Walt Disney’s fascination with trains began at an early age. While living in Marceline, Missouri, Walt would put his ear to the train tracks to listen for any trains that might be coming. Walt’s uncle, Michael Martin worked as a steam locomotive engineer, adding to young Walt’s interest in trains. As a teenager, Walt Disney had a job with the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway where he sold newspapers and snacks. He loved having the chance to work on the trains and see the country.
As you may know, Walt’s interest in locomotives did not end when he became an adult. Two of Walt’s Nine Old Men at the animation studio had locomotives in their backyards. Ward Kimball’s backyard was home to Grizzly Flats Railroad, a full-size locomotive on a 3 acre railroad. Animator Ollie Johnston had a 1″ scale railroad in his backyard, complete with three 1/12 scale locomotives. Walt was inspired by these backyard railroads to built his own backyard railroad, The Carolwood Pacific.
In 1949, the Disney’s moved into a new home on Carolwood Drive in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. When Walt first saw the property, he expressed that the large backyard “will do.” His wife, Lillian, said that Walt already had the idea to built a backyard railroad when they purchased the house. Walt, along with the help of Ward Kimball, started construction on his 1/8 scale live steam locomotive. Once completed, The Carolwood Pacific Railroad consisted of over 2,000 feet of track. The railroad was complete with loops, crossings, and a 46 foot long trestle. Walt also wanted to include railroad track going through the flower beds; however Lillian disapproved of the idea. Instead, Walt constructed a 90 foot long S-shaped tunnel underneath the flower beds. He also built a small barn in which to house his trains.
The Carolwood Pacific Railroad served as inspiration for the design of Disneyland. The first designs Walt created for his theme park included a live steam railroad encircling the park. This element was included in every revision of the park’s design and eventually took shape as the Disneyland Railroad. Ward Kimball’s Grizzly Flats train station served as the model for the Frontierland Train Station in Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom. As a tribute to Ward, Engine No. 5 of the Disneyland Railroad is named Ward Kimball.
Walt Disney’s love of train has now extended into many Disney theme parks. At Tokyo Disneyland, guests can take a scenic train ride on the Western River Railroad. A train can also be found encircling the Magic Kingdoms at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland.