Steam Train Tour, Part 2

by Brian Bennett, contributing writer

A few weeks ago, my dad and I were fortunate enough to be able to attend one of the Magic Kingdom's Steam Train Tours. The tour started with a ride on the Walt Disney World Railroad, going back to the roundhouse to see where the locomotives, tenders, and rolling stock are maintained, and we even climbed up into the cab of one of the locomotives to see how these iron horses actually work!

But that wasn't the end of our tour. Upon our return to the Main Street Station, the whole group gathered together 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.

A publicity photo shows Walt enjoying his train at the studios before it was delivered to the Holmby Hills estate. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

You may be surprised to learn that there are several wonderful photographs of the Carolwood Pacific 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 Broggie (who 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).

Another great source of information on the Carolwood Pacific Railroad is the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society (link). Michael Broggie is very active in that organization, which was formed to maintain the historical record of Walt's love of railroads in general and the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in particular. Other members include former animator and “live steam” enthusiast Ollie Johnston, Imagineer Bob Harpur (who was heavily involved in the Walt Disney World Railroad and the Animal Kingdom Railroad in more recent years), and many other Disney notables.

It's very difficult to pinpoint what would be called the beginning of the story of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Without doubt, Walter Elias Disney had a love of railroads and several personal ties to railroads. Walt had several family members that worked on the railroads, including his Uncle Mike Martin who was an engineer on the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad during his boyhood years. Even earlier, Walt's father Elias worked on a track laying crew for the Union Pacific. Roy, Walt's brother, worked as a “news butcher” on the Santa Fe selling newspapers, beverages, and snacks. In 1917 Walt himself worked as a “news butcher” on the Missouri Pacific railroad for a brief time. One can't help but think of Tom Sawyer and Aunt Polly's fence when you hear the story of how most of the profits went into bribes, paid to fireman and engineers to “allow” Walt to do their work and actually run the locomotives on the line.

Legend has it that years later, Walt conjured up Mickey Mouse as he rode on a train from New York back to California after losing the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Charlie Mintz, a front man for Universal Pictures. Mortimer, the name given to a pet mouse that Walt had kept years earlier in Kansas City, was to be the mouse's given name, but Lillian, Walt's wife, talked Walt into adopting the softer “Mickey” for his new character's moniker.

Later, in 1948, Walt Attended the Railroad Fair in Chicago with fellow rail enthusiast and Disney Studios Animator Ward Kimball. The two rode the Santa Fe Railroad's premier train, the Super Chief, from California to the Windy City and spent several days reveling in the history of the fair. Locomotives (original and rebuilt) such as the Dewitt Clinton, the Tom Thumb, and the Western & Atlantic Railroad's 4-4-0 General (of the famed “great locomotive chase” during the Civil War) were there to see and even operate. Being the famous Walt Disney provided opportunities that regular folk wouldn't have had, after all.

Another door that opened was the opportunity for Walt and Ward to have a detailed visit to Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. This was a side trip that the two took before returning to California after leaving Chicago.

There is no doubt that the railroad fair sparked Walt's desire to have his own railroad. He didn't apparently feel the need to have a full-sized railroad like Kimball did, whose Grizzly Flats Railroad was the first full-sized backyard railroad in the United States, but Walt did want to have his own live steam railroad. Furthermore, Walt's visit to Greenfield Village started his thoughts turning back to some ideas he'd had back in the 1930s about having a little Disney park near the Studios. Thus, the Railroad Fair gave birth to the Carolwood Pacific Railroad... and Greenfield Village resurrected plans that would eventually evolve into Disneyland.

After returning from the Railroad Fair, Walt started seriously looking into how to design and build his own railroad line. Dick Jackson, a “live steam” enthusiast (that is, a hobbyist involved with steam-driven, albeit miniature, trains), Kimball, Ollie Johnston, Roger Broggie, Eddie Sargeant (a part-time draftsman at who worked occasionally for Roger on construction projects), and David Rose (a world-renowned musician and conductor and fellow live-steamer) all played a role in introducing Walt to the hobby.

The whole story of actually designing and building the railroad layout, laying the track, building the model locomotive that would be called Lilly Belle and the rolling stock (and especially the caboose that was hand-built mostly by Walt himself), and so on would take pages, and frankly, I'm not inclined to repeat so much material that has been so wonderfully documented in Michael Broggie's book. Instead, I will simply show you the photos that are on display at the Main Street Station. If these images stir your interest, perhaps you'll pick up a copy of “Walt Disney's Railroad Story” and read it through, join the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society and participate in some of their special commemorative events.

So, here goes...

Roger Broggie, Eddie Sargeant, and Bob Harpur were all instrumental in designing and building the Carolwood Pacific Railroad's track, trestle, tunnel, and locomotive and rolling stock. Here's a photo showing Sargeant, Broggie, and Walt during one of the first steam-ups of the Lilly Belle on a soundstage floor at the studios before the locomotive was delivered to Walt's Carolwood Drive home.

