The Ward Kimball

The Story of Disneyland Engine No. 5

by Steve DeGaetano | Release Date: September 12, 2015 | Availability: Print, Kindle

From Plantation to Theme Park

For Disneyland's 50th anniversary, the company had a great idea: add a fifth train to the Disneyland Railroad and name it after Ward Kimball, a Disney Legend and, like Walt himself, a railfan. This is the story of how a locomotive built in 1902 became part of the Happiest Place on Earth.

The story begins not in a theme park but at a Louisiana plantation where a small locomotive called the Maud L. was first put to use over a century ago hauling cane sugar through the hot, humid fields. As the Maud L. ran down over the years, she was destined for scrap—but then her "life" took a change for the magical.

Disneyland Railroad expert Steve DeGaetano tells the tale of how the Maud L. became the Ward Kimball:

  • The early years of the engine destined for Disney, including its quiet decades at a theme park in Ohio
  • Disney's acquisition and rebuilding of the Maud L., and its rebranding into the Ward Kimball
  • The inaugural run of the Kimball at Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration
  • A fascinating look at how Disney tests, operates, and maintains its steam trains
  • Plus, an account of Walt Disney and Ward Kimball's lifelong friendship, a bond forged from animation, steam trains, and theme parks

The whistle blows. A puff of steam rises over Main Street Station. The Kimball has come. All aboard!

Table of Contents

"For Ward"


About the Drawings


Chapter 1: The Big Day

Chapter 2: A Locomotive Is Born

Chapter 3: Ward Kimball

Chapter 4: Walt Disney's Trains

Chapter 5: The Search Is On

Chapter 6: Boschan Boiler and Restoration

Chapter 7: The Restoration

Chapter 8: Steaming to Life

Chapter 9: Testing

Chapter 10: Dedication Run

Chapter 11: Conclusion

Chapter 12: Postscript

Appendix A: Engine No: 3—Fred Gurley

Appendix B: The Lilly Belle


About the Author

In 1937, my father, Ward Kimball, bought a parcel of land that was part of an orange grove in east San Gabriel, California, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It was the smallest parcel of land in the area at the time. Most of the land was devoted to twenty-acre orange groves, and the farmers laughed at him. They said you can’t make a living at growing oranges with just two-and-a-half acres. They didn’t realize that he was an artist making a living as an animator for Walt Disney and he just wanted a place in the country to live with my mother, Betty Kimball. On the weekends, when he wasn’t working, he would go out to the nearby train yards with my mother and measure boxcars and other rolling stock to make O gauge models.

The same year that Ward and Betty bought the property in east San Gabriel, the Southern Pacific Railroad was burning old narrow-gauge passenger cars. When Ward saw a picture of coach No. 5, a beautiful 1875 narrow-gauge coach being scrapped by the Carson and Colorado Railroad, he bought it for one dollar and had it shipped to his property. He was going to use it for his model railroad layout and parties. My mother told him that if he had a coach, he should also have a locomotive. So they looked for and found an 1881 Baldwin locomotive, the Sidney Dillon, and bought it from the Nevada Central Railroad for $450, the price as scrap metal. Some of Ward’s friends who were a part of a railroad club helped him restore the locomotive and passenger coach, lay track, and build an engine house. In 1944, their backyard railroad was featured in an article in Life, with the locomotive fully restored and running.

I grew up with the Grizzly Flats Railroad in my back yard. I didn’t think it was out of the ordinary until I was about ten years old. It was just a part of my life. Every once in a while, my father and a group of his friends would fire up the Nevada Central freight locomotive, renamed the Emma Nevada, after a famous Opera singer of the Old West. She would pull the passenger coach and the next addition, a Pacific Coast caboose. The track ran from the engine house in the back yard to the street in front, a distance of five hundred feet. Ward kept adding to the railroad. He purchased a railroad water tank to fill the tender of the locomotive with water when they ran it. He also added a wooden windmill that was very rare because wooden windmills usually broke apart in a big wind and were replaced with metal ones. As a young boy, I loved to climb up to a platform at the top of the windmill and gaze off into the distance and look at the mountains and the city that was replacing the orange groves.

