a garland of balloons.  I remember doing that at the Newporter Inn in Newport Beach (California).  After going home that night and talking to Gordan, (a fellow balloon vendor coworker) I remember saying to him that I thought this could be done on a large scale bases.” 

To which Gordan replied, “Treb, you’re never going to get anyone to pay for this. Nat does this right now for a living and it’s just too expensive.”

  Treb continues by saying, “They always poo pooed the idea.” 

After being exposed to the basic balloon garland design showed to him by Nat Lewis, Treb saw the potential in the use of balloons that others hadn’t yet seen. At the age of 18, a spark of an idea was now formulating in Treb’s mind, and his idea would continue to grow with him, even after leaving Disneyland in 1972.

Good Bye Disneyland…For Now

Although Treb had left the balloon department at Disneyland, he would continue to experiment with his own ideas while creating beautiful balloon garland for his family and friends on special occasions.

Treb said, “Whenever someone I knew had a birthday, I’d blow up 9 inch and 11 inch balloons. It always required hundreds and hundreds of balloons. But that was never a problem because I learned how to tie balloons (from the best at Disneyland), so that part was easy.  I always noticed the reaction when I did this for family and friends.  It was a huge deal seeing air inflated garland that would be hung around the house.” 

As you read this today, you’ll need to understand that balloon garlands are commonplace now, but they weren’t back in the early ’70’s, at least not the type and certainly not the scale Treb was designing, they simply didn’t exist.

Now a Music Major student at Golden West College, Treb had no income.   He didn’t come from a lot of money and learned at a very young age that if he wanted something, he’d have to pay for it.  Still in need of a job, that was flexible with his classes at school, Treb’s father, a purchasing agent for the Southland Corporation, which included all the 7-11 stores and a dairy-for-home delivery service at the time, encouraged Treb to take on a milk delivery route. 

His father told Treb that all the milkmen were independent contractors and if they needed the day off, they would need someone to run the route in their place and they were paid cash money.  That sounded perfect for Treb.  Now there were two routes out of the Glendale office, where his father was working.  One, which started at 3:00 AM, delivered the milk to the front porch and they would be done by 9:00 AM in the morning.  The second route, which is what Treb did, was the Beverly Hills Route.  He didn’t have to start until 5:30 or 6:00 AM because for this route, he had to go into people’s homes. 

The Milkman and Lucille Ball???

Treb tells me, “On this route you went into the kitchens and talked to the cook or butler and you would fill the refrigerator with everything they needed, like bacon, butter, eggs, yogurt, milk, orange juice, and cottage cheese.  I’d rearrange the refrigerator until it was all done.  On this job I got to meet people like Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, IN THEIR KITCHENS!”  Treb exclaims.  He continues, “Johnny Mathis I would see a couple times a week, Jerry Lewis… for an Orange County kid, this was an eye popping and an amazing experience.  I could go on and on.” 

Oh, how I wanted Treb to go on and on, but somethings must be left for the book he’s currently writing, so I let it go, though secretly, yearned for more. While Treb did not go on, he did point out that his milk route opened his eyes to a whole new lifestyle than what he was used to.

Treb said, “As I would leave one of these homes, Abbey Rentals would be out there covering a pool with a wooden structure to make a dance floor or put up big tenting for parties.  That was the impetus for me as I moved on from that job.” 

Treb Gets Sidetracked By a Chocolate Chip Cookie Made By Wally Amos

Photo Credit: Wally Amos family archives

Treb says to me, “I was living in Glendale at the time.  Wally had a cookie shop on Sunset Boulevard.  The first chocolate chip cookie shop in the country.  He was an entrepreneur.  He was the first black booking agent at William Morris Agency.  He used to bake these cookies at home and used them as his calling card and that was the start of his Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I stopped into his store a few times and liked them so much that I started working there as a cashier on the weekends.  Back in those days I was practicing my horn 8 hours a day, going to school, working my milk routes and working at Famous Amos Friday, Saturday and Sundays.  Eventually Wally and Sid Ross, who ran it, came to me and told me they’d like me to manage the store on the weekends, so I became a manager.  Then Wally said that we were going to start producing wholesale cookies out of a plant in Van Nuys and I want you to run the plant.”

