Friday, December 29, 2023

Mark and the Disneyland Railroad

This photo that I shot in June 2007 shows Disneyland Railroad employee Mark Gonzales. Over sixteen years later, we virtually “met” and chatted about our mutual admiration of Walt and the trains that circle the Park in Anaheim. He graciously agreed to answer some interview questions and has allowed me to share them with you.

1. Do you recall your first trip to Disneyland? What stands out from that memory, and especially anything in relation to riding the train.

My first trip to Disneyland was when I was just a few months old. It’s not something I remember, but there are a fun set of pictures I have that always make me smile, including one from my first visit.


Pictured at the top is me and my dad with the Fred Gurley in the background on my first visit. Pictured below is me at the throttle in March 2016 with my son in the same locomotive. The Gurley to my knowledge is the oldest vehicle in daily operation that Disney owns. The thirty two years of time between the two photos is just a drop in the bucket in the locomotive’s 128 year lifespan.

My earliest memory of Disneyland is not of the locomotives but the railroads Primeval World Diorama. I vividly remember the volcanos lava being so mesmerizing.

2. What began your interest in trains? Did you have any model trains growing up?

My love for trains and all things old started at a young age. My father was into everything that was old and mechanical. Before I could even walk we hung out at classic car shows and train museums. He saw me light up the most when we were around trains and he tried his best to expose me to my early interest. I was fortunate enough whenever a holiday or birthday came along that my family gave me trains. I’ve owned all scales of trains growing up with HO being my favorite scale. Today, even though I have a good collection of models, I find that I get my daily fix of running trains by working on the Disneyland Railroad.

3. What is your favorite station/depot at Disneyland and why?

My favorite one is the New Orleans Square/Frontierland Station. It’s the location for the steam trains crew break room. Some of my fondest work memories and moments have happened under the backdrop of the station. Laying on your back during golden hour by the berm with the sunlight sneaking between the trees is a perfect way to relax after working in high temperatures through the day. My favorite type of music is Jazz; as you can imagine eating lunch everyday to live Jazz isn’t bad at all.

4. What is your favorite engine at Disneyland?

My favorite locomotive is number one, the C.K. Holliday. I think the proportions on the locomotive are just right from an artistic standpoint. The color scheme is beautiful and the mural of a Yosemite waterfall on the headlamp reminds me of my childhood camping trips. The railroad is for the most part five eighths scale. I’m very short and fit in the cab of locomotive one like a glove; for years I have held the nickname “5/8ths” because of how well I fit in with the railroad and its surroundings.

5. What is your favorite type of car at the Park? (could include cattle car, passenger car, caboose, etc.)

My favorite coach is the caboose on Retlaw/Holiday 2. I have spent many lunches eating a burrito in the raised cupola. Seeing the locomotive and park from the top of cupola is always exciting and fills my heart with nostalgia for railroading from the past.

6. When not at the Park, do you enjoy traveling by train, and if so, any special trips that were made more memorable to you because of train travel?

I have fond memories of taking a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway out of Williams, Arizona when I was a teen. I lived in Japan for a year and was blown away by their country’s railroad network and love for trains in general. My family and I often make local trips to train museums and displays throughout Southern California. My biggest goal is to someday take my two boys to the Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad in Colorado.

7. I think I know the answer to this one, but am going to ask it anyway: have you encouraged your children to enjoy trains, and if so, how? What do they enjoy most about the Disneyland Railroad?

The two things I love more than trains is being a father and husband. Like my father, I’m trying my best to expose my boys to every hobby and figuring out what sticks. It’s been fun sharing my love of not only trains but also woodworking, architecture, culture, and local history with my boys. I do enjoy how they call out “dad’s train” when the Lilly Belle locomotive passes during an introduction of a Disney film. We visit the park once a year and every time we do, it’s a “must” that we ride the Disneyland Railroad and the Mark Twain.

8. What has been your greatest joy of working on the Disneyland Railroad?

There are so many things to list but the biggest things that come to mind are my coworkers, the happiness around me, and the natural joy running a locomotive brings me. Not all of my coworkers love trains and for some of them it’s just a job. Even with that said, just about every day we try to help each other and create a fun work environment. It’s very difficult to have a bad day when just about every two minutes you arrive in station with a loud, shiny, majestic machine and see smiles and faces of wonderment. In my eighteen years with the company it has been extremely rare that I come home stressed from work.

