Part One of this story is at this
link | Part Two of this story is at this
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
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
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
The seats of Retlaw 1, including the Combine, survived nearly 20
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
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
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
D23 event. A limited edition signed print of the painting will also be available
to the Combine Project (If you like David's work, he also accepts
contact Dave and see more of his artwork and modeling at
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
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.