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Carolwood Pacific Railroad

The Carolwood Pacific Railroad was a 7 14 in (184 mm) gauge, live steam backyard railroad, built by the American animated film producer and animator, Walt Disney (1901–1966) in the backyard (garden) of his home in California, USA.

Carolwood Pacific Railroad
The layout of Walt's backyard railroad. The "barn" is the small building at top left. Lillian Disney had the tracks removed several years after Walt's death and donated them to the Los Angeles Live Steamers, a group of steam train enthusiasts. The house, the footprint of which is shown here, was demolished in the late 1990s.
Reporting mark CP
Locale Los Angeles, California
Dates of operation 1950–1953
Track gauge 7 14 in (184 mm)
Length Script error: No such module "convert".
Headquarters Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, California

Walt Disney's uncle, Michael Martin, had been a steam locomotive engineer. As a teenager in Missouri, Disney had a summer job selling newspapers, candy, fruit, and soda on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. Walt loved the uniform, the trains, the candy, and the chance to see the country.

It was Disney's lifelong fascination with the railroad that in 1950 led to the building of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad (and even before that, a huge Lionel layout in a room adjacent to his office at the Studio).

With his daughters and their friends happily in tow in his backyard, Disney would ride on his Script error: No such module "convert".-long, 1/8 scale miniature railroad. This inspired Walt Disney to include a railroad as the backbone of his family-oriented Disneyland theme park, which opened in Anaheim, California in 1955.

Today, railroads and monorails are featured at many Walt Disney Company theme parks worldwide.

Backyard railroad

In 1949, Walt Disney moved his family to 355 N. Carolwood Drive, adjacent to the still city owned bridle trail and stream, in the Holmby Hills district of Los Angeles, California. Inspired by his animators Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston who had backyard railroads, Walt launched construction of a 1/8 scale live steam locomotive, rolling stock such as gondolas and a caboose, track and a small barn modeled in miniature for the one in Marceline, Missouri from his youth to keep them in.

The locomotive was patterned after the Central Pacific #173, a wood burning engine brought aboard ship from the east 'around the horn' and assembled in California to begin construction of the transcontinental railroad east through the Rocky Mountains. To keep the initials identical on the CP #173 he named his railroad the Carolwood Pacific in reference to the residence location on Carolwood Drive.

Script error: No such module "convert". of railway track circled the house, looped and crossed, with turnouts, gradients, a trestle Script error: No such module "convert". long, overpasses, with an elevated dirt berm. Lillian Disney was supportive of her dear husband Walt's train hobby, although she vetoed a track through her flower beds—so Walt instead built a Script error: No such module "convert". 'S' curved tunnel beneath them.

Steam locomotive

Disney admired the beautiful proportions and overall appearance of Central Pacific Railroad's steam locomotive #173, which became the prototype of the 1/8 scale "live steam' working model fabricated by Roger E. Broggie in the Walt Disney Studios machine shop. Southern Pacific draftsman David L Joslyn provided the two inches to foot scale drawings, based on the CP 173's specifications which were found in a warehouse of the railroad's old company records, and Walt himself spent many hours building parts for this engine, such as the smoke stack, the flagpoles and other small parts. However, most of the machining was done by studio technicians. On each side of the cab, the locomotive was named Lilly Belle to honor his wife Lillian Disney.

Like the prototype, the working "live steam" locomotive was an "American" type with a 4-4-0 (Whyte notation) wheel arrangement. A miniature live steam engine of this type is large enough for the engineer to ride upon the tender and pull many cars carrying passengers around the track. The caboose was used for riding the brakeman and special attention was paid to its interior by Walt - he fabricated many of its details, including miniature magazines cut from back issue order forms pasted on cardboard then feathered at the edges and a cast iron pot-bellied stove which he advertised for sale in model railroad magazines.

Walt Disney's barn

Walt Disney controlled the track of his backyard Carolwood Pacific Railroad from a special barn. The barn served as the storage facility for his rolling stock. It was also the central headquarters for the railroad's operations, with a central control console which included a fully functional signal system utilizing the "block" system—lights on the control panel indicate the presence of a train in a particular block and update the signals accordingly.

The barn was also a place where Disney, a creative man, retired to when needing to relax or develop new ideas.

