The Significance of Steam Trains, Part II

by Jack Spence
AllEars® Feature Writer

An excerpt of this article appeared in the
October 28, 2008 Issue #475 of AllEars® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The vast majority of the information presented here uses as its source the book "Walt Disney's Railroad Story" by Michael Broggie. This is an excellent book, not just for railroad buffs, but for anyone interested in the history of Disney theme parks. What I offer below just barely scratches the surface of what this remarkable book has to offer. I would highly recommend purchasing it. You can order it through AllEars.Net's Amazon store here:

Walt Disney World

From this point forward, when I refer to "Disney" I'm referring to the company, not the man.

Roger Broggie, who was responsible for building much of Disneyland's railroad, was put in charge of Walt Disney World's transportation system. Since everyone knows that Florida is flat, it came as a surprise to Broggie when he discovered that his trains around the Magic Kingdom would have to deal with a 2% grade. His solution, buy larger locomotives than those used at Disneyland. Not only would they be more powerful and negotiate the grade better, they could also pull longer trains, thus increasing capacity.

Steam engines first appeared on the Yucatan peninsula in 1875. For years, these work-horses hauled supplies in and out of this isolated region. In the early to mid 1960's, the Mexican government was busy replacing many of these engines to diesel-electric locomotives. Once an engine was replaced, its tired remains were hauled off to a holding area to rust in the elements. With this knowledge in hand, Broggie and Earl Vilmer headed to Mexico with a directive to buy four engines for the Magic Kingdom.

The first two locomotives selected were identical 1925 Baldwin 4-6-0 "Ten Wheelers." For 40 years these two engines had carried Agave sisalense (sisal hemp), a local crop to the dock at Progreso.

The next engine chosen was a Baldwin "Mogul"-type 2-6-0 built in 1928. And finally, a Baldwin "American"-type 4-4-0 built in 1916. An agreement with the Mexican government called for Disney to pay $8,000 each for the four locomotives.

As Broggie and Vilmer were concluding the deal, another engine caught there eye. Perched on a platform in the middle of a small park was a 2-6-0 Mogul built by the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works in 1902. When they asked the Mexican officials if it was for sale they were told that they could have it for $750 if they would haul it away. So an unexpected fifth locomotive was added to their collection.

Restoration of the engines was to take place at a Tampa shipyard. It was Disney's desire to give as much work as possible to Florida businesses to help strengthen their ties with the community. Initial plans called for the five locomotives to be floated across the Gulf of Mexico on a huge Mississippi-type barge. But upon further investigation, it was determined that it would be cheaper to send them by rail, even though the journey was over 2,000 miles.

When restoration began, the machinist found that the engines were in worse condition than originally thought. In fact, the fifth locomotive, the one found in the park, presented so many challenges that it was eventually sold.

The tenders were completely useless and everything except their trucks were discarded and then rebuilt. One engine's frame was broken in half and required a master welder to put it back together. The boilers on all four engines needed to be replaced with new ones and the wood and steel cabs were exchanged with new designs created by the Imagineers in Glendale.

Remembering the trouble Disneyland had with the loading and unloading of the original passenger cars and how the newer Narragansett-style open air cars solved this problem, it was decided that a similar "excursion car" would be used at Disney World. The passenger cars would be 40 feet long, have 15 benches, and carry 75 guests. Twenty coaches were built from the ground up at the same Tampa shipyard where the engine restoration was taking place.

In the end, the team completed their project under budget and ahead of schedule.

The four trains are named as follows:

No. 1 – Walter E. Disney – This was one of the twin 4-6-0 "Ten-Wheelers and the tallest of the four. It's painted red and pulls red cars.

No. 2 – Lilly Belle – This was the 2-6-0 Mogul-type engine. It's painted green and pulls green cars.

No. 3 – Roger E. Broggie – This was the other "Ten Wheeler" and is painted green and pulls yellow cars.

No. 4 – Roy O. Disney – This was the 4-4-0 "American"-type engine. The engine is painted red and it pulls blue cars.

At night, all four engines are stored behind the Magic Kingdom in an interesting roundhouse. The ground floor houses the steam trains and the upper level houses eight of the twelve monorails.

Like Disneyland, when the Magic Kingdom opened it only had two stations, one on Main Street and the other in Frontierland. But unlike Disneyland, one train never passed another while sitting in a station. A third station was added between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland in 1988 when Mickey's Birthday Land (now Mickey's Toontown Fair) was erected. A trip around the Magic Kingdom, including stops, takes approximately 20 minutes, covering 7,809 feet, the longest of the Disney trains, at an average speed of 10-12 miles per hour.

When Splash Mountain was built, it became necessary to remove the "stand alone" Frontierland station to make way for the new attraction. When completed, a new station had been incorporated into the overall design of Splash Mountain and the train now ran through the ride, affording guests a view of some of the "goings on."

