Over the years, Walt Disney was fascinated with all sorts of things that were mechanical. While the fascination with such objects is something many of us can understand and truly appreciate, Walt took that simple inclination and ran with it throughout a good portion of his life. Today, there’s a small section of the magic that Walt never got to see, but that chronicles a great portion of his life that many guests will simply never take the time to appreciate. So, today I wanted to share with you a hidden gem of Walt Disney World. It won’t cost you money, and honestly it won’t cost you a whole lot of time, but you’ll leave this place with a greater appreciation for the man who started it all!
If you’re like me, and appreciate the history behind the magic, head over to the Carolwood room at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge for a rare look at Walt Disney the man rather that simply his Disney Parks creations.
Walt was inspired by the little things in life but one of his greatest concepts that rarely gets the attention it deserves was the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. While this was not a full scale operating railroad, Walt built an utterly amazing miniature railroad in his own backyard at the Carolwood estate in Holmby Hills, California. The project itself was quite the undertaking, but through the vast knowledge of Roger E. Broggie, a 1:8 scale locomotive was created and eventually detailed out by Walt Disney himself. The small locomotive was named the Lilly Belle in honor of Walt’s wife Lillian Disney and first ran on the tracks at Carolwood on May 7th of 1950.
Interestingly though, in the beginning Lillian had one gripe about the overall project, she didn’t want a train traveling through her flower beds. As a result, the creative mind of Walt Disney came up with an idea for a tunnel with the help of Jack Rorex who worked for him in construction. The tunnel itself was called the “Rorex Tunnel” to credit the man behind the idea. Overall, the tunnel was 90 foot long and “S” shaped. That simple design element is interesting because if you were on the train you couldn’t see light from the entrance at the same time as light from the exit. It just goes to show, that the little details were all a part of Walt’s nature. He thought of so many things most people would glance right over.
Unfortunately, in time Walt slowly built the Disneyland Park (debuting in 1955) and the grand in scale Carolwood Railroad was sold to a new owner with the home after many years. Thankfully this project led to a full scale locomotive operation at each of the Disney parks. Also worth noting is that in the early years of Disneyland, a great deal of the “transportation” within the park including the monorail (eventually) and each of the locomotives were technically owned by Retlaw (Walter spelled backwards) which later became WED Enterprises. As a result, Walt technically owned the operation of these Disneyland transportation resources and supposedly hand signed the checks of each cast member involved with these resources as the owner of Retlaw Enterprises.
Now, you may be wondering how this all relates back to a room at Walt Disney World? Well, in the heart of Wilderness Lodge’s Villa Lobby you can find a small area that pays homage to this unique, yet highly influential piece of Walt Disney’s elaborate history affectionately called the Carolwood room. For years, I have stayed at Widerness Lodge, but not until recently did I recognize this small piece of classic Disney hiding in plain sight. Each and every day, guests of all ages pass by this beautiful display of Walt Disney information and artifacts without recognizing the influence it could have had on their vacation from essentially the beginning of Disney as we know it.