A predecessor to Disney theme parks

The Lilly Belle on display at Disneyland Main Station in 1993. The caboose's woodwork was done entirely by Walt himself.
Herbie, Herb Ryman, I just want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train. —Walt Disney

The first train officially ran on the Carolwood Pacific Railroad on May 15, 1950. Walt used the train to entertain his daughters, their friends, and the children of friends who would visit for dinner, and sometimes the adults themselves. Soon the whole neighborhood was showing up to the house on weekends for train rides. He spent thousands of hours upon loving hours working on and tinkering with his train. The backyard railroad is credited with becoming part of his inspiration for the creation of Disneyland, first of the Walt Disney company theme parks. The first designs of the little park across from the studio included a live steam railroad that circled the park, a design feature which was retained in each iteration and was built around the finished product in Anaheim. The existence of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in Walt's backyard only became widely known to the outside world in the publicity relating to the opening of Disneyland in nearby Anaheim in 1955. In a fantastic episode of the Disneyland television show detailing the "behind the scenes" creation of cartoons, sections of track were placed temporarily in various locations within the studios and Walt aboard the Lilly Belle was filmed transporting the audience as a "vehicle" to establish new locations. To this day folks will swear that there are little engines which transport cast members throughout the campus.

Walt personally owned Retlaw (Walter, spelled backwards) which operated the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad franchise, as well as the Mark Twain at Disneyland. Cast members of the railroad, the Viewliner, and later the Monorail had their paychecks autographed by Walt. His attention to the Carolwood Pacific waned with his operation of his new full sized toy trains. Retlaw was the very last holdout franchise to concede ownership and sell to the Disneyland Resort.

In the 50 years since Disneyland opened, Walt's love of railroads have become an integral part of the Disney tradition. In addition to the original Disneyland in California, there are now railroads circling the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Disneyland Paris in France, and Hong Kong Disneyland in Hong Kong as well as a scenic train ride attraction at Tokyo Disneyland in Japan.

Walt's fascination with mass transportation led to the now synonymous Disneyland Monorail System attraction, and its full fledged transportation system sister Walt Disney World Monorail System in Florida which serves as a true form of mass transportation serving more than five million guests annually.


Replica of the Lilly Belle, put on display in Main Street Station after the original was removed. This engine was intended to be a 4-6-0 for the Carolwood Pacific, but the project was abandoned when work started on Disneyland. It was finished by Roger Broggie Jr. in 1995 as a display-only engine.

When the Holmby Hills home was sold, Walt Disney's historic barn was about to be demolished to make room for a mansion of maximum square footage. In 1998, through the efforts of the Walt Disney Family Foundation and others, the barn was purchased by Disney's heirs and relocated on permanent loan to an enclave within the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum (LALS) at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. 98% of the barn is original, the exception being the cedar shake roof was replaced with fire safe shingles. Walt shaved in the mirror and basin, washed his hands with the Boraxo dispenser and sharpened his pencils with the grinder on display. Walt called the house on the antique butterstamp phone and switched the track from the control board near the telegraph key. The Carolwood Pacific Historical Society docents and volunteers open the barn to the public for self-guided tours and are on hand to gladly answer questions. Inside are displays of Walt Disney's trains, artifacts from Disneyland, the Los Angeles Live Steamers, of which Walt was a member, and other Disney railroad related memorabilia. It is open to the public only at the east entrance to 5200 Zoo Drive on the third Sunday of each month from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum main line track about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in length, allowing member model railroaders to operate, enjoy then store their own equipment. Because it is a fenced club on public property, LALS must provide free rides to the general public. The public entrance on the west is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. unless there is a private special event.

To enjoy trains rides provided by LALS, guests of Walt's Barn must exit and walk along Zoo Drive to the west entrance.

Since 2009, Carolwood's Lilly Belle and much of the railroad's rolling stock has been on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, along with thousands of other artifacts of Disney's life and career.

A mini-museum devoted to Walt's love of railroads is located in the Villas at Wilderness Lodge, at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Locomotive #2 Lilly Belle at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is named in honor of its Carolwood Pacific namesake. On October 21, 2003, Walt Disney World Railroad Steam Engine #3, the Roger E. Broggie was re-dedicated in honor of the late, longtime Disney Imagineer Roger Broggie, who was named a Disney Legend in 1990. Broggie apprenticed Walt as a machinist as they built the original Lilly Belle for Walt's backyard Carolwood Pacific Railroad.

In 2015, when the house built to replace Disney's was on the market for $90 million, the tunnel from the railroad was still in place.

See also


  • Broggie, Michael, (1997, 2005) Walt Disney's Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom Donning Company Publishers, Virginia Beach, Virginia, ISBN 1-56342-009-0.
  • Thomas, Bob, (1994) Walt Disney: An American Original, Disney Editions, ISBN 0-7868-6129-0.

External links