It's been about 10 years since I last walked through the Disneyland Railroad Roundhouse and got to ride aboard the Lilly Belle Presidential Car as part of the experience enjoyed being a Disney Store National Trivia finalists. I had no idea that I would ever do either again. So imagine my surprise when I was invited by Steve DeGaetano, author of Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad!, to take part in an exclusive ceremony featuring the dedication of the Ward Kimball steam engine and Lilly Belle VIP parlor car.
Steve picked me up at my house in Burbank about 5:45 a.m. and we headed down the I-5 to Disneyland. We managed to get there without too much traffic and found ourselves pulling into the cast member parking lot off of Ball Road. After trying to figure out where we were supposed to park, we made our way to a security checkpoint and signed in. With our ID badges, we were given free reign so we walked past the Team Disney and Eat Ticket buildings to the Roundhouse.
The last time I had been to the Roundhouse, the engines were in service inside the park. It was neat to be able to see them in their stalls -- minus the Ward Kimball that was already positioned at the ceremony site at the New Orleans Square station. Monorail Blue headed out the upper level of the Roundhouse. It was cool to see the engines head on. We met up with Paul Boschan, the gentleman behind the Ward Kimball restoration, there as well.
We headed back to the security checkpoint where we were to meet up with Disneyland publicist Tim O'Day. Michael Broggie and Michael Campbell of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society both arrived around this time. The "experts" signed permission forms allowing Disney to use their voices and likenesses and we were soon on our way to the ceremony.
After walking under and through backstage areas, we entered Disneyland through the gate near the Mad Hatter shop on Main Street. The park was mainly deserted except for cast members getting ready for the day's guests. Trucks, cars and other vehicles were all over the place onstage, which is something that you don't get to see everyday.
Upon arriving at New Orleans Square station, there were a small gathering of people who arrived before us, including members of Ward Kimball's family. Disneyland President Matt Ouimet made the rounds, being introduced to the members of our party before being presented with the Walter E. Disney Railroad Preservation Award from Michael Broggie. The Ward Kimball, one of the Holiday Green cars and the Lilly Belle were on the tracks. Soon the train would make its way around the park, more cast members came to visit the event and we staked out good spots trying to view the ceremony.
A Dixieland jazz band provided atmosphere music for the event. Disneyland Ambassador Andrae Rivas kicked off the event with an introduction. And an announcement was made that the Ward Kimball was approaching from Main Street Station. In addition to Mickey Mouse and Matt Ouimet, the train was filled with roundhouse personnel. A cool touch!
Andrae introduced Matt. Matt spoke about the importance of the Disneyland Railroad to the park. Matt introduced Johnny Kimball, who spoke about his father and Walt taking the train out for a spin around the park, among other things. Johnny helped christen the engine named for his father. Matt would do the same for the Lilly Belle. Lots of photos were taken and everyone was invited to tour the Lilly Belle. Upon exiting the car, guests were given a commemorative ticket and trading card.
An old friend from my Disney Store days works at Disneyland Cast Communication and was the interviewer for Cast TV. Steve, Paul, Michael and Michael were also interviewed for an upcoming Disneyland Podcast, which should be available in the future to the general public. The train backed up to give access to Betty Kimball, Ward's widown, who needed to use the ramp to board. The crew and Kimball's family rode the train to parts unknown.
We were the last to leave the event, watching cast members remove the red, white and blue bunting that apparently was put up for the special event. Tim O'Day took us to breakfast at Carnation Cafe, where everyone shared stories about trains and Disney legends. It was quite entertaining.
After our meal, we made our way backstage and after a brief visit to the Roundhouse, Steve and I took off so that we could get back to work for the day.
All and all, a very exciting adventure and one that I was glad to be a part of. It was nice to see Disneyland not only throw this dedication celebration but also to honor the cast members who keep the railroad up and running.
For more photos and descriptions of the event, visit the Steve's Disney Railroad Adventures at Burnsland.com.
- Story and Photos by Matthew Walker
This site is in no way endorsed or approved by The Walt Disney Company or any of its subsidiaries.