Walt Disney and His Love of Trains

December 8, 2016

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

~Walt Disney

Quite often when life gives one lemons, one thinks to make lemonade; but, it isn’t always the easiest to actually make the lemonade. Walt Disney was the exception.

The Early Years

Born in 1901, Walt grew up in Marceline, Missouri, where railroads were more popular than they are today. Back in the Early 20th Century, railroads were deep-rooted as the primary mode of transportation, making their way to every small community and area of country, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. The first 20 years of the century signaled the railroad industry’s culmination in terms of size and reach; it wasn’t until 1920 that the rails slowly lost their following. It was while the railroad was booming that Walt’s father was a railroad mechanic and his uncle a steam locomotive engineer. Walt himself worked on the railroad; his first job was selling newspapers, candy, and fruits on the Atchison, Santa Fe, and Topeka Railways.

Even at a young age, Walt was always curious, always desiring more. In addition to trains, he also had a love for cartoons and cartooning. After working in France during World War I as an ambulance driver and with just $40 in his pocket, Walt boarded a train to California to start a partnership with his brother Roy in the world of animation. Though there were some highs, in New York in 1928, Walt suffered a great loss; as a result of a bad business deal, he lost the rights to Oswald the Rabbit.

Bankruptcy and Mickey Mouse

Like he says in his quote above, Walt kept moving forward, even during bankruptcy. During a train ride back to California, with his wife Lillian, Walt thought up the beginning of what would be one of the biggest animated characters of all time, Mortimer Mouse. Lillian was actually the one that thought of the idea of Mickey because she felt the name Mortimer to be too formal. With that, a new door had officially opened and an empire began.


Lionel Train Set and the Lilly Belle

The constant during all of this time? Walt’s Lionel train set. The special place for this train set was in his office; every day he surrounded himself with his two favorite things:  trains and animation.

In the 1940s, competition grew within Walt as he learned that two of his animators, Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston, had backyard railroads. As a result of this new knowledge, Walt had to have a miniature railroad as well. The railroad was entitled the Carolwood Pacific and the engine the “Lilly Belle”. It was after the popularity of his backyard attraction, consisting of his neighbors, daughter’s friends, and even strangers that Walt reminisced on the trips he used to take with his daughters to amusement parks. These thoughts led to a new type of theme park in which he said, “I just want it to look like nothing else in the world…and it should be surrounded by a train.”


Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom Park

It was on July 17, 1955, after much persistence to his skeptical wife and brother, when Walt’s dream became a reality and Disneyland Park opened for business.

As the park developed into a phenomenal success, Walt dreamt further and ultimately of a park in Florida. For this park, Roger Broggie, the man Walt hired to build the Carolwood Pacific, was put in charge of finding the trains, real locomotives this time; he found them in Merida, Mexico. The four locomotives Broggie found became the:  Walter E. Disney, the Lilly Belle, the Roger E. Broggie, and Roy O. Disney. However, prior to their release, Walt passed away as a result of lung cancer on December 15, 1966.


On October 1, 1971, thanks to Walt’s brother Roy fulfilling the mission, Magic Kingdom Park opened for business and the four locomotives had their first riders.

For his entire life, Walt was always curious, always desiring more. Walt kept walking through the open doors and opening them when they were closed, doing new things, and moving forward. What kept Walt consistently humble was his love of trains; being humble was what made him the success he was and the legacy he created.

“If you dream it, you can do it.”

~Walt Disney

As featured on Fairytale Adventures Travel on December 8, 2016.

One thought on “Walt Disney and His Love of Trains

  1. Pingback: Walt Disney World Park Spotlight: Epcot Part 1 – Magical Parks and Beyond

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