Are you the biggest Disneyland Railroad fanatic? You may have all the reference materials and listened to all the historical presentations but you’ve never heard of the person who saved the Disneyland Railroad. There might be a bit of hyperbole in that statement, but not much. Our thanks to Kevin Hicks for sending in this wonderful story.
Roger Broggie was responsible for making Walt Disney’s railroad dreams come true – and he did. But the key player in this story was a railroad engineer by the name of Don Rake who worked for Roger as a contractor. This article is drawn from Don’s extensive notes of the project, from the many documents he had saved while working on the project as well as my small part introducing Don’s story.
Working on the Railroad
Don had a background in railroad construction and he arrived in Los Angeles just over a year before Disneyland would open its gates. He sent his family to stay with his sister and he arrived four weeks later excited by the prospect of a new career he could embark on. He contacted road construction companies and equipment sales organizations but none had any current openings. One contact suggested that he contact the Disney Studios saying,” Something is going to break out there that might need your experience. I don’t know how soon this will develop, but it could be real good”.
Don called the phone number and learned that a park to be called “Disneyland” was being developed. After a discussion about the project and an opportunity to share his background, it was mutually agreed that Don could be very helpful, however, he was told that it could be months before they got to that phase
Don continued to look for the right position. He had funds until August. He also had three children with the the fourth expected the following February and he was imposing on his sister and her family. Don was happy to find a position within two weeks as a senior Civil Engineer with a company in the city of Vernon. It looked like a great opportunity with room to move into operations and management once he had proven his abilities.
Two weeks later after Don had started his new position at the new company, he received a call from his sister. Someone from the Disney Studios had left their number. He decided to call and was told that the project was being accelerated and they wanted to know if he was available to meet with them to discuss working on the project. Don explained that he’d found a position that offered an opportunity for growth and that he had accepted the position in good faith and then made a commitment to the company that he felt he should honor.
The person he spoke with said they respected his decision to stand by his commitment. Don told him he would love to work on the Disneyland project and was sorry that they had not contacted him sooner. It just so happened that they had been trying to locate him and they had to contact the Pennsylvania Railroad corporate headquarters to find him. Don thanked the caller again for his interest and indicated that he would be glad to help out if they had any problems– not really thinking that he would hear anything further. Don was truly disappointed, realizing that it could’ve been a great experience.
Don was quite surprised to receive a call on the afternoon of May 10, 1955 from Mr. Roger Broggie. Mr. Broggie introduced himself as the man in charge of the Disneyland project and asked if Don could help them. Mr. Broggie indicated that he reported directly to Walt Disney and he said that Walt was personally involved in the project and was committed to completing it on time. Roger told him that Walt insisted on maintaining a quality of construction that was essentially “Perfect”. Roger indicated that the engineers doing the railroad were “highway engineers” and that they were having problems. He asked, “do you know how to put a switch in on a curve?” Don indicated that he would have no problem with that and Roger asked if he could possibly come to the studios in Burbank that evening. Don arrived at his office about 5:45 PM and after a brief get acquainted meeting, they looked at designs and problems.
Don recalls, “I could see that the layout of the switch (from the engine house) was quite straightforward. (I had done major “interlocking plant” design and drawings as part of my railroad experience.) I took the necessary drawings and data home with me that Tuesday night. I completed the design and layouts on Thursday, and Roger and I set a meeting at the job site in Anaheim for the following Saturday, May 14, 1955. This was quite an experience.
As many people know, Walt was a perfectionist. I was to see exciting evidence of this wonderful trait that day. I saw that most of the rough grading of the site was completed and construction was quite advanced as I scanned across the project. The engine house was completed and the tracks in the engine house territory were laid. They extended down the grade toward the main track location. Also, some track had been laid (but had not been surfaced or lined) on the main track straight line above the engine house switch location. My site inspection confirmed the “topographic” drawings and my design work to that time. I could see that the switch installation would be quite easy to accomplish.”
As they walked over most of the rough graded railroad, Roger explained the general schedule for completion and Walt’s commitment and drive to open on schedule. The engineering delay in the engine house switch is basically the start of the rural construction which made the overall completion schedule quite critical. After his railroad tour, Roger took Don on a tour of the rest of the park.