Treb continues to explain that he told Wally that he didn’t know anything about running a plant, to which Wally replied, “You’ll learn, you’ll learn.”  So Treb worked with Wally Amos as Wally’s Famous Amos Cookies went nationwide.  Treb says they were making 3000 lbs of handmade cookies a day!

One day, Wally Amos had a display at some sort of a promotional event and had Treb help him out.  Still, with the love of balloons coursing through his veins, Treb immediately began to creatively add balloons to this display.  Treb recollects that Wally turned to him in amazement at the balloon décor and questioned how he could have possibly learned how to do this.  So amazed by this, Wally gave Treb some great advice by telling him that he should contact some caterers, further emphasizing that his balloon designing could be a business.

Dave Klein AKA Mr. Jelly Belly

While working for Wally Amos, there was this guy that would deliver the pecans for the cookies.  Treb states, “We used quality ingredients and there was this guy that ran a company called Garby Nut House in Los Angeles and he was our pecan supplier.  His name is Dave Klein. Dave was an absolute character and I would always look forward to when he would come by.  One hot summer day in Van Nuys, in comes Dave’s truck, but before he starts unloading he tells me that he made People Magazine this week and throws it to me. I told him, yeah right, just unload the pecans.  I went back to my office to look through the magazine and sure enough, there’s a full picture of Dave in a vat of Jelly Bellys.” 

“This is what I’ve been talking to you about.” Dave told Treb. 

Dave Klein, the inventor of Jelly Belly jelly beans back in 1976, was a huge supporter of Treb.  He would often tell Treb, while he was working at Famous Amos, how sharp he was, that he could run a Fortune 500 Company, and that he really could do anything he wanted, including starting his own business.

Treb Finds His Way

Treb left Wally Amos but continued his friendship with Dave Klein.  The year after Treb left Wally was a tough year for him, but during that year, Dave continued to encourage him.  Treb would often spend time at Dave’s house with his family and on one of those nights, Dave brought up Treb’s idea of starting his own balloon business.  He told Treb that he really ought to try out this idea.

 Treb said, “I told him fine, I’m going to try it out for one year and see if I can do it.”

Dave and Treb continued to talk that night about this business Treb would create.  Dave asked him about what he thought a business like that would need to start. Treb didn’t really know what he would need, maybe a thousand dollars to start. But what Treb did know were the specifics of what he wanted his company to be. He was adamant that he only wanted to do balloon décor, that’s it, not delivering it, no centerpieces, just massive balloon décor. Now all Treb needed was the name of his company.  Who better to come up with the name than Mr. Jelly Belly himself?  Treb told me that Dave Klein is a master with names, and it was Dave who actually thought up the name of his company, BalloonArt By Treb.   It was an encouraging night.  Treb now had a vision of what his company would be and he had a name for it. The seed that was planted back in 1972 was now beginning to grow.

Treb tells me he went back another night to visit Dave and his family, which was a usual thing for him to do.  Though, this one night in particular was different.

Treb said, “Dave came out with $1,000.00 cash and he said…”  Treb hesitates momentarily; I can see tears begin to well up in his eyes during our Zoom interview, and with a crackling in his voice Treb continues, “He said pay me back when you can and I did. I did pay him back.”

It’s been 41 years since Dave Klein loaned his friend Treb Heining $1,000.00 to start his balloon business.  Yet, in that moment talking to Treb, I could instantly feel the gratitude Treb still feels for his friend and the generous decision Dave made that night.  Dave had an unwavering belief in his friend it seems.  He never stopped encouraging him, and now it was up to Treb to make his way.

