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Grizzly Flats Railroad

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Grizzly Flats Railroad
A gray steam locomotive with a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement (two leading wheels, six driving wheels, and no trailing wheels) and its tender
The GFRR's Emma Nevada locomotive
Dates of operation1942–2006
Track gauge3 ft (914 mm)
Length900 feet (274.3 m)
HeadquartersSan Gabriel, California

The Grizzly Flats Railroad (GFRR) was a 3-foot (914 mm) narrow-gauge heritage railroad owned by Disney animator Ward Kimball at his home in San Gabriel, California. The railroad had 900 feet (274.3 m) of track, and was operated from 1942 to 2006. It was the first full-size backyard railroad in the United States.

The GFRR was notable for helping Walt Disney rediscover his childhood fascination with trains, which led him to build the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a ridable miniature railroad in his backyard. The GFRR also influenced the design of the Disneyland Railroad within the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

The GFRR's rolling stock, including the two steam locomotives owned by Kimball, are now on display at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California. The railroad's depot building and water tower were moved to the Justi Creek Railway, a private railroad owned by John Lasseter.


An elderly man standing next to railroad track in the foreground with an old-fashioned railroad depot building on the opposite side. A roundhouse and water tower are located where the railroad track ends in the background.
The GFRR with Ward Kimball in the foreground
Grizzly Flats Railroad
Kimball residence
Grizzly Flats

In 1938, Disney animator Ward Kimball, a lifelong railfan, purchased a passenger coach, built in 1881 by the Barney and Smith Car Company, from the Carson and Colorado Railroad.[1][2] He originally wanted the coach to house his collection of model trains at his home in San Gabriel, California; however, his wife Betty suggested that he should also have a locomotive to pull the coach.[2][3] A suitable locomotive was purchased for $400 from the Nevada Central Railroad, which was selling it for scrap.[4] This was the Sidney Dillon, a 2-6-0 steam locomotive built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1881.[3] Kimball renamed the locomotive Emma Nevada, after the late 1800s opera star.[3] Over the course of several years, Kimball, his family, and his friends worked to restore the Emma Nevada to operating condition.[4] The railroad became operational in 1942.[5] Kimball named his railroad Grizzly Flats Railroad (GFRR), and it would eventually consist of 900 feet (274.3 m) of 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge track, including a 500-foot (152.4 m) main line, in his backyard.[4][6] The GFRR became the first full-size backyard railroad in the United States.[7]

In the years to follow, Kimball added a boxcar, a cattle car, a gondola, a caboose, and a second locomotive to the GFRR.[8][9] The second locomotive was a 0-4-2T steam locomotive built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1907, and was originally run on the Waimanalo Sugar Plantation on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.[1][10] Kimball renamed the locomotive from Pokaa to Chloe, after one of his daughters.[1][11] As opposed to the Chloe, which burned wood to generate steam, the Emma Nevada burned coal.[3] Kimball was forced to stop running the Emma Nevada in 1967 due to complaints from his neighbors regarding the coal smoke it created.[9][12] The Chloe pulled a set of train cars custom made by Kimball, consisting of a four-bench open car built around 1975 and two passenger-carrying gondolas built around 1993.[6] Kimball gradually added several structures to the GFRR, including a roundhouse, a water tower, a windmill, and a depot building.[1][13] The depot building was given to him by his boss, Walt Disney, and was originally used as a set piece for the 1949 Disney film So Dear to My Heart.[14] Kimball died in 2002, but his family continued to operate the GFRR until 2006.[6][9]

Influences and preservation[edit]

A red steam locomotive with a 0-4-2T wheel arrangement (no leading wheels, four driving wheels, and two trailing wheels) and no tender, coupled to a small train car
The GFRR's Chloe locomotive on display at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in 2009

Kimball shared his railroad hobby with fellow Disney animator Ollie Johnston, who owned a ridable miniature railroad, and Walt Disney.[15][16] On October 20, 1945, Disney attended one of the Kimball's "steam-ups", which were parties hosted at their home when the Grizzly Flats Railroad was in operation.[17] During the party, Disney was given the opportunity to drive the GFRR's Emma Nevada locomotive, which was the first time since working as a teenager on the Missouri Pacific Railway that he had been inside a locomotive cab.[17] Disney eventually decided to have his own backyard railroad built, which he named Carolwood Pacific Railroad.[18] His ridable miniature backyard railroad, and the narrow-gauge GFRR, inspired Disney to create the Disneyland Railroad within the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.[2][19] The Disneyland Railroad's depot building in the Frontierland section of the park was built using the same blueprints for the GFRR's depot building.[14]

In late 1992, Kimball began to donate the GFRR's rolling stock to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California.[17][20] The last of the rolling stock remaining on the GFRR, including the Chloe locomotive, was put on display at the museum in 2007.[6] The GFRR's depot building and water tower were acquired by Pixar film director John Lasseter, who moved them to his private Justi Creek Railway.[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Broggie (2014), p. 52.
  2. ^ a b c Amendola (2015), p. 118.
  3. ^ a b c d Amendola (2015), p. 119.
  4. ^ a b c Broggie (2014), p. 56.
  5. ^ Gross, Cory (April 9, 2011). "The Madness of Ward Kimball". Network Awesome. Archived from the original on September 19, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d "Grizzly Flats (3-Foot Gauge)". Orange Empire Railway Museum. Archived from the original on March 18, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  7. ^ Broggie (2014), p. 53.
  8. ^ Amendola (2015), p. 120.
  9. ^ a b c Pool, Bob (May 12, 2007). "Railroad hits End of the Line – Page 1". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  10. ^ Hiney, Harlan. "Early Years 6 - Early Member Gerald Best". Southern California Live Steamers. Archived from the original on March 25, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  11. ^ Broggie (2014), p. 57.
  12. ^ Kelley, Ed (July 10, 2002). "We remember Ward Kimball: 1914-2002". Discover Live Steam. Archived from the original on July 13, 2017. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  13. ^ Broggie (2014), pp. 54–55.
  14. ^ a b Broggie (2014), pp. 266–267.
  15. ^ Broggie (2014), p. 17.
  16. ^ Broggie (2014), p. 100.
  17. ^ a b c Broggie (2014), p. 58.
  18. ^ Broggie (2014), p. 109.
  19. ^ Amendola (2015), pp. 138–139.
  20. ^ Pool, Bob (May 12, 2007). "Railroad hits End of the Line – Page 2". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  21. ^ Amendola (2015), p. 133.
  22. ^ McFarland, Kevin (June 23, 2015). "Pixar's Best Director Is Also Its Most Underrated". Wired. Archived from the original on December 23, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2017.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°07′07″N 118°04′29″W / 34.1187°N 118.0747°W / 34.1187; -118.0747