One of the first “steam ups” of Lilly Belle at the studio soundstage in late 1949. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Here's a picture showing the Lilly Belle being fired up at the Carolwood Drive site. “Walt's Barn,” the structure in the background, was Walt's railroad workshop. The Carolwood Pacific Historical Society now offers regular tours of the barn which is now located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Incidentally, over at Walt Disney World, a few days of special CPHS events is held annually (Wednesday, October 19 through Saturday, October 22 this year).

Firing up Lilly Belle. “Walt's barn” is visible in the background. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

The rolling stock in the foreground was fabricated, in part, by casting aluminum to form the structure of the boxcars and such. Many of the techniques learned during the construction of the Carolwood Pacific were later put to good use when the narrow gauge Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad was built a few short years later.

The next photo shows the Lilly Belle pulling a train through the Yensid Valley, the lower plateau of Walt's property where most of the railroad was located.

Riding through the “Yensid valley” on one of the first runs. This area was soon to be landscaped into a gorgeous yard. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Here you can see a group of children being driven around the layout. The train is just now passing under a 46 foot long trestle (which runs along the left-hand side of the photograph) that rose nine feet above the lower elevation. The trestle was so high and long that it had to be built to commercial building codes. The Disney home can be seen above the train.

Riding the rails under the trestle. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

After passing out of the Yensid Valley, the route of the railroad passed across the driveway, around the front of the house, and back along the West side of the house.

Crossing the driveway on the way around the front of the house and toward the 90-foot-long Rorex Tunnel. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Along that West side of the house was Lillian Disney's personal flower garden. In order to keep the peace within the family, Walt had a studio lawyer write up a legal right-of-way contract which, after being signed by Lillian and witnessed by Diane and Sharon (Walt's daughters), gave Walt the right to build a ninety foot tunnel under the flower bed. Since the tunnel had been suggested by Jack Rorex, a construction supervisor at the studios, it was appropriately dubbed, the “Rorex Tunnel.”

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any photographs of the famed “Rorex Tunnel.” For quite some time I thought that the next picture was of the tunnel, but upon inspection, I noticed that a spur of track came into the main line nearby (it can be seen in the bottom of the photograph). Furthermore, light can be seen toward the back of the train. No light could be seen from one of the Rorex Tunnel to the other as it was too long and S-shaped.

When I asked Michael Broggie about it he confirmed that the photograph is actually one of the bridges near the Barn out in the Yensid Valley.

A trainload of guests run underneath the Yensid Valley stone bridge located southeast of Walt's barn. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Anyway, continuing along the route after the Rorex Tunnel, the train passes over the trestle. The Disney home is located to the right and out of view of this photograph.

Heading across the trestle towards the Rorex Tunnel. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Occasionally, the train was run in the opposite direction! Here's another photo showing the train being run over the trestle toward the Rorex Tunnel.

Heading across the trestle after exiting the Rorex Tunnel. Original photo courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Walt spent many hours of enjoyment building and running his Carolwood Pacific Railroad. it was completed in 1950 and many happy Sunday afternoons were spent on the Disney estate with children and adults enjoying the train and the company of friends and fellow workers.

So what happened to the Carolwood Pacific Railroad? I was curious because Jim McCloone, during the Steam Train Tour, had said that the CPRR was pretty much shut down after a young girl was burned after a derailment accident in the early 1950s. I knew when I started this piece that Walt's Barn was now located at Griffith Park and that some of the track had been installed there, too.

I asked Michael Broggie about the CPRR's fate. “The track stayed until 1968 when Lillian donated it to the L.A. Live Steamers,” he said. “They still call their track 'the Disney Loop.' Most of the track has been replaced with steel. Walt used aluminum track.” He also said that although the CPRR was not frequently run after the famed derailment incident, “Walt did run his train for a few special occasions such as for Kirk Douglas and his family during the filming of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He also did a run for the Southern California Live Steamers.”

Walt and his daughters Diane and Sharon top off the Lilly Belle before a steam-up run in the early 1950s. Original image courtesy Walt Disney Co.

Besides the “Disney Loop” at Griffith Park, Broggie said, “The Lilly Belle and most of the rolling stock is stored in a facility at the Presidio in San Francisco. Eventually this will be a museum and research center on Walt. Besides the Iron Spike Room, a gondola is at Walt's Barn. A replica Lilly Belle is in the Main Street Station at Disneyland, built by Roger Broggie, Jr."

Walt shows off the Lilly Belle while #173 was still in the Studios' sound stage in late 1949. Original image courtesy Walt Disney Co.

So, I've shared the hands-on portion of the Steam Train Tour, and I've shown you around the Main Street Station to see the photos that illustrate the story of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.

What's next? I guess I'd better get into the story of the Walt Disney World Railroad itself.