I do not consider myself a Disney historian by any means. I do, however, enjoy the history of Disney, in all of the past goings-on regarding the things that Walt himself did and that were accomplished by the Disney animators, Imagineers, and cast members. It truly is astounding when you think about what this company, founded by two brothers from the Midwest, achieved during such a relatively short time. Almost every American has some tie to or remembrance of something Disney, whether it was enjoying the animated features as a young child, enjoying the Wonderful World of Disney as a family on Sunday night television, watching the live action movies (like The Love Bug, The Swiss Family Robinson, Blackbeard's Ghost, and The Parent Trap), or enjoying one of the Disney theme parks.
Now that I live in Florida, I no longer think of visiting Walt Disney World as a vacationer. Although sometimes it seems like a lifetime, it wasn't long ago that my family and I, Disney Vacation Club members at the time, would make the annual trip down to Central Florida to enjoy all that Walt Disney World has to offer. Among those things that I used to enjoy most upon my arrival at the resort, was the wonderful theming of parks and hotels. Walt's own remembrances and interests drove many of those themes. Of course, Walt fondly remembered the small town of Marceline, Missouri, where he spent the happiest years of his youth . He loved adventure. He proudly remembered the history of our young nation. He developed fairytale stories into chronicles involving believable characters and events. He was fascinated with the future and the promise that it holds for everyone.
One thread that weaved throughout Walt's life is that of the parallel iron rails of America's railroads. As a young boy, Walt was captivatedas were most boys at that timewith the huge locomotives and the passenger and freight cars they hauled along the tracks. As an adult, Walt actually built a small scale model railroad that ran on a track (complete with tunnel and trestle) around his Holmby Hills estate on Carolwood Drive (in California). The Carolwood Pacific Historical Society does a great job of providing information on the "Carolwood Pacific" Railroad, as Disney dubbed it.
It's no surprise that when Walt started planning a little park where he and his daughters could enjoy some time together, that those plans included a railroad. When Disneyland opened in July 1955, the Disneyland Railroad, featuring hand-built, oil-fired engines built in Disney's own machine shops, started hauling guests around the berm that surrounded the park. Over the years, other rail-based transportation became available at Disneyland, including the Peoplemover and monorail.
Walt Disney World also has a great collection of rail-based transportation. I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the memorabilia, as well as the actual railroads and rolling stock at the Florida parks.
The Iron Spike Room marquee signage welcomes guests to this special railroad-themed location. Photo by Brian Bennett.
I can't think of a better place to begin our look at Walt Disney World's rail-based collection than at the Iron Spike Room at the Villas at Wilderness Lodge. The Iron Spike Room is a sitting and game room just off the entry lobby of the Villas building, decorated in a rough railroad motif. To make it even more fun for Disney fans, the railroad motif focuses on Walt Disney's railroadthe Carolwood Pacificas well as a smattering of other railroad memorabilia.
Let's begin our tour just outside the Iron Spike Room in the building lobby, with this rustic cabinet filled with railroad treasures.
The display cabinet outside the Iron Spike Room houses railroad treasures. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Among the items on display include a highly detailed model of an engine
A small railroad engine sits in the display cabinet outside the Iron Spike Room. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The rustic cabinet displays a railroad lantern. Photo by Brian Bennett.
an engineer's and conductor's hat
The rustic cabinet displays an engineer hat and conductor hat. Photo by Brian Bennett.
and a conductor's timepiece.
The rustic cabinet displays a conductor's timepiece. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Several paintings adorn the walls in the Iron Spike entryway. They certainly set the mood for the railroad-themed room.
The Iron Spike Room displays many rail-inspired artwork, including this piece. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Another painting on display in the Iron Spike Room is Walt's Magical Barn, a painting by noted artist Bob Byerley created in 2001 in celebration of Walt Disney's 100th birthday. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Another painting on display in the Iron Spike Room celebrates the beauty of trains and wildlife. Photo by Brian Bennett.
This map of the United States identifies the various railroad lines, interspersed with whimsical drawings of Mickey and his pals. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Other items, such as this vintage railroad photo, add additional interest. Unfortunately, this is one of the very few items in the room that does not have a caption that explains what it isI'd love to know more about it.
A vintage photo of a railroad car is on display at the Iron Spike Room. Photo by Brian Bennett.
My son Allan dutifully wearing his 1971 Walt Disney World outfit, shows that even the fireplace grate has a train theme.