9. Do you have a bucket list item(s) of anything you haven’t done with the Disneyland Railroad?

The past year I have started a new training role, helping the new firemen and engineers on the railroad. It has been something I’ve wanted to do for years. It typically takes eighteen months to be a full-fledged engineer. I try my best to instill the same passion, concern for safety, and the sense of love for the Disneyland Railroad’s history with my trainees. In the future, I hope that I can work on other projects that help others find a passion for railroading and share Walt’s railroad legacy.

10. What began your interest in old homes and remodeling them, and how did you learn to do all that you do in restoring your home?

I’ve always been an old soul. When my wife and I started dating we would always drive through Pasadena, California and dream of owning an old house. My father was a jack of all trades and over the years from watching him I picked up how to fix a thing or two. I’ve practiced carpentry since my early twenties and studied the Arts and Crafts movement in college. Any chance I get you can catch me building all sorts of furniture in old styles (Craftsman, Spanish Revival, Greene and Greene). In 2017, we were lucky enough to find a beautiful Spanish Revival home in need of love, and have been restoring it to its original 1931 glory.

11. If there’s anything else you’d care to share about your interest in the Disneyland Railroad or even just Disneyland/Disney in general…

There are lots of things that are just a façade at Disneyland, so it’s not surprising that folks are fascinated when they find out that the steam locomotives are the real McCoy. The actions we take on the Disneyland Railroad are very similar to what individuals would be doing on a locomotive around the turn of the century.

  • It takes a lot of luck to land a job in the roundhouse. On average, we look for new firers once a year. We only hire internally so you have to be working in the resort for at least six months. Everyone starts as a fireman despite prior experience and we are union (local 501) so there is seniority at play.
  • It takes 40 Firemen and Engineers and 12 Operating Engineers to keep the Disneyland Railroad up and running.
  • It’s always 15-30 degrees hotter inside the cab than the outside temperature.
  • We burn recycled Biofuels that come from the Park’s kitchens. Go eat some fried chicken and help our railroad!

  • It takes 35-50 gallons of water to make enough steam for one trip around the Park.
  • This sounds corporate but I believe it to be true: I’ve always been happy with the diversity of the Cast Members at the company. I think it’s fun working with all types of souls from every corner of the world.
  • It’s not just the Disneyland Railroad and I think it really doesn’t cross most guest’s minds when visiting, but it takes a huge amount of people to keep the resort running. The number of Cast Members has doubled and some since I started in 2005.

I cannot thank Mark enough for his generosity in sharing his story. I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did!

See more Disneyland Railroad photos at my main website.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Six for Sixty

We met six years ago and today she turns sixty, so what better way to celebrate Melissa’s (aka “The Colonel”) birthday than to post my six most memorable times with her? It was not an easy choice and I had to leave some events out due to brevity, but here goes. For once, these are in no particular order.

1. You never forget the first time…we met in April 2017 at the Marion Davies Guest House in Santa Monica. All I have is this tiny tiny photo below to prove that we were there together!

From there, the caravan traveled over to the Santa Monica History Museum to celebrate Shirley Temple’s 89th Heavenly Birthday. Melissa (right) is posing with Shirley’s son, Charlie. It was at this event, just as I was leaving (my aversion to crowds had kicked in), that I thought, you know…she might be nuttier than a fruitcake, but she’s a pretty cool gal. BTW: I don’t hang out with people unless they are somewhat nutz. The sane ones just aren’t any fun.

2. The Melissa Roast. In October 2022, I made a whirlwind trip to NYC. Melissa and I took in a Broadway show and managed to squeeze in a dinner at Carmine’s with her incredible daughter. Becca is off the charts, and we had fun roasting her poor mother (who loved every minute of it). Melissa didn’t stand a chance as Becca and I compared notes.

3. Road Kill, December 2018. She’ll do just about anything for Shirley, including playing dead in the road to re-create a famously gruesome scene from “Bright Eyes.” Good sport doesn’t even cover it.

4. Fountain Coffee Room lunch, December 2018. We’d been driving all over Los Angeles this day, and ended up having a quiet lunch at one of my favorite hidden gems: the Fountain Coffee Room in the Beverly Hills Hotel. No selfies during that lunch; I think we were both too pooped to hold up our phones.

5. Visit to Temple’s Temple, April 2022. Melissa is friends with the owner of Shirley Temple’s childhood home (after she struck it big!) and was able to get me inside.

