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Part One of this story is at this link | Part Two of this story is at this link

A quiet warehouse in Ventura, California. Yes, that's where the Combine, Walt Disney's favorite car from his charming yellow Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad passenger train, has been stored for the past decade, seen by only a handful of people. But soon, with the help of the Disney fan community, it is hoped that everyone will be able to enjoy this great reminder of Walt Disney, and his love of railroading. As you will read below, the opportunity has arisen to bring the car out of storage and restore it so that, one day, we may all get the opportunity to examine Walt Disney's favorite car, up close and personal.

One of three people who became intimately familiar with the car is Tim LaGaly. Tim, a general contractor and cabinetmaker by training, met Bill Norred at a picnic (Tim's wife Carolyn taught Bill's daughter). Tim and Bill soon became "fast train friends," their mutual interest eventually leading to a mutually-beneficial working relationship. When Bill began to focus on restoring his collection of railroad cars and locomotives, he hired Tim to work full-time restoring the five Retlaw 1 cars. The first car Tim and Bill worked on was the Combine.


Over the course of the rebuild, Tim replaced wood that had rotted, stripped and rebuilt the car's trucks, or wheel sets, from the ground up, primed and painted the body, and completely removed and rebuilt the roof. At the time of Bill's 1998 passing, work still remained--the floor needs to be re-installed, lettering applied and all the loose ends tied up.

Asked what was the most challenging aspect of rebuilding the car, Tim notes, "Bill was meticulous about how he wanted things done. But he did give me lots of time to get things right, as we experimented with different materials and techniques." The Combine was to be a test-bed for Tim and Bill: they would use the methods and materials they perfected on the Combine rebuild to restore the rest of the Retlaw 1 train set. For instance, the Combine roof is not covered with tarred canvas, as was the usual practice. Instead, an EPDM rubber membrane (often used on RVs) was stretched over the roof forms and affixed with stainless steel fasteners, resulting in a durable, waterproof covering. (Tim eventually put his intimate knowledge of the Disney Combine to good use--he was awarded the contract to rebuild the Lilly Belle in late 2004, and the quality of his work is on display at Disneyland almost daily.)

Tim and Bill spent many months rebuilding the Combine, but when Bill Norred passed away the car and the restoration project was sidelined. The Norred Family understood the importance of the Combine, and continued through the years to try and find the best home for this unique piece of history.

This all-new rendering of the Combine was done by Preston Nirattisai. Preston was given access
to the car, and was able to take detailed photos and measurements, which he used to create this
drawing. It will appear on several items to be release by the Carolwood Foundation to support
its fundraising efforts.

But things often have a way of working out. Tim, on behalf of Bill Norred's family, was continually looking for the right home for the car. One day this past May, Tim was visiting Walt's Barn, located in Griffith Park (As most of you know, Walt's Barn was saved from his Carolwood estate by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society. It is now a mini-museum--the only "Disney" attraction open to the public free of charge!--and can be visited the third Sunday of every month between 11 am and 3 pm). Tim was chatting with Michael Campbell, the President of the Society who was volunteering at the Barn that day, and mentioned that the Norred family were concerned about the long-term care of the combine.

The seats of Retlaw 1, including the Combine, survived nearly 20 years
of hard use on the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad.

Tim asked Michael if he knew anyone that would be interested in acquiring it. Michael's first thought was that the soon-to-open Walt Disney Family Museum might have such an interest (Campbell has assisted the Museum with their railroad-related exhibits, at the request of Walt's family). So, Michael talked with the Walt Disney Family Foundation President Walter E. D. Miller about the combine and, while the Disney family was very interested in preserving the car, the Museum simply has no space to display an artifact of that size.

This artist rendering depicts an overview of Gallery 9 of the new Walt Disney Family Museum,
located on the Presidio of San Francisco, California. The museum, which opens to the public
on October 1, offers an immersive, personal exploration of Walt Disney's life and work. For

information on exhibits, planning your visit and membership opportunities,
please visit this link.

Campbell then approached Bill Barbe and Fred Lack. In addition to being the co-crew chiefs of Walt's Barn, they are the President and Vice President, respectively, of the Carolwood Foundation, the non-profit organization that maintains and operates Walt Disney's Barn. Bill and Fred went to the Foundation board with the proposal and found serious interest in acquiring, restoring and preserving the Combine.

David Meek painted this delightful watercolor, titled "Magic of the Rails." Meek (known on
MiceChat and other boards as "Big Thunder") has been a freelance illustrator and graphic designer
since the early 1980s, working with a variety of corporate clients, including Disney. The original
painting has been donated to the Carolwood Foundation, where it will be auctioned off during
the D23 event. A limited edition signed print of the painting will also be available to donors
to the Combine Project (If you like David's work, he also accepts commissions.
You can
contact Dave and see more of his artwork and modeling at this link.)

