Grizzly Flats Railroad
The Grizzly Flats Railroad was a 500-foot (152 m) long, 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad in San Gabriel, California, owned by Disney animator Ward Kimball. It was the first full-size backyard railroad in the United States and was operated from 1942 to 2006.
In 1938, Ward Kimball, a lifelong railroad fan, decided to purchase the last remaining passenger coach from the Carson and Colorado Railroad. The intention was to use the coach to house the Kimball's growing collection of railroadiana and model trains, but this plan was quickly changed. When the Kimballs learned that the Nevada Central Railroad had a vintage 1881 Baldwin 2-6-0 steam locomotive for sale (the "Sidney Dillon"), arrangements were made to purchase it. The old coach would then be used for its original purpose, as a passenger car. The dilapidated railroad equipment was soon resting on a short section of track among the Kimball's orange trees. Ward and Betty decided to name their new empire the "Grizzly Flats Railroad", and heralded it as the "Scenic Wonder of the West". Friends and family helped to restore the locomotive to look like a flashy 1860s locomotive. Ward renamed it "Emma Nevada", after a famous opera star of the late 1800s. Coach #5 was colorfully painted and its Carson & Colorado letterboard was changed to "Grizzly Flats Railroad". This work took place on weekends through 1942, at which point, the "Emma Nevada" was first fired-up. The following years saw addition of a cattle car, a caboose and a Baldwin 0-4-2T plantation locomotive that once ran in Hawaii, which the Kimballs named "Chloe" after their youngest daughter. Ward ceased steaming the "Emma Nevada" in 1951 when it developed boiler problems (it only ran again once in 1985, during a race with Tom Scherman's "Iron Man"). In 1956, Kimball began to run the newly restored "Chloe". The neighbors were probably relieved, as the wood-burning "Chloe" produced cleaner smoke in smaller quantities than the larger coal-burning "Emma Nevada." Over the years, Ward added the Grizzly Flats Depot (a set piece built for the 1948 Disney film, "So Dear to My Heart", and given to Kimball by Disney) and some other out-buildings to house his burgeoning toy train and railroadiana collection.
Shots of Ward on the railroad, and a few shots of the railroad itself can be seen in the "I Love Toy Trains" series by TM productions.
Kimball shared his hobby with his boss Walt Disney and fellow animator Ollie Johnston, who owned a miniature ride-on railroad. Disney decided he wanted to have a backyard railroad, as well. His train was built at the Walt Disney Studio in 1949 under supervision of Roger E. Broggie, and the track was laid at his home in Holmby Hills on Carolwood Drive. Walt called it Carolwood Pacific Railroad and named his locomotive "Lilly Belle" after his wife Lillian. Kimball's 3 ft (914 mm) railroad and Disney's own one-eighth scale railroad inspired Walt to design a railroad surrounding the amusement park he was developing, which became known as Disneyland. The "Disneyland Railroad" initially had two locomotives and two sets of cars that were built at the studio between 1954 and 1955. One of the Disneyland locomotives, "C.K. Holliday", was modeled closely after the "Lilly Belle", but was built to a larger five-eighths scale, and ran on 3 ft (914 mm) track, like Ward Kimball's railroad.
The end of the railroad
In the 1990s, Ward donated the "Emma Nevada", Coach #5 and most of the rolling stock to the Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM). The OERM has since cosmetically restored the "Emma Nevada", which was last steamed up in 1985. The "Chloe", two small gondolas and a sightseeing car remained at home so the family could continue giving train rides at their occasional steam-ups. Ward died in 2002, but the family continued to operate the train until 2006. Since then, the "Chloe" and its cars were relocated to OERM. Ward's toy trains and railroadiana collection were sold at auction. The Grizzly Flats Depot was acquired by animator John Lasseter in 2007 and relocated to his private, 3 ft (914 mm) gauge railroad on the grounds of the Lasseter Family Winery, which he also owns. The tracks are gone, but the memories remain.
- Broggie, Michael, Walt Disney's Railroad Story, 2nd ed., pp. 12-14, 52-8, 61-70, 81-2, 232-5, The Donning Company Publishers, Virginia Beach, VA, 2006.
- Trainorders.com - Dismantling of Ward Kimball's Grizzly Flats R.R.