The Walt Disney World Railroad does have a feature unique among the five worldwide steam train loops. After leaving Thunder Mountain, it crosses a large, truss bridge that sits atop a turntable. When necessary, the track can be pivoted out of the way and provide boat access between the Rivers of America and the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Behind Fantasyland the train runs along a canal. In the early years, guests occasionally could spot an alligator swimming slowly or sunning itself along the banks. But for a long time now, Disney captures any gator that ventures too close to public areas and relocates it to a more secluded area.

I'm sure you've all heard the train blow its whistle while riding the rails. Well these toots aren't for the guest's benefit, even though they do add enjoyment to the ride. They're actually used as warning and signaling devices. Here is a list of the whistles and their meaning:

" One Short – Attention
" Two Short – Forward Movement
" Three Short – Reverse Movement
" One Long, One Short – Approaching Station
" One Long, Two Short – Crew spotted along track. (Also used as a general greeting)
" Two Long, One Short, One Long – Public Crossing ahead.
" Two Long, One Short – Meeting Point (Junction)
" One Long – Stop Immediately / Emergency stop.
" Four Long – Train in distress – let's hope we never hear this one!

There was another steam train system at Walt Disney World. It was used to transport guests around Fort Wilderness and ran from 1973 to 1977. But that's another story for another time.

Tokyo Disneyland

The Western River Railroad is unique among its steam train cousins in the other Disney parks in that it doesn't circle the perimeter of Tokyo Disneyland. You see, if it did, its track length combined with multiple stations would have classified it as "public transportation" under Japanese law and it would have fallen under different government regulations. This of course was unacceptable to Disney and some other solution needed to be reached. And that solution was a railroad that runs only through Adventureland and Westernland (Frontierland) and only has one station.

For those of us thoroughly familiar with Disneyland and Walt Disney World, you might think that you're going to be cheated on this shorter steam train loop (5,283 feet). But nothing could be further from the truth. In my opinion, it's the best as it affords it's passengers with the most sights along the journey.

You board the train in Adventureland from a second story station. The lower level is used for the queue of the Jungle Cruise. When you depart, you're in a bamboo forest. Soon a clearing comes into view and you can look down onto the Jungle Cruise attraction. You can even see the boats passing by. The glimpse is short, but adequate.

As the train continues its journey, you pass by a western train station. This is strictly for show as the train does not stop here. From the station you venture deeper into the woods and see familiar sights like moose, deer, and the "cabin on fire." You also pass by several Native American encampments. Eventually you leave the forest and you're now riding along the banks of the Rivers of America. Tom Sawyer Island is to your right and Splash Mountain is ahead of you.

At this point you travel across a very long trestle as it skirts Critter Country and then enters a section of Westernland. For a long section of track, guests can walk under the trestle as the train passes overhead. This is one of the most beautiful spots in Tokyo Disneyland.

The train then passes by a substantial section of Thunder Mountain. You can see the runaway mine cars race by and a large number of dinosaur bones scattered about. Your train is traveling in and out of rock formations during this section of the ride until if finally enters a deep tunnel. Here guests are treated to Primeval World – a copy of the one at Disneyland. Once again, audioanimatronic dinosaurs delight guests as they pass by.

It's a very nice transition between Thunder Mountain and Primeval World. First you see the bleached bones of these ancient creatures strewn around parched wasteland. Then you see the actual beasts. When you emerge from the other end of the tunnel, you're back at the Adventureland Station.

All four locomotives used at Tokyo Disneyland were built from scratch in Japan. They were modeled after the Denver & Rio Grande Railway 2-4-0 Montezuma designed and built by Baldwin. Each train has a different color scheme and was named after an American River: Mississippi, Rio Grande, Missouri, and Colorado.

Guests ride in forward-facing excursion cars similar to those used at Walt Disney World. The one noticeable difference to the layman's eye, these trains have small doors (hard-plastic flaps) at each bench. They swing inward and provide a little extra safety so young ones won't fall out.

Disneyland Paris

In my opinion, Disneyland Paris is the most beautiful of the five Magic Kingdoms. Disney pulled out all the stops when creating this park and their attention to detail shows. Even though I vote Tokyo's steam train as my favorite, Disneyland Paris is a VERY close second – and for the same reason. You see more sights on these two lines than you do on the other three.

Shortly after leaving an elaborate Main Street Station, you enter the Grand Canyon Diorama, a copy of the one found at Disneyland California. Once again, you hear the music of Grofe as a full day of the Canyon unfolds as you pass by.

