Monday, April 5, 2021

Miniature Railroads

 by Anita Mae Draper

1872, Central Pacific's locomotive 173. Public Domain

In 1949 when Walt Disney decided he wanted a miniature railroad in the back yard of his home, the Walt Disney Studios' machine shop built a 1/8 scale model of CP 173, an 1872 steam engine no longer in service. The Carolwood Pacific Railroad was open to the public from 1950-1959, giving pleasure to enough visitors to show Disney that it could be a viable attraction to his theme parks. 

Disney's railroad was just one in a long line of small ridable railroads started by rail enthusiasts for their own use, but grew into rides to attract people to zoos, botanical gardens, and other tourist venues across the world. In 1899, a stereograph by the Keystone View Company of Meadville, Pennsylvania, showed an image they entitled the smallest steam railroad in the world.

The Smallest Steam Railroad Train in the world, 1899, Keystone View Company. Public Domain

Unlike conventional railroads which are built on a standard 4 foot 8 1/2 inch track, most miniature railroads are built on a narrow-gauge track between 1 ft 11 5/8 in and 3 ft 6 inches. The narrow gauge allows for tighter curves and lighter rails. They are less costly to build and operate. Although suited for tourist attractions, they are in use in mountainous regions, as well as for industrial purposes such as logging and mining.

The Disneyland Railroad (DRR), formerly known as the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, is a 3-foot narrow-gauge heritage railroad at Disneyland in Anaheim. As you can see, the difference between the small steam engine in the previous image and the DRR in this picture, is the width of the track allowing for a heavier engine and bigger cars. 

Disneyland Locomotive 2 at Main Street Station, 1960. Public Domain

The Miniature Railway Company of Manhattan, New York, operated ridable miniature railways in many parks throughout the world, as well as four World Expositions. The McGarigle Machine Company out of Niagara Falls, New York, and later out of Jersey City, built the equipment for the popular narrow gauge of 15 inches. 

Miniature Railway Train, Atlantic City, N.J., 1903. Public Domain

Coney Island, New York, had its own miniature railway as shown in the following images when taken in 1905 at short-lived Dreamland amusement park, next door to the famous Luna Park.

The Miniature Railway, Coney Island, New York, 1905. Public Domain

The Miniature Railway, Coney Island, New York, 1905. Public Domain

The White City Amusement Park in Chicago, Illinois, ran a double miniature train system on a narrow-gauge 12 inch track. The two trains passed each other on the half-mile track that had a station at each end. Track features were as simple or as elaborate as the builder wanted. As with most model railroad builders, the set is never completed and more tracks, equipment, and features are added all of the time. The same goes for many amusement park trains as they aim to bring people back over and over and must provide new ideas. Some of these features include bridging over water and going through a tunnel, elements that bring a sense of danger to the ride.

Miniature Train Operated by White City, Chicago, USA. Public Domain

Have you ever ridden on a miniature train? Care to share the particulars and what you thought of the experience?

Anita Mae Draper served a 20-year term working on air bases in the communication trade of the Canadian Armed Forces before retiring to the open skies of the prairies. She uses her experience and love of history to pepper her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism as well as faith. Anita Mae Draper's published stories appear in Barbour Publishing, WhiteFire Publishing, and Guideposts Books. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking out Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at   


  1. I have ridden on a narrow gauge train, but my husband says it's not a miniature train. There seem to be lots of narrow gauge trains around here but I don't think any lines are still officially working.

    1. Connie, when I first heard of miniature trains, I thought they meant ones smaller than a model train, but I've researched enough to realize a miniature train is the smallest one that people can ride on, no matter what size the human. The smallest one I remember being on was at an amusement park inside a huge shopping complex. It was okay, but I felt like a giant. I prefer them bigger. :)

      Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very interesting! My husband and I love trains of any size. He collects model trains.

    1. Yay, a kindred spirit, Melissa. We were house-hunting way back and we looked at a side split where the owner had filled one room in the bottom level with a model train setup. It was U-shaped and the track went round, over a mountain, through a tunnel, and back again. There was a town, trees and grass, real professional. It was an eye-opener and I was a wee bit disappointed when they said everything would be cleared out when they moved.

      Thanks for stopping by and letting me know. :)

  3. My husband loves trains and so does our son. My husband has an "N" gage and our son has an "HO" gage. From the time both our kids were little we would all ride little trains at the zoo, botanical gardens, malls, etc... Our son started reenacting civil war when he was 14. And there are train reenactments also. Now they also reenact WW2 and there are again train reenactments. This last christmas we had two 8 and 9 month kittens. They really didnt know what to think about the moving train under the tree. It was so cute. They would sit and watch it go around and around or the longest time. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    1. Too funny, Lori. We have a Santa train we used to put on the hooked into the light system and went around the middle part...and then we had to get a new tree and we couldn't get it to work so we put it away. Each Christmas I take it out but when I see hubby's face, I put it back. He was always worried it would take out an ornament or get caught up a wire or something when we were out of the room. One of these years I'll work on it and set it up somewhere nice, but I always forget and then get caught up in the Christmas rush.

      I didn't realize they did train reenactments. I'll keep an eye out for them. Thanks!