Sunday, May 25, 2008

A slice of Disneyland Railroad history

Disneyland's roots go back to the days when top Disney animators, like Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball, got Walt hooked on the hobby of large-scale model railroads. Soon, Walt had his own backyard railroad, which he dubbed "The Carolwood Pacific." To a large degree, Disneyland was born out of Walt's desire to own a bigger and better train set. At least in the early planning stages, the rest of the park was more or less secondary in importance to the train that ran around it all.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting for Ollie Johnston's recently-restored stationhouse at the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society in Griffith Park. This group has preserved the barn and some of the equipment Walt used to work on his backyard railroad. They also work to preserve other parts of the Disney railroad legacy. What's more, they offer rides on similar miniature trains. (You sit on the roofs of the cars!) The route takes you through tunnels, past miniature towns, and across a 200-foot bridge. It's great fun!
The top photo shows the ribbon-cutting for Ollie Johnston's station. The second photo shows one of Disney's first Imagineers, animator and sculptor Blaine Gibson, telling us about his experiences. To the right is Michael Broggie, who MCed the event and who literally wrote the book on Walt's trains. On the front of the podium is a photo of Johnston.
After the event, Greg Ottinger (this blog's Phoenix correspondent) and I had the chance to join Gibson, the Myers Family (CPHS members), and early Imagineer Harriet Burns for lunch at Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake. (See the third photo in today's post.)
It was a fascinating group to hang out with. Harriet was working on set designs for the Mickey Mouse Club TV show in 1955, when Walt asked her to spend her free time on Disneyland projects. She was one of three “model shop” employees during Disneyland’s development, and became the first woman Imagineer. She was also - and as far as I can tell, still is - the best-dressed of the Imagineers.
Harriet helped create such attractions as Storybook Land, Carousel of Progress, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, New Orleans Square and the Haunted Mansion. She even designed the Enchanted Tiki Room birds. She tells me she’s also one of the only people still alive who worked on the original walk-through” inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. [Ed - Chris Merritt points out that Bob Gurr also worked on the walk-through.]
I asked her what the employees thought when Walt said he was building the park in Anaheim. She said that nobody thought it would work, and that it was way out in the middle of nowhere.
Coming to Disney Studios in 1939, Blaine Gibson was an animator, working on such films as "Fantasia," "Bambi," "Song of the South," "Peter Pan," and "Sleeping Beauty." Walt discovered that Blaine was also a gifted sculptor, and in 1954 he put him to work on Disneyland. You'll find his work in hundreds of sculpted figures (both static and audio-animatronic) throughout Disney’s theme parks. Blaine's work graces such attractions as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the Tiki Room. He also sculpted Lincoln for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland and ALL the U.S. Presidents in the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World. He is also responsible for the “Partners” statue, of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, located at “the hub” in Disneyland.


Anonymous said...

I miss Bob's Big Boy.

Chris Jepsen said...

Don't get me started.

Bob's disappeared from O.C. long ago, and I miss them too. I always stop if I'm near the ones in Glendale or Toluca Lake. (I hear there's one in Walnut also.) It's great to at least have a Big Boy Combo. A few other classic items remain on the menu as well, including Pappy Parker's Fried Chicken, chocolate decadance cake, strawberry pie, chili spaghetti, and probably a couple other things.

I miss their unfunny comic books, and the endearing Armet & Davis architecture of their restaurants. I miss their fish sandwiches, their vegetable soup.

But the GLARING ommission from their menu is the "Silver Goblet Milkshake." Harriet and I discussed this a bit over lunch on Sunday. We brought it up to the server, who slumped his sholders and indicated he'd been asked that a million times but the answer was unfortunately still "no."

Seems like there's a market there, and Bob's would be stupid not to fill it. In short, we need the Big Boy back in O.C., and he should bring his old-style milkshakes with him.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there was a Bob's Big Boy in either Toluca Lake or Walnut, although I have read about the one in Glendale.

As far as the menu goes, the only thing I ever remember eating at Bob's were their hamburgers and fries - and the delicious sauce that was included with them. During my early childhood years, the only food I ever wanted to eat in restaurants were burgers and fries, except for the taco salads that I ate at the Coco's restaurant that was near South Coast Plaza.

Speaking of restaurants, there used to be a place located right off one of the freeways in Orange County that was known as "the Big Yellow House." I think it may have been located in Anaheim close to the 5, but I'm not sure. Maybe Chris or someone else would remember this restaurant and where it used to be located.

sundaynight said...

Lunch with Blain Gibson and Harriet Burns? Well that was a once in a lifetime dream lunch. Fantastic. And at Bob’s. Neat-o.

Biblioadonis aka George said...


Thanks for sharing these images with us.

colony rabble said...

Absolutely pea green with envy over your Disney day! Thanks for sharing.
Anyway, the Bob's in Walnut is only 20 minutes away from OC. Take the 57 north to 60 west, take the first off ramp, you are there. Or fire up the motorcycle and take Brea Canyon Road....the PERFECT date. So, we all kick in what is left of our home equity and buy a Bob's, we even still have a few of the old buildings left in Anaheim...bring back the shake and make a fortune. It HAS to pay better than history!

Chris Jepsen said...

Right you are, CR. Actually, I'd want to buy the old Bob's at Harbor & Chapman back from Coco's. We'd really just need to restore the interior and re-apply some flagstone to the pillars outside. Otherwise, it's a beautiful place.

However, I seem to remember talking to some City of Anaheim guy (Council? Planning Commission?) who thought Bob's was coming back to Anaheim anyway - albeit in a new building. Does anyone know anything about this plan?

The Big Yellow House was a chain, and I'm not sure how many there were in Orange County. However, I'm pretty sure there was one just off the 22 Fwy in Garden Grove. The building later became Pinnacle Peak and eventually an Asian restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Chris thanks for the information. It always seemed to me that the Big Yellow House my family and I ate at was either off the 5 or off the 22. It took a while for us to get there from our home in Santa Ana, which is why I've leaned toward Anaheim being the location. I only remember eating there a couple of times, hence my difficulty remembering where it was.

Captain said...

There's some info about TBYH restaurants at the following URL, including a post from me about the one that used to be in Mission Viejo.

Captain said...

Oh well, the URL won't work for some reason. The site software seems to chop it. If you're interested in more info on TBYH restaurants in California, go to and enter the name on the search box.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure there was a Big Yellow House in Brea near the mall. We used to go there when I was little. All I remember is how they weighed the kids before they ate (can you imagine doing this today?) and the cornbread.