My recent trip to Walt Disney World for the kickoff of its 50th Anniversary celebration was a special time all the way round. My wife and I were joined by my daughter and son-in-law for 5 days and four nights of non-stop fun, food, and memories.
With a solid passion for Disney history, I was certainly an outlier of the tens of thousands who began lining up at the gates as early as 4 a.m. on October 1. (Note: I didn’t line up that early – my wife and I walked over from the Contemporary Resort at a much more respectable 7:30 a.m.).
Unlike the majority of Guests there, I wasn’t driven to acquire the large assortment of special anniversary merchandise (more to come on this in a future post).
I was there to celebrate an extraordinary achievement of the vision of Walt Disney, culminating in the efforts of thousands of team members for over six years: the creation of Walt Disney World.
The realtime thoughts and images of the 50th Anniversary kickoff were documented on my Instagram account.
I will continue to unpack that day here as well as on Guest Experience Design.
Even with all the good memories, I did have one major disappointment. I even knew it was coming, but was hoping for a last-minute big surprise.
Alas, it didn’t materialize.
Most of the crowd present at Magic Kingdom didn’t even miss it, which is sad.
Because without this one attraction, Disney parks as we know them wouldn’t exist.
And in my opinion, this “miss” for me was indicative of a bigger miss throughout the day.
The creation story of Disneyland, the first “theme” park in the world and the model for all Disney parks to follow, is somewhat clouded.
Depending on who is telling it, or even when it is told, the origins of Disneyland can start with a park bench, model making, boredom, or a boyhood fascination with trains.
There is a measure of truth to all of them. It is certain is that all of these influences in the life of Walt Disney contributed to the resulting creation.
Personally, I lean toward Walt’s love of trains as the primary inspiration for Disneyland.
His small-scale fascination led to a full-scale kingdom.Michael Broggie, Walt Disney’s Railroad Story
As a bona fide Disney fan, focusing on the history of the man and the company that bears his name (especially from the late 1920s to the mid-1960s), I can trace “railroad” stories from Walt (and about Walt) that reinforce this.
Those railroad stories could (and do) fill several books – the best of which is Walt Disney’s Railroad Story, by Michael Broggie.
It’s a fascinating book, and when the author knew of Walt Disney as “Uncle Walt,” and had the enviable role as a teenager to assist Walt in the operation of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad (Disney’s personal, rideable miniature railroad in the backyard of his home), you know the stories are going to be memorable, filled with detail, and a fascinating read.
You see, Michael Broggie’s father Roger E. Broggie, was a precision machinist who joined the Disney Studios in 1939. Broggie’s accomplishments at the studio were wide-ranging, but in the early 1950s he was promoted to the head of the Disney Studios’ Machine Shop, where he became a transportation specialist.
And where did he fine-tune the skills needed to create all the unique transportation vehicles found at Disneyland and later at Walt Disney World?
In building Walt Disney’s backyard railroad.
On the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.
The Carolwood Pacific Railroad (CPRR) was a 7 1/4-inch gauge ridable miniature railroad run by Walt Disney in the backyard of his home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.
It featured the Lilly Belle, a 1:8-scale live steam locomotive named after Disney’s wife, Lillian Disney, and built by the Walt Disney Studios’ machine shop. The locomotive made its first test run on December 24, 1949. It pulled a set of freight cars, as well as a caboose that was almost entirely built by Disney himself.
It was Disney’s lifelong fascination with trains, as well as his interest in miniature models, that led to the creation of the CPRR. The railroad, which became operational in 1950, was a half-mile long and encircled his house. The backyard railroad attracted visitors to Disney’s home; he invited them to ride and occasionally drive his miniature train.
With the creation of a personal railroad, Disney’s next step could only be designing and building the real thing.
Research into the earliest development of Disney’s “park” reveals a constant: the presence of a railroad with a steam engine pulling cars that people could ride in.
So, any visit to a Disney theme park for me must include a ride on the Disney Railroad.
Unfortunately, at Walt Disney World, the railroad has been out of commission since 2018 for the pandemic-delayed construction of the TRON Lightcycle Run, a new attraction coming to the Magic Kingdom in 2022. The train tracks have been rerouted, through the Lightcycle attraction inside a tunnel, according to information released by Disney in concept art.
I knew that any surprise announcement that the train would be running on October 1 was unlikely, but it wasn’t until I rode the People Mover early that morning and saw the view of the dismantled train tracks, plainly visible where they would run through the future Lightcycle attraction, that the disappointment set in.
In the meantime, the train is available as the perfect backdrop for a memorable photo at different places in the park.
For me, “the perfect backdrop” of a static display is a far cry from the swaying motion of the train as it circles the park.
The way Walt Disney dreamed about it from the time he was a young boy…
…until he made it happen.
This (somewhat) detailed explanation of a personal miss for me highlights a bigger missed opportunity for Disney during the opening days of their 18-month long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World –