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A Different look at Disney...

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(In case you missed the previous installments in this series, you can access part one at this link, and part two here at this link.)

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As described in the November 15, 1996 issue of the Disneyland Line, "Last September, the Lilly Belle presidential car of the Disneyland Railroad…was pulled off-line and put into rehab to restore and improve both the exterior and interior of the car, bringing it up to a 'presidential' level." The restoration team consisted of Main Street Attractions Assistant Managers Steve Arneson and Pro Trias; John McClure, and folks from Decorating, including Christine Goosman in Concept/Show Design, and members of the Disneyland Design Studio, including Kim Irvine, Tracey Sheldon, Bill Moore, Tracy Trinast and Michael Volchok.


Disney Store Trivia Contestants relax aboard the Lilly Belle.
Photo by Matt Walker

Externally, the car's platforms were repainted, and yellow safety tape was applied to the steps. Internally, the furniture was reupholstered, and a new carpet was installed. According to the Line, "Several new personal pictures of Walt Disney and his family from the Disney Archives are on display. Many of the original lamps were replaced or repaired to their original appearance, and silk roses and old-fashioned luggage were added to the decor."


A photo of Walt, surrounded by daughters Sharon and
Diane, graced one of the Lilly Belle's walls.
Photo by Matt Walker.

After this rehab, the car soldiered on several more years. But with every passing year, a new problem was festering under the surface: Dry Rot. The car's wooden construction had survived decades of use, but now, the effects of moisture were beginning to take their toll. The exterior wood was becoming brittle and fragile, and in the late 1990s the car was once again removed from the line.


One of the few products manufactured to commemorate the Lilly
Belle
. This is a large-scale car produced by model train manufacturer LGB.

Unfortunately, those in charge of the Park were not too keen on spending a veritable trainload of money to restore a car that few guests would ever experience. Even some pragmatic roundhouse cast members considered the car "dead weight" that added unnecessary tonnage to their trains, continuing to tax their already maxed-out little locomotives. And so, once again, the stately observation car of the Disneyland Railroad was quietly stored away, out of sight, in the back of the roundhouse. There she remained, partially dismantled and windows boarded up, for several years, seemingly forgotten.


The plywood paneling behind the E.P. Ripley's old boiler conceals the decrepit Lilly
Belle
in this photo by Preston Nirattisai. The plywood
was nailed directly to the car sides.

Various proposals by cast members to work on the car themselves came and went, and were sometimes the cause of inter-union disputes. Who should rebuild the car? The roundhouse crew, who primarily belonged to boiler or machinist unions, or Disney's union carpenters? All the while, the car continued to deteriorate, with one cast member commenting that the wood siding was so depleted in some areas that he could easily "put a finger" though the material.

Many guests may not have missed the car, but there were a significant number of knowledgeable fans who wondered about the beloved car that had so much history. Frequently, Disney-oriented Internet message boards had threads that asked "What's the condition of the Lilly Belle?" or "Where's the Lilly Belle?" Clearly, folks missed her.


This is a shot of the Lilly Belle as she sat in darkness in the back of the roundhouse
in early 2005. The window frames have been removed and can be seen strewn on
the chair in the foreground. You can see the thick layer of dust coating nearly
every surface of the car. Photo courtesy Preston Nirattisai.

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© 2008 Steve DeGaetano

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