A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend, along with my dad, one of the Steam Train Tours that are held at the Magic Kingdom.
The tour begins at the Magic Kingdom entrance at 7:15 in the morning, so Dad and I drove over to the Contemporary Resort, arriving a little before 7:00 a.m. to be sure to have plenty of time. We told the guard at the booth that we were attending the tour and we were given directions as to where to park. It was a short walk from there over to the Magic Kingdom entrance.
At that time of the morning the sun was out, but the dark of the night time before was still in evidence. The air was heavy and humid as we watched the last of the work crews prepare for the arrival of guests just minutes away.
Main Street Station viewed from the entry plaza during the early morning. Photo by Brian Bennett.
After a few minutes, one of the four engines of the Walt Disney World Railroad pulled into the Main Street Station above us. It was a narrow guage 2-6-0 Mogul with two leading wheels, six drive wheels, and no trailing wheels. [I am not a railroad historian, by any means, but it is clear even to a novice like me that steam engines are identified by their number of wheels. The first number is the number of wheels that preceed the drive wheels. The second number is the number of drive wheels, the wheels that are actually attached to the steam engine and are powered. The third number is the number of wheels that trail the drive wheels. A 2-6-0 configuration is called a Mogul engine. Other configurations that you'll see on the Walt Disney World Railroad is the 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler and the 4-4-0 American.]
Lilly Belle, one of the Walt Disney World Railroad's four engines. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Lilly Belle is named after Lillian Bounds Disney, Walt Disney's wife of over 40 years. [As you might remember from my previous photo tour of the Iron Spike Room at the Villas at Wilderness Lodge, this is not the first steam engine named after Mrs. Disney. The previous Lilly Belle, of course, was a 1/8th scale model of a 4-4-0 American that ran on Walt Disney's model railroad the Carolwood Pacific on his estate in the Holmby Hills of Los Angeles.
A closer view of Lilly Belle, a 2-6-0 Mogul steam engine. Lilly Belle was originally built in the 1920s. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Shortly before the appointed time our tour guide, Jim McLoone, showed up dressed in his engineer's overalls and cap. We waited for a brief time for the rest of our group to arrive, and then made our way into the park and up the Western ramp to the Main Street Train Station.
Jim McLoone tells us what to expect on the Steam Train Tour as we wait for the last of our group to arrive. Photo by Brian Bennett.
We were allowed to take pictures from the station balcony before the park opened only as long as they didn't catch any of the Disney workers or equipment. It was good to see that Disney's attention to show hasn't been completely abandoned.
Here's a view of Main Street, mostly empty except for a very few character breakfasters heading to one of the restaurants off the hub.
Except for a handful of character breakfast attendees, Main Street is empty of guests before the park opens. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Looking towards the Emporium and past the bronze statue of Roy and Minnie in Town Square
Likewise, town square toward the Emporium is devoid of guest in the early morning. Photo by Brian Bennett.
and over toward Tony's Town Square Cafe and the Exposition Hall you can see that the park was very, very quiet.
Town square toward Tony's Town Square Cafe is also very quiet in the early morning. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Within just a few minutes, Mr. McLoone took us back through the station and we boarded the last few rows of seats in the last car pulled by Lilly Belle. We took a narrated tour of the Western side of the railroad run from Main Street, through Adventureland, Frontierland, around behind the back of the park, and finally almost to Toontown Fair.
Jim McLoone, a Walt Disney World Rail Road engineer and our tour guide, lectures during the run from Main Street to Toontown Fair. Photo by Brian Bennett.
At this point, Lilly Belle stopped and we all got off of the train to watch the brakeman (and a volunteer from our group) pull a manual switch on the track.
A brakeman prepares to pull the switch on the main line. Photo by Brian Bennett.
We then jumped back on the train and rode backwards off of the main line and back toward the round house of the Walt Disney World Railroad. Unfortunately, because photography was completely forbidden backstage, a written picture of the round house will have to suffice. It's a shame, because the round house was a pretty neat place to check out.
When we arrived, the rear-most car (the one that we were sitting in) of the Lilly Belle's stock was pulled almost into the roundhouse. Apparently the Lilly Belle and her rolling stock resides on the right-most track in the roundhouse. To our right and behind us a bit, as we were sitting in the passenger car, we could see the two 4-6-0 Ten-Wheelersthe Walter E. Disney and the Roger E. Broggieand the 4-4-0 American, the Roy O. Disney. After a few minutes of looking around the roundhouse, Lilly Belle pulled back out and we disembarked for the last time.
