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DisneyWard Kimball

R.I.P. Ward Kimball’s Railroad


According to this piece in today’s LA Times, Ward Kimball’s family is dismantling his backyard Grizzly Flats Railroad – one of the major inspirations for Disneyland. John Lasseter is personally taking some of the depot buildings… the rest of the material donated to museums, or destroyed.


    I do find it sad that things like this change. However, as Wards famous railroad was a private endeavor and not actually a “Disneyland” in and of it’s self. I am sure that Ward’s family feel that the place is not what it was without Ward. So as things go I can lament it’s passing almost as a part of Ward himself. No easy thing for the family to do. I’m sure of that. Thankful for the things Ward left us. His wonderful creations, Images, Music and Humorous interviews.

    I’ll always remember how kind he was to me as a kid. I only had once conversation with Mr. Kimball. When I was a kid I called him up on the phone and chatted with him about Fantasia and the future of Animation and his famous band (F.F.+2)He was very kind and easy going to this young kid. (I was a pest of a kid) He told me to call T.Hee. Funny guy. Sad about the Railroad though. Again, I’m sure this is not an easy thing for his family to do.

  • Mr. Semaj

    Prepare for the wrath of Kimball’s ghost. :(

  • I know nothing lasts forever and Ward, the raison d’être, is gone, but this news still makes me extremely sad. I always wanted to think of Grizzly Flats existing somewhere.

  • At the risk of sounding like some New Age /Gnostic type , it (Grizzly Flats) still exists somewhere … in our collective memories of Ward Kimball. This whole Kimball attitude : doing something just for the sake of doing it , not because it was practical or a money-making venture ,but because it was fun and it was there ; that seems to have been Kimball’s attitude to animation and life in general. Who’s stopping us from building our own backyard railroads (or equivalents) ?

    Thank you Ward (and Betty) for your example .

    Let’s go make something fun …

  • Don’t be too sad, Kimball lovers, for the old Grizzly Flats railroad didn’t really die! You can find quite a few of the engines and cars at the Perris, California old railroad museum. Just Google it to find out more. Pay a visit if you can, they have a beautiful train barn holding the Baldwin locomotive with Ward’s paintings on the smokestack.

  • The recent Walt Disney Presents dvds have a segment at Kimball’s railroad. I just recently learned about it and now to find out it will soon be gone. Very sad.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Well that sucks!

    > The recent Walt Disney Presents dvds have a segment at Kimball’s railroad. I just recently learned about it and now to find out it will soon be gone. Very sad.

    Heh, I knew about this 20 years ago having seen some of that stuff on Disney Channel (back when the used to show those things).

  • That’s weird. I always thought that he donated the engines, fire engines, and rolling stock to a museum in L.A. in his will.

    I wish I still had the picture of me sitting on the cowcatcher of the big coal burning locomotive. Mr. Kimball was a generous man who loved to share his railroad collection (since it couldn’t really be called a ‘train collection’) with everyone. I’m pretty sad to see it broken up. Would this include his toy train collection? That took up an entire separate building!

  • Nancy, almost all the toy trains(along with the rest of his antique non-train toys) were sold at auction (mostly on Ebay) a few years ago. It would have been a heck of a collection to keep in one piece–I’m sure absolutely unmatched anywhere–but I’m also sure all the items went to loving collectors(and some dealers).

    I bid on and got one item that I remembered from a visit there–a 1920s bisque comics figurine.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting Ward and Betty many, many years ago when they came to Vancouver for a book signing event. Not too many people showed-up, so I had the fortunate opportunity to spend some time with both of them talking about their experiences at Disney (Betty worked for a short while in Ink and Paint) and their railroad.

    I sent Ward some giant Russian sunflower seeds which he grew. He sent me a picture of the sunflower towering over him in his backyard. We sent many letters back and forth…a very generous man with a great legacy and sense of humor.

    Ward’s toy collection was auctioned off a couple of years ago, so I suppose the dismantling of Grizzly Flats is just the next, sad, logical step.

  • OK ye dern fools! Go over to and see Ward’s prize engine and passenger car waiting for you to visit them! There are also many Kimball links there. It’s called the Orange Empire Railway Museum and is located out in Orange County at Perris. I love it there, my brother-in-law often volunteers there and helps to paint and take care of the “rolling stock”.

