Some Disney railroad tidbits!

This story first appeared on Jim Hill Media on August 21, 2003.

Now to the story for today.

Our textbook — Walt Disney’s Railroad Story by Michael Broggie.  Checking Amazon or eBay (or even the gift shop at the Walt Disney Family Museum), you can find a copy for sale. Giving Mr. Broggie credit, this volume is a fine work. Now the book does tell the tale of Walt and his love of railroads. But only briefly is addressed is how that crossed over into movies. It doesn’t go quite far enough. A small sidebar covers “The Great Locomotive Chase” with Fess Parker, but doesn’t really tell the whole story.

That’s like offering you a fine meal, but only serving one course. Rather than have you go away hungry, allow me to serve up the rest.

In particular, we’ll be looking at three movies. The first two were made when Walt was still alive, and the last involved one of the most well know steam locomotives in the country.

Astute readers of the book may recall that Ward Kimball’s “Grizzly Flats Railroad” was a favorite of Walt’s as well. But it lacked something every railroad needs — a station building. Mr. Broggie well relates the tale of how Ward convinced Walt to give him the set pieces that made up the depot structure from the film “So Dear To My Heart”. And it tells the tale of how Ward and company assembled the pieces as best they could, matching paint. Now remember this was only a three sided set, not a real station building. Using a crane, the crew set the roof on the structure, only to have it collapse under it’s own weight. There simply wasn’t sufficient framing to hold it up.

The final result admired as the Grizzly Flats station ended up being an almost new structure using very little of the set pieces. Most notable were the doors and windows. Ward recalled later that he could have built the building from scratch for less than in finally cost him.

The book also recounts how the drawings for the station (done by Ward) ended up being used as the basis for Disneyland’s Frontierland station structure.

Photo of the train

The “E.P. Ripley”, Santa Fe & Disneyland #2 arrives on the platform
at the Frontierland Station with the Holiday One trainset.
Photo by Roger Colton.

Now what it doesn’t tell is the story of the locomotive used in the film. And considering the subject, that’s a shame. But not to worry, cause that’s a gap I’m going to fill in today.

This part of today’s tale goes way back, and into my neck of the woods, to Nevada. One of my earlier efforts told the tale of Billy Ralston and his Bank of California. In an effort to extend their control over Virginia City and the Comstock, they built a railroad. Originally conceived as the means of transporting ore from the mines to their mills for processing, it became the connection to both the East and West coasts by connecting with the Central Pacific nearby at Reno.

A new railroad needed new equipment to do the job, and the Virginia & Truckee ordered locomotives from several sources. One company was the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having experienced success with previous orders, the V&T looked to Baldwin again, and on March 22, 1875, their latest product arrived in Reno. “Inyo”, the name applied, is Indian term meaning “dwelling place of a great spirit.” It is also affixed to a lengthy mountain range and a large county in eastern California. At a cost of $9,065, she was the latest word in technology. Given the number 22 on the railroad’s roster, she served a long career. Here’s a link to more details.

The glory days of the V&T lasted as long as the ore was profitable on the Comstock. When boom turned to borrasca, many of the railroad’s locomotives were stored out of service in the great stone enginehouse in Carson City. “Inyo” was one of those, considered retired after 1926, but seeing occasional service as needed.

In what could easily be called kismet, the V&T was discovered by the folks in Hollywood. John Ford’s 1924 silent film, “The Iron Horse” made extensive use of the V&T. The use locomotives and cars from the era of the construction of the transcontinental railroad undoubtedly contributed to the first major success of Ford’s career. Yet as realistic as the location and equipment were, it wasn’t practical to send a company out there for every picture requiring a train.

So, the studios did the next best thing. They bought the train and made use of it closer to home, if not on the backlot. The “Inyo” was one of the first to go, to Paramount, appearing first in 1937’s “High, Wide and Handsome“. In 1939, she appeared in Cecil B. Demille’s “Union Pacific” (covering the same subject as Ford’s “Iron Horse, although not as well, in my opinion).