Don wrote in his memoirs that, “As we talked and walked, Roger pointed to the Main Street storefronts. He explained that Walt insisted on complete second story construction, no false fronts and facades, -no sham in any way, He told me that all construction was a “complete build out” with quality materials. He explained that the Castle could have been built with wire mesh frame and gunite. It would have looked natural, but Walt insisted that it be made with solid limestone blocks and mortar. This tour was a real education into the goals and character of Walt Disney.
Roger continued to talk about the design needs and the schedule constraints for both the “railroad” and the horse drawn “rail” cars, and the “routing” of their tracks. When they had completed the tour, Roger asked me if I could come out to the Burbank studios with him. We arrived there in time to have a meal in the studio cafeteria and then went to his office.”
At this time, the conversation took a different direction. The previous Tuesday, Roger had expressed a critical need to get the engine house switch properly designed given the time that had already been lost. He also gave Don drawings to work with for a continuation of the design forward from the engine house switch.
Don finished the work, which was all done at his dining room table- evenings (and later weekends). Roger’s secretary had driven from Burbank to Don’s Vernon office and picked up the designs and calculations taking them directly to Anaheim for the field layout and immediate construction. A follow up inspection on Saturday had verified the design and there was now another topic on Roger’s mind. He immediately told Don his interest.
According to Don, “he said that Disneyland was going to need a full time person to handle the operation of all of the park transportation. This would include not only the railroads, but also the boat rides (Mark Twain Riverboat and the “jungle boats” in Adventureland) and other moving systems. He asked if I would be interested, and I told him that I would like to consider it. We agreed to discuss this further in a few days. “
Roger worked hard to impress Don with all the activities underway at the Studios. He showed him many other parts of the movie studios including the Animation department and how the animated features were made. The last stop was at the studio machine shop where work was underway building the railroad cars. Roger explained that Walt had wanted to be assured that the equipment conformed completely to the “original” plans he had purchased from the A.T. & S.F. Railroad. The trucks (the four wheel assemblies under each end of the railroad cars) and the frames were manufactured elsewhere but the assembly and all of the cars’ bodies (both freight and passenger) were built at Burbank. They were trucked out to Anaheim after final inspection.
After the tour, Roger discussed with Don the work to be accomplished and the necessary arrangements to meet the schedule. Don would continue the design of the main railroad first. Working at his dining room table evenings and weekends, Don pushed the design forward as quickly as possible. He kept a time log and periodically submitted it with his design and calculations. For his contribution, Don was paid $5.00 per hour plus 8.5 cents per mile for any travel. Roger’s secretary would come to his office each Monday unless Don called earlier with any completed work. Roger’s secretary traveled to Burbank to Vernon to Anaheim about three times per week and they were able to keep ahead of the construction crew, even getting ahead of schedule. Don generally worked three to five hours per evening, plus considerable weekend time.
Don concentrated on the main railroad for about three weeks. At that point, they had developed sufficient “lead” on the construction crew so that on June 3rd, he started working on the trolley tracks on Main Street so that work could also be started. The tracks needed to be completed before the paving of the street could begin, so this work was becoming critical at that time.
Don recalls, “It was not difficult keeping the center line of the horse drawn “railroad” in the center of the main street, so the main design concerns were the location and radii of the circular tracks at both ends of the line and storage track area at the Plaza. This portion of the project was completed in about four days, and I turned my attention back to the main railroad. By June 12th, all of the design and calculations were completed for both systems and construction was on schedule with the rest of the Disneyland project. It appeared that my work was completed.
Roger and I discussed the offered permanent position at one meeting about a week or 10 days after I had started the design. I had given this considerable thought and I was quite excited about the possibility of a future with Disneyland. I had analyzed the requirements he had presented and weighed up the pros and cons. – The involvement with the entertainment business versus the anticipated work schedule with the park hours was one example. It was a difficult decision.
While I was trying to decide what my answer would be, I began to consider how the railroad should operate. First, two trains would be operating on the main railroad about 10 hours per day on a six-day per week basis (Disneyland was planned to be closed on Monday.). Operating personnel would have to come on duty prior to the park opening and the evening shift would go off duty only after the park closed. I decided to work out schedules for train crews and duties for various other personnel. I outlined basic rules and procedures for the operation of the trains. I also developed a set of safety rules considering both the business aspects of the railroad and the safety of the passengers. I had all of this material available in a basic outline for our meeting.
