Part One of this story is at this
The cars Walt Disney built for his Santa Fe & Disneyland
passenger train were authentic in nearly all respects.
They, like the rest of the Disney trains, were built around a single dimension.
A large blackboard had been set up in the Studio annex, where the Imagineers
sketched a drawing of a full-size passenger car – ten feet wide, with a six
foot, eight-inch tall doorway. Then, they reduced the size of the drawing to
get a six-foot door.
Walt, standing five feet, ten inches tall, felt that if he
could pass through a six-foot-tall door, then anyone could. So, the door
dimensions of the cars were set at exactly six feet. The width of the cars came
next, and then the length, resulting in cars that were nearly 38 feet long, and
seven feet wide.
Imagineer Bob Gurr came up with the overall design of the
cars, which were meant to appear as typical wooden cars of the mid-1880s (some
sources suggest the cars were based on actual Santa Fe car designs of the
period, but to date, no hard evidence has surfaced to back this up). Draftsman
Eddie Sargeant, beginning August 14, 1954, prepared the working blueprints for
the cars. The passenger cars soon took on the nickname "Retlaw 1," of course
referring to Walt by spelling his name backwards.
The cars of Disneyland's first passenger train
under construction in a studio sound stage.
The combine is at the far left. Photo courtesy Michael Broggie.
Construction of the cars soon began in one of the Walt
Disney Studios' massive sound stages. The only concession to modern
construction techniques was that the cars would have fabricated steel underframes,
instead of wood. The rest of the cars were constructed exactly as they had been
a hundred years earlier. Truss-like wood framing was used on the sides, paneled
over with tongue-and-groove siding. The doors and doorways were arched at the
top – a more expensive technique than simply using square doors and frames, but
an example of the types of well-thought-out details that Disney was known for.
Many of the cars' components, such as the couplers (made by
Alliance) and portions of the "trucks," or wheel sets, were purchased from a
railroad parts supplier called C.M. Lovsted Company of Seattle, WA, ordered
from a catalog that belonged to Bob Gurr. The cars were wired for speakers, and lighting was recessed in the
ceiling, using faux brass fixtures. Inside, oddly pedestrian two-person seats
were installed, and anyone who has ever ridden a school bus would instantly
recognize the deep green leather-textured Naugahyde upholstery. The windows
were operable with school bus window type latches.
A fairly recent innovation gaining wide use at the new theme
park was used to glaze the upper windows on the "clerestory" roof – instead of
using more-expensive and damage prone glass, these
panes were glazed with frosted fiberglass.
Here, the open door of the combine reveals the
wooden gate that could be
positioned for safety. Photo courtesy Michael Broggie
The coaches held 48 passengers, but the combine, because a
portion of it was designed to carry "baggage," carried only 28 people. A wooden
wall with a closed door divided the baggage area from the rest of the coach.
Inside the baggage area, a few crates and steamer trunks were strewn about for
Good photographs of the combine are hard to come
by; it most often made cameo
appearances in pictures of the more photogenic
The side baggage doors of the combine could be slid open,
and when opened, a wooden fence or gate was put in place for safety. While I
have not discovered anything in the record to support such a notion, it's
possible that the railing was put in place because guests may have been allowed
to ride in the car's baggage area.
The cars were painted in an overall bright yellow, with
salmon colored roofs and steps. The window frames and doors were a bright red;
a green letter board above the windows displayed Santa Fe & Disneyland R.R.
lettering. Each of the passenger cars bore names associated with the Santa Fe
Railroad; all except the combine. Instead, that car only wore her number: 101.
The baggage end, however, was emblazoned with "U.S. Railway Post Office" in an
old-west style font. Near the front of the car was painted "Wells Fargo &
Co. Express Baggage." I am unaware that Wells Fargo sponsored anything about
the train; the lettering was more likely simply a detail to imply realism.
This E.S. Hammack drawing may have inspired the
combine's lettering; Hammack was a popular
illustrator in the 1950s, especially
in books on railroading by Luscious Beebe and Charles Clegg.
here is nearly identical in wording and design with that on the Disneyland
The Retlaw 1 train set was most often tied to the coupler of
the E.P. Ripley steam locomotive. The Ripley was modeled after an 1880s passenger-pulling engine, and initially would only
make her station stops at Main Street. Sometimes, however, the other engines
would pull the cars as well.
Postcards usually showed the combine to its best
Here, the car trails behind the E.P. Ripley, as it so often
Through the years, other train sets were added to
Disneyland. In 1958, the Excursion cars made their debut, and in the mid-1960s,
the "Holiday" cars came on line, with their side facing seats. The Retlaw 1
cars were being used less and less. They were difficult to load and unload, as
passengers had to pass through single file through the car doors. In addition,
it was difficult to see Walt‘s new Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas.
Soon, Walt's passenger train was phased out
altogether, making its final run on a gloomy, drizzly day in 1974. Then, it was
put into mothballs in the back of the Disneyland Roundhouse.
Another view of the combine, this time as she rode
behind the Fred Gurley during that
locomotive's test runs. Note the fine
scrollwork on the corner post; the design is still used
to this very day, on
the corner posts of the Lilly Belle. Photo courtesy
As we know, the observation car of the train, Grand
Canyon, was later turned into the Lilly Belle, but in the early
1990s, the rest of the train, including Walt's beloved combine, was traded to a
local Los Angeles rail preservationist named Bill Norred. Norred had planned to
use them in a small themed amusement park he had been planning on building.
Disney received a steam locomotive in the trade.
Unfortunately, the locomotive proved
to be too large for Disneyland. It was then given to Walt Disney World, where
it proved to be too small. From there, the engine was traded to Cedar Point for
a small locomotive that was eventually refurbished into the Ward Kimball
at Disneyland today (ironically, Cedar Point sent the larger locomotive to
Knott's Berry Farm, where it is currently undergoing restoration).
Sadly, in 1998, Bill Norred passed away, before being able
to build his own dream park. Norred's family sold the train cars to a land
developer in California – all of them, except the combine. They understood Walt
Disney's attachment to the car, and wanted to keep it to remember Bill Norred as
well. It was stored in a warehouse in Ventura, CA where it remains today, hidden
from all public view.
Thankfully, for fans of Walt Disney's favorite
railroad car, the story doesn't end here...
Continued in Part III...