Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Walt Disney's original railroad lives on in Los Angeles

The Orange County Register: Walt Disney's original railroad lives on in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES — Before there was a Disneyland Railroad, Walt Disney used to have his own miniature live steam railroad at his home in Holmby Hills.

Pieces of the railroad can still be seen, though it has moved several miles to a spot in Griffith Park.

The Carolwood Pacific Railroad was named after the street where Disney's home was located on. Walt's original set-up included 2,615 feet of track that even crossed a 46 foot long trestle and ducked through a 90 foot long tunnel that ran underneath Mrs. Disney's flower bed.

The railroad also had a building where the engine and rolling stock were maintained when not in use. That building, actually Disney's workshop, was known as the Carolwood Barn. It was built by the same architect who built much of Disney Studios in Burbank.

It was "Walt's happy place" according to Michael Broggie, founding chairman of the Carolwood Society and Foundation, formed in 1993 to preserve Walt Disney's railroad legacy. Disney enjoyed getting away to the barn to escape the fun but pressure-packed life running Disney Studios.

Broggie's father, Roger, himself a Disney legend, helped Disney build the 1/8-scale train. Broggie, his older brother and his father used to help Disney run the train too.

In 1998, Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's daughter, asked the group to help preserve the barn and many of the items related to Walt's love of railroads when the home was sold.

Because of its connection to miniature steam trains, arrangements were made to have the barn moved to its current location at the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum in Griffith Park in 1999, of which Disney was a charter member. There volunteers work to keep the barn and the many train-related items on display in pristine condition and help tell visitors the story of Walt Disney's railroad legacy.

It's "the only free Disney attraction in the world!" brags the Carolwood website.

Inside the barn, visitors can see a replica of Disney's original model steam engine, the Lily Belle. There's also a 1/8-scale steam engine called the King George V that Disney purchased in 1951. The foundation is working to restore into working condition.

Outside next to the barn, is one of the original Disneyland & Santa Fe Railroad cars. The car was part of the train Disney was running when it pulled into Disneyland's Main Street Station on opening day of the Anaheim park — July 17, 1955.

The combine car was Disney's personal favorite. It is known as a combine car because it was a combination passenger and freight car. It was retired in 1974 as loading and unloading passengers took too long and the seats in the car faced forward, not favorable for viewing the theme park.

A number of former Disney employees, friends and their families staff the barn when it is open to the public. Many of them are railroad fans, and are available to answer questions about Disney's railroad past, the barn and more.


The Carolwood Barn is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with free parking and free admission on the third Sunday of each month, weather permitting. It also hosts special events throughout the year. The barn can be reached by exiting the Ventura Freeway at the Forest Lawn exit, then following the direction signs to the parking area and entrance.

The Live Steamers Railroad Museum surrounds the barn, though that museum, complete with working model steam engines has a separate entrance. Also nearby is Travel Town, with a number of retired full-size old steam engines, railroad cars and a model railroad on display.

CHECKLIST: For more information, go to carolwood.org and carolwood.com.

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