Friday, October 12, 2007

Goodbye to Grizzly Flats

The Grizzly Flats Railroad is soon to be no more. For those who are unaware of this unique peice of Americana, Grizzly Flats was a private narrow-guage railroad built and maintained by Walt Disney animator Ward Kimball. From 1942 until Ward's death in 2002, the Grizzly Flats Railroad ran over a 500-foot stretch of track in Kimball's three-acre backyard. The main engine used was a restored Baldwin steam locomotive built in 1881 named the Emma Nevada, which was donated to the Orange Empire Railway museum in Perris, California in 2001.

Ward Kimball was also the founder and leader of the famouse jazz band the Firehouse Five Plus Two, and the backyard railway housed for many years the firehouse wherein were parked the antique fire engines he bought for the band's many public performances.

However, it appears that the famed railway will soon be no more. According to Steve Hulett's The Animation Guild blog, Grizzly Flats is being slowly removed. Hulett reports that the track has already been removed and while Kimball's famous depot station will be preserved on the Sonoma estate of John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios), the old firehouse where the Firehouse Five's fire equipment lived and the engine house where the Grizzly Flats rolling stock was stored will both be demolished. The Firehouse Five fire equipment was donated to the Travel Town museum in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. Hulett quotes the Los Angeles Times as saying of the railway,
It was short in length — but long in its reach.

The Grizzly Flats Railroad's steam engines traveled for 70 years along a 500-foot-long stretch of rails next to the San Gabriel home of Betty and Ward Kimball.

Along the way, the Kimballs' picturesque narrow-gauge line helped inspire Walt Disney to build the famous passenger train system that circles Disneyland.

Now, though, its locomotives, vintage cars and caboose have been hauled away, and workers have finished pulling out the steel rails and wooden ties. Soon, the antique-looking Grizzly Flats train depot will be dismantled. The old train barn and firehouse will be demolished.

"It's an emotional thing. But it has to be done," said John Kimball, the couple's 66-year-old son...

It is truly the end of an era. Grizzly Flats will live on in the permanent exhibit at the Orange Empire Railway Museum, but the railway that sparked so many memories is gone. I never got the opportunity to meet Ward Kimball or to ride on his famed railway, but he provided much inspiration and his railway will be sorely missed, as will his many other acheivements. Goodbye, Grizzly Flats!

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