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Hall-of-Fame Rocker Neil Young and Mickey Mouse: the Surprising Connection

selective focus photo of boy standing near miniature train toys

Neil Young’s star was taking off just as Walt Disney’s was setting. Young was touring Canada as a solo artist in 1965. In 1966, he formed the “Mynah Birds” with Rick James, which was signed to Motown. The group had problems when James was arrested for being AWOL from the U.S. Military. Still, Young went to Los Angeles where he formed the highly successful Buffalo Springfield in the same year. It was also the year Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse, died.

Neil Young’s Invention

Ben Young, Neil’s son, has cerebral palsy. Growing up, Neil wanted to be able to connect with his son, so he built a 700-foot model train track. He then designed a controller that Ben could use to control the trains. In 1995, Lionel Trains was threatened with bankruptcy. Neil put together an investment group and bought the company, so he could continue his experiments with model trains. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2008.

Mickey Mouse Hand Car

Flashback to May of 1934, and the great depression has taken the life out of the Lionel. It’s facing bankruptcy but goes into receivership. Two months later, Disney’s marketing genius Kay Kamen comes to Lionel with a plan because he believes in the company. Lionel could make and sell a windup Mickey Mouse Hand Car. They do, and by Christmas, Lionel had paid off its debts, and by January, it was out of receivership.

The Connection

While Walt Disney had a love trains in common with Neil Young, the connection Neil shares with Mickey Mouse is they both saved the same model train company from bankruptcy.

Lessons of Creativity

Neil Young is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. His creativity comes out in his music, but that didn’t stop him from dabbling in something new. He wanted to share his love of trains with his son. He saw a need and figured out how to fill it. Neil Young was no dabbler in trains though; he had been playing with them since he was five. It was Kay Kamen’s belief in Lionel that led him to offer the company the opportunity to turn their fortunes around. The company said yes to the offer. “Yes” is often the most powerful word.

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