BalloonArt By Treb Is Born

In 1979, now at the age of 25, Treb Heining started his business, BalloonArt By Treb out of an apartment on Vantage Avenue in North Hollywood. It was the first and only company in the world that was doing balloon décor and effects for parties and events.  Treb remembered Wally Amos’ advice and reached out to a few caterers in Los Angeles.  One of which was “Renta Yenta,” a successful catering business that was owned by two women, Lila Greene and Toby Brown.  They were kind to Treb, and hired him based solely on the ideas that he shared with them, as he had no proof of concept photos. 

Treb explains that in those days, balloons were only used for birthday parties, or circus events.  Treb always accepted the small project, but always brought extra supplies and would ask the caterer if he could decorate an area with what he wanted to do.  It would be in those areas that would always involve creating what he called “balloon columns.” 

Cher Witnesses the Birth of Treb’s Balloon Arch

The caterers at Renta Yenta asked Treb to help out with balloons for a birthday party for Cher and Greg Allman’s son Elijia Blue who was turning three years old.

Treb said, “Back in those days, caterers had like $50.00 for balloons.  They’d say just a few 5 inch balloons here on this table.  In this case I asked if I could do what I wanted on the tennis court, the caterer said sure.  We ended up doing this large column over the tennis court. I then thought, hey Elijia “Blue,” he was 3 years old at that time in 1979, and we had a bunch of blue balloons, why don’t we put helium in these?  And so we put helium in the 4 balloon clusters and I made an archway of balloons that connected these columns that went over the tennis court, and that was the very first balloon arch ever done in the entire world.  Just came by happenstance.  Cher then came out onto the tennis court and took a picture with us, the stuff we were doing was so spectacular back then because no one had ever seen anything like it.  So we had a picture with Cher in front of the arch and we rode balloon arches for many, many years before there was any company that even came close.

First Ballon Arch in History is Born on July 6, 1979
Cher and BalloonArt By Treb Crew 1979

The pictures below show Treb’s team at Elijah’s 3rd birthday party. If you’ll notice, the balloons that are on the tables behind them are what the caterer requested. The other pictures of Cher’s tennis court, was Treb’s improvisation. He was always finding ways to be creative and introduce the world to see what balloon art could be. He was paid $50.00 for this job, but after seeing the tennis court design was tipped an extra $50.00!

Treb said, “We were so proficient.  As we went on we developed systems. I would always work shoulder to shoulder with my crew, so pretty soon people were tying balloons just as fast as me. We had crews up to 10 – 20 people that were just monsters.  We would go into a ball room and transfer it just like a snap of a finger.  I remember the busboys that would be putting up tables and chairs would sometimes just sit and watch the balloons going up, the columns, the arches, the work was spectacular.  Did we have to market?  Did we have to solicit?  NO. Every event we did we got 4 or 5 calls.  It was all I could do to keep up with the ringing phone and making appointments.”

BalloonArt By Treb is Going Hollywood

This was a passion for Treb, he was doing things that were just off the charts now and was written into the Hollywood scene very quickly.

Treb says, “Hollywood caught on to it, the film companies, the premiers, after parties, L.A. was our oyster. We owned the town. There wasn’t a big event in town that we were not involved with. We were on a roll.  We eventually had our first office on Melrose across from Pacific Design Center.

Through the 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, Treb was the first to pioneer balloon designs in the form of arches, columns, letters, logos, spiral designs and sculpture.  We’ve all seen balloon designs like these before, they seem commonplace now, but they wouldn’t be common today, if it weren’t for Treb Heining who first dreamt them.

Treb Meets Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker, the son of Disneyland bandleader Vesey Walker, was also a musician and served as the band director at the University of Southern California.  Walt Disney attended one of the football games at USC and saw the band perform their halftime show in 1955. After seeing the show, Walt asked Tommy to plan the day’s events for the July 17, 1955 grand opening of Disneyland. 

