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Ride the rails and hear some great Disney-related tales on Walt's Sierra Adventures

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Ride the rails and hear some great Disney-related tales on Walt's Sierra Adventures

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Since JHM seems to be on a run of Christmas movie and holiday-related stories lately, I thought that I'd ask how many of you are fans of the 1954 version of "White Christmas."

And you may recall from a December 2002 story that ran on this website, Nancy and her sister Kathy are huge fans of this Paramount Pictures production (if only because two used to love to perform this film's "Sisters" number for their parents).

Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

But me ... I guess - because I'm such a film history buff - "White Christmas" really appeals to me because it's so obviously a movie of its time.

To explain: You have to remember that - back in the mid-1950s - Hollywood was really going to war with television. At that point, so many people were opting to stay home and get their entertainment for free on the boob tube that the major studios felt that they had to genuinely step up their game. Which is why - in order to counteract the appeal of TV's teeny-tiny black & white screen - major studio releases of this period were shot in Technicolor and then screened in widescreen formats like VistaVision.

And "White Christmas" definitely has all of that going for it. Plus - of course - Irving Berlin's score for this Michael Curtiz (Yes, THAT Michael Curtiz. The same guy who directed that cinematic classic, "Casablanca") film. Which is loaded with very hummable standards like "Heat Wave," "Blue Skies," "Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep" and - of course - this movie's Academy Award-winning title song.

Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

But one of the other reasons that I really love "White Christmas" is that a big chunk of this movie is set on a train. And because Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) has given away their tickets to Drawing Room A on that Pullman Car to Judy (Vera-Ellen) and Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney), Phil and his partner, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) are forced to spend the night sitting up in that northbound train's dining car.

Eventually Bing, Danny, Rosemary and Vera-Ellen all come together in that dining car and perform their first musiocal number as a group, "Snow." Where this quartet of entertainment legends then sings about they long to see " ... a mountain covered with a quilt of snow."

Well, if you've ever dreamed (like I have) of taking a train trip through a snow-covered landscape, have I got an event for you: Walt's Sierra Adventures.

Roger Colton and his group, Private Car Service, are putting together a weekend of travel that Disney history buffs and rail fans are just going to drool over. Where you'll first climb aboard a vintage Vista Dome railcar in Emeryville, CA and then journey across the snow-covered Sierra Nevada en route to Reno. Then - after a night of fun in the Biggest Little City in the World - it's back on the train for a return trip through some of the most spectacular scenery that you'll ever see.

"Well, that does sound kind of cool," you admit. "But what is there about this Private Car Service event that's supposed to be so appealing to Disneyana fans?" Well, did I mention that there will be guest speakers on this train? People who shared some great winter-related tales when it comes to Walt Disney Company history. There will be talks about the opening & closing ceremonies at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, CA. which Walt Disney (as this event's Head of Pageantry) personally oversaw ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

You'll also get to hear from a former Imagineer who'll then walk you through the development of Country Bear Jamboree, that theme park favorite which originally started off life as the centerpiece Audio-Animatronic attraction of Mineral King.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And as for that never-built Disney-designed ski area, your truly has been tapped to tell the tale of this amazing project. Which can be traced all the way back to those skiing vacations that Walt & Lily used to go on in the 1930s.

Movie mogul helps mouse to his feet after (ironically enough) Mickey was felled by a
mogul. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

It was Disney's love of this alpine sport - coupled with his friendship with Olympic skiing coach Willy Schaeffler - that led Walt to explore the idea of working with the U.S. Forest Service to turn the Mineral King Valley portion of Sequoia National Forest into a $35 million ski resort.

Concept art for Disney's Mineral King project. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All right reserved

As for the specific reasons that this particular project went off the rails (More importantly, the long term implications for Walt Disney Productions when both the Mineral King & the Independence Lake ski resort that the Imagineers designed failed to make it off of the drawing board) ... Well, that's a story that I just can't wait to share with people who sign up for this Private Car Service event. Which will be held on March 17 & 18, 2012.

The Union Pacific steam locomotive 844 chugs past
Mount Disney at the Sugar Bowl ski resort
on Donner Summit.

By the way, I don't mean to make it sound as though Walt's Sierra Adventures will be just one long Mouse-related history fest. If you're a Disney railroad fan, there'll be plenty of you to do as well. You'll be able to sit in on Roger Colton's talk about the California Zephyr - including some tales about how the Imagineers recreated this iconic train as part of Disney California Adventure.

Coach seating (and dining) aboard the Silver Lariat

Or - if you prefer - you can just look out the window and just enjoy the route that the modern day version of Amtrak's California Zephyr follows. As this trains travels along the shores of San Pablo Bay before it then crosses the Sacramento River delta and heads up into the Sierras. You can even dine on a fine lunch which is prepared by an on-board chef as the Zephyr crosses Donner Summit, following  along the 1869 route of the Transcontinental Railway.

Of course, you won't want to over-indulge at lunch. Otherwise you might wind up looking like this quartet from "White Christmas" ...

Copyright Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

... who certainly would have been popular with members of the Donner Party.

Now for the details. The price per person to take part in Walt's Sierra Adventures? $600.00 double occupancy. That includes round-trip travel aboard the private railcar, meals and beverages aboard, transfers between the Reno Amtrak Station and the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino, hotel room overnight at the Circus Circus Hotel, an ice cream social event at the Circus Circus Hotel, and some special event goodies, too. And if you're the type of guy or gal who likes to fly solo ... Well, a single supplement is available upon request.

Donner Summit west of Truckee, CA

So if you'd like to spend a weekend in March riding the rails with myself, Roger Colton, Davy Crockett Feiten, Leo Holzer, Paul Barrie, Shelly & Noe Valladolid plus a few surprise guests, you'd best make tracks for the Private Car Service website. Or - if you'd prefer to deal directly with Roger - you can contact Mr. Colton via e-mail at  [email protected] or by phone at 925-321-0023.

Your thoughts?



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  • What an event!  If I still lived in CA, I'd be signing up, and I could wave "hi" to my old homes just NE of Sacramento.  This is such an amazingly historic area, even if you're not into Disney or trains.  Way to go, Roger, pulling this together!

  • Jim, don't forget to tell people or maybe even show people where Mt. Disney is located. That's one of my favorite questions to ask Disney fans: "Where is Mt. Disney." I always get answers like 'Oh you mean The Matterhorn" or 'That houses the yeti at Disney's animal Kingdom.' It's fun to tell people that it is in fact a real mountain and it's not in any Disney theme park.

    Have fun on the train. I have fond memories of riding and watching the real California Zephyr as is traveled through the Feather River Canyon. It was a beautiful train.

  • To the troll who keeps coming back here, looking to deliberately cause trouble by fictitiously posting nasty comments under other people's names:

    The Delete key is a wonderful thing. It can be used again & again & again ...

    So maybe you should go find someone else's comments section to use as your own personal litter box. Because your [email protected] is going to get tossed just as soon as it gets dropped in here.

    Got the message?


    UPDATE: I'll give you points for persistence. But -- that said -- you're not very bright, Troll. Anything you post in here will be deleted.

    So if you're looking for a more permanent place to display your lack-of-wit, why not try scrawling something on a bathroom wall? Which -- to be honest -- seems more like your speed.

    UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: What part of "I will delete any and all fictitious comments that you post in this discussion thread under other people's names" are you having trouble understanding?

  • My family absolutely loves this movie.  If we were in California, this would be a wonderful trip to do.  I'm fascinated with Disney history and the concepts Walt championed during his lifetime.  Thanks for such wonderful work, as alway.

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