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Life before Walt Disney

February 27, 2016 05:54PM avatar
Here is some history copied from Wikipedia: "For Walt Disney World, instead of building steam locomotives from scratch, as with the first two locomotives for the Disneyland Railroad, Disney employees Roger Broggie and Earl Vilmer began searching for historical steam locomotives to use on the rail line. They eventually met their railroad historian friend named Jerry Best, who had a collection of locomotive photos from the Ferrocarriles Unidos de Yucatán (United Railways of Yucatán) on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Intrigued by the photos, they traveled to the Yucatán Peninsula in 1969 and ended up purchasing five steam locomotives.

"The locomotives were shipped by rail to the Tampa Ship Repair & Dry Dock Company in Tampa, Florida where they restored by Disney employee and accomplished live steam builder Bob Harpur. However, the fifth locomotive was deemed to be in poor condition to be restored, was sold, and presumed scrapped. Roger and Earl met a machinist named George Britton, who worked for the Tampa Ship Repair & Dry Dock Company. They asked him to help them rebuilt these four steam locomotives, but George didn't have any technology to know about trains. So, the Disney employees informed him that he would be taught everything he needed to know in order to restore the four steam locomotives. Intrigued by the challenge of learning something new, George agreed to shift from repairing huge oil tankers to steam engines. With a crew of only five, they completed the rebuilding and restoration on time and under budget. In addition, new boilers were constructed for the steam locomotives by the Dixon Boiler Works of Los Angeles, California and the steam locomotives themselves were cosmetically backdated to appear older, which included the addition of diamond smoke stacks, square headlamps, boiler jackets, bright colors, and polished brass. The tenders were also completely rebuilt from the frame up. New cabs were manufactured out of fiberglass and installed on the steam locomotives. Also, a total of twenty open-air excursion coaches were constructed from scratch at the shipyards and each of them could seat up to seventy five passengers. The trains went into service with the opening of Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971".

Only a few years earlier, in January 1968 while enroute home from Guatemala and El Salvador, Bryan Whipple and I made a brief stop at Merida and photographed the UdeY operations there. In reviewing those 1968 pix I found three images of two of the engines that ended up less than three years later at Disneyworld. The first picture is UdeY 251 in the remains of the the Merida roundhouse that apparently had suffered hurricane damage but reminded me of pictures of Germany after an Allied bombing. Interesting armstrong turntable.


The 251 became Disneyworld No. 4, the Roy O. Disney.

The next two pictures are of UdeY 260, first in the (roofless) roundhouse, and then pulling a train from the Merida station.



The 260 became Disneyworld No. 2, the Lilly Belle, named after Walt's wife.

Finally, here is one of the less fortunate UdeY engines No. 271 that presumably was scrapped when steam was abandoned.


What I find interesting about the picture of the 271 is I have no idea how the coupling between standard gauge cars and narrow gauge locos was accomplished. There is no evidence of adjustable or multiple couplers on the engine, and no idler car. Some of the engines (like the 260) did have links on the pilot, so apparently some link and pin coupling was done occasionally. Anyone know?

Excuse the poor image quality, the lighting was crappy and I was in a rush. I've fixed up the pix as best I can in Photoshop. Also the Wikipedia info is poorly written, apparently by somebody who doesn't know much about steam engines. But it covered the basic story so I copied it. I did delete one mistake in the Wikipedia text, a statement that the engines were converted from wood to oil burning by Disney. From the pix I am pretty sure they were oil burners on the UdeY, at least by the time Bryan and I visited.


Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 02/28/2016 10:28AM by John West.
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