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A Disneyland Double Dedication - Ward Kimball & the Lilly Belle

A Disneyland Double Dedication - Ward Kimball & the Lilly Belle

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With Disneyland's 50th Anniversary celebration in full swing, it is easy to look back and recall that one of the features that Walt always had in mind for the Park was a railroad. Even the earliest sketches of the Mickey Mouse park show a train circling the property. And when ABC television broadcast "Dateline Disneyland" on July 17, 1955, it was the railroad that brought Walt to the dedication ceremony.

Walt Disney and Santa Fe Railroad president Fred Gurley in the cab of the Disneyland Railroad #3, the "Fred Gurley" at the opening of the Grand Canyon Diorama.
 Image courtesy of Ape Pen Publishing .

Thanks to the direction of Disneyland president Matt Ouimet, two projects that had literally been pushed to the back of the roundhouse of the Disneyland Railroad were finally green-lit for completion as part of the festivities to commemorate the opening of Disneyland.

The first of the two projects was the completion of the restoration of a fifth steam locomotive for the fleet of the Disneyland Railroad. With maintenance of these rolling antiques a labor intensive operation, having another locomotive would allow four trains to be available for service as necessary. The railroad is not simply another attraction at the Park. It is an important element in a transportation system that allows guests to travel quickly and safely from one land to another. With the expected number of guests for the 50th celebration, there would be days when having all four trains in service would be a must.

So it was that in November of 2004 that this fifth steam locomotive made a journey from Anaheim to a specialty boiler shop in Southern California. Much like you or I would visit a specialist for a medical condition, the locomotive went off to receive appropriate care for a return to the life it was created for by the people of Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in September of 1902. After many long days and nights, the locomotive returned to Disneyland in April of 2005, ready for a final tune-up and shakedown trials. It quietly entered service on the railroad and met the goal of having four trains in operation.

The return of the #5, as it was about to be unloaded
at the Disneyland Railroad Roundhouse.
Photo courtesy Rita Allan

As all of the steam locomotives of the railroad (and those on the other Disney theme park railroads) have names that recognize history and contributions to the Disney empire, it was fitting that this new locomotive should be named for a man whose own railroad hobby had a great influence on Walt. Ward Kimball not only was one of the animation geniuses at the Disney studio, but he also had his own backyard railroad with full-size steam locomotives. For the first steam-up of his "Emma Nevada", he even invited Walt along to be one of the "Chief Engineers" on his Grizzly Flats Railroad. Today, the locomotive and other railroad equipment from the collection are displayed in a special building at the Orange Empire Railway Museum, thanks to the generosity of Ward and Betty Kimball.

(As a footnote, there actually had been another locomotive at Disneyland named for Ward, with an appropriate dedication ceremony at which Ward had been present. Unfortunately, that locomotive was discovered to have been unsuited for operation at Disneyland and was eventually traded for the current one.)

The second project in 2005 was the restoration of the "Lilly Belle", the railroad's observation car. Built in 1955 as car 106, the "Grand Canyon", this was the final car on the original passenger train of the Santa Fe & Disneyland. It traveled many miles around the railroad before it and the other cars of the passenger train were retired in 1974. Stored in the back of the Disneyland Railroad roundhouse, the trainset faced an uncertain future. Sadly, the small doors at each end of the car made for slow loading and unloading at the stations. (Eventually, the other five cars of the trainset were traded for that first "Ward Kimball" steam locomotive, and all five still survive today.)

According to Steve DeGaetano, author of the fine book "Welcome Aboard The Disneyland Railroad", it was Ken Kohler, then the Superintendent of Monorail/Steam Train Maintenance who proposed the idea of using the observation car as a way to carry V.I.P.'s around the Park during the upcoming Bicentennial. It eventually was given the name "Lilly Belle" - the same Walt had chosen for the steam locomotive on his backyard railway, the Carolwood Pacific. Given a coat of hearty maroon paint on the exterior and a wonderful Victorian treatment on the interior (under the guidance of Mrs. Lillian Disney Truyens), it entered service in 1975 with Their Majesties Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako of Japan as the first guests.

