EXCLUSIVE: Inside the Magic Interviews the Creator of Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad, The Tiny Disneyland

in Disney, Disneyland Resort

Mickey Mouse at Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad

Credit: Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad

The Disneyland Resort may be the world’s most iconic theme park, but it is not the only Disney-themed attraction in the state. One of the most fascinating of those is Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad, a miniature, Disney-themed backyard garden railroad built as a hobby in the backyard of Dave and Frances Sheegog’s home in Anaheim, California. Over the years, through open houses, which are free to the public, it has become a community event attracting thousands of visitors each year.

A miniature version of the Disney Cinderella Castle
Credit: Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad

Dave Sheegog was kind enough to speak to Inside the Magic about the inspirations behind Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad, how it became open to the public, and the future of the tiny Disneyland.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

INSIDE THE MAGIC: What was the inspiration for Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad?

As the first homeowners at this property, the backyard was a blank slate, or empty canvas, if you will, waiting for something to be created. I wanted to design a fun yard that our three children would enjoy. We were home-schooling them, and I thought that the railroad would be a great “Learning Laboratory” where they could explore almost any aspect of human endeavor: electrical engineering, computer programming, botany, horticulture, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as all of the arts, design, music, painting, and sculpture. The planned railroad project would require knowledge and skill in all of these disciplines and many more. I don’t feel that I can point to an actual point of inspiration. It was more of a design project that needed to be done.

An overview of a miniature Disneyland
Credit: Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad

Originally, the purposes described above were for a generic garden railroad. Not necessarily anything to do with Disney. As the design progressed, I knew that it had to be themed in some way. Most garden railroads are themed after something, either a historical time period, a specific prototypical railroad, or a fantasy setting. I settled on Disney as a theme when it came time to start locating the structures. I had to decide on what kind of structures I wanted to build and showcase. The kids had some plastic play figures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I thought the dwarfs’ cottage would be a fun building, so that was the first. After that, the theme was set, and the design could proceed.

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What is your background with Disney? Are you a big Disney fan?

I grew up in Garden Grove with a view of the nightly summer fireworks. Upon graduation from high school, I worked on the canoe attraction as a seasonal/casual employee.

How long did you work on Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad?

Design was started in 1997, construction began in 1999, and the first open house was held in 2002. Construction has continued since then as each year sees something new.

What made you decide to open it to the public?

The daughter of the Pastor at our church called me one day and said that a Facebook group called “The Anaheim Buzz” had an ongoing debate on what the “Gum Balls on Serrano” were. Our tribute to the Pixar film Up (2009) features Mr. Fredricksen’s house being carried by a mass of balloons. The balloon mass peeks over the top of our rear masonry wall and is visible from Serrano Avenue, and appears as “gum balls” to some. She knew that this was part of our yard and asked if she could divulge this information. I said, “sure” and I thought that was the end of it. She called me a few days later and said that they had decided that we should have a Facebook Event here.

Captain Hook and Peter Pan miniatures
Credit: Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad

I did not object, but I told her that if she set it up, visitors would have to RSVP to make sure we didn’t have a problem with parking. She did this, and the next morning I had about 2700 RSVPs! I told her to cancel the event, and we would find a way to manage it. My son-in-law suggested Eventbrite.com and that was how it started. We now use Eventbrite.com to distribute free “tickets” to monitor how many guests show up on open house days. We limit it to 250 per day and usually do 8 open houses in the spring and 8 in the Fall. This is a total of 4000 spots per year.

Have you heard from the Walt Disney Company regarding your work?

We have had many visitors from the Walt Disney Company over the years. Back in November of 2013, I was contacted by a Disney producer out of Orlando to film a segment for a proposed show where they ask people to “Show their Disney Side.”  The series was to showcase various Disney collectors and their collections. He sent a crew of nine. They shot lots of footage, but alas, the series never made it to the finish line. While not actually the Walt Disney Company, we have had many Disney Alumni Clubs here, Bob Gurr has visited, as well as Tony Baxter.

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Miniatures of fish from Finding Nemo
Credit: Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad

Do you have any future plans for more installations or updates?

Oh yes! The two projects currently in design will be, by far, the most ambitious yet undertaken. They are “Rainbow Caverns” and “Galaxy’s Edge”. These will be self-contained, enclosed “shows” that will have a start and finish and will be housed in a controlled environment. Rainbow Caverns will feature the Nature’s Wonderland train that will travel through black-lit caverns with multiple water features, fluorescent glowing waters, and special effects in the dark. At our tribute to Galaxy’s Edge, visitors will be booked on a Star Tours destination to Black Spire Outpost for a date night excursion. There they will find themselves in the middle of a First Order skirmish, complete with a space battle and many special effects. These two additions will be different from anything built to date but will have the same attention to detail and playful character that epitomizes the current railroad.

Finally, what’s your favorite part of the original Disneyland?

That is a real tough one. I was born in 1958, about a mile from Disneyland and so it was always a part of my childhood. No one thing, such as fast roller coasters, Disney characters in costume, Frontier Adventure or any other one aspect of the Park sticks out. It was just being there that was magical. I do recall always looking forward to “Rocket to the Moon” and later “Mission to Mars.” Also, the skyway was always a treat.

For more information, visit their website cptrr.com

Thanks, Dave!

Will you make a trip to Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad? Let us know in the comments below!

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