Emerging from the tunnel, you travel by mud pots and geysers. Then a section of the Rivers of America comes into view. Here you can see the Mark Twain and the Molly Brown sail by with Big Thunder Mountain (an island in the middle of the river) towering in the background. Eventually you pull into the Frontierland Station.

As your journey continues, you see the fences, barns, and animals of Critter Corral before crossing over into Adventureland. The next sight you see is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril to be followed by a grassy meadow and then a tunnel. Inside the tunnel you can catch a glimpse of the Pirates of the Caribbean (similar to seeing Splash Mountain at Disney World). When you emerge from the tunnel, you're in Fantasyland.

As you skirt the edges of Fantasyland, you see Alice's Curious Labyrinth and Mad Hatter's Tea Party before crossing a trestle. You then pass in front of "it's a small world" in the same manner that you do in Disneyland, California. A few chugs later and you're at the Discoveryland (Tomorrowland) Station.

From Discoveryland you are afforded views of Star Tours, Space Mountain, and a small section of the Autopia. After 7,150 feet of track, you're back at Main Street.

Disneyland California and Disneyland Paris are the only two parks to have four stations.

Disneyland Paris has four trains, all build from the ground up. They would be mechanically the same as Disneyland's C.K. Holliday, but each engine and accompanying cars would be given its own identity and color scheme.

No. 1 – G. Washington – This engine is the most ornate of the four. It features numerous American eagles and portraits of Washington and Marquis de Lafayette who served under Washington in the American Revolution. The cars it pulls are named Mt. Vernon, Boston, Philadelphia, Yorktown, and Valley Forge.

No. 2 – Cyrus Kurtz Holliday – This engine honors Disneyland's C.K. Holliday and has a lavish look befitting of turn-of-the-century Main Street. The cars it pulls are the Coney Island, Atlantic City, Chesapeake, Long Island, and Niagara Falls.

No. 3 – W.F. Cody – Complete with deer antlers on the front of the train, this locomotive honors Buffalo Bill and the Wild West. Behind it you'll find cars named Silverton, Durango, Denver, Wichita, and Cheyenne.

No. 4 – Eureka – This engine honors the part trains played in expanding our nation to the Pacific Ocean. Its passenger cars are named San Francisco, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Diego, and Sacramento.

The rolling stock for Disneyland Paris is also unique in that the cars are better enclosed due to the variations in weather and they feature an interesting seating pattern. Instead of forward or side facing benches, these trains use a "U" shaped or "booth" configuration. Each car is divided into six sections and within each section you'll find a "U" shaped bench with one portion facing forward, another facing sideways, and one backwards. The idea was to give everyone a better view. Personally, I found this configuration a little cramped. When sitting in a "corner" seat, your legs and knees are pressed against those of your fellow passengers.

Hong Kong Disneyland

Like its four predecessors, Hong Kong Disneyland has steam trains. But this park has the fewest engines and passenger cars.

As you might expect, one of the stations is located at the beginning of Main Street. Modeled after the one in Disneyland California, this station is modest compared to Disney World and Paris, but it still packs a lot of charm.

The second station is at the other side of the park in Fantasyland. This station has a toy-like circus feel about it. It's flanked by manicured grassy knolls and dotted with topiary. Its design complements the nearby Dumbo attraction and Fantasia Gardens.

The railroad has three engines, the Walter E. Disney, the Roy O. Disney, and the Frank G. Wells, but only two are used at a time. Their departures and arrivals are coordinated so that when one train leaves Main Street, the other is leaving Fantasyland. The total route is just shy of 5,000 feet, making it the shortest of the five steam trains worldwide.

The rolling stock is named for locations that played an important part in Walt's life. One set of cars are named Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, and California. The second set is named Chicago, Marceline, Kansas City, Hollywood, and Orlando. Each train holds approximately 250 passengers on long benches that face sideways, rather than forward.

As the entire west side of Hong Kong Disneyland is occupied by Adventureland, jungle sights and sounds dominate the first half of your journey. Along the way you can see Tarzan's Treehouse, sections of the Jungle Cruise, and various audioanimatronic birds and animals interspersed among the trees.

After leaving the Fantasyland Station, you are able to see a few glimpses of the Mad Hatter Tea Cups and the Festival of Fools restaurant before entering Tomorrowland. In Tomorrowland, the train travels next to a portion of the Autopia highway giving delight to those driving the little electric cars. As you approach the Buzz Lightyear attraction, the 3-eyed, green space men from the movie Toy Story pop up and down and wave from the rooftop as you pass by.

Well there you have it, five very different, yet very similar steam trains. Trains that helped build Disneyland and four more fantastic parks. Next time you ride any of these marvels, remember, you're riding on one of Walt's greatest loves.

If you missed Part I of this article, it can be found HERE (AllEars® Newsletter Issue #474, October 21, 2008).


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.