The Lilly Belle then pulled away to handle its daily run as the park-opening welcome train that takes a bunch of characters out to Main Street to greet the first of the park's guests. In fact, Lilly Belle now handles just the character train duties. The safety rails that line the outside of the passenger cars have been removed on the Lilly Belle's cars to make it easier for the characters to do their thing. It would take hours to reinstall those rails, so the Walt Disney Railroad generally makes do with just three trains on the tracks.
With the Lilly Belle's departure, the attention of the tour group shifted over to the Roger E. Broggie. In small groups, we were taken up into the cab of the Broggie and given an explanation of how the oil-fired engine is operated. The four engines on the Railroad are true steam engines and burn a specially formulated, low sulfur diesel oil called Distillate #2. This allows the engines to operate very efficiently, but with very little of the smoke and smell that trains were known for in years gone by.
I was actually in the last of the groups to climb up into the cab, so I spent the first few minutes after getting off the Lilly Belle checking out the roundhouse facilities themselves. Of course, for safety reasons we weren't permitted to actually walk into the roundhouse. Instead, I had to be satisfied with a lot of walking around the area and peeking into the building as much as I could. Much of the Broggie's rolling stock was still back in the roundhouse. The Walter E. Disney and the Roy O. Disney were sitting on the center pair of tracks. They wouldn't be fired up and put on the main line for another hour or two as the park crowds increase.
The building was smaller than I'd expected it to be. Certainly, it's large enough for its functionthe maintenance of the railroad engines and rolling stock on the ground level and of the monorails on the upper level. Four sets of track allow each of the four trains to be kept under cover at during the down hours of the railroad. Each has a pit underneath that allows maintenance access under the engines and tenders. Along the far western side of the building is the machine shop where replacement parts are made for the almost century-old engines.
Finally, the Roger E. Broggie was pulled out of the roundhouse and we climbed aboard for our next ride. After a pop-off test (backstage), we drove out of the backstage area and back out onto the main line that surrounds the park. We pulled into the Toontown Fair station and disembarked once again.
The first thing on the agenda was to fill up the tender's water tank.
The Roger E. Broggie, a 4-6-0 Four Wheeler steam engine, takes on water. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Each of the four engines on the railroad have tender capacities of 1,837 gallons of water and 664 gallons of fuel. It's not surprising that the tenders of these four engines are pretty much identical as they had to be almost completely rebuilt during their refurbishment. In fact, only the tender trucks, or chassis, were salvaged. The rest had to be scrapped.
A close-up of the Roger E. Broggie's tender as the engineer oversees the filling of the water tank. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The final safety check of the day took place right there at the Toontown Fair station. In this test, the steam and water were blown off until the dropping pressure shuts down the boilers.
Steam is blown from the boiler during the low pressure test. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Unfortunately, the Broggie has been a little tempermental of late, and failed the test initially so a second run-through had to be performed to be certain of safe operation of the railroad.
Steam billows from a conduit that diverts the hot water vapor away from the train for safety purposes. Photo by Brian Bennett.
During the delay, I took the opportunity to snap a picture of my dad, Allan William Bennett (the namesake of my 8-year-old son, Allan William Bennett II) with Jim McLoone, our tour guide.
The author's father, Allan Bennett, and Jim McLoone pose in front of the Roger E. Broggie. Photo by Brian Bennett.
One of the railroad cast members was willing to shoot this pic of me and Dad, too, while we waited for the Broggie to pass his morning low pressure test.
The author, Brian Bennett (left) and his father, Allan Bennett, pose in front of the Roger E. Broggie. Photo courtey of Brian Bennett.
Finally, with everything in good order, we climbed back aboard and took one last ride on the rails back to Main Street Station.
The Roger E. Broggie's crew prepares to roll out after the last of the safety checks. Photo by Brian Bennett.
But that wasn't the end of our tour! Instead, the whole group gathered together in the main room of the Main Street Station, and listened to Jim McLoone's railroad storytelling. He told us about Walt's love of steam engines and his trip to the Chicago Railroad fair with Ward Kimball in 1948. McLoone described the Carolwood Pacific and how that model train, along with Kimball's Grizzly Flats railroad, became instrumental to Walt's plans for building Disneyland. McLoone introduced Roger Broggie to the tour group and explained how the engine's namesake was a crucial player in the building of the Carolwood Pacific and then the Disneyland Railroad.
Finally, Jim McLoone regaled us with the story behind the Walt Disney World Railroad. But that is the topic of another photo tour!
(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.