A railroad lover's delight, the fireplace at the Iron Spike Room has a grate that is one-of-a-kine. Photo by Brian Bennett.
This photograph shows Walt along with several other railroad enthusiasts. The photo caption reads, "Walt Disney poses with the Grizzly Flats Railroad crew at the home of animator and longtime railroad buff Ward Kimball (right of Walt). Walt was named honorary engineer at this 'steam up' of the 1881 Emma Nevada engine which was fully restored by Ward and his friends." Photo provided to the Iron Spike room by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
A smiling Walt (fifth from the left) poses with some rail enthusiasts. Photo courtesy of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
Of course, all of the hands-on excitement at the Kimball household just convinced Disney all the more that he had to have his own railroad. The result was the Lilly Belle, the plans of which are on display here in the Iron Spike Room.
Plans for the Lilly Belle are on display at the Iron Spike Room. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The Lilly Belle, named after Walt's wife Lillian, was fabricated by Walt with a huge amount of help by Imagineer Rogger Broggie, shown here with Walt and the finished model steam engine. The photo caption reads, "Walt Disney admires the Lilly Belle, a one-eighth-scale model steam locomotive built by machinist Roger Broggie and his staff in the studio machine shop." Photo provided to the Iron Spike room by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
Imagineer Roger Broggie (left) and Walt Disney enjoy a moment enjoying with the finished model steam engine, the Lilly Belle. Photo courtesy of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
"Walt Disney smiles as he hears the whistle on his Lilly Belle steam locomotive for the first time. Eddie Sergeant (left), the studio's mechanical draftsman, drew the engineering plans for the train. Legendary animator and Imagineer Ward Kimball (right), was another of Walt's fellow railroad enthusiasts." Photo provided to the Iron Spike room by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
Walt Disney hears the whistle of the Lilly Belle for the first time . Photo courtesy of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
Here's a great shot of the Carolwood Pacific in action. The photo caption reads, "Walt Disney sits behind the throttle of his Lilly Belle steam engine as it chugs onto the mainline of the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad, which ran through the Disney family estate on Carolwood Drive in Holmby Hills, California." Photo provided to the Iron Spike room by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
This gorgeous model of the Lilly Belle is also on display.
Walt Disney sits behind the throttle of the Lilly Belle steam engine. Photo courtesy of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society.
The Lilly Belle is prominently showcased in the Iron Spike Room. Photo by Brian Bennett.
"In 1950, prior to Disneyland Park, Walt Disney created a one-eighth-scale model live steam railroad at his family's Carolwood estate in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. These are two of the original freight cars built in the studio's machine shop by Roger Broggie for the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Passengers rode on the cars traveling over 2,615 feet of track that ran throughout the five-acre property on carolwood drive." Courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.
A case displays two of the original freight cars built by Roger Broggie for the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Photo by Brian Bennett.
A close-up view of one of the original freight cars built by Roger Broggie for the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.. Photo by Brian Bennett.
A view of another one of the original freight cars built by Roger Broggie for the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The level of detail is incredible, and the wheels and coupling are a great example.
Visitors can see the details on the coupling and wheels on the original freight cars built by Roger Broggie for the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Of course, after a while Walt Disney tired of his small model railroad. A minor mishap in which a family guest was injured (not severely) caused Walt to eventually dismantle the Carolwood Pacific. On to bigger and better things, thoughhe literally surrounded Disneyland with another model railroad.
The caption to this photo reads, "Imagineer Roger Broggie took this photograph of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland on June 18, 1955, one day after the park opened to the public. The headlamp has not yet been installed on the brand new, five-eighths-scale steam engine, E. P. Ripley." Courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.
Walt and Mickey pose in front of Disneyland Railroad's E. P. Ripley on July 18, 1955, one day after the park opened to the public. Original photo by Roger Broggie.
The caption to this photo reads, "Walt Disney takes a turn on an authentic railroad handcar at Disneyland. The handcar was a gift presented to Walt by noted railroad historian Jerry Best." Courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.
Walt Disney pushes an authentic railroad handcar at Disneyland. Original photo courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.
And that is that.
Next time, we continue our Walt Disney World railroad odyssey but where we'll go is still a surprise!
(Send an email to Brian Bennett)
One of the original editors at MousePlanet, Brian Bennett has written an encyclopedia's worth of online resources on Walt Disney World. Enduring freezing winters in Michigan with thoughts of trips to Orlando and staying at Disney Vacation Club resorts, Brian had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to Orlando with his wife and sons.