Grizzly Flats Railroad

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Grizzly Flats Railroad
Emma Nevada Grizzly Flats Railroad Coach 5 1946.jpg
The Emma Nevada locomotive, a passenger car, and a caboose on the GFRR in 1946
Dates of operation 1942–2006
Track gauge 3 ft (914 mm)
Length 500 feet (152.4 m)
Headquarters San Gabriel, California

The Grizzly Flats Railroad (GFRR) was a 500-foot (152.4 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.


The GFRR's Chloe locomotive on display at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in 2009
Grizzly Flats Railroad
Kimball residence
Grizzly Flats

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.[1] 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 No. 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 1949 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.[2]

In the 1990s, Ward donated the Emma Nevada, Coach No. 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.[3] 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 Justi Creek Railway, a 3 ft (914 mm) gauge railroad on the grounds of the Lasseter Family Winery, which he also owns. As of September 2016 the backyard of his former Ardendale Avenue home retains the trackbed of the former railroad and has become overgrown. The former engine shed, fire house and shed buildings remain on the property as they were at the closure of 2006, but are abandoned, completely unused by the tenants.


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) gauge railroad and Disney's own 1:8-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, the C.K. Holliday, was modeled closely after the Lilly Belle, but was built to a larger 5:8-scale design and ran on 3 ft (914 mm) gauge track, just like on Ward Kimball's railroad.

See also


  1. ^ See Best, Gerald M., "Back Yard Railroad," in Railroad Magazine July 1939, at 87-89. The article describes Mr. Best's plans to build the railroad and has two photos of the locomotive, Nevada Central No. 2.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^

External links

  • Orange Empire Railway Museum

Coordinates: 34°07′07″N 118°04′29″W / 34.118714°N 118.074664°W / 34.118714; -118.074664

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