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Part one in this series (Origins) is available via this link.
Part two in this series (Walt) is available via this link.

While the handcar is fully functional and is maintained on a regular basis, it is seldom used. In the past, this was not the case, and there are CM stories of "hijacking" the handcar for impromptu spins around the mainline.


Al DiPaolo, a former engineer at Disneyland and now a locomotive restorer at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, recalls, "Late one night after the Park closed and the railroad was going to be closed for a short rehab, I arranged with some of the conductors to take the handcar out for a spin. Even though there were four of us aboard it was a real workout to climb the Big Thunder grade. It was still a lot of fun to go around the Park in the darkness with the only sound being the clickety-clack of the rails and the meshing of the gear teeth…and of course the panting of the four guys pumping!"

Roundhouse lead Craig Ludwick, left, cavorts with an unidentified Trains CM. The car's primitive brake--a floor-mounted pedal that forces the two yellow brake blocks against the wheels--can easily be discerned. Photo courtesy Sam Towler.

Even though personnel today many not get to utilize the handcar very often, there was at least one instance when the Disneyland Railroad conductors got their chance to test their handcar mettle.

In 1999, Kappy Clark, daughter of the CEO of the Roaring Camp Railroad, a tourist line near Santa Cruz, California, became a manager of the Disneyland Railroad conductors. That year, she planned a non-Disney-sanctioned team building trip to Santa Cruz for her Cast Members and when the Roaring Camp Engine House employees heard about it, they challenged the Disney folks to a hand car race. There were three competitions: women's, men's and co-ed.

Star of the Golden Horseshoe Review,
Wally Boag gets some serious air on the handcar
as he attempts to out-run the speeding E.P. Ripley.
Photo © Disney

Four people manned the push bar of the Roaring Camp handcar in timed trials. To get the handcar started, a team member would stand behind the car and dig into the ballast. At the signal to "GO!" , the pusher would push with all his might. Paul Boschan, who rebuilt the Ward Kimball and Fred Gurley steam locomotives, pushed for Team Roaring Camp. As he recalls, "Dusk was turning to night when the Roaring Camp men's team climbed aboard the hand car for their first and only round. The men positioned themselves so they all faced forward; the two in the front stood between the hand bar and the pump handle support tower and the two in the rear between the hand bar and the back edge of the deck. This configuration provides a little protection for the guys up front; if one of them fell off they would not be run over by the handcar.

"I shaped my foot holes against a sturdy tie to fit my size twelves and crouched behind the handcar. On "get set," I reared my back like a sprinter in the blocks and the team leaned into the hand bar. "GO!" And I pushed with everything I had and let my body fall forward into the ballast.

The Disneyland handcar takes center stage in this 1998 group shot of the Steam Trains CMs. Photo © Disney

"In the dim light I could see the hand car disappearing as it moved away from me, but could hear it getting louder as the team gained speed. As I got to my feet I began to hear the very loud sound of metal striking metal and saw sparks squirt out from under the car. The team was pumping so hard they were lifting the lead axle off the rail with the up stroke and striking the wheels against the rail with the down.  At the end of a quarter mile, the Roaring Camp team won by 4/10ths of a second. In fact, the Roaring Camp team won all three events that afternoon."


© 2009 Steve DeGaetano

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