The locomotive was used in Disney’s “Great Locomotive Chase” in 1956. Filmed on location in Georgia, “Inyo” appeared in the guise of the “Texas”, while the Baltimore & Ohio’s “William Mason” (from the B&O Museum in Baltimore) did the duty as the “General”. The Museum also contributed the “Lafayette” appearing as the yard locomotive “Yonah”. This link offers more info on both and others in the B&O Museum collection. (The Museum suffered tragic damage this last winter when part of the roof of the historic roundhouse where locomotives and cars were on display collapsed under the weight of record snowfall. Luckily, both of these locomotives were not in the building at that time.)

Now for the ironic element of the story. For television’s “Wild Wild West”, the “Inyo” was one of several locomotives to appear in various views hauling the private train of Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon. This link offers a glimpse into more history of that production. (The pilot episode for the series featured the Sierra Railroad at Jamestown, California (which you might remember from another effort) and their locomotive #3, star of many other tv shows and movies — most recently as the locomotive in “Back to the Future III.”) In the recent movie version of the “Wild Wild West,” it was the “William Mason” that took the role as the locomotive on the train or the “Wanderer” as it has become known.

Among many other movie and television roles, “Inyo” appeared in “So Dear To My Heart” along with the Ward Kimball station at Fulton’s Corners. And just as the station survives (somewhat) at Ward’s Grizzly Flats Railroad, the “Inyo” survives at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.

Much of the V&T’s equipment that survived into the later years found it’s way to Hollywood. The “Inyo” and sister locomotive “Dayton” found their way to Utah’s Promontory Point (The Gold Spike National Historic Site) where they stood in for the original locomotives for the centennial of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1969.

The two locomotives from 1869, Union Pacific #119 and Central Pacific “Jupiter” were both scrapped after years of productive service on their respective railroads. In 1980, the National Park Service had replicas created by Chadwell O’Connor Engineering of Costa Mesa with assistance from Ward Kimball.

Chad O’Connor also has a Disney connection. During an afternoon of filming trains on the platform at the Southern Pacific’s Glendale station, he was approached by someone who was interested in his unique camera setup. That setup was the early version of the fluid head camera mount allowing smooth camera movements. The person he was approached by was Walt Disney, and O’Connor was hired to provide his fluid head mount (for which he later won a special Oscar for technical achievement) for Disney’s True to Life series of films.

“Dayton” was another veteran of films and was purchased by the State of Nevada along with the “Inyo” and other equipment from Paramount in 1974. Both came back to Carson City and are restored to museum standards. “Inyo” has been to many events since including the 1986 Vancouver World’s Fair. She is under steam on a regular basis, bringing her history back to life for Museum guests. The “Dayton” is now on display in Virginia City, NV, at the Comstock History Center, not far from where the railroad once ran through town.

Photo of train

At the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, “Inyo”
under steam with “Dayton” on display behind.
Photo by Roger Colton.

The “Dayton” has a further Disney connection. She was one of ten of her class built by the Central Pacific in their Sacramento shops in1873. The V&T purchased two identical locomotives from this group. One other locomotive in this group was numbered 173. That was the same locomotive that Walt Disney based his “Carolwood & Pacific” “Lilly Belle” upon using original Central Pacific construction drawings.

Moving up the timeline, how about Disney’s “Pollyanna?” You might recall that I mentioned that the location where the movie’s opening scenes were filmed. That was the Southern Pacific’s branch line to Calistoga, and today you can enjoy a trip on the Napa Wine Train to the same train station in St. Helena. The train seen in those opening and closing moments of the film? Yes, it’s still around today. The locomotive, Watertown & Eastern #94? That’s the next chapter…

In 1909, the Western Pacific Railroad was building its line from a connection with the Denver & Rio Grande and the Missouri Pacific to complete the rail empire of industrialist Jay Gould. When finished, the WP promised to open ports in the West, breaking the monopoly of the Harriman railroads — the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific. This would have the effect of opening the Pacific rim to rest of the nation as cargos could flow both in and out of the ports of San Francisco and Oakland at favorable rates.

The WP ordered new locomotives based on tried and true designs then in use on the parent railroads. Blessed by design with minimal grades, standards were adopted to keep passengers and freight moving. The new company turned to the American Locomotive Company and ordered a series of locomotives that would see service for the next forty years.

To celebrate the opening of the route, the railroad operated the “Press Representative Special” from Salt Lake to Oakland. Along with the members of the Fourth Estate were a variety of local dignitaries. Stops were made at important points along the way to offer opportunities to explore the wonders of this new route.