  • Back in the early 90’s a group of us from Warner Brothers went to visit Ward at his home and got the full tour of the place…the big barn with just one train car left in it, the building with his huge model train collection, and yet another smaller building with antique mechanical toys. We went inside the Grizzly Flats railroad depot and I got some photos of myself and Ward on one of his firetrucks, which was housed in yet *another* one of the buildings on the property.

    It’s nice to know his wife is still alive, she was a friendly lady who served us up some lemonade as we talked with Ward (who was very sharp and sarcastic, which was cool) and he signed some things for me..I had brought a 78 rpm of one of his FireHouse Five records and a drawing of him and Fred Moore from “Nifty Nineties”…Ward was truely a genius and eccentric. His contributions to that studio helped make it what it was, he added a real sense of fun and absurdity, stretching the boundaries to ingenius classics like “Mars and Beyond”.

    When I found out he had passed away I went and left some flowers on the railroad tracks which extended out from the backyard to the sidewalk. I remember he had this painting on his wall in the house of a slice of watermelon. He said the seeds were actually junebugs that had been glued to it. I don’t know why but I thought that was really neat. It just showed me the sort of creative absurdity that I enjoyed so much and felt added that extra wacky quality I think Disney needed in their cartoons and characters.

  • Scott Harpel

    And there are still people who think John does not care for Disney, shakes head.

    Nice to know some of Wards stuff will join Ollies Train. For those that dont know read this.

  • Ward’s train and toy collection was sold by Noel Barrett in 2004. The collection realized 5 Million dollars in auctions. You can read more about it here

    and the second auction here

  • EHH

    At least it they will keep some of it.

  • Ivan Acosta

    Being from San Gabriel, it’s been sad to see parts of the railroad being sold off piece by piece. I’m quite disappointed the cities of San Gabriel or Temple City failed to recognize its importance. A full size railroad in one’s backyard is a great example of those who dream and do; pursue and explore. This is California.

  • End of an era, all right.

    I only got over there once, during my time at Disney. Went with jamie Oliff one saturday morning and it was one of the best things i ever did while in CA. i suppose he may have said the same things to alot of his visitors, but I couldn’t believe how open he was; he had a lot to say and showed us EVERYTHING… the trains, the station, the toy trains, the fire engines.

    Run do not walk, to the Orange Empire Railroad Museum when they have things running. Buy and read the book The Walt Disney Railroad Story- lots of detail about Kimball and his trains , then walt and HIS trains. Join the Carolwood Historical Railroad Society. Go watch Pigs Is Pigs, the grizzly Flats Depot was the model for the station house in the short. Go drive out to Gold Country up out of the Bay Area and visit the original Grizzly Flats way out beyond Placerville and visit the Roaring Pines Railroad on theway.

    Guys like Kimball were giants and they didn’t fool around with toys. Those steam engines were hissing, spitting, live things that could kill you if you didn’t know what you were doing. But he did what he wanted to do regardless.

    And he did so much.. a lesson for us all. How did he do it? I don’t know, but we owe it to those guys to not waste one inch of the time we have.

    I remember he said, if you’re collecting stuff, buy other collections, don’t just try and pick things up one at a time. Haven’t taken that advice yet. He also said, We didn’t watch alot of TV.

  • Larry Day

    I lived on El Camino Real in San Gabriel valley during the 60’s and 70’s – great years. The end of our street was the Kimball’s property. We would climb over a 12-15 foot high chain-link fence and sneak in the barn where the two locomotives were stored – WOW! Couldn’t put it into words at the time. They seemed so big and powerful.

    I remember the Kimball’s always threw parties, especially during the Holidays (X-Mas). Mr. Kimball would sound the steam whistle that could be heard – it seemed for miles. We were very young at the time. He had two beautiful daughters that had blond hair and blue eyes. One used to drive a green 1967 Volkswagon van.

    There were empty lots at the end of El Camino Real, and I remember playing in the dirt with my brothers and finding “Horn Toad Lizards” and “Ant Lions”. We would keep them as pets and show them off to people at the parties. Those days are long gone, development…

    Kids these days will never experience anything of that kind. Times have changed. So, Thank You Ward Kimball and family for the excitment you brought us and all the memories that will last forever.


    Larry, David and Brian Day (sons to Earl and Marilyn Day 1960-70 circa at 8827 El Camino Real)