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© July 10, 2002 

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We Remember Ward Kimball

1914-2002


by Ed Kelley

The railroading, music, and film communities have all lost a very important member who passed July 7 2002. 

 

Ward Kimball joined Disney Studios in 1934, where he became a key animator and a member of the original “Nine Old Men” of animation.  He transformed the hungry, shoeless mouse in the 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie into the Mickey Mouse that would be known by millions.  Kimball also created the know-it-all Pinnochio character “Jiminy Cricket”, who “is only a cricket because everyone says so”.  And typical of any railroad personality, he even drew the famous circus train “Casey Junior” in the animated feature Dumbo.  Two of Kimball’s animated shorts, “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” as well as “It’s Tough to Be A Bird”, won Academy Awards.

 

 

Kimball also founded the Dixieland jazz band “Firehouse Five”…later “Firehouse Five Plus Two” when the original five members had grown to seven.  With Kimball on the trombone, the rest of the instruments were all played by Disney employees as well...since they were the ones who made up this group!

 

Aside from being a jazz trombone player and having a hand in most Disney productions, Kimball was a die-hard railfan.  He and his supporting wife Betty purchased a Barney & Smith passenger coach for fifty dollars which was going to be burned by its former owner, Southern Pacific Corporation.  Although the Kimballs planned to use it to house their electric toy train collection, plans changed when they discovered for sale former Nevada Central 2-6-0 #2 known as the “Sidney Dillon”.  The old Baldwin coal-burner that had once hauled passengers between Austin and Battle Mountain, Nevada was to be sold for scrap.  The Kimballs purchased her in 1938 for two hundred dollars and brought her to their San Gabriel home.  It took years for Kimball and his friends to restore the engine to operating condition.  While the engine that would be named “Emma Nevada” was being restored, a whole other group of friends helped laid a few hundred feet of 36-inch-gauge track through the 2-acre orange grove.

 


“Emma Nevada” John Smatlak photo  *

 

After years of hard work, the “Emma Nevada” steamed out of the enginehouse and highballed down the mainline of the new Grizzly Flats Railroad.  A few steam-up parties later, Walt Disney was invited to take the throttle of “Emma” for the first time.  It was this that brought the true railroader’s “high iron” out of Disney.  In fact, years later, Disney once suggested that Kimball bring “Emma” down to Disneyland where it would get more use and could ease crowds!

 

Kimball’s friend Gerry Best, the famous railroad author and historian, tracked down two locomotives in Oahu for sale by the Waimanalo Sugar Plantation.  The two locomotives were 0-4-2 tank engines, and were #2 “Pokaa” and #3 “Olomana”. 

 

"Olomana" and "Pokaa" (Chloe) at work in Oahu on the Waimanalo Plantation **

 

Kimball bought “Pokaa” while Best purchased “Olomana” for himself.  The two went to work restoring the locomotives once they came to the mainland; Best restoring it as a colorful diamond-stacker and Kimball backdating it to appear as an 0-4-2RT or “rear tanker”.  He named it “Chloe” after his youngest daughter. 

 

Gerry Best next to the "Olomana" at Warner Bros Studio Backlot when the restoration was just barely complete. **

 

Since neighbors complained about the black smoke the coal-burning “Emma Nevada” sent up in the sky, Kimball decided to restore “Chloe” as a balloon-stacked wood-burner.  The three stalls in the Grizzly Flats enginehouse were filled when “Olomana” moved in after it had to be removed from the backlot of Best’s employer, the Warner Brothers Studio.  Olomana ran on the Grizzly Flats line until 1970 when Best donated his pride and joy to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.  The engine rested atop its high pedestal in the Railroad Hall of the Museum of American History for over twenty years.  In the late 1990s, it moved to the Arts & Industries building for an exibit on the Hawaiian Sugar Cane industry.  After the exibit was over, Olomana went to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg…right next door to the famous tourist line.

 

In addition to the two steamers, Kimball also collected other narrow-gauge equipment including a boxcar, caboose, and a three-wheeled “Velocipede” inspection car.  Kimball’s huge collection of toy trains and railroad artifacts were kept in the Grizzly Flats station, which was originally a movie set from the film “So Dear to My Heart”.  The station is based on the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s whistle stop in Pottsville, New York.

 

In 1990, Ward and Betty Kimball announced they would be donating their equipment to a railroad museum.  They chose the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris, which was the closest to their home.  In 1992, the “Emma Nevada” (which had been out of service since the 1950s due to boiler problems) and all the other original narrow gauge equipment left the Kimball home.  Ward kept “Chloe” and built a beautiful four-wheel Narragansett-type observation coach.  The coach, as well as some four-wheel industrial gondolas, ran behind Chloe until the last steam-up in the late 1990s.

 

There was no action at the Grizzly Flats Railroad for four years.  Ward Kimball died of natural causes at the age of 88...and he would have made it to the dedication of the 5th engine at Disneyland which was to be named in his honor if all would have gone well down at their shops!  The #5 “Ward Kimball” at Walt Disney World was dedicated in 1997 in Kimball’s presence, but since it was sold Disney had decided to name the new engine for him as well.  Kimball had willed to the Orange Empire “Chloe” and all of the equipment and structures on the line.  Kimball’s humor, musical talents, and “great guy-ness” as said by many will be missed by all who knew him both in person and through books such as Michael Broggie’s fabulous work Walt Disney’s Railroad Story


"Olomana" in G-scale

 

You can own your very own piece of the Grizzly Flats line in G-scale.  One of the new beauties of the Hartland Locomotive Works line is an extremely-detailed model of the “Emma Nevada”.  Everything is beautiful on it, down to the colorful Grizzly Flats lettering on the tender.  It isn’t cheap, but for those more on a budget, Lehmann Gross Bahn (better known as LGB…or Lehmann “Big Train”) makes models of “Chloe” and “Olomana”.  Top it all off by purchasing a Grizzly Flats Narragansett coach, or a two-pack of Grizzly Flats four-wheel gondolas.

 

If you’re like me and don’t have a G-scale empire, get yourself a copy of Walt Disney’s Railroad Story.  Not only is it a beautiful encyclopedia of all trains Disney, complete with gorgeous photos and drawings, but it has a whole chapter on Ward & Betty Kimball and their railroad!  The book also includes rarely-seen train sketches by Kimball, as well as lots of info on “the other” Disney railfan animator…Ollie Johnston.  Johnston is best known for his 1-inch scale La Canada Valley line, but he once owned his own 36” gauge line like Kimball known as the “Deer Lake Park & Julian”. 

 

It cannot be forgotten that the Grizzly Flats Railroad lives on at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum.  Donations can be made there in Kimball’s name to help preserve the equipment.

 

LINKS:

Ward Kimball

http://www.angelfire.com/ca6/gfrr/

 

Orange Empire Railroad Museum

http://www.oerm.mus.ca.us

 

Grizzly Flats Railroad

http://www.gfrr.com/ (under construction)

 

Thank You Ward Kimball

http://www.fecrailway.com/ward.htm

 

* Photo curtsey of the Orange Empire Railway Museum

** Photo curtsey of  The Smithsonian

 

the end

 


About the author

Ed Kelley is currently putting together the guide to Narrow Gauge & Amusement Park Railroads. Ed has written for the Grand Scales Quarterly and will be contributing to the 7+ Narrow Gauger.  Ed lives in the New York area and is interested in Grand Scale live steam railroads there.

 


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