LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It’s no coincidence that the first attraction to greet guests of the Magic Kingdom is the railroad. After all, trains played such an important role in Walt Disney’s life – even Mickey Mouse was created on a train.
Disney’s first foray into live steam locomotives came about in 1950 – five years before Disneyland opened. In July of that year, Disney completed The Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a 1/8 size live steam train layout he built in his backyard.
When he decided to build Disneyland, Disney, with the help of fellow railfans Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston, created The Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, a 5/8 scale railroad. The line opened with two locomotives; a third was added to the roster in 1958 and a fourth entered service the following year. While the first two locomotives in Disneyland were built at the Walt Disney Studio, the next two steam engines were refurbished historic locomotives.
In the 1960s, Disney decided to build a second theme park outside Orlando, Fla. Sadly, Disney died in 1966, five years before Walt Disney World opened. However, like Disneyland, the new park would also feature steam trains.
When Disney Imagineers started designing the Walt Disney World Railroad, they decided to buy operational steam locomotives to refurbish for use in the park. In 1969, they traveled to Mexico to scout steam trains that could be refurbished and put to use pulling guests around the Magic Kingdom. They purchased five steam trains from the United Railways of Yucatan.
In the end, Imagineers restored four of the five locomotives. By 1971, the tracks were laid and the steam trains were running. In fact, the Walt Disney World Railroad was the first attraction to be completed at the Magic Kingdom.
A total of six locomotives have been associated with the railroad over the years:
- No. 1 – Walter E. Disney, formerly No. 274 of the United Railways of Yucatan. The Walter E. Disney is one of two 4-6-0 steam engines that pull passengers around the park. It was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1925.
- No. 2 – Lillie Belle, formerly No. 260 of the United Railways of Yucatan. The Lillie Belle is a 2-6-0 steam engine, also known as a Mogul. It was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928.
- No. 3 – Roger E. Broggie, formerly No. 275 of the United Railways of Yucatan. Like engine No. 1, the Roger E. Broggie has a 4-6-0 wheel configuration. It was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1925 and was on the shop floor at the same time as it sister locomotive, the Walter E. Disney.
- No. 4 – Roy O. Disney, formerly No. 251 of the United Railways of Yucatan. The Roy O. Disney is the only 4-4-0 locomotive, commonly called an American style steam engine. It was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1916. During the initial refurbishment, a major crack in the Roy O. Disney’s frame had to be repaired.
- No. 5 – Ward Kimball, formerly of the N&S Coal Co. A collector traded the 2-4-4RT locomotive in exchange for a set of the original Disneyland Railroad passenger coaches. While the locomotive was obtained for the Walt Disney World Resort’s 25th anniversary in 1996, it was never placed in service, in part because it wasn’t big enough to pull trains up the 1 percent grade between Tomorrowland and Main Street. The locomotive was displayed for some time in Epcot Center in 1996 and later sat idle in the railroad roundhouse before it was sent to Cedar Point in exchange for a Forney locomotive that became Disneyland Railroad No. 5, also named “Ward Kimball.”
- The final, unnumbered locomotive purchased in 1969 was built by Pittsburg Locomotive Works in 1902. Like the Lillie Belle, it was a 2-6-0 Mogul engine. This steamer was not refurbished for use at the Walt Disney World Resort. The engine was sitting unused in a park in Mexico when Imagineers purchased it for $750. The engine was likely unable to be refurbished to running order and was later sold. Its fate is unknown, though most people believe it was scrapped.
For railfans, the Magic Kingdom offers “Disney's The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour” of the railroad. Tours are given at 7:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday.