Before he could show off Disneyland to his guests Walt Disney loved to entertain them on the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in his backyard. When Walt and his wife Lillian were looking to buy some land to build a house, some space for a railroad was one of Walt’s top priorities. He found what he was looking for in June of 1948 when the Disney’s closed on some land in the Holmby Hills area near Beverly Hills. The Disney family moved into their newly constructed home at 355 Carolwood Drive (thus the name for Walt’s railroad) in May of 1950.
Walt originally wanted his train to circle the entire house but Lilly, who was less than thrilled with the entire idea of a railroad, objected and he was forced to lay out a half mile 7-inch gauge track in the backyard. He wanted to make additional changes to the backyard landscape to accommodate the track, but again Lilly put her foot down requiring Walt to have a ninety-foot curved tunnel constructed. One of the contractors Walt hired explained to him “Walt, it’d be a lot cheaper if you built the tunnel straight.” “Hell,” Walt said, “it’d be cheaper not to do this at all.”
Walt worked with Disney Legend Roger Broggie to build the 1/8-scale steam locomotive, which he named Lilly Belle as a gesture to his wife despite her misgivings about the project. Walt and Roger initially tested out the locomotive at the studio lot in December of 1950. It made its first run in the Disney’s backyard on May 7, 1951. Walt found tremendous pleasure in working on the train and the escape it provided. He later said “If I had a headache and I went down to that shop, it would clear up and I’d feel fine.” The time Walt spent designing, building and entertaining with the Carolwood Pacific Railroad planted a wonderful seed in his head that eventually sprout into Disneyland.
The impact of Carolwood Pacific Railroad is memorialized today in a number of ways. Of course, the Disneyland Railroad is the most obvious example and Harper Goff used Walt’s railroad as the foundation to draw the concept art for the park’s train. The track and barn – which Walt modeled after the Disney family barn in Marceline – have been relocated to Griffith Park for the public to enjoy. The actual Lilly Belle locomotive can be found on display at the Disney Family Museum. Back at 355 Carolwood Drive, the old Disney family home has been torn down and replaced, however the 90-foot underground tunnel is reportedly still there and is commemorated with an ivy-covered miniature stone archway with the year “1950” engraved on it.