Main visitor parking lot was paved, and the front entrance remodeled. Several generous gifts allowed the Museum to begin a focused program of car and locomotive refurbishment using a contracted painter to supplement its volunteers. The program has turned out beautifully repainted railcars and locomotives at an impressive pace, encouraging additional donations to support the program.
The 62,000 square foot Ron Ruffulo Carhouse was completed. The Ruffullo Carhouse has six tracks inside, each 600 feet long. This facility doubled the amount of indoor storage space for the Museum’s collections, permitting a major cleanup and reorganization of the entire site.
Grizzly Flats was further expanded with the addition of a replica Southern Pacific gallows type turntable, built on site by Museum volunteers with financial support from the Kimballs.
Acquired 19 additional acres of adjacent property, which gave it the ability to site a major new collections storage facility.
Carhouse #4 opened raising the number to fifty railcars in the collection with an indoor home (representing about one-third of the total collection at that time). This same year also saw electrification extended for several blocks over the trackage connecting the Museum’s main line to the Santa Fe trackage in downtown Perris.
The Santa Fe Railway donated the historic 1892 Perris depot to the Museum. Although at the time the Museum could not yet operate its trains there, the building would later become a focal point in downtown Perris for both the Museum and the city’s redevelopment efforts.
By the mid-1960s, a core group of dedicated volunteers began to emerge. From among this core emerged leaders who began planning for the Museum’s future. They identified more land, protective carhouses, a public restroom and a gift shop as priorities.
With streetcar service ending in Los Angeles in 1963, the Orange Empire Trolley Museum began to gather momentum. Museum members travelled to sites throughout the region salvaging abandoned railway infrastructure that could be reused for the Museum. California Southern Railway Museum shared the site, and mainline railroad equipment continued to appear in large numbers.
The Orange Empire Trolley Museum found a new home on an abandoned railroad right-of-way just outside of rural Perris, California, some 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Except for a small two-room farmhouse and a rock dugout dating from the 1880s, the site was a lonely, semi-desert field. There was no running water, no indoor plumbing, not much of anything but trolley cars and youthful enthusiasm.
The early years at Perris were a time of intense activity, though mostly on weekends, as almost all of the participants worked regular weekday jobs. Track was hurriedly extended as more and more trolleys arrived, eventually evolving into a yard arrangement. The few visitors that found the place thought of it as “the trolley farm” and this moniker would stay with the Museum for years to come. By late 1959 a used Cummins diesel generator power plant was acquired and set up to provide the 600 volt DC electricity for trolley car operation. Overhead wire followed and operations were soon possible on a short stretch of track.
The Orange Empire Traction Company’s first home was at Travel Town, an already-established display of retired railway equipment in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. By 1958, the group had changed their name to the Orange Empire Trolley Museum and had brought 10 pieces of equipment to Travel Town. Then came the event that started the wheels in motion to form what would become today’s Museum. Ironically, it was the same type of event that had hastened the demise of the equipment they were collecting: the construction of another of L.A.’s famous freeways. The group was informed that the new Ventura Freeway would cut directly through Griffith Park, isolating the site from access to major roadways
A group of enthusiasts known as the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California formed an Equipment Committee set out to preserve some of the Los Angeles trolleys for future generations. In 1956, this group formed the Orange Empire Traction Company and stepped up their preservation efforts even further. Many were still teenagers when the organization was founded, and their youthful enthusiasm was soon put to good use as the club began acquiring trolleys for preservation.