Trains of Happiness – Chapter 1

What do Disneyland Railroad and Big Thunder Mountain have in common? The train of course! And yes, this means of transport is very present at Disneyland Paris. He was, indeed, very dear to the heart of Walt Disney. There are several reasons for this. If you want to know them, come on, we will tell you the story of the trains of happiness. Be careful when closing the doors! Be careful at the start!

Big Thunder Mountain ©Wikipédia

A family affair

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Walter Elias Disney. He was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. From his earliest childhood to the amusement parks he would create as an adult, trains have been a part of his life. In fact, they were even at the heart of family history.

his father

In his youth Elias Disney worked for a time as a machinist in a railway maintenance workshop. Then he participated in the creation of the famous railway line, Union Pacific, which goes from Kansas to Colorado. He was then a carpenter and crossed paths with a certain Buffalo Bill, whose name would be part of his son’s future. Moreover, this is another story, which Disneyland Emotion will not fail to tell you later.

Elias Charles Disney, Walt’s father © Wikipedia

His uncle

In 1906, the Disney family moved to Marceline, Missouri. This city lives to the rhythm of one of the largest railroad companies in the United States, « The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway », commonly known as « Santa Fe ». At the time she reread Fort Madison in Kansas City. Note that this small town will inspire Walt Disney for the future Main Street of its parks.

Walt’s uncle, Mike Martin, is a locomotive engineer for the Santa Fe. Between trips, he tells his nephew the story of the railroad and its legendary figures. Thus Walt discovers Casey Jones, a train conductor who became famous in 1900, saving all his passengers, during a terrible collision. He will think of him for his character of Casey Jr and when he directs the « Brave mechanic », a short film from 1950.

« Le brave mécanicien » ©Disneyland

Walt Disney himself

At the age of 16, the future founder of Disneyland, is also an employee of the railways. As a « news butcher », he sells magazines, drinks and sweets to passengers on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. He thus traveled to new states and discovered the technology of steam trains up close. He then stores the ideas that will later feed his imagination. This mode of transport will thus be at the heart of many films, such as « Mickey’s Locomotive ».

Trains, a passion in adulthood

Several members of its teams also share this enthusiasm for trains. This is the case, among others, of the host, Ward Kimball with whom he visited the Chicago Railroad Show in 1948. The following year, he enlisted the help of Ollie Johnson, also a host, and by Roger E. Broggie, a machinist, to create his own miniature train. It was in his garden that the Carolwood Pacific Railroad made its first circuit on May 7, 1950. Using the name of his street, Carolwood Drive, Walt realized a great dream: to own his own railroad. This will also serve as a model for the Disneyland Railroad in California, for example.

Walt Disney and his model train © Disneyland

Projects and trains

A first vision of Disneyland

In the early 1940s, while in a park with his daughters, Walt Disney dreams of a place where parents and children can have fun together. The seed is sown. Shortly after his return from the Salon du chemin de fer, on August 31, 1948 to be exact, he wrote a memo that later became famous. He talks about a potential « Mickey Mouse Park », obviously including a train station. It thus lays the foundations of the parks which will, years later, delight young and old alike.

Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland Paris

The basis for future achievements

Some time later, Walt imagines a train. And yes one more you will tell me. Only this one is special. Basically, he envisions 24 animated models dedicated to his country, its heritage and its folklore. These must cross the territory aboard wagons, each of which must be dedicated to a region of the United States and its history. This project will not succeed but a good part of these different elements will one day be found in the Disney parks.

The origin of an icon

You have to go back in time to 1928, to discover that trains marked more than the Disney family itself. It is indeed, aboard one of them, between New York and Los Angeles, that Walter Elias Disney imagined the one who would become the symbol of his success: Mickey! And yes, even if it is obvious that the railroad and the family were at the origin of the parks, The Disney universe extends well beyond and we must especially not forget that « it all started with a mouse ».


This is, however, a whole different story. As for trains, it’s a business to follow …