We met up with Conductor Jack on our last trip in May. He let us know that the Train tour was still going strong, and a popular one with guests!
This is one tour you have to get up early for. We had to be at the MK at 7:15am. We met outside the turnstiles while our tour guide gave us a little background on the tour. Jack was our conductor, and was co-founder of the tour. He was (and assume still is) a very nice guy, and a natural for this tour stuff. The backstage steam train tour started only about a month before. I don't know why it took so long to come up with this idea, as train buffs will flock to this tour. I am not going to go into all the details here, mostly because I can't remember them. However, Conductor Jack has read the site, and emailed me some of the finer points I missed, so the details here are accurate.
Jack explained that the locomotives are real, not Disney fabricated. They are
narrow gauge (36") as opposed to the more normal, wider track width of 4' 8
½". Originally built by the Baldwin Locomotive Company in Philadelphia PA
between 1916 and 1928, they were exported to work on a narrow gauge wood-burning
railroad serving plantations on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Disney rebuilt
the four engines with a "wild west" look and named them the Roy O.
Disney, the Lilly Belle, the Roger E. Broggie, and the just recently refurbished
Walter E. Disney.
Our little group of (10) had to use our park passes to get into the MK, and headed for the train station. We were the only ones in the station, since it didn't open until 9:00. At this point we were given a talk about the importance of trains in Walt's life, starting with the 1/8 scale model he had in his (large) back yard in California. We were introduced to the legacy of Roger E. Broggie, Walt's main "train guy". Roger was the driving force behind the entire railroad at both Disneyland and WDW. The train we were to ride later around MK and back to the "roundhouse" was named after Roger. A lot of this tour is talking about Walt's love for trains, and where the trains came from. Of course, as with most behind the scenes tours, there are lots and lots of background info and statistics.
|As we stood at the station waiting for our train, Jack gave us more background as to how the trains operated and the procedure for becoming a conductor at MK, and then onto becoming a engineer. He then asked for a volunteer conductor. My wife, being basically very shy and diminutive jumped right in. She got to wear the conductor's hat, and press the button (buzzer) in the back of the train signaling to the cab that all is well. Of course she also got to wave and yell "all aboard" ... and we were off.|
|It was neat being only one of only 10 or so people on the train as we rode around the park. Got some funny looks as we were leaving from the "masses" outside the park. We rode around the park about ¾ way, until we reached to entry point to the track loop near Toon Town. At this point we stopped. Jack asked for another volunteer to operate the track switch that would let us travel back to the roundhouse. The young lady selected is featured on the web page. After switching tracks, the train slowly backed around a corner and into the open officially behind the scenes.|
As usual, once you get through the visual barriers so prominent at MK, and backstage as they call it, you are back in the real world. This real world was
wide-open territory, next to a very busy road (on property). Jack told us we
would have to stop the train and proceed cautiously because the people coming
and going on this road did not normally have the trains present at this time.
Once we made the crossing, we backed up to the roundhouse.
The roundhouse is, as you may know, not round at all ... just a large square building. Here is where the trains are stored and maintained. Each of the four trains has its own bay where the entire train is stored ... cars and all. The really cool part is that this is also where the monorails are maintained. The building is two stories, with the monorails entering "upstairs". The monorail "rails" are above the train tracks. Very interesting.
The train we were on backed into the roundhouse. We were not allowed to get off the train at this point for safety reasons, or take pictures, but could see the various maintenance items required to keep these beautiful old relics in top shape.
At his point the Roger E. Broggie pulled back out and stopped. It was heading back to the MK. As we got off we were told we would be taking another train, the Roy O. Disney back to the MK. At any given time, there are two trains running around the park. Today the second train would be the Roy O. Disney. There was a third train sitting there for our inspection. This was the Lilly Belle, named after Walt's wife Lillian. We got to get up close and personal now. In small groups we got into the cab and were told how the train operates. This is a real steam locomotive. The main difference, from its original condition, is that is now operates on diesel fuel. The fuel is burned to heat the water, not used as in a traditional diesel engine. We were told capacities and mileage ratings, which I promptly forgot. Lots of technical stuff here and any questions were answered.
Time to head back, as the trains started service soon. On the leg back to the MK
main loop we were given more interesting statistics. For example, the max speed
is 11 mph. If the engineer exceeds this, he is smacked around by Mickey at the
end of the shift. Also, the trains system is manually controlled. No computers
here. The section signals operate just like real life, to tell the engineer if
it is OK to proceed to the next section of track. The electricity used on the
train is provided by a steam turbine generator on the tendor. As we entered the MK loop
we stopped to blow off steam ... literally. They purge the system by blowing off
steam into a special duct system. This blows scale and other bad stuff out of
the locomotive innards. We had one last chance to walk up to the train as it was
stopped at the 'toon town station. An interesting note ... the 'toontown station
was built as a temporary station for a past MK milestone several years
ago, but was left in place when it became clear another stop was desirable in
the MK loop. We went out on the grass next to the terminal and took more pics.
On the last leg back to the main station we were again given more facts and figures about the MK railroad and its CM's. You can go to "steam school" once you are a conductor, and are certified to be an engineer. Since the entire system is entirely manual, that title holds a lot of responsibility. At any given time there are two engineers in the cab, one acting as fireman. The are several safety systems added to the locomotive that we not present in its original form. A "low water" indicator and of course the previously mentioned speed monitoring system.
Back at the main station we walked down to the lower level to look at pictures off Walt and his 1/8 scales train, and other interesting items. Most people don't ever go into the lower level to see these things, but there is some interesting stuff down there. There are plaques telling the background and specs on all four locomotives, and the general motif is modeled after a real train station of early 20th century vintage.
At the end of the tour, we were all gathered in the little square next to town hall, and were given a silver railroad spike as a memento. These are the actual spikes used in the WDW rail system, but were painted silver. My wife wanted a pin like we got after the AK backstage safari, but we got a spike instead. I told her I would make a pin out of it ....
The tour was very interesting, especially for someone
into trains. It took almost exactly two hours. Just about right. Our behind the
scenes MK tour last year took almost six hours, and started to drag at the end.
Jack and associates did a wonderful job. This tour is recommended,
especially for that experience at the beginning when all those people waiting
outside the park look up at you riding away on the first train of the day and
muttering "Who ARE those people and why are they all alone on that train
Please email me with questions or corrections.
John, Jack & Terry
John, Jack & Roy O
John & Lilly Belle
Toon Town Station
Roy O. Disney