Of the locomotives that pulled that train, one survived on the roster of the railroad until 1964. Number 94 was one of 21 locomotives in its class. Builders #46446 was designed to pull trains of eight to ten cars at speeds up to seventy miles per hour over the railroad. It pulled the special train through the scenic Feather River canyon between Portola and Oroville in the summer of 1910. After that it was one of the workhorses of the fleet on trains such as the Scenic Limited and the Feather River Express.

WP employee Gilbert Kneiss should be given the credit for seeing to it that the railroad preserved this locomotive. When due to be retired and scrapped in 1948, he convinced railroad officials that it could be renovated and used to celebrate the 40th anniversary or Ruby Jubilee of the line’s opening. While her sisters were scrapped (as diesel electric locomotives came into service, saving costs in labor and fuel), she was to be saved for the future.

The railroad used the 94 for those anniversary celebrations and then made her available for excursions over the next few years. In 1953, she was restored to her original appearance with gold leaf for striping and lettering. The next time you watch “Pollyanna,” note the “Watertown & Eastern” lettering applied by the Disney artists for the film. After filming was completed, they reapplied the Western Pacific lettering over it. (That was the source of a great joke years later when we repainted the tender after removing the Disney lettering. On several occasions we got some kid to ask our master mechanic what Watertown & Eastern stood for. It was usually good for a quick rise as he was one of the folks who operated the sand blaster removing it!)

The last outing for the 94 again as to celebrate an anniversary, this time the 50th. She made a trip from Oakland to Niles where she was placed in the front of the California Zephyr for the final miles into Oakland. Then she sat in storage in a roundhouse with other historic equipment awaiting a museum home. Finally in 1964, she was donated to the San Francisco Maritime Museum Association for a combined rail and maritime museum project proposed for San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf Area. While waiting for that to occur, she was moved to join other equipment belonging to the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in shed near the toll plaza of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.

When the museum project fell through, she sat forgotten by most of the rail fans in the area. In the mid Seventies, the shed where she was stored was slated to be removed to allow for expansion of facilities at the Oakland Army Base/Port of Oakland. Two very dedicated volunteers from the California Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction were instrumental in convincing the Board of the Maritime Museum Association that they could restore the locomotive and several others to operation. They had already done so with one locomotive (that their museum did not fully own), and were now looking for another project. Their timing was just right.

Ross Cummings and Gerry Hanford were those two people. Ross was a specialty machinist restoring vintage racecars. Gerry was a member of a team that had restored as well as even built locomotives. (The Redwood Valley Railroad recreates railroading as it might have been on the California North Coast at the turn of the Twentieth Century, albeit in a smaller, but very accurate scale.) They lead an effort that got folks like me involved in every filthy job needed to get the 94 ready to move on her own wheels in the spring of 1979.

The WP provided a special train with a locomotive and a caboose that towed the 94 over the same rails she had seen in service for over fifty years. Arriving at Rio Vista Junction, further repairs were completed that allowed the operation under steam for the first time in almost twenty years. During those first days, we were all very proud as the 94 was quite the lady back in service, even if only on a short leash.

Photo of train

At speed on the Museum mainline in 1980.
Photo by Roger Colton.

Now locomotives are just like other machines and they do wear out. The stresses of operation take their toll. Such was the case with the 94. She last operated in the summer of 1989 on a special train for a potential donor.

Her last complete overhaul was in 1949 by the WP. While we were able to do some repairs at the Museum, it was simply time for a more involved restoration. The boiler shell needed to be checked for soundness. The boiler tubes and flues were at the end of their lifetimes. Replacement was the only option. And we were noting other signs of age as well that could no longer be ignored. But things changed focus. Today the locomotive is on display at the head of a static passenger train display in the Museum’s display barn.

The last locomotive in this story was one of the major players in the Touchstone production of “Tough Guys” with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. Filmed on location in the Taylor Yard complex of the Southern Pacific in Los Angeles and on the Kaiser Steel railroad near Fontana, this train was as much a part of history as the “Gold Coast Flyer” it portrayed.