At one point during that time, anyone could enjoy their own "Lilly Belle" souvenir as the Polaroid Camera Center on Main Street offered guests the chance to have a portrait taken in period costume aboard a recreation of the rear platform of the car.

Roger and Michele Colton pose for a
portrait aboard the "Lilly Belle."

Sadly, the car suffered a fate that many railroad cars face during their lifetimes. Wooden construction will only survive for so long before attention is required. So it was with the Lilly Belle. During an inspection, it was revealed that a great deal of the wood on the car would require repair or replacement. For a variety of reasons, the project was not funded and it remained stored in the rear of the roundhouse.

The tale is told how after a small ceremony thanking the crew from the Disneyland Railroad and Boschan Boilerworks for their work on the new "Ward Kimball" in April of 2005, that Matt Ouimet made his way to the roundhouse and asked to see the "Lilly Belle". Later that summer, a contract was let to restore the car, with hopes that it would be ready for service before Christmas. While the car did return close to that time, it was not ready for service until...

On Wednesday, February 15, 2006, a dedication ceremony was held prior to the opening of the Park for both the "Ward Kimball" and the "Lilly Belle" at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square station of the Disneyland Railroad. From a Disneyland press release about the event:

ANAHEIM, Calif. (February 15, 2006) - - In an exclusive ceremony today at Disneyland in southern California, hundreds of Disney "Cast Members" came together to show their love for one of the park's original attractions - - the Disneyland Railroad - - and to join in the dedication of two additions to the famed railway - - the new Ward Kimball steam engine and the returning Lilly Belle VIP parlor car.

The early morning event at the Frontierland Train Station, hosted by Disneyland Resort president Matt Ouimet, honored the namesakes of the engine (legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball) and the restored parlor car (Walt Disney's widow, Lillian Disney), plus all the Disney Cast Members and Imagineers who made these new additions to the beloved railroad possible. Members of the Kimball family were in attendance during the dedication which also happened to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Lillian Disney herself.

Mickey and Matt Ouimet pose in front of the "Ward Kimball" with the crew of the Disneyland Railroad.
Photo courtesy of Disney.

"The Disneyland Railroad is an integral part of our 50-year heritage and I'm very proud of all of our Cast Members and Imagineers who have helped to make these new additions a reality," said Ouimet. "The Ward Kimball engine and Lilly Belle car are wonderful salutes to two individuals whose impact on Disneyland is everlasting."

Part of today's festivities included the re-dedication of the grand lady of the Disneyland Railroad, its VIP parlor car - - the Lilly Belle. This special car has been off the Disneyland rails since 1998 due to the effects of the elements on its wood construction. However during the past seven months the car has been undergoing a painstaking refurbishment to restore it to its former glory.

The restored interior of the "Lilly Belle".
Photo courtesy of Disney.

Now the Lilly Belle once again proudly welcomes guests to its Victorian splendor. The 37.75-foot-long car comfortably seats about 12 people with six sets of large double windows on each side for convenient viewing of the passing scenery. The décor of the plush parlor car is complete with gorgeous new interior elements such as a Victorian settee and chairs, velvet drapes, walls paneled with Himalayan mahogany, beveled mirrors, Disney family pictures and, rimming the top of the car, twelve stained glass panels.

And the first guest aboard the newly restored "Lilly Belle"? That honor goes to Academy Award winning actress Diane Keaton, seen here on the rear platform at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square station.

Photo courtesy of Disney.

After a long hiatus, it will indeed be a pleasure to see the "Lilly Belle" bringing up the rear of a train on the Disneyland Railroad. The recognition of the work of everyone involved to return these two gems to service on the Disneyland Railroad is well deserved. Everyone involved in the process, from the top down, are to be commended for their efforts to keep the railroad interests of Walt and Lillian Disney as well as Ward Kimball alive for Disneyland guests to enjoy.

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