HE WROTE THE BOOK ON DISNEY'S LOVE FOR TRAINS; THOUSAND OAKS MAN REMEMBERS SPECIAL MOMENTS FROM THE 1950S.
Author Michael Broggie's 15-year search into the origin of Walt Disney's obsession with railroads was also a journey back to the fantasy world that encapsulated his own childhood.
His father, Roger, was among the first Imagineers, a precision machinist who later helped create Disneyland's rides, special-effects cameras for movies and a model railroad in Disney's Holmby Hills back yard. As a child in the 1950s, Michael shared weekends at Disney's home with hordes of children - including Candice Bergen, Michael Douglas and Nancy Sinatra - choo-chooing over a half-mile of tracks on one-eighth scale trains built from scratch.
``We didn't know it at the time, but it was a preview of Disneyland,'' said Broggie, 57, who now lives in Thousand Oaks. ``It was a fantasyland.
``When you entered the property, you were in another world. How did Disney become a global entertainment empire? You can trace it back to his backyard miniature railroad.''
Tracing is exactly what Broggie has done in creating a 432-page volume, ``Walt Disney's Railroad Story.''
Originally published in 1997, a revised edition won the Ben Franklin Award as the best biography of 1998 from the Publisher's Marketing Association.
With some 17,000 copies of the $59.95 coffee-table book in print, sales have reached $1 million, Broggie said.
``The book really does a nice job of capturing the essence of the magic of The Walt Disney Co.,'' said Bob Witter, director of promotions for Disneyland. ``It obviously starts with the eyes of a child and takes it up all the way through the building of Disneyland and the studio.
``Obviously, if you're talking about trains, you're talking about Disney theme parks. Trains are the ribbon that wraps that package that is Disneyland.''
To complete the project, Broggie interviewed 40 people, including Lillian Disney, Walt's reclusive widow; the couple's nephew, Roy E. Disney, now vice chairman of Disney; former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello; Frank Sinatra's daughter, Nancy; and relatives of Spencer Tracy.
Broggie also sifted through more than 3,500 photographs, selecting 350 for publication.
``You're connecting back to childhood,'' Broggie said. ``It crystallizes the memories. As long as they are there, they are real. You reconstruct scenes and dialogue. One of the things I got from my family is an excellent memory.''
Broggie recalls the day in June 1955 when he was 12 and Disney gave him a ride on Engine No. 2 through Disneyland, a month before the theme park opened.
``He was a tall kid who made a great playmate,'' Broggie said. ``He was a great dad and a doting grandfather.''
Broggie's book charts Disney's childhood in Marceline, Mo., one of numerous towns founded by the Santa Fe Railroad as it laid the tracks that would become a gateway to the West.
Walt Disney's father, Elias, was a carpenter on the Union Pacific Railroad, and his uncle Mike Martin was a Santa Fe operating engineer. The two would regale Walt and his older brother, Roy O., with stories of ``high iron'' railroad adventures.
``By listening to these great stories, he became a great storyteller,'' Broggie said. ``Walt was really a communicator. And what better way to share these stories than to make movies?
``Walt also had a great patriotism about the country. He recognized the role the railroads played in the building of the country, and he thought that people didn't appreciate that contribution.''
The book had the blessing of the Disney family, in part because Broggie sought to dispel what he said are unfair portrayals of the moviemaker as a mean-spirited tyrant.
He was, Broggie said, a gregarious man with simple Midwestern tastes who loved chili with beans, scotch, horse racing, polo, and movies or books that moved him to tears.
``He was very sentimental,'' Broggie said. ``He was very concerned about the welfare of children. He was once asked if he believed in the Immaculate Conception. He said, `I believe every child is the result of an Immaculate Conception.' ''
Much of the book spotlights Disney's Imagineers - engineers, machinists, draftsmen and set designers - who were content to work in the shadows.
Among them was his father, Roger, one of eight members of the Broggie family to work for the Burbank-based company.
In a career that spanned five decades, Roger had a hand in the design and construction of all the Disneyland rides, model and real trains, and cameras that shot the movies inspired by Disney.
``Anything mechanical that moves in the park has my dad's fingerprints on it,'' Broggie said. ``My dad was a very quiet individual in terms of seeking any form of personal recognition. He and those who worked on the team had to be satisfied with their own sense of accomplishment because everything had Walt's name on it.
``But he was extremely proud of what he accomplished,'' he said.
Roger retired in 1975 and the year before his 1991 death was awarded The Legend of Disney Award, the company's most prestigious honor.
A Disney family
Born into a Disney family, Broggie had found cartoon heroes in Donald Duck and Jiminy Cricket by the time he was 5. He decided early on that he wanted to become a Disney animator and practiced the craft at every opportunity. But a high school teacher told him he didn't have enough talent to pursue an animation career, and Broggie believed him.
``It was very painful when you realize your life's dream isn't possible,'' he said.
As a teen, Broggie worked as a ride operator at Disneyland during summer vacations and holidays, earning $2.08 an hour. He later worked as a writer and publicist and said it was he who thought up ``The Love Bug'' as the title for the 1968 film starring Dean Jones, Buddy Hackett and Michelle Lee.
Although Broggie has spent the last 20 years as an educational consultant, most recently for Canoga Park-based College Enterprises Inc., he has worked since 1993 on special projects and historical research for the Disney family.
For him, the work has a special significance.
``I'm in the last generation that grew up with Walt,'' he said.
Photo: (1 -- Color in Simi and Conejo only) Thousand Oaks resident Michael Broggie has written a book about Walt Disney's love for trains. Broggie's father was a close friend of Disney and shared his passion for trains.
Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer
(2--3 -- 3 ran in Valley edition only) Walt Disney, above, had and elaborate model traintrack in his Holmby Hills backyard. At left, he looks as Roger Broggie gets in on the action in 1951.
(4--5 ran in Simi and Conejo only) Left, Michael Broggie, age 12, and Walt Disney share a locomotive in June 1955. Above, sales of Broggie's book, says the author, have reached $1 million.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Sep 19, 1999|
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