Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Riding Disneyland History

This past weekend (April 30) I attended the 2011 Pacific Coast Railroad Roundup at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, just north of San Luis Obispo in Santa Margarita, California. The annual event, to benefit the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, was supposed to be held for one day only, as per usual, but an extra day was added on May 1 to accommodate the demand.

I have been meaning to make this event for years, but my schedule has never allowed it until this year. Having never been to the Santa Margarita Ranch, I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful, natural surroundings and minimal structures on the land.

Driving over a wooden bridge with a flowing stream underneath , I followed the path down to a large historic barn and train loading area. There I was greeted by two original, beautiful, yellow Retlaw 1 Disneyland passenger cars.

Though three of the four coaches (built in 1955 at the Walt Disney Studios) are in need of a good restoration, (coach 105 Painted Desert has been restored) they are still so charming and their paint colors are still bold in the bright sunlight, which is surprising since they were retired in the mid 1960’s. (The Pacific Coast Railroad plans on restoring the other three cars, so I have been told.) Incidentally, there seems to be some confusion on the official retiring of these cars. I have seen 1958, mid 60s, and 1974. I’m not clear on which is correct, but those at the event were saying mid 60s, so for now, I’ll go with that.

Four engines were pulling the various coaches on Saturday, all with an interesting history:

 The No. 1 “Caroline”, named after the Railroad owner’s granddaughter, is a 5/8 scale replica 1860s 4-4-0 built by Disney Imagineer Bob Harpur of Wilmington, California in 1968. Its former residence was in Astroworld in Houston, Texas. This engine was not running at the time I arrived, but was visible on the train ride around the ranch.




 The No. 4 “Deanna” of the Sanstone Crag Loop Line, an 0-4-2T built by Baldwin in 1891 for the Kaiwiki Sugar Co. in Ookala, Hawaii was pulling a charming passenger train. This beautiful engine was shiny, bold, and stunning! In my opinion, perfect for a back yard railroad, Ward Kimball style! Which, I might add, I totally want now!!


The No. 3 “Melodia” was built as an 0-6-2T by H.K. Porter in 1897. It was purchased by the Barker & LePine Sugar Cane Co. of LaFourche Crossing, Louisiana. After her retirement in 1953, she was rebuilt in 1964 as a 2-6-2 and worked in several amusement parks. This day she was hauling two of the four Disneyland cars: the 102 Navajo Chief and the 105 Painted Desert.


The No. 2 “Roger Linn”, the most famous locomotive on the Pacific Coast roster, is a 1922 Vulcan 2-4-0 and was featured in the series “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman”. It was originally a quarry engine in Lehigh, Illinois until1960.  The “Roger Linn”, a jet black engine which reminded me of a less fancy E.P. Ripley, was pulling Disneyland coach 104 Land of Pueblos that I rode in, and I was literally so excited to get in the coach, that I did not take any shots of the exterior of the engine, but I got some nice interior shots, which you’ll see below.

I boarded my Land of Pueblos coach and was very pleased to see that so much has remained of the interior of the coach.


Running along the top of the coach are beautiful panels of etched glass which are still in tact and lovely.

The wood in the interior was still in quite good condition, save for some water damage here and there and worn flooring.  

The painted  peachy pink flourishes have faded out some, but are still visible and very beautiful.

The lighting I found especially lovely and in great condition. The speaker, which no doubt narrated the guests’ tour around Disneyland on opening day and beyond was looking superior as well.

Seating in the coach reminded me of the yellow school buses I used to ride as a small child, only shorter. I am assuming these are original, but if they are not and somebody knows better than I do, please let me know. The seats ran down the length of the coach, but near the door they were placed lengthwise as such:

Even behind the doors at both ends! No waste of space was permitted, evidently!

I got some weird kick out of the windows, which to me felt so authentic. They were a bit like an old school bus only not- I wasn’t in fear of chopping off a digit as I was on a school bus. They push upwards, and the latches were great.

Here are some interior shots of the “Roger Linn”. I loved seeing them dump the coal inside and stoke the flames. Great stuff!! And check out that woodwork!! Completely gorgeous inside!

Overall, the trip around the ranch was incredible. I noticed a very large difference in riding that coach as compared with the cars currently at Disneyland. There was a feeling of total authenticity about these cars that isn’t present now. I understand the current cars are better to view the sights and diorama, but I truly felt like I had been transported to the past while I rode the Land of Pueblos. I felt really privileged to experience the ride on open land, as well. There was something about the natural environment, the distinct smell of the smoke coming from the engine, and the sound of the whistle (I could have bottled that!) that was so wonderful. It seemed like I could have been anywhere in 18whatever, traveling to some new and distant location. I felt like Clara on the train in the third Back to the Future film (not hanging off of it, no)! It was a remarkable experience that I would recommend to anyone who has the capability of attending next year.

Here are some final photos to end our little tour…

Here is the fourth car, 103, which has been renamed. I would assume the original lettering reading Rocky Mountains still resides under the plaque that reads “Mary Frances”. I like how it kept the look of the original Disneyland signage. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right?

Here is the back of coach 105 Painted Desert down the tracks.

Here is the back of Land of Pueblos and a side shot as well. You can make out the “Roger Linn” a bit, too.

In addition to the main railroads, the event had a barbecue, a brewery truck from Central Coast Brewing, wine from a local winery, and much railroad paraphernalia. What I really found fascinating was the inside of the Asistencia Barn, which was built in 1780 by the Chumash Indians  and was part of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and the first stone and mortar building in California. It served as a place of worship when padres from the Mission San Luis Obispo  came to visit. It looks like this down the entire length of the barn on both sides.

I thought this little train was adorable! I don’t know if it was for sale, but I could do with this for starters!

I bought a pin from these two, who were just adorable all dressed up in their gear. Do note how Disney their nametags look.

For those interested in more info on the Roundup and the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, here is an excerpt from their literature:

Proceeds from the Railroad Roundup will benefit the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum's efforts to refurbish its museum building in San Luis Obispo's historic railroad district. Museum members have been working for over a decade with The City of San Luis Obispo to refurbish the new museum home in the historic Southern Pacific freight house which is just south of San Luis Obispo's Amtrak Station. Plans are being made for the museum to be open on a regular schedule by the middle of 2012. The interior of the Museum is nearing completion and will open for a "sneak preview" for the first time for numerous activities during the Central Coast Railroad Festival on October 6-10, 2011.

I hope you all enjoyed our little trip! If you’re interested in riding these, you might want to hop on over to this link. There is an upcoming event hosted by the Carolwood Foundation this month that will also take place at the Santa Margarita Ranch with the 4 Disneyland cars plus the Retlaw 1 Combine which was the first car in the line of coaches on the Disneyland Railroad. It is the first time they have been together in over 35 years.