Yesterday, I woke at ‘oh-dark-thirty’ to join a group of nine other folks on a ‘backstage’ tour of Disney World’s steam trains. Except for the early hour, I enjoyed the morning with my son-in-law, Eddie, while we experienced places on Disney property a person doesn’t usually see.
Eddie invited me on “The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour” because he knows I used to be a rail fan and I appreciated the opportunity to hang out near a steam engine again.
The big take-away from the morning had nothing to do with the steam engines, however. Twenty of us followed our enthusiastic host through the main gate, passing under the train station, into an empty Main Street USA. Words cannot express (blame it on the stroke) the feeling of standing on the town oval looking down the street toward the castle absent any humanity. The music was playing, and shop windows were alive with the animated displays, but the sidewalks and street were empty. No trolley was meandering down the street. No parade was winding around the oval. No one was selling bubble blowers or popcorn. Did I mention the street was empty? We were not allowed to take photos until the park opened so we held our cameras at the ready until the gates opened behind us.
There isn’t enough space in this blog to share everything so here are a few highlights. The eleven of us boarded the train after it had made the morning safety run and steamed past Adventureland to the one siding on the rail line. We backed down the siding to the roundhouse where we were invited to climb into the cab of engine number 3 The Roger E. Broggie. All the locomotives at Disney World were purchased from the Yucatan Railroad in the seventies. The Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia built the fleet between 1916 and 1928. Yes, the oldest engine is celebrating it’s 102nd birthday this year. I wonder if I will be in that good of shape on my 102nd birthday?
Engine #1 is The Walter E. Disney, #2 is The Lilly Belle (named after Walt’s wife Lillian and #4 is The Roy O. Disney (The financial genius behind The Disney Company). Roger E. Broggie built the locomotives used at Disneyland and found the locomotives used at Magic Kingdom.
Do not insult the engineers on these locomotives by suggesting they are driving an amusement park ride. The engineers are real engineers driving real locomotives on a real mile and a half long short-line railroad.
We were thrilled to watch the fireman light a ball of fire (that is the fireman holding the fire in his hand before throwing it into the firebox.) and ignite the oil that fuels the steam engine. It was very exciting watching the flames shot out of every opening available when the oil caught fire! We also, enjoyed a steam ‘pop-off’ safety test while sitting right behind the tender.
Walt Disney was a train enthusiast beginning as a child living in Missouri. His dream was to become a train engineer. That love of trains was still in his soul when he began to design Disneyland. His amusement park had to not just include a train, but the train had to be a prominent part of the experience. To accomplish this task the Disney parks are built so the first thing a guest sees when they arrive is a train station. Really!
Of course, Eddie and I had to grab something to eat before we left the park, so we headed down Main Street to Casey’s Corner for a hotdog (What else?)! I had a Teriyaki Diggity Dog.
See you next time.