Carolwood Pacific Railroad

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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 Los Angeles, California.

Carolwood Pacific Railroad
The original layout of Disney'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 and replaced.
Reporting mark CP
Locale Los Angeles, California
Dates of operation 1950–1953
Track gauge 7 14 in (184 mm)
Length 12 mile (0.8 km)
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. Disney 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 12-mile (0.8-kilometer)-long, 1/8 scale miniature railroad. This inspired him 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[edit]

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, Disney launched construction of a 1/8 scale live steam locomotive, rolling stock such as gondolas and a caboose, trackage, and a small storage barn modeled in miniature from one in Marceline, Missouri of his youth.[citation needed]

The locomotive was patterned after the Central Pacific #173, a historic wood-burning engine brought aboard ship from the East Coast "around the Horn" and assembled in California to begin construction of the transcontinental railroad eastward through the Rocky Mountains.[citation needed] To keep the initials identical on the CP #173, he named his railroad the "Carolwood Pacific", in reference to his residential location on Carolwood Drive.

A total length of 2,615 feet (797 m) of railway track circled the house, looped and crossed, with turnouts, gradients, a trestle 46-foot (14 m) long, overpasses, and an elevated dirt berm. Lillian Disney was supportive of her husband's train hobby, although she vetoed a track through her flower beds, causing him instead to install a 90 ft (27 m) "S" curved tunnel beneath them.

Steam locomotive[edit]

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 sixth-scale drawings, based on the CP 173's specifications which were found in a warehouse of the railroad's old company records, and Disney himself spent many hours building parts for this engine, such as the smoke stack, the flagpoles, and other small parts.[citation needed] However, most of the precision machining was done by studio technicians. On each side of the cab, the locomotive was labeled 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 can pull many cars carrying passengers around the track. The caboose was used for carrying the brakeman, and special attention was paid to its interior by Disney, who fabricated many of its details, including miniature magazines cut from back issue order forms pasted on cardboard then feathered at the edges, and a miniature cast iron pot-bellied stove which he advertised for sale in model railroad magazines.[citation needed]

Walt Disney's barn[edit]

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 signalling lights on the control panel indicate the presence of a train in a particular track segment and update the signals accordingly.

The barn was also a place where Disney retreated when needing to relax or develop new ideas.[citation needed]

A predecessor to Disney theme parks[edit]

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

The first train officially ran on the Carolwood Pacific Railroad on May 15, 1950. Disney 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 working on and tinkering with his train.

The backyard railroad is credited with being part of his inspiration for the creation of Disneyland, first of the Walt Disney company theme parks. The first designs included a full-scale live steam railroad that circled the park, a design feature which was retained in each iteration and was finally built around the finished project in Anaheim, California. The existence of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in Disney's backyard first became widely known to the outside world in the publicity relating to the opening of Disneyland in 1955. In an 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 Disney aboard the Lilly Belle was filmed transporting the audience as a "vehicle" to establish new locations.[citation needed] To this day, folks will swear that there are little engines which transport cast members throughout the theme park.[dubious ][citation needed]

Walt Disney personally owned Retlaw ("Walter", spelled backwards) which operated the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad franchise, as well as the facsimile steamboat Mark Twain at Disneyland.[citation needed] Cast members of the railroad, the Viewliner, and later the Monorail, had their paychecks personally signed by him. 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.[citation needed]

More than 50 years since Disneyland opened, Disney's love of railroads has 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.

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


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 later re-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 (LALS) Railroad Museum at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

With the exception of a cedar shake roof which was replaced with fire-safe shingles, 98% of the barn is original.[citation needed] Disney shaved in the mirror and basin, washed his hands with the Boraxo dispenser, and sharpened his pencils with the grinder on display. He telephoned the house on the antique butterstamp[further explanation needed] phone, and operated the track switches 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 answer questions. Inside are displays of Walt Disney's trains, plus artifacts from Disneyland, LALS (of which Walt was a member), and other Disney railroad-related memorabilia. The barn is open to the public only at the east entrance to 5200 Zoo Drive, on the third Sunday of each month from 11am until 3pm.

The LALS mainline track is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in length, allowing member model railroaders to operate, enjoy, and then store their own equipment. Because it is an enclosed private club located on public property, LALS must periodically provide free rides to the general public.[citation needed] The public entrance on the west is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11am until 3pm, unless there is a private special event. To enjoy trains rides provided by LALS, guests of Walt's Barn must first exit and then walk along Zoo Drive to the west entrance.

Since 2009, Carolwood Pacific'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, including several pieces of rolling stock from the Carolwood Pacific, is located in the Villas at Wilderness Lodge, at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

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

As of 2015, when the house built to replace Disney's residence was on the market for $90 million, the tunnel from the railroad was still in place.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  • 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[edit]