It was one of those things that never even made my bucket list because I would never have dreamed that it was possible.

6. Breakfasts/Dinners at the Chateau Marmont. I believe the first time Melissa dined at the Chateau with me was April 2018. She was done with her events that day and joined me for a quiet Sunday night dinner. Again…no photos exist, but it was a memorable of evening of good food and great conversation.

Happy Birthday, Melissa - and here’s to many more!

See more of my photos at my main website.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Pens not Plush at Disneyland

This November 1959 image shows a gent hanging out in front of the Pen Shop at Disneyland. Lasting from 1955-1959, you could purchase pens, get a handwriting analysis, and check out the replicas of historic documents on display. Something tells me this shop would never fly today; not enough ROI for the stuff shirts. Below is an overall 1950s image that shows East Center Street (just off Main Street, U.S.A.) where you could find the Pen Shop in the back left corner.

From June 2012, you can see that this quaint little corner has been maximized for profit with juice and fruit cart offerings as well as lockers (to store all the stuff you don’t need) and an ice cream shop at the rear.

In this September 2007, you can see that the “Painless Dentist” is where the Pen Shop used to be.

See more Disneyland East Center Street photos at my main website.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Temple Tuesday: Shirley’s Christmas Quintet

Today for Temple Tuesday we celebrate a quintet of Shirley movies that take place during the Christmas holiday. First up is “Bright Eyes” (1934), one of my favorite Shirley films. There is a very touching Christmas Eve scene where Shirley’s widowed mother (Lois Wilson) confides in her daughter that she misses her husband. The next morning, little Shirley is celebrated by all her aviator friends who used to work with her father before he “cracked up.” She is showered with gifts and love.

Yes, that’s mistletoe in the pilot’s hand. When I attempted to look up the meaning of the branch and berries on Google, this is what it said:

Historically, mistletoe represents romance, fertility, and vitality. Because nothing says love like bird feces and poison. But seriously, the Celtic Druids valued mistletoe for its healing properties and likely were among the first to decorate with it.

Who knew Google has a sense of humor? In “Stowaway” (1936), Shirley is a little girl who must flee her home to avoid being killed, then gets robbed, stows away on a ship, befriends a rich playboy (Robert Young), runs afoul of Alice Faye’s character’s mother-in-law (Helen Westley), almost gets put in an orphanage, and then has to plea to a judge to keep her “new” parents (Young and Faye) from getting a divorce. Doesn’t sound very Christmas-y, does it? Well, that’s what happy endings are for! The final scene has Shirley singing, “That’s What I Want For Christmas,” and judging by all the toys, dolls, and trains surrounding her, she gets everything on her list.

In “Heidi” (1937), Shirley sings “Silent Night” at the Sesemann household with crippled Klara (Marcia Mae Jones), wicked governess Fräulein Rottenmeier (Mary Nash), Herr Sesemann (Sidney Blackmer), and all the household servants.

It is a touching scene as the little girl gazes in wonderment upon the tree, ornaments, and abundance of gifts in the house, followed by a cut to the townspeople, nuns, and law enforcement singing the Christmas carol as well. Pardon the colorization; it was the best clip I could find!

A vintage hand-tinted photo from the same scene in “Heidi”:

“The Blue Bird” (1940) begins on Christmas Eve, as Mytyl (Shirley) and her little brother (Johnny Russell) rush home for dinner after an afternoon of bird hunting. The merriment inside a mansion causes the poor little girl to stop and gawk, wishing she had all the riches that the people inside did. Regardless, she is too proud to accept cookies from the kind gentlemen who works there.

After a long journey in a dream sequence (or was it?), the children awake on Christmas morning to discover that the war has been called off and they can celebrate the holiday with their parents.

Note the festive garland around the door?

In “I’ll Be Seeing You” (1944), the Morgan family celebrates the Christmas holiday by welcoming their niece Mary (Ginger Rogers) for a visit. Mary meets a handsome Sergeant (Joseph Cotten) on the train there. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful romance, right? Not so fast, folks. Mary is on parole (for accidentally killing the man who tried to rape her) and Zach is on leave from a military hospital, attempting to adjust to his PTSD. Are they honest with each other? Of course not! However, Barbara Morgan (Shirley) inadvertently spills the beans to Zach about Barbara and…well, you’ll just have to watch it yourself. In this scene from the movie, Barbara is about to go on a date with Lieutenant Bruce, played by John Derek, who put the “Derek” in Bo Derek! You’ll note that in both “The Blue Bird” and “IBSY” Shirley’s mother is played by Spring Byington, who would eventually play Major Nelson’s mother in “I Dream of Jeannie.”