The Southern Pacific Railroad offered passenger service along the California coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the days before Highway 101 or Interstate 5, and before the advent of air travel, the Espee was the only way for many travelers to get to their destinations. Following the route established by the Spanish with their Missions, the railroad travels for 113 miles along the shore of the Pacific Ocean. As the Depression was coming to an end, the president of the railroad looked for ways to increase passenger traffic. Equipping the premier train in 1939 with new cars and locomotives in an attractive paint scheme of red, orange and black, the “Coast Daylight” was an overwhelming success. So much so that extra sections of the train were sold out as well! (While I don’t know for certain, it is very possible that Walt might have ridden on the “Daylight” or one of the other trains of the Coast route at some point, perhaps pulled by one of those new locomotives.)

My mother has many fond memories of riding the streetcar from her home on San Francisco’s Twenty-Ninth Avenue to the downtown station of the Southern Pacific at Third and Townsend Streets (today the location of Pacific Bell Park — home of the San Francisco Giants!) to board the “Daylight” for the ride to San Luis Obispo to spend time with her maternal grandparents. It was exciting for everyone, not just young girl! A particular highlight was a meal in the dining car, served on the railroads Prairie Mountain Wildflower china with silver and linen as well.

The locomotives ordered for the train were the latest in superpower technology. Produced by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, they were streamlined and fast. Called the Golden State or GS classes, there were over 60 of these destined for service across the Espee system. From the premiere passenger train, they went to secondary trains, then to commute service between San Francisco and San Jose, and finally into freight service. (My great grandfather’s last trip as an engineer was made aboard one pulling a mail train from Carlin to Sparks, Nevada in 1950.) The last one was replaced by diesel locomotives in 1958. Two were saved for museums. One went to St Louis, Missouri and the other to Portland, Oregon. It looked like a quiet retirement for both.

In the early Seventies, a group was looking for ways to celebrate the upcoming Bicentennial of the United States. One concept had a train traveling the country to exhibit rare artifacts for the nation’s past, including the Declaration of Independence. Rather than simply use diesel locomotives from the current railroads, they decided to look around the country for a steam locomotive with enough historic significance to be part of the exhibits it’s self. A team traveled to country looking at many potential candidates. In the end, they chose two – one from the east and one from the west. The western choice? One of those two remaining Daylight steam locomotives. Number 4449, in Portland, Oregon, was restored to operating condition.

Painted red, white and blue, she traveled east from to join the train in 1975 and toured a good deal of the country ending up in Florida in 1977. To get home to Portland, she carried the “Amtrak Transcontinental Steam Excursion”, making day trips between cities along the way. In 1981, she was repainted into her distinctive “Daylight” colors and traveled to Sacramento for the opening celebrations for the California State Railroad Museum. (As an amusing side note, the Western Pacific 94 was specifically not invited to participate, but was in operation under steam less than twenty five miles away, during the festivities.)

In 1984, she was again under steam with a complete train. The “World’s Fair Daylight” traveled from Portland to New Orleans along the Espee route, again carrying passengers on day trips.

For “Tough Guys”, she traveled down in early 1986 to Los Angeles. Her engineer, Doyle McCormack, even has a speaking role as the train’s engineer. “No one robs trains anymore.” The Disney studio folks built two replicas of the 4449 for the movie. One was a full size replica of the locomotive cab’s interior that rode on a flatcar. It was easier to film than in the real cab. The other replica was a full-size mock-up for the scenes at the end of the film where the train crashes through the fence at the Mexican border. (Not to worry, they used a miniature for the very convincing action scenes.) The replica appeared after the incident, complete with the following dialogue: “Gee, we wrecked their train.” “Well, they weren’t going to use it any more anyway.” As much of a train enthusiast as Walt was, I know he would have enjoyed it.

Photo of train

The “Gold Coast Flyer” in the Espee’s Taylor Yard in 1986.
Photo collection of Roger Colton.

I chased the train both down to San Luis Obispo with Jeff Ferris and another railfan (who will remain anonymous, as he’s still working on a railroad) and then back from Los Angeles several months later. That was quick a shock to my wife to be as she later learned that I had been out doing this the week before we were getting married. (Seventeen years later she still hasn’t forgiven me.)

The 4449 has appeared on various excursions since that time. In 2002, she was repainted into her Freedom Train colors and made several trips out of Portland. Currently, the locomotive is undergoing its 15 year federally mandated maintenance,  now as part of the core collection of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation.

So there you have it. More tales about railroads and Disney films.


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