I had spent eight years working for the Pennsylvania Railroad in track maintenance and construction. During this time, I had basically been “on- call” 24 hours per day, seven days per week. I had been more “married” to my job than to my family. I now had four children between eight years and four months of age. I had progressed very well on that “railroad career” until my son’s (the oldest child) health required that we move to a warmer climate. I wanted to get to know my family and become a father, so I think I put a high price on what I interpreted as a demanding schedule.”
Don wasn’t looking to start another demanding position. While in Philadelphia, he was on call 24 /7. It would mean that he would have to spend weekends away from his children and he would be gone as they went to bed six nights a week. Don responded with a salary request of $1,300 a month, but was relieved that this offer was not accepted. A mechanical engineer who worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad was already on the Disney payroll and he accepted the supervision of the road operations.
Don thought the consulting job was over but a few days later, Roger called with some questions about the Casey Junior train ride. It was a 24-inch gauge train ride. – up and down hills and around curves, Roger asked if Don thought that eight inches of “super elevation” sounded right for this type of situation. Don response was, “Oh no! Little children bouncing in the cars could tip the train off on the inside of the curve with the slow speed of the ride”. So it was back to work on this new project at the park.
Don’s notes state that it was not a monumental task. However, the timing was “urgent”. Roger’s secretary brought the preliminary layouts and specifications to Don, and he went “back to the old dining room table”. The total run of the Casey, Jr. was not too long, but the centerline had to be revised slightly. All of the curves, both horizontal and vertical, had to be recalculated. Roger’s secretary again became a courier as Don quickly did the redesign. It was completed in about a week and the third Disneyland “railroads” design was complete.
Don considered it a privilege to have played a part in the construction of Disneyland. He kept his calculations, plots, a large map and even his Disneyland Car Pass and Identification Card in his keepsakes.
After he retired, Don and his wife Beulah knew there had to be some interest in his documents and reached out to various auction houses, surprisingly, without any success. Don passed away in February of 2008.
About 6 months ago, I was “sleuthing” on the internet looking for vintage Disney items for sale. I stumbled across a six year old post in an obscure forum from someone indicating they had some Disney Railroad memorabilia. I fully expected a six-year-old post to yield no results after so much time had gone by, but was surprised and excited to receive the following reply:
“Yes, my husband drew up the first blueprints for the first Disneyland railroad. They were prepared for sale when my husband was alive. No one seemed interested and I still have them. They are in very good condition.”
This had all the hallmarks of an interesting find! Beulah lived 2 hours away and I didn’t know if she would let me go through what she had been able to find at that time, but she graciously extended an invitation and I was there the next weekend. She indicated that she didn’t know what they were worth, but at one time they had priced the collection at $2,500. I knew that this collection was something special. My heart sank as I reviewed the collection knowing I could never give her the value her collection deserved. Beulah’s large map was a rare Marvin Davis brown line from February 14, 1955. I knew this piece alone had gone for over $25,000 in an earlier Van Eaton auction. The collection includes dozens of drawings and the firs hand-written draft of the Disneyland Railroad Standard Operating Procedures.
So I shared with Beulah some of the history (and value) of her collection and indicated that I couldn’t afford to buy it but I would help her market and sell it. I contacted Mike Van Eaton and sent some information about the collection. Mike shared that the large brown line map had the same date as the one he’d sold last year, and this was actually an earlier version. Often, corrections or updates were made to the drawings without changing the date. We were able to discern that this was earlier as it had a bandstand where the flagpole now stands at the end of Main Street.
The final act of our “adventure” – discovering the pieces from Don’s Disneyland legacy will end this Saturday, June 18th at 11:00am. You can share in the conclusion of this journey by watching the auction over the web (vegalleries.com – be sure and sign up ahead of time). Just as Don was privileged to contribute to the Disneyland project, I am privileged to have played a part in bringing Don’s legacy to light and sharing this with Beulah.
– Kevin Hicks has been collecting vintage Disneyana for over 30 years.