The Viewliner

BACKSTORY (June 26, 1957–Sept. 15, 1958): A narrow gauge, miniature train that operated alongside parts of the Disneyland Railroad main line. It was billed by as “the fastest miniature train in the world.” Two separate trains, designed and built as scale replicas of General Motors’ futuristic Aerotrain, traveled along a figure-eight track through parts of Tomorrowland & Fantasyland. Conceived as a way to take up the space vacated by the Mickey Mouse Club Circus, Bob Gurr was tasked by Walt with designing this train of the future which was intentionally conceived to be a short-term attraction that would bite the dust once a better form of transportation would come to fruition. Walt's idea of a train came about because "trains are cheap," as he told Bob Gurr. The track would not mean very much of an investment. Gurr sketched an engine design “inspired by” General Motors’ 1955 Aerotrain. As Gurr related the story to me, he had seen the Aerotrain and been inspired by it, but didn't know until later who had designed it (Chuck Jordan). Gurr changed the front end slightly by intersecting two ovals to house the headlights (The Aerotrain had all its lights in one oval) and streamlined the sides of the passenger cars with channeled chrome that ran the length of the train. The engine and top of the passenger cars were painted in matching colors; the Tomorrowland Train in red, the Fantasyland one in blue.

The Viewliner’s passenger cars were built by outside vendors while Gurr built the engines using Oldsmobile “Rocket” V8 gasoline engines and the parts from two 1954 Oldsmobiles. Oldsmobile also furnished the windscreen, doors, and instrument console for each of the two 5,000-pound (2,300 kg) locomotives. Gurr was still putting out fires (literally) the morning of the Viewliner premiere. For the inaugural trip, the band played while Walt jumped in the engine and drove off, with Gurr in a new uniform sewn together the night before.

The Tomorrowland train featured cars that were named for the planets, while the cars of the Fantasyland train were named after various Disney characters. The trains were placed into service to represent the future of rail travel, in contrast to the steam-powered DLRR which represented its past. The attraction operated until construction began on the Matterhorn and Submarine Voyage; the Disneyland Monorail System ultimately took the place of the Viewliner in June of 1959, making it one of the shortest-lived attractions in Disneyland history.

Here is the text from the original Viewliner sign:

Specifications of the Santa Fe and Disneyland Viewliner

The Viewliner is built on the principle of an interurban express train of the future. Incorporating the features of articulated cars and low center of gravity which enables it to maneuver curves at high speed scale 1/2 full size. Guage of track: 30 inches. 30 mph The Viewliner is traveling the equivalent of 120 mph in a full scale train. The Viewliner is capable of 60 mps or 240 mph full scale.

LOCOMOTIVE...An 0-4-4-0 Type...Weight: 5,000 lbs. Powered by a gasoline engine with an automatic transmission the 8 wheel drive enables The Viewliner to reach peak acceleration in 15 seconds.

COACHES...Built of aluminum on steel frames...weight: 1600 lbs. ea. Each coach is equipped with 2 speedometers calibrated to the scale-speed of the train. Communication speakers and automatic electric doors are controlled by the engineer.

SAFETY FEATURES...Vacuum operated brakes on every wheel. Electronic block signal system automatically applies brakes if train runs through a red light.

The Viewliner was designed, engineered and assembled at the Walt Disney Studio, Burbank, California.