Anyone who knows their Disney history knows that Walt Disney had a lifelong fascination with trains. Walt’s first railroad was the Carolwood Pacific, which was built in his own backyard in the Holmby Hills district of Los Angeles in 1946. Named after the street on which he lived, Carolwood Drive, the railroad was approximately 1/2 mile in length and built to 1/8th scale. Family and friends actually rode on this!
Walt’s next experience with a miniature railroad was with the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. The Disneyland Railroad is a 5/8 scale miniature railroad powered by steam engines named after some of Disney’s original team or “Walt’s old men” as they are sometimes referred to. The Disneyland Railroad was a part of the original park design and has been in operation since opening day at Disneyland on July 17th 1955.
The “Lilly Belle” is Walt’s private boxcar. Dedicated to his wife Lillian and she, in turn, decorated the car herself in a Victorian style. The car was reserved for special guests such as visiting dignitaries from other countries or celebrities, as well as personal friends and family of Walt Disney.
So now that you have some background on Walt’s trains and the Lilly Belle, here comes part two of my story:
I made a visit to Disneyland this week with my girlfriend and wanted to make this visit one she wouldn’t soon forget. I bought a couple of 3-day park-hopper passes and we drove to California for our trip. We drove to San Bernardino (about a 50 mile drive to Disneyland) and stayed with her aunt so we could visit with family she hadn’t seen for years.
Near the end of our second day at the park, she sprained her ankle. So, on day three (the big day) we went to Guest Services and rented a wheelchair so I could push her around the parks. Before we park-hopped from Disneyland to Disney’s California Adventure, we took a ride on the Disneyland Railroad. This was something we had already done a few times during our visit, but this time I noticed something. This was the one thing I had been waiting (and planning for) since we had started our visit to The Happiest Place on Earth. The train we were on was pulled by the E.P. Ripley and in the rear of the train was the Lilly Belle!
I had to take advantage of this, as this was our last day at the parks. We made a visit to City Hall on Main Street USA (because she wanted to get a celebration button) and I told her that I needed to speak to Paula (our Guest Services representative) for a moment about the Lilly Belle. My girlfriend had heard me talk about the Lilly Belle before and knew it would be a big thing to me if I could arrange a private ride for the two of us, so this didn’t strike her as anything out of the ordinary. What she didn’t know is that I had purposely told her about the Lilly Belle not only so she would understand the story behind it, but to prepare her for what was coming.
I explained to Paula what I wanted to do and she said she would need some time to make some calls so she could get in touch with the conductor of the E.P. Ripley. I wrote down the details and my cell number on a slip of paper and told her to take all the time she needed and to call me when she was able.
Not more than an hour later, I got the call from Paula while we were in line for Grizzly River Run over at DCA. We were all set for 1:30 that afternoon and we should try to get there about 15 minutes early. I explained to my girlfriend that we got our private ride on the Lilly Belle and we should head back over to the Main Street train station after we were done with Grizzly River Run. So we headed over, boarded, and started our “grand circle tour” on the Lilly Belle.
While on board, we had a nice chat with Fred, a cast member with a 10 year history at the park, most of which was being a conductor on the Disneyland Railroad. I took lots of pictures of the interior of the car as we made our various stops and tried not to let the ring show, that I was hiding in my right hand since our first stop. Fred was already in on my secret, so as we pulled in for our final stop back at Main Street Station, I handed the camera over to Fred and asked if he would take one more picture of the two of us before we got off the train. Of course, he was more than willing to take the photo, so I walked back over to my girlfriend and told her “ok, you stand here and I’ll go here”. “Here”, was on my knee in front of her, holding up the ring as I asked her if she would marry me. She said yes, and Fred took a picture of the moment for us. Before we disembarked, I asked Fred if I could take his picture since he was a part of this memory and we then went back to City Hall and talked to Paula. I thanked Paula for making the arrangements for me and she gave us 2 “celebration buttons” that said “Just Engaged”. I also got a pic of Paula too since she was a part of this.
A special thank you goes out to all involved Disneyland Cast Members. Thanks for all you do to make each visit such a magical experience every time I’m there!