Disneyland Donates California Zephyr Locomotive to Western Pacific Railroad Museum

Despite having California right in the title, the park known as California Adventure has never had a coherent theme. Was it a movie studio? A fantasy-take on the golden state? or a wistful glance at the history of seaside amusement parks? There was no one theme, but it was trying to capture the gestalt of California. The new ‘theme’ is even less coherent (but that’s a different article) and it requires the removal of everything that greeted guests and set up the park’s original story.

The new story (about Walt’s arrival in California) doesn’t need railroads (despite the very important role they played in the early life of Walt Disney, including his arrival). So that means it’s time for the California Zephyr to hit the road. But some good will come of it, the Disneyland Resort has donated the California Zephyr train previously located at the entrance to Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, CA.

The train and related artifacts, which were part of the entrance to the theme park, arrived at their new home August 6 and will become part of the museum’s Zephyr Project collection. Plans for a gallery dedicated to sharing the legacy of the California Zephyr are underway.

“Walt Disney’s love of trains made this donation perfectly fitting,” said Disneyland Resort President George A. Kalogridis. “The expansion of Disney California Adventure park provided the opportunity for us to make this meaningful donation and we are thrilled the train will offer museum visitors and train enthusiasts an immersive experience, much like it did here.”

Visitors to the museum will learn about the history of the famous 1950s passenger train through the donated artifacts, while the recreated locomotive will offer the chance to experience what it was like for engineers to guide the stainless steel Zephyr trains through California’s Feather River Canyon.

The cab once operated as a real locomotive. It is an authentic rendition of the Western Pacific Railroad – one of the three railroads that operated the California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco from 1949 to 1970. It wears the same number as the last locomotive to lead a westbound California Zephyr into Oakland, Calif. on March 20, 1970. The California Zephyr is one of the most celebrated “name trains” of the 1950s and 60s.

About the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr was introduced in 1949. It wasn’t the fastest train between Chicago and California, but it offered the best of western scenery.  The train departed Denver early in the morning, then climbed up the Front Range of the Rockies and traveled the canyons of Colorado rivers. In California, the train crossed the Sierra Nevada, traveling along the amazing canyons of the Feather River on the line of the Western Pacific Railroad.  A 1950s advertising slogan for the train promised “Beauty by Day, All the Way!”

Today, Amtrak operates its own California Zephyr over part of the original route.  As one of the most popular long distance trains, it still offers the best scenery. The modern version crosses the Sierra Nevada using Donner Pass (formerly owned by a rival railroad to the Western Pacific) along Interstate 80 instead of following the Feather River route.

Most of the passenger cars built for “The Silver Lady,” as the California Zephyr was sometimes known, survived the end of the operation of the train. A surprising number still exist today in museums, as well as in charter service.

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