My last two articles have been about a Steam Train Tour that my dad and I were fortunate enough to attend at the Magic Kingdom. In part 2, I shared the hands-on portion of the Steam Train Tour, and showed you around the Main Street Station to see the photos that illustrate the story of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. In today's article, I continue the series by talking about the Walt Disney World Railroad itself. [Part 1 (link) was published August 26, and part 2 (link) was published on September 23.]
The Walter E. Disney locomotive before she was rebuilt. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
[NOTE: There are several wonderful photographs of the Walt Disney World Railroad engines as they were being moved to Florida and being refurbished that are on display in the Main Street Station. I went on a little scavenger hunt and found those pictures, presented here for you to see as I share the story of Walt's first railroad. Most of this information comes from my notes of Jim McCloone's stories, some comes from the pages of a wonderful book called Walt Disney's Railroad Story written by Michael Broggie, the son of Roger Broggiewho happened to be the Imagineer who was the namesake of the Roger E. Broggie ten-wheeler (4-6-0) locomotive that was such an important part of our Steam Train Tour that I described in my previous photo tour.]
The Walter E. Disney, one of the "twin" 4-6-0 ten-wheeler locomotives on the Walt Disney World Railroad, as she appears today. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The tour started by taking a ride on the Walt Disney World Railroad, going back to the roundhouse to see where the locomotives, tenders, and rolling stock is maintained, and even climbing up into the cab of one of the locomotives to see how these iron horses actually work.
Walter E. Disney, co-founder of the Disney Company, is the namesake of one of the "twin" 4-6-0 ten-wheeler locomotives on the Walt Disney World Railroad. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
Upon our return to the Main Street Station the whole group gathered together and listed 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.
The Roger E. Broggie locomotive shown before she was rebuilt. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
Most people that are familiar with the Disney resorts are aware that Disneyland was the first park. Built in the mid-1950s in Anaheim, California, the park was surrounded by a roughly triangular shaped berm. Built on top of the berm is a narrow-guage railroad that has stations on Main Street U.S.A., in New Orleans Square/Frontierland, and in Tomorrowland.
Imagineer Roger E. Broggie is the namesake of one of the "twin" 4-6-0 ten-wheeler locomotives on the Walt Disney World Railroad. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
The rolling stock for the trains was built at a scale of approximately 5/8ths actual size, a size determined by actually drawing a full-sized railroad car and then scaling it down so that the doors were only six feet high. The engines were smaller than actual size by the same 5/8ths scale except that the engineer's cab was made slightly larger at 3/4ths to make it easier to operate the engines. All of the engines and rolling stock for the Disneyland Railroad was built at the Disney Studios in Burbank by a team headed up by Roger Broggie, the man that had helped Walt build his 1/12ths scale Carolwood Pacific Railroad at his home five years earlier.
The Roger E. Broggie, one of the "twin" 4-6-0 ten-wheeler locomotives on the Walt Disney World Railroad, as she appears today. Photo by Brian Bennett.
In between 1955, when Disneyland opened to the public, and 1971 when Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom opened, Walt Disney passed away. Setting aside his own planned retirement, Walt's older brother Roy Disney stayed on at the company and directed that the new Florida complex be built, but he always insisted that the resort be called the "Walt" Disney World resort.
The Lilly Belle locomotive shown before she was rebuilt. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
The Magic Kingdom was designed to be similar to Disneyland, but with the larger amount of space available in Florida (the company had intially purchased over 27,000 acres which works about to about 43 square miles), it was not necessary to scale down the railroad. And since the company owned so much space, it wasn't even necessary to build a berm to enclose the park to separate it from the outside world. The company-owned green space around the park would meet that need.
The Lilly Belle, the 2-6-0 Mogul locomotive on the Walt Disney World Railroad, as she appears today. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Mrs. Lillian Bounds Disney, Walt Disney's wife, is the namesake of the 2-6-0 Mogul locomotive on the Walt Disney World Railroad. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
However, one design feature of the park would affect plans for the Walt Disney World Railroad. Even though the berm wouldn't completely surround the park, it would be built in the area right around Main Street U.S.A. The under-the-station entry design worked very well at Disneyland and the Imagineers working on the Magic Kingdom wanted to reproduce that same emotional entry into the park. Therefore, the railroad, running clockwise around the park, would have to deal with a fairly steep upward grade in the Tomorrowland area as the trains rose from the nominal ground level up to the raised berm level around Main Street.
The Roy O. Disney's 4-4-0 American (or eight-wheeler) wheel arrangement concerned Roger Broggie as he felt that six drive wheels would be needed to make the Tomorrowland grade at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The Walter E. Disney's 4-6-0 ten-wheeler wheel arrangement provided the six drive wheels that Roger Broggie felt would be needed to make the Tomorrowland grade at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Roger Broggie, not surprisingly the Imagineer in charge of building the new Walt Disney World Railroad, decided to use refurbished steam train equipment in Florida rather than going to the trouble of building everything by hand in-house. The first goal would be to find several steam engines that could be used to haul the park's trains. They needed to be real steamers and they needed to have at least six drive wheels to get the fully-loaded trains up the Tomorrowland grade. 2-6-0 Moguls or 4-6-0 Ten-Wheelers were the engine types that Broggie had in mind.
