Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Belles & Whistles of Railroad Royalty

owdy, pawt-nahs! Imagine, if you will, the excitement of being able to sit in a PeopleMover car once again, or being allowed one quick run-through of Fantasyland’s Skyway Swiss chalet. I still recall the overwhelming sensation of stepping down into a Submarine in 2007 like it was yesterday! The PeopleMover cars, Skyway buckets, Submarines, Motor Boats, Rocket Jets… These are all vessels from our dear Magic Kingdom I think we all miss. Chariots of childhood wonderment and nostalgia which carry us back through retired adventures and a soft spot in our hearts before coming to a full and complete stop. 

Then there are such vehicles which I sadly missed entirely. Being a Disneyland fan born in the 80’s, I am haunted by the ghosts of attractions past, spellbound by what mysteries lied beyond the tunnels of the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland and the swinging doors of Fantasyland’s original dark rides. I can’t tell you what I wouldn’t give to step aboard an Atomobile or climb to the deck of the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship. Now imagine again, if you will, stepping into an opening day Disneyland relic which hasn’t been in the park for almost 40 years…

We here at ‘… But It Wasn’t Always That Way’ have a pretty good imagination when it comes to time-traveling, but it’s rare that we get to truly see and feel and experience one of Mr. Disney’s actual toys from the past. On Sunday, May 6th, Ginger and I headed down to the Fullerton Railroad Days, along with – and many thanks to – our friend, TokyoMagic!. There, visitors were lucky enough to walk through two of Disneyland’s original railroad cars, one of which that has not graced the Magic Kingdom’s circle tour since 1974!

Railroad Days had been an annual event in the past, but 2012 welcomed it back after a 3-year hiatus. With those who had been patiently waiting, and those of us who had never been, you can bet yer bottom dollar there was plenty of excitement and steam in the air!

There was so much to see and enjoy at this expo – my late grandfather, a train aficionado, would have been in hog heaven - and yet as we moseyed
Tony Baxter, fellow Fair-goer
(and head-honcho Disney Imagineer)
through, passing historic artifacts, models, rides, and funnel cake, we had… well, one-track minds. Perched on a small stretch of track, with two arched dome roofs gleaming in the distance, brilliantly colored (as is typical of anything found in Mr. Disney’s park) in yellow, green, and burgundy… There were the Lilly Belle and the Combine Car, sitting as plain as the nose on your face. We could barely gaze at the cars through the crowd, afraid that looking directly at them would cause some kind of fanatic blindness or that the awe might prove to be too staggering.

To provide a quick backstory briefing, the Combine and Lily Belle were former passenger cars from the original Disneyland Railroad, in use from the park’s opening in ’55 until ’74. The Combine (named so because of its combination of passenger service and luggage room) retired and found a new home by Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park, cared for by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society. The Lilly Belle is a converted luxury Presidential coach – formerly a yellow passenger car named “The Grand Canyon” – which has been used off and on to host special Disneyland guests (this could even include you, if you ask politely….), and is still in service today.
(Please visit the above in-text links for more information on these train cars’ meritable history.)

All passengers... BOOOOOAAAAAARRRD!
Approaching with caution, we made our way up to a surprisingly short queue. I looked around at the passing crowd. They were chattering, wandering, eating their churros, seemingly unaware of the precious treasure of Americana in front of us, hiding right under their noses. We practically had these cars to ourselves.

Can't you just hear spiel pouring out of the speaker? I sure can!
No detailed description of being inside these vestiges would do justice to the overpowering sensation you get. You’re surrounded by history. You’re inside of it. The aura of a time long-gone is all around. You can see it, breathe it, even touch it. We certainly did. I especially appreciated the school bus-like leather seats in the Combine and Ginger was overjoyed that the green leather matched her purse, exactly.
Moving on – as we had to with the Carolwood clan scooting us along – we ceremoniously trekked into the Lilly Belle. 

The Presidential treatment, c/o our First Lady of Disneyland.
Depths seldom seen by man.
Touching is believing.

It was every bit as chic as one could imagine. The stained glass lining the ceiling, the ‘cranberry’ glass artifacts adoring the tables (Of particular interest were Mr. Disney’s favorite books, one ironically being “Time Machine”), the lighting fixtures, Lillian’s very own embroidery (textile? tapestry?) on display... There was a lot to soak in, especially without the benefit of the usual 20-minute excursion.

In true Disney fashion, we were spilled out the back of the train into a plot of treasures, as valued and special as the train cars themselves. Immediately in front of us, waiting for our company, destined for us to finally be as one in predestined kismet…. The Kalamazoo. Mr. Disney’s hand car – commonly perched between Main Street Railroad Station and Mickey’s floral noggin – has a long history at the park since 1957 and continues to welcomes guests to Disneyland every day, with its arm up on one side as though it’s waving us in! One of the greatest moments in its history was when it ‘eased’ Michael Jackson ‘on down the road’ in Disneyland's 25th Anniversary special, and as you know we also have a great affinity for the King of Pop.

Here we come, lookit us roll!
Another artifact to behold was the original boiler of the E.P. Ripley. That’s the very first, ladies and gents. Here are the guts and muscles that famously carried Mr. Disney around his brand new playground on July 17th, 1955. We were even told he fired up this bad boy himself that momentous morning. Whether that’s true or not is a bit hard to determine, as information about this boiler is scarce. I even had a hard time finding an announcement of its presence at the event or review of its existence in blog form or otherwise. .. But it was there, sure as you’re born, and by gum we appreciated the heck out of this historically significant token. We even touched it with our own four hands…….. several times.

Our cup boileth over.
Another five rounds or so through the train cars (the wonderfully friendly, informative Carolwood and Disneyland folk who were on-hand told us we had beaten the record for repeat visits… *pumps fist*), a Carolwood Foundation donation
Lilly Belle greases me with her coupler,
introduces new kind of joy.
later, and our day at the fair was complete. We did what any good little one-track-minded ‘locos’ would do and scooted our way down to the park to hop aboard the Railroad for what was quite possibly the most triumphant Grand Circle Tour of our lives. Perhaps that’s overselling it a bit, but my titillation for “Walt’s Disneyland” persistently takes on a life of its own. For example, I originally intended for this entry to simply be a photographic show-and-tell report. My apologies for the delay in posting, but – as these vessels have shown us – time is nonlinear, and any treasure of Mr. Disney’s is timeless.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent description of what was the perfect day! :-)