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Grizzly Flats (3-Foot Gauge)

The story of the Grizzly Flats Railroad began in 1938, in the backyard of Ward and Betty Kimball’s San Gabriel, California orange grove. Ward, an animator for the Walt Disney Studios and part-time railroad hobbyist, decided to purchase the last remaining passenger coach from Southern Pacific’s narrow gauge railroad. About the same time, a railfan friend suggested the Kimballs should have an engine to go with their “new” 1881 coach. The historic Nevada Central Railroad was about to be abandoned, and had for sale a nice, vintage Mogul-type steam locomotive, numbered 2 and once named Sidney Dillon, which had operated in the Nevada desert since 1881.

The rest is history. The newly-acquired locomotive and coach were brought to Southern California by rail and by truck, and soon were resting on a short section of track among the Kimball orange trees. Ward and Betty decided to name their new operation the Grizzly Flats Railroad, and heralded it as the “Scenic Wonder of the West”.

Friends and family helped to restore and refinish locomotive number 2 to its former glory and Ward renamed it Emma Nevada after a famous opera star of the late 1800s. Coach 5 was colorfully painted and its Southern Pacific letterboard re-lettered to Grizzly Flats Railroad. This activity all took place on weekends during the late 1930’s and early 40’s. The intervening years saw additional rolling stock added and a Baldwin plantation locomotive arrived from Hawaii. More track was laid and a Victorian railroad depot that was a leftover from a Disney movie set became the line’s station.

Over the years, the Grizzly Flats Railroad was truly a family and friends affair. Every so often, one of the locomotives would be steamed up for rides up and down the 500-foot right-of-way. Thousands of curious railroad buffs from all over the world visited this famous Southern California landmark. Magazine and news reported, motion picture companies, and TV crews sought out and recorded the Kimballs and their backyard empire. Even though the suburban neighborhood multiplied around the orange grove as the years passed, this unique railroad operation will always be regarded as Ward and Betty Kimball’s “Scenic Wonder of the West”.

On July of 2001, the Grizzly Flats Railroad was further expanded with the addition of a replica Southern Pacific “gallows” type turntable, built on site by Museum volunteers with financial support from Ward and Betty Kimball. Ward Kimball passed away one year later, in July of 2002. Betty and the rest of the Kimball family continued steaming up the original Grizzly Flats Railroad in San Gabriel until the summer of 2006. The Chloe and her cars arrived at SCRM shortly thereafter, and went on display in the Grizzly Flats enginehouse in early 2007.

Photos are from the Museum Collection unless indicated otherwise.