The Roy O. Disney locomotive shown before she was rebuilt. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
Roger got a tip that some steam railroad equipment was available in Mexico. He traveled down to the Yucatan Penninsula (the very same area pummeled by Hurricane Wilma this past week) with another Disney studios employee named Earl Vilmer. Disneyland's two most recent engines, the Fred Gurley and the Earnest S. Marsh, were rebuilt from existing equipment (only the park's first two engines were built new by hand). Both the Gurley and Marsh had been built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania and were rebuilt for use at Disneyland by a team headed up by Vilmer. Broggie and Vilmer visited the United Railways of Yucatan, a railroad that was busy switching its equipment over to diesel-electric from steam.
This view of the front boiler frame on the Walter E. Disney shows the location where the Roy O. Disney frame ed and had to be welded during the restoration project. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The first two engines selected turned out to be "twins." Engines 274 and 275 were both 4-6-0 ten wheelers. It turned out that they were actually built back-to-back by Baldwin Locomotive Works (their construction numbers were also consecutive) and were shipped to Mexico together in May 1925. The third engine selected was a 2-6-0 Mogul, number 260. It, too, was originally built by Baldwin but three years later, in 1928. Lacking any better options, the fourth engine selected was a 4-4-0. It lacked the number of drive wheels that Broggie and Vilmer were looking for, but the Mexican railroaders assured them that engine 251 was a good performer. All four engines were originally designed to burn wood, hardwood being an abundantly available fuel on the Yucatan.
Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney's brother and co-founder of the Disney Company, is the namesake of the 4-4-0 locomotive on the Walt Disney World Railroad. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
The engines, and some spare parts that Broggie found laying around, were shipped to the Tampa Ship Repair and Dry Dock Company. It was this Tampa shipyard that was given the contract to rebuild the engines, as the Disney folks attempted to get as much of the Walt Disney World project as possible done by Florida-based companies. Incidentally, the Mexican government originally opposed the idea of Disney buying its "railroad technology," in fact a law on the books forbade the export of the equipment. However, since the engines were originally built in Pennsylvania and were imported to Mexico it was found that the law did not apply and permission was granted to buy and move the equipment to Florida.
With the government red tape taken care of and the engines safely on the way to Florida, Earl Vilmer was named Transportation Superintendent and was in charge of the rebuilding effort on Disney's side. Bob Harpur, who had been heavily involved with the Carolwood Pacific project at Walt Disney's home several years before, was hired to work for Vilmer as project engineer.
The Roy O. Disney, the 4-4-0 American (or eight-wheeler) locomotive on the Walt Disney World Railroad, as she appears today. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Tampa Ship Repair and Dry Dock Company assigned Machine Shop Foreman George Britton to be in charge of the locomotive rebuilding project under the terms of the Disney contract. All three men worked together on the rebuilding project. In fact, after the engine rework was completed, Vilmer was authorized to offer Britton the position of roundhouse foreman at the Magic Kingdom. Britton accepted the offer and has worked at Walt Disney World ever since.
Imagineer Bob Harpur checks the fit of a brass boiler plate on one of the locomotives. Original photo on Display at the Main Street Station, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Original photo courtesy of Walt Disney Co.
Once the engines arrived at the Tampa shipyard, the real work began. The boilers had to be replaced along with all of the piping and the fire boxes were reconfigured to handle oil fuel. The boiler domes and bells were salvaged, but the cabs were completely replaced. The original wood ones were rotten and couldn't be salvaged. The cylinder pistons had to be rebuilt, too. Not surprisingly, the tenders, which carry the water for steam-making and the fuel, had to be striped down to the trucks (wheels) and were completely rebuilt from there up. The rolling stock itself, the cars in which the passengers would sit, were newly built by the shipyard.
Side view of the cab and boiler on the Walter E. Disney's shows the gorgeous rebuild job performed by the restoration crew. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Most of the work, although tedious and painstaking, was straightforward. One problem that cropped up, however, could have resulted in a large loss to the project. Upon inspection in Tampa, the frame of engine 260, the 4-4-0, was found to be cracked. The location of the crack is shown in the following photograph (although the photo is of the Walter E. Disney, the crack appeared at about the same location on the engine that became the Roy O. Disney). Willard Overstreet, a journeyman welder, took on the challenge and did such a great job welding the cracked frame that it has never been a problem in the almost 35 years that the Roy O. Disney has been in operation.
Close up view of the Roy O. Disney's cab shows the gorgeous rebuild job performed by the restoration crew. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The Walter E. Disney, Lilly Belle, and Roger E. Broggie all with bright brasswork, their almost-new tenders, and gorgeous passenger cars were all on the rails on opening day, October 1st, 1971. The Roy O. Disney, partly due to the frame crack and other problems that slowed her restoration, joined her sisters on the Walt Disney World Railroad in December of that same year. The four proud engines have been hauling happy passengers ever since.
(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.