The Foundation formed a committee of Bill, Fred, Bob Lemberger (who is responsible for the great Holiday train display at the Nixon Library), Michael Broggie and Michael Campbell. Campbell was named Project Director because of his experience in projects of similar scope and nature. (Campbell previously staged the Walt Disney railroad exhibit at the California State Railroad Museum, the Roy O. Disney rededication at Walt Disney World, oversaw the production of the builder's plates for Disneyland's C. K. Holliday and E. P. Ripley locomotives, and is involved in the preservation of the Fort Wilderness Railroad, among other things.)

With your generous donations, the Combine will be restored down to the last detail, including
reproducing the ceiling stenciling seen here. The Lilly Belle features identical stenciling.

A meeting was soon arranged between Campbell, LaGaly and Charlene and Carrie Norred--widow and daughter of Bill Norred, respectively. Afterwards, Bill Barbe gave the Norreds a personal tour of Walt's barn so they could get a sense of the Carolwood Foundation's deep commitment to preserving Walt's railroad legacy. Happily, the Norreds decided that the Foundation would provide an excellent home for this important artifact.

Now, preserving and protecting railroad equipment is a costly endeavor. Cars made of wood, steel and canvas deteriorate quickly in the weather, and having some sort of covering--even a simple pole barn--is infinitely preferable to leaving the car out in the elements. Moving this type of equipment is costly, and the restoration costs can be significant as well. The skills to restore these antiques are rare commodities. As such, the Carolwood Foundation determined that they would need to raise $150,000 to in order to acquire, restore and properly display the car. This is where you can help.

This button, featuring Preston Nirattisai's artwork, will be available at the Carolwood
Foundation Booth at the D23 Event. Be sure to look them up!

The majority of the money will need to be raised from charitable donations. As the Carolwood Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, donations made to the project may be tax deductible. To start the ball rolling, the Walt Disney Family Foundation pledged a huge donation to help the Foundation achieve its goal (While The Walt Disney Family Foundation has been very generous with their support, the Carolwood Foundation and the Combine Project are not part of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, nor the Walt Disney Family Museum). The Combine Project was formally announced at the celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Walt's Barn and the Foundation received several large donations that night.

Assuming the Foundation can reach its goals, the future of the car looks bright. While the details are being worked out, the car will be located in Southern California and the Foundation has a definite preference for it to be placed somewhere near Walt's Barn. It is hoped that Tim LaGaly will be brought on to complete the work he started so long ago. In most scenarios, the Foundation will need to construct a building to protect the Combine and the associated amount has been factored into the total budget. The Foundation is also considering enabling the passenger section of the Combine to serve as a small theater: without altering the originality of the car, a drop-down screen and video projector could be added that would show a film about the history of Walt's love of railroading and specifically the creation and restoration of the Combine.

This beautiful poster designed by Michael Aronson, featuring Walt and his favorite car, will also
be available at the Carolwood Foundation's D23 booth. The Foundation needs all the help it
can get, and with the assistance of the Disney community of fans they hope to preserve
this wonderful bit of Walt Disney's railroad heritage for future generations to enjoy.

But, there is still a long way to go. In order to raise the necessary funds, the Foundation is planning on creating a number of incentives to encourage donations, utilizing the artwork found throughout this article. Most of these will be available for inspection at The Walt Disney Family Museum booth at the D23 Expo, September 10th through the 13th. The Foundation hopes to have pins, hats, shirts, posters and even a miniature version of the Combine available as "thank you" gifts for donations. They are also planning some formal recognition inside the car itself, and a private dedication event for significant donors.

The Santa Fe & Disneyland Combine has been through much in her 54 years. Much of that time has been spent out of public view; whether that was sitting, nearly forgotten in the Disneyland roundhouse, or squirreled away in a Ventura warehouse. But today, the future looks nearly as bright as the canary yellow color of the car. As work progresses, I will try to update everyone with periodic MiceAge articles.

This is one of the few times in recent memory that such a piece of history so closely associated with Walt Disney and Disneyland will be available for all to see. If you can help in any way, please go to the Carolwood Foundation's website at this link. Certainly this is a worthwhile cause, and your generous support will mean that future generations will be able to enjoy and explore Walt Disney's favorite train car.

I would like to thank Combine Project Director Michael Campbell and Tim LaGaly for their time and effort in assisting with this article.

Steve DeGaetano is author of Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad! Steve’s latest book, the history of Disneyland’s newest locomotive, the Ward Kimball, is now available. You can read more about From Plantation to Theme Park, the Story of Disneyland Railroad Locomotive No. 5, the Ward Kimball, and place an order for it, by using this link.

Steve DeGaetano may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

© 2009 Steve DeGaetano

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