A Ride in the “Lilly Belle”

On our respective trips this past month, both the Readers and I have had the privilege of taking the grand circle tour” aboard the Disneyland Railroad’s lavish Presidential car, the Lilly Belle. While it has served for the past three decades as the park’s V.I.P. car, this opulent piece of rolling stock began life in 1955 as a yellow observation car numbered 106, the “Grand Canyon” — the tail end of the Retlaw 1 consist.

Inspired by the elegant private cars of the 19th century and having no doubt seen the “Durango” and “Edna” at Knotts Berry Farm (12/12-scale ex-Rio Grande Southern parlor and business cars, respectively), Walt Disney had long envisioned a parlor car for Disneyland which would be reserved for the use of celebrities, heads of state and other dignitaries as they visited the park. Although the dream would not reach fruition in Disney’s lifetime, it was not forgotten. In 1974, then-shop manager Ken Kohler was successful into convincing the powers-that-be into returning the car to the rails as a swank Presidential car as part of the park’s bicentennial celebrations. Under the guidance of Retlaw Enterprises (Walt’s personal company, which still owned and operated the railroad at that time) and Lillian Bounds Disney, Walt’s widow and the car’s namesake, the canary yellow-and-green “Grand Canyon” received a meticulous, two-year-long makeover into the beautiful, burgundy “Belle.” The interior decor, personally chosen by Mrs. Disney, included plush velvet seats, marble tables, stained glass clerestory skylights, and an array of appropriate curios, including photos of Disney’s backyard Carolwood Pacific Railroad and even its lilliputian caboose (since removed).

Brittany, our friendly and very
knowledgeable conductor, models
Walt’s smoking jacket, which
hangs
in the car as it makes its
daily rounds.

In 2002, the pride and joy of the Disneyland Railroad’s rolling stock was sidelined after becoming a termite All-U-Can Eat buffet, leaving many to speculate if it would ever return. But thanks to the diligence of former Disneyland Resort President Matt Ouimet and the talents of restorer Tim Lagaly and his crew, the “Lilly Belle” was completely rebuilt and returned to the rails in time for the park’s 50th anniversary. Soon, with the combine sitting almost restored and our four coaches in the process of being restored, the entire “Retlaw One” set will once again be riding the rails in all their glory — a tribute to the man who dreamed them, the studio craftsmen that built them, and the mouse that started it all.

Our sincere thanks to the D.L.R.R. crew for their hospitality and allowing us to experience the final Retlaw car in service at Disneyland!

E.J. KELLEY

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~ by pcrailroad on November 27, 2007.

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