When describing his dream that was later to become Disneyland, Walt Disney noted two key features: “…I just want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train.”
Walt’s fascination with trains started at a very young age. As a small boy growing up in Marceline, Missouri, he would run alongside trains as they chugged their way through his neighborhood. He even worked on the Missouri-Pacific Railroad for a summer, selling newspapers and soda pop on board. He was fascinated by the prospect of journey that trains offered — a gateway into the world of adventure.
His affection for these iron horses compelled a much older Walt to build a miniature railroad in the backyard of his Holmby Hills home. This miniature 7 1⁄4 gauge railroad, dubbed the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad, would go on to become the inspiration for Disneyland. A quaint red barn was built on his property to store and maintain the live miniature steam engines that traveled along the ½ mile track, as well as to control the track switches remotely. This barn is said to be the birthplace of Walt Disney Imagineering and a sanctuary to plan the magic he would soon share with the world.
When the home was sold many years later, it was deemed necessary to demolish all existing buildings on site—including the barn.
Walt’s daughter, Diane, recognized the importance of preserving this piece of Disney history and arranged for it to be painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt on the Los Angeles Live Steamers site in Griffith Park, California, where it sits today. The barn is operated by volunteers from the Carolwood-Pacific Historical Society on behalf of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.
Inside, relics from Walt’s workshop sit on display for railroad enthusiasts young and old. Tools, railroad memorabilia, and even Walt’s overalls line the walls of the barn. In the center of the room sits a 1⁄8 scale steam engine that was purchased in 1951; however, the locomotive was damaged en-route to California, and Walt was so preoccupied with planning and construction of Disneyland that it was never restored.
Beside the barn sits a restored “combine” coach (railroad-speak for a car that holds both baggage and passengers) from the Disneyland Railroad. This car made the Grand Circle Tour of Disneyland until July 1974, and was brought to its current site in 2012. The combine has undergone an extensive restoration process, and now shines bright and yellow with its original color scheme.
A stationary steam generation plant across from the combine shows how steam power is created. A 10 horsepower boiler fueled by diesel operates several steam engines, each from a different era spanning from the industrial revolution all the way until the mid 1900s.
Walt’s Barn is open to the public from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month. The facility is a testament to the incredible impact that these miniature trains had on the conception of Disneyland, and an example of the kid-at-heart that Walt always was.