The Lilly Belle

BACKSTORY: After a visit to Greenfield Village in Michigan (a park where you can experience the history of Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, and more), Walt was inspired to build his own miniature steam-powered train in his backyard with the help of Roger Broggie from the Disney Studio Machine Shop. He called it The Lilly Belle, after his wife Lillian. Walt titled his railroad company The Carolwood Pacific (his house was on Carolwood Drive). Walt loved working with miniatures, and actually did all the work on the caboose, seen below. Walt's Lilly Belle model was on display at Disneyland until sometime in the late 1990’s or so when Lillian Disney requested it be returned to the family. The duplicate, often known as Lilly Belle II, is the one that is on display at Main Street Station at Disneyland currently. Walt had begun a second engine for his Carolwood Pacific Railroad, but put it aside without getting too far on it. It was to be a 4-6-0 engine, instead of a 4-4-0 like the Lilly Belle. Tokyo Disneyland wanted to display the original Lilly Belle in their Disney Gallery for an exhibit on Disneyland's 40th anniversary in 1995, but the engine was still committed to Disneyland at the time. So the decision was made to have Roger Broggie Jr. complete the second engine, modifyingit to be a 4-4-0 as a copy of the original, for display at Tokyo. That second engine is the one now on display at Disneyland, as the original Lilly Belle is at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Interior caboose photos courtesy of Mike Bronstein.


BACKSTORY: The original Grand Canyon Car (#106) was an observation car that was taken out of regular commission with the other passenger cars (known as Retlaw 1 & Holiday 1) in 1966, due to the fact that it was difficult to see the Grand Canyon Diorama with the positioning of the seats. They were only used when it rained (because they were enclosed) and were mainly just rotting away in the back of the roundhouse the rest of the time. Ken Kohler, the roundhouse superintendent, suggested that #106 be converted into a Bicentennial VIP car, so in July 1974 (about the same time Santa Fe dropped their sponsorship of the Disneyland Railroad), it began its transformation into the Victorian themed Lilly Belle as the rest of the passenger/observation cars were officially retired. The first guest to ride the newly built Lilly Belle coach on September 1st, 1976 was Emperor Hirohito of Japan. For a time, Walt’s original caboose from his backyard Lilly Belle model railroad was on display inside this Bicentennial Parlour Car. By the 1990’s the Lilly Belle was suffering from dry rot/termite damage, and was eventually pulled from the line in 2002. Current Disneyland Resort President Matt Ouimet was instrumental in having her restored by Tim LaGaly & his crew, and the Lilly Belle was back on the line on December 7th, 2005: 64 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. When Disneyland became a publicly traded company, Lillian Disney removed a number of personal mementos from the Lily Belle (as well as Walt’s apartment above the Town Square Fire Department) stating “We're a publicly traded company now..and these things are MINE, not the companys’.” Thanks to Mike Bronstein for supplying the 1970’s photos below.


Mike Bronstein photoThe Lilly Belle caboose was placed in the VIP Car along with the other things from the opening of Disneyland. As you can see in the photos above, it was in the center of the car. Ken [Kohler] even opened it up so I could get a shot of the interior. Ken had told me they wanted to have a special railcar for Dignitaries and such (there was a signature book with the Emperor of Japan’s signature in it). He took us out in the Lilly Belle on one occasion and I snapped pictures of Walt’s Caboose and several of the pictures on the wall [see below]. Ken had the opening day cars hidden under tarps in the back shops when I visited him in the late 70’s; that’s when the pictures in the VIP car (above and below) were taken. Ken once told me, “Walt told me to take the damn things off the track (the passenger cars, Retlaw 1) because they were hard to load and unload quickly. I asked him, ‘Why don’t we place them in the shops and use them when the place gets crowded?’ Walt yelled, ‘KOHLER…I TOLD YOU TO TAKE THOSE DAMN THINGS OFF!!!’” You didn’t mess around with Walt Disney; when he said take them off, you did it or got your butt kicked! The 4-4-0 American Lilly Belle model from Walt’s backyard was once on display at WDW. It was in a large display case at the WD Story; the gondola and boxcar were there, too, with a picture of his backyard painted as a background mural.