The Little Engine That Could

Disney artist Bruce Bushman drew these Casey Jr. Circus Train concept art pieces in 1954. At the time, Bushman – who was a longtime studio employee specializing in art direction – was tasked with developing attraction concepts based off of Disney’s film catalogue.

Both the trains and train station depicted in Bruce’s artwork are largely reflected in the updated version of the attraction that exists today. 

Based off the Casey Jr. train character from the 1941 movie Dumbo which is inspired by the tale of The Little Engine That Could, the attraction was initially intended to be one of the park’s early thrill rides. In fact, you can see it labeled as a roller coaster in the image below, which was included in the Disneyland prospectus used by Roy Disney to pitch investors on the project. Ultimately, technical considerations led to the attraction being adopted as a more traditional train ride suitable for young children. 

The laying of the rails and construction of the locomotives was done by the Arrow Development Co., an amusement park ride manufacturer based in Northern California that helped construct five initial Disneyland attractions. Arrow constructed the base vehicles, which were then painted and decorated by Disney employees at either the studio or onsite at Disneyland. William Hardiman, Arrow’s supervisor for the Disneyland work, explained in 1955 that:

“Disney told us what he wanted and we had to get busy and engineer it. Sometimes we had a sketch, but more often he just described what he had in mind and left us to really put it in some form.”

Unfortunately the attraction wasn’t quite ready for opening day and ultimately opened two weeks later on July 31, 1955. Joe Fowler, the man in charge of Disneyland’s construction, recounted to Disney biographer Bob Thomas that he was forced to break the bad news to the boss:

“We had the little Casey Jr. train and he loved it. And just before we opened, this was the first time the train had come back, down from the Studio, and we ran it around and it was top-heavy. I told Walt, ‘Walt, I’m sorry but we just shouldn’t run that train for the public until after we get some keepers on it so that going around the curves or if she’s loaded on one side or the other, it won’t tip over. Otherwise very frankly, it would be very dangerous.’ He said, ‘All right, Joe,’ and he walked away. And I heard afterwards he was very disappointed. But that’s all he said. In two weeks we got the keepers on. And that was all there was to it.”

Design Inspiration

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