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Archives: Tommy Walker and Walt Disney

After the momentous grand opening, Tommy was hired as Disneyland’s very first Entertainment Director.  Walker would introduce many firsts to Disneyland’s stage, like the Candlelight Procession, but what he is most remembered for were the nighttime firework spectaculars that he brought to Disneyland’s night sky. 

After many years at Disneyland, Tommy had a falling out with Walt Disney which ultimately led to his dismissal. After he was let go, Tommy went on to create his own special event company called Tommy Walker Spectaculars. 

In the early 1980’s, Tommy started calling Treb, wanting his balloon art for half time shows for the NFL. This then led Treb into work with the Super Bowls, and the Rams, when they first moved from L.A. to Anaheim.  Tommy and Treb had a great working relationship and the two would work together at the World’s Fair in 1984 in New Orleans and then they both came together again to work on the 1984 Olympics Opening Ceremony, which Treb says, “Put BalloonArt By Treb on the map.”

By 1984, 5 years after Treb first started BalloonArt By Treb, and now at the age of 29, his company was grossing $1 million a year in sales.

Disney Calls

It’s around this time that the Disney organization began to notice Treb.  Disneyland’s Art Director Clare Graham wanted to start trying him out.  First Treb was utilized for projects at locations outside of the park, like at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Treb Shares, “Clare was not going to let BalloonArt By Treb come in and do their first deal inside the park, he was going to test us out just to see how we worked.  We did our first event at the Children’s Museum in Los Angeles and a couple other events before he finally scheduled an event for us inside the park.”

Treb was excited with the prospect of being able to design and share his balloon art with a company he revered.  Stepping back into the place where he first started as a balloon boy back in 1969 was Treb’s goal.  By this time, Treb was already known as a proven pioneer in an industry he created.  There was no competition.  BalloonArt By Treb was the best and Disney was now calling.  Soon the gates would open for Treb to return, not knowing then of course, that the best was yet to come.

To Be Continued…

A Disneyland Balloon Boy, The Treb Heining Story, Part 1

By Catherine Ramirez

On May 22, 1998 at the mere price tag of $100 million, the new Tomorrowland was rededicated at Disneyland with special guests in attendance, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Tomorrowland opened with a new esthetic, attractions and exhibits like Rocket Rods and the American Space Experience. Although these additions no longer exist today, including most of Tomorrowland’s 1998 makeover, there is one special item that also appeared in Tomorrowland around this time, and not only does it continue to exist today, it has flourished. It is an invention so magical in design, that it includes a 15” Mickey Mouse head shaped latex balloon incased inside of a round film that protects the latex Mickey balloon from oxidizing on the hot summer days. If inflated correctly, it seals the helium filled balloon in such a way that it can remain airborne for well over a month. I am of course talking about the Glasshouse balloon which remains as vibrant, new and exciting today as when it first graced Disneyland’s Tomorrowland back in 1998.

Glasshouse Balloons at Disneyland

When I worked on film production at the Disneyland Resort during that time, the Glasshouse balloon was one of the highest demanded props for commercials, B-Roll and still photo shoots. On one occasion, I remember being told to pick up these important props from the balloon man who just so happened to be at Disneyland that day. I vaguely remember retrieving these special balloons from a nice dressed man who was backstage in the balloon room. The term “balloon man,” I would learn many years later, would be a severe understatement. For Treb Heining is more than a balloon man, he is THE man, a visionary, who would ignite a balloon industry and invent the bestselling balloon of all time.

Inventor Treb Heining

To understand Treb Heining, you first have to learn about his origins. His father, a native Californian, was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army stationed out of Fort Bragg. His mother was born and raised in the village of Babylon on Long Island, New York. On one fateful trip, Treb’s father and his Army buddies went on leave to the Big Apple, and it’s here, in New York City where his parents would meet and fall in love.

The Heinings got married in 1953 and decided to purchase a home in Garden Grove, California. One of their deciding factors to purchasing the home was its proximity to a new park Walt Disney was going to build in the neighboring city of Anaheim. They had envisioned it as a nice place to take their children, a park complete with swings and slides. Unbeknownst to them what Walt Disney’s term of a “park” truly meant, and that of course, was the park we know today as Disneyland.

Because of their close proximity, Treb’s parents would often take both he and his brother to The Happiest Place on Earth.

The below home movie is Treb Heining as a youngster leading the Disneyland Band in 1957.

A Glimmer of Hope

By the time Treb entered high school in 1969, he joined the high school band. Being in the band meant that Treb had many upper grade friends, most of whom were 18 years of age and working at Disneyland. Treb wanted to work at Disneyland too, in the worst way. But at the age of 15, he could not be hired as a Cast Member.

And then, one night, a glimmer of hope for Treb. His father came home with a phone number on a piece of notepaper. His father had a friend who knew that Nat Lewis, who had been running the balloon concession at Disneyland since Walt hired him in 1956, hired workers as young as 16 years old to work in the balloon department. Nat was able to do this because his company was a lessee, a third party vendor. Still only 15 years old, Treb Heining was on a mission to work at Disneyland any way he could. He immediately called the number his father had given him, and informed the person who answered the phone that he was available immediately.

Treb said, “They told me they weren’t hiring now so to call back in a couple months. So I called the next day and they told me that, yes, we got your call yesterday but we’re not hiring now so just give it some time and we’ll call you back.”

Would you like to take a guess what happened on the third day? You’re right, Treb called once again, except this time, Treb was invited to come in and fill out an application. Treb was certainly excited that his persistence payed off.

The Day Treb Heining Filled Out an Application

Treb’s parents drove him to Harbor Gate at Disneyland. Back then there was a parking lot right in front of Disneyland where he could be dropped off. He made a phone call to the balloon room from the Harbor Security Gate and was instructed how to walk backstage. Treb ended up walking underneath the train tracks and over to the balloon room, just past where the People Mover tracks and parts were stored. He walked in and sat down, nervously filling out his application. Shortly thereafter, Treb began to hear communications go back and forth between the managers over the phones about someone not being able to show up for work.

One of the managers then turned to Treb and said, “You wanna work today?”

To which Treb quickly replied, “Yes!”

After telling his parents they would have to come back and pick him up later, Treb went out that very day as a balloon vendor to sell balloons. He was now an official Nat Lewis Balloon Boy making $1.35 per hour. It was a whole 15 cents less per hour from the previous job he was working at, but Treb didn’t mind. He was working at Disneyland!

An Official Disneyland Balloon Boy

Treb’s first day out as a Balloon Boy was a rite of passage, in that he had to wear an outfit no other Balloon Boy would wear. The Costuming Department had given Nat Lewis several costumes for the Balloon Boys to try out, and none of the other boys would wear this one.

Treb remembers that his costume was a “Yellow thing with fluffy pants and yellow tights and I remember all the other senior balloon boys were coming out during that evening just to come by and look at me and laugh. I didn’t care because I got to be working at Disneyland. I will never forget that first time of walking past the Inn Between (the backstage lunch cafeteria for cast members) to the entrance that lets you out just past the north side of Plaza Inn with my balloons. It was the first time in my life of walking into Disneyland that wasn’t through the Main Gate (Treb laughs with a fondness I can hear in his voice).”

Treb shared that his feelings were of nothing more than pure excitement to be in THE PARK, and as we continued the interview he said, “That’s how it all began.”

Five Balloon Boy Positions

There were five positions where a balloon boy would sell the balloons. They were Fantasyland, Small World, Good Gate and Bad Gate (near the front of the park’s Main Gate) and Subland (located in-between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, the pathway just past Matterhorn Mountain). The term Good Gate was derived because guests would often pass through the Emporium and then exit the park towards the right tunnel entrance, so that side of the gate would always have many more guests exiting, therefore more balloon sales. Bad Gate was on the opposite side of the street, towards where Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is located.