“I’ll Be Seeing You” may not be the happiest of holiday movies, but it is still worth a watch and guaranteed to draw a tear from the driest of ducts! 

Which Christmas Shirley movie will you watch this season?

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Monday at The Dump

Although I had read that the Margaret Mitchell House was still closed, I hoped against hope that somehow things would work out that I could get inside once more. My last visit inside was in 2007 with my crappy little digital camera. It was time for some better photos! Unfortunately, it is still “under renovation.” Or something like that. Located at the corner of Peachtree and Tenth Streets, it was in a then-fashionable section of town. From the historic marker in front:

Completed in 1899 by Cornelius J. Sheehan, the Margaret Mitchell House was originally a single-family, Tudor Revival residence. In 1913, the house was relocated to the rear of the property and converted into a ten-unit apartment building, know as the Crescent Apartments, in 1919. In 1935, Margaret Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, moved into Apartment No. 1 where Mitchell wrote the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel Gone with the Wind. Today, the Margaret Mitchell House is a designated city landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a popular tourist destination, and home to the award-winning Literary Center at the Margaret Mitchell House.

The exterior now looks neat and tidy, but when she lived there, Mitchell referred to the place as “The Dump.” From the City of Atlanta website:

The Marsh's marriage started with them deeply in debt from John Marsh's prior illness but they were determined, in Margaret's words, "to live poor as hell and get out of this jam." Thus, they decided to take the small basement apartment that consisted of two rooms plus a kitchen, a bath and a porch. She called it "The Dump," probably more in response to the privilege of her own upbringing than to the actual condition of the building itself.

I was able to get up close and personal with the back of the house:

Peering in, I was able to get this shot:

What it looked like in 2007 when I was able to go inside:

It didn’t look like much was going on inside; it looked like the cleaning crew had gone in a hurry, leaving their equipment behind. Mitchell’s book has come under fire over the last few decades because of its portrayal of the Civil War and slavery. From the Atlanta History Center website:

Both the book and the movie depict a rosy myth of the Old South, casting the institution of slavery in a benevolent light. African Americans characters are also characterized as simple-minded and beholden to the white characters, most of whom are slaveholders.

What I remember from reading the book was that Mammy was one of the few people with integrity and smarts. I should probably read it again with fresh eyes and see how it fares in today’s world. Regardless, it would probably be a safe bet to say that the house has stayed closed longer than what was promised because of the controversy surrounding the author, her book, and the movie that followed.

See more Margaret Mitchell house in Atlanta photos at my main website.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Attraction Posters: The Disneyland Railroad

The original attraction posters from Disneyland are a prized possession for vintage Disneyland geeks! The bold colors and simple stylized graphics are timeless. Today’s post will center on the ones for the Disneyland Railroad. The first image shown here is probably unfamiliar to most; while not truly a Disneyland attraction poster, it could be found at the Main Street Train Station, as seen in this image below from August 1958:

Most likely it was supplied by Santa Fe (an original sponsor) and was from their vintage collection. There is another poster that once hung at the station in the early days (shown below) that I have yet to find the original inspiration for or a larger more visible version. One day!

Here is the iconic original poster that promoted the three stations/depots at Disneyland:

This image from the summer of 1955 shows that attraction posters were not part of the entrance experience:

The other interesting thing that it DOES show is that originally, two trains could run side-by-side from Main Street to Frontierland:

By September 1956, attraction posters graced the front entrance along the wall on either side of the Mickey Floral:

From October 1956:

In this shot you can see the Main Street Station poster towards the left of the photo. Though stamped January 1959, this image is most likely from December 1958, since the Christmas bunting is still up.

When the Grand Canyon Diorama was introduced to the Park in March 1958, it got its own attraction poster:

You can see it at the entrance in this June 1959 image, behind the woman in the gray sweater:

1966 saw the addition of the Primeval World diorama:

This October 1966 image shows the poster next to one of the Disneyland Mail Boxes:

Frontierland/New Orleans Square eventually received its own railroad poster, but it was many years later and the style had radically changed, so I cannot include it with this group of classics!

See more Disneyland Railroad photos at my main website.