Soon another locomotive will join the rolling stock at Disneyland. Recognized as one of the outstanding examples of miniature engineering, Walt Disney’s own live steam engine, the Lilly Belle, will take its place as a special display inside the Main Street station.
The 714-inch gauge, 4-4-0 locomotive, in red and gold trim, is a replica of Central Pacific’s old No. 173, built in the Sacramento shops in 1872.
On Saturday, December 24, 1949, there was a special excitement that transcended the holiday mood on the Studio lot. A group of men were gathered around a special project that had taken many hours of spare time to complete. Slowly and carefully anthracite nut coal was shoveled into the boiler of the Lilly Belle as it began to build head steam to 150 pounds. Then, with a slight movement of the throttle, the one-eighth scale, diamond-stacked locomotive began to move on a 300-foot loop of test track which had been laid on Sound Stage One.
The Lilly Belle became the pride of the Carolwood-Pacific R.R., which encircled the Disney home in Holmby Hills. It consisted of the loco, six gondolas, two freight cars, two cattle cars and one cabbose, all reproduced in perfect scale. About 2,600 feet of 7 1 4-inch gauge track was laid around the sprawling estate and was complete with a 65-foot long, 9-foot high trestle, a five-foot high, 90-foot long tunnel and a railroad crossing guard at the driveway entrance.
Walt’s love affair with railroading can be traced back to his boyhood, when he frequented the switch yards down in the Missouri river flats in Kansas City, where the family moved from a farm near Marceline, Mo. His Uncle Mike, a veteran engineer on the Santa Fe, had already filled his young mind with the lore of the “high iron.” Later, as a teenager, Walt worked as a “news butch” on the Missouri Pacific R.R. out of Kansas City into Texas. His duties were to walk up and down the coach cars selling newspapers, candy and soft drinks to the passengers.
Walt had his first experience with live steam at a friend’s home in Beverly Hills. The oily smell and steam and coal smoke that was indigenous to railroading of a bygone era were all to be found among the “live steamers,” which the hobbiests are called who build and run the miniature working models. He decided that the live steam miniature trains offered the excitement he remembered from his boyhood. Soon research was begun on early American railroads—knowledge which later became vital when the Santa Fe & Disneyland R.R. was being planned for the Park.
According to Roger Broggie, vice-president of Mapo, Inc., Walt became a willing apprentice in the machine shop, learning to operate all of the machine tools so he could make many of the parts himself. Lilly Belle’s whistle, flagstands and hand rails were turned out by Walt on the lathe. He learned sheet metal work so he could lay out and fabricate the headlamp and smoke stack ... then made numerous parts in the milling machine and learned to silver solder and braze on many small fittings. Eventually, he had a complete wood and metal workshop at his home.
When work was begun on Disneyland there was little time for running the Lilly Belle. In the summer of 1954 it was moved to the Studio where it remained in the machine shop storage room until Mapo, Inc. was established in Glendale, October 1965. When the new division moved, so did the Lilly Belle. Soon it will take its final journey to a permanent home in the Main Street station where nearly 29,000,000 Park visitors have boarded the Santa Fe & Disneyland R.R. for a highballing ride around the Magic Kingdom.