Treb said that “It was very advantageous to work either Subland or the Gates as you got to wear the really cool outfit. Which was the blue pants, striped shirt, the vest and the straw hat. But, you only got to wear that after you worked there for a while.”

Photo Credit: Treb Heining at Disneyland

Treb first started his role in Fantasyland and he further explained that in Fantasyland and Small World, the balloon boys had to wear the not as cool Peter Pan costume.

Photo of Treb Heining 1969

The Art of Selling

Treb learned from Nat Lewis that “bending the balloon,” having a large quantity, is important. To this day, the different concessions that Treb works with at the various Disney Parks around the world, he stresses how important it is to keeping the “umbrella full.” A huge umbrella of balloons causes people to stop and look at them.

Treb explained that after a guest stops to look at the beautifully arranged balloons, they might say, “Woah, that’s cool, hey how much are these? Boom. That’s the opening you get. A very basic marketing technique that was taught to me back then. Once you get someone to ask a price of something, it opens a door to talking to them.”

Walt Disney did not want a carnival atmosphere at Disneyland, and the selling of balloons was no exception. Unlike carnivals, where a balloon vendor may yell, “Here, here, come get your balloon!” Disneyland’s balloon vendors are not allowed to approach the guest. The guest must come to the vendor. A way to entice the guest would be to keep the balloon umbrella perfectly flat, arranged and even, to the point where the balloon boy would be able to hold up to 100 balloons.

Another technique Treb learned, which he uses to this day, is how to sell by burying the price. “We were taught that when a guest asks about the balloons and ask the price, I would say, my balloons are 50 cents, and I don’t know what color you like, but I have a green one, a red one, a blue one, oh, this is a new one, it’s the white one and I would talk about the product and then…” Treb asks me, “What happened to the price?” Treb goes on to share that, “It’s a basic marketing strategy of burying the price. I wouldn’t say it’s 50 cents and then stand there, because then people would complain and say that they can buy a whole packet of balloons for 50 cents.”

When Treb first started to sell balloons, the Mickey Mouse head balloon was made of latex and smaller than today’s version.

“We sold them for 35 cents. Which was always hard to make change if someone ordered three. About one year after I worked there, in 1970, they went to the larger mouse head and charged 50 cents. That is the same size they sell today, but without the glasshouse.”

The vendors always wanted to sell as many balloons as they could, as it was much easier to stand with less balloons, because if you had a lot, and it became windy, the balloons became very hard to keep arranged.

Room Crew

Photo Credit: Treb Heining as a Balloon Boy

The room crew, under Nat Lewis’ guidance, would always keep everyone loaded up with balloons, especially if the crew heard that Nat was going to be in the park that day.

Treb explained that everyone had to be on their best behavior when Nat Lewis was around. “If you weren’t standing in the right spot or if he saw somebody who didn’t have enough balloons, there was hell to pay.”

“After you worked there for a while, you would eventually move up to the room position,” Treb said. “In the room position, you would fill the balloons and deliver them to the sellers in the park.”

Working your way up into the balloon room, which is where the balloons were inflated was a place Treb learned a great deal. He explained that the balloon boys took a great amount of pride in what they did and they did things as quickly as they could.”

It’s here in the balloon room where Treb learned the spin-tie method, where you would spin around thread to tie off the balloon. The spin-tie method was important, because if the balloons weren’t sold by the end of the night, the balloon boys would have to return to the balloon room to untie them. The spin-tie method enabled the vendors to quickly untie the balloons, let the helium out and then toss the balloons into a dryer for a few minutes. The heat from the dryer would cause the balloon to shrink back down to its original size so it could be re-blown the next day. Treb and the other boys hated re-blows, because they weren’t as fresh as the other balloons, so they often tried their hardest to sell out their balloons each night, which they often did.

I asked Treb how fast he could tie a balloon.

He responded by saying, “Spin tying was one thing, but actually tying a latex balloon came about when we used to do the Christmas Parade.” Treb went on to explain that the finale unit of the Christmas Parade had six cars. Each car had a letter spelling out T.H.E. E.N.D. and throughout the parade there would be an elf that would pull a string to one of the boxes and a balloon release would occur for the parade two times a day. Nat Lewis would always bring in extra boys to help with the parade.

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Co.

“So, there was a few of us regular Disneyland Balloon Boys, as we called ourselves,” Treb explains, who would have to go back there and help out. I remember we didn’t like it so much. We wanted to work in the balloon room or back out on stage, so we would challenge each other. We knew we had so many balloons to inflate. We got to the point where we could inflate and tie these balloons so fast. Back in those days they were 9 inch balloons and we could do 17 to 20 per minute. It’s mind boggling to watch.”

Treb told me he could inflate and tie about 1000 balloons in one hour and posted a YouTube video of just how he used to it. Click on the link below.


“That’s where I learned the skill of being able to inflate and tie balloons really, really fast. This was a skill that was comical to us back then, but we were just trying to get back to doing what we wanted to do.” Treb and the other Disneyland Balloon Boys always looked at the guys that Nat brought in seasonally to help during the Christmas season as not really being folks they wanted to associate with.

“They didn’t have the haircuts we had, I mean we were very proud of the fact that we were Disneyland Balloon Boys,” Treb continues by saying, “When I say Disneyland Balloon Boys, that’s because there were no girls in the operation at that time. It was the 60’s and this group of Balloon Boys was this tightknit group of guys, very much a hierarchy of seniority, and who could do it the best, but ultimately just some of the best days of my life.”

The Opening of Walt Disney World

Nat Lewis announced a contest during the springtime of 1971. He informed the Balloon Boys that six would be chosen to go and help with the balloon release at the grand opening of the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. Treb tells me that they really had to mind their “P’s and Q’s.” The boys were all on their best behavior hoping to be chosen; and ultimately, Treb Heining was one of the boys awarded with the opportunity to be on the balloon crew for the opening of Walt Disney World.

Treb Heining Front Left and Nat Lewis Center with the 5 other Disneyland Balloon Boys chosen to help at Walt Disney World’s Opening. Photo Credit: Treb Heining

The Flight of a Lifetime

“We got a last minute letter delivered to us, telling us where to be at LAX,” Treb explains, “My dad drove me, and he was saying good-bye and then my dad started noticing Annette Funicello, Forrest Tucker, and Agnus Morehead…my dad goes to the payphone and calls his work to tell them he’s going to be late. Somehow, Nat had arranged for all us balloon boys to get on the Disney charter plane. Everybody that was on that plane was a who’s who of Hollywood. Everybody who had basically been in a Disney movie before was on that plane. The plane took off and then Jonathan Winters gets up and takes over the mic and was making funny announcements in the voice of Mickey Mouse. Frankie Avalon, Fess Parker and Sterling Holloway, who I grew up to listening narrate “Peter and the Wolf,” and he’s sitting in the seat behind me! Then people started to ask what we did.” Treb then says, with great laughter, “We’re balloon boys!”

When the plane landed, the stars went off to their fancy accommodations, and the balloon boys got into Nat’s van. Treb was so excited that he was able to be there for the opening.

Magic Kingdom 50,000 Balloon Release on Opening Day October 1, 1971

Treb said, “It was a beautiful balloon release of 50,000 balloons, a very heady experience. Of course, not knowing at that time that I was going to make a living in balloons.” The skills Treb first learned while working at Disneyland at a very early age he says, was to “dream big, work hard, show respect to all those you work with and always be professional.” Those skills and beliefs not only helped him to start his own business, but it ended up starting a worldwide industry, turning Treb’s dream job into a job that would last a lifetime.

A Disneyland Balloon Boy, The Treb Heining Story To be Continued…