Walt Disney, who also was interested in railroads, would occasionally come out to our house when they ran the train. After Walt made the live-action film So Dear to My Heart, he gave Ward the depot from the film for the Grizzly Flats Railroad. Walt shipped the movie set out in pieces, and with a big crane they put it together and added a back wall to change it from a movie facade to a depot building. Ward furnished it as an 1880s railroad station.

Walt would come out to the house and visit with my father sometimes and they’d talk about a variety of things. I can remember seeing them in the living room as they would reminisce about their childhood experiences or about turn-of-the-century houses or some topic other than movies. They both had a keen interest in American history. When Walt decided to take a vacation in 1947, he asked my father to accompany him to the Chicago Railroad Fair and the Henry Ford Museum. They both were really excited about seeing a lot of early American steam locomotives, like the Tom Thumb, run under their own power. After visiting the Ford museum, Walt began to develop the idea of Disneyland and he talked about it on the way back from Chicago. He wanted to have an early American steam locomotive circle the park with a turn of the century main street as its centerpiece.

My father loved visiting second-hand book stores to look for old books on nineteenth-century architecture and machinery and any other old books that interested him. I sometimes accompanied him. He told me to look for old leather-bound books because they were the ones that usually had interesting engravings and artwork. He began to compile a lot of old books on railroads and American history. So when Walt was planning and constructing Disneyland, Ward loaned and gave many books to the studio to help research details for the Disneyland Railroad and the Main Street Promenade.

Before Disneyland opened to the media and the public, Walt had a party for all of the employees at the park. Ward told us it was a costume party and everyone was to come as if it were the turn of the century. My two sisters, Kelly and Chloe, wore old-fashioned dresses. I was fourteen years old and was given a boy’s sailor suit to wear that was two sizes too small. We left early to get to the park before very many people had arrived, but when we got there, it turned out that we were the only ones wearing costumes. The other employees got the last-minute message about the change in plans. Either my father didn’t get the message or he didn’t tell us. My mother, my sisters, and I were really embarrassed because everyone was looking at us. My mother was furious at my father and wanted him to take us home so we could change. But he was nowhere to be found. Other people were also looking for Walt Disney. It turned out that they were both running one of the steam locomotives in the park and, like two little boys playing, they had lost track of time.

After Disneyland opened, my father, like other Disney artists, helped Walt Disney Imagineering develop plans for new projects. Also, as the leader of the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a jazz band that was made up of members from the studio, he played trombone on weekends at Disneyland. I would go down to the park and listen to them entertain large crowds in the Golden Horseshoe and also at New Orleans Square where the band played next to the Western train station that was a duplicate of the station in our back yard.

I was very happy to learn that Disneyland wanted to name one of their new steam locomotives after Ward, because Disneyland and its railroad meant so much to him. Even though he didn’t live to see the Ward Kimball locomotive completed, I know he was pleased with the idea and was happy to contribute his opinions on the locomotive’s transformation. For a railroad man, having a locomotive named after you is the highest honor. The whole Kimball family is very grateful for Disneyland’s recognition of Ward, and we’re delighted Steve DeGaetano has written the story of the Ward Kimball locomotive at Disneyland.

I have become a man in the decades since I first visited Walt Disney’s magical kingdom, but the lure of that summer morning lingers still. The Anaheim park where I first laid eyes on the shiny, mesmerizing steam locomotives of the Disneyland Railroad has changed much over the years, growing and evolving with a fast-paced, modern society. The parking lot where I once heard piercing steam whistles and clanging bells from a long-ago age has been built into another amusement park, where the screams of revelers on roller coasters provide the aural backdrop, and an ersatz fire-blackened hotel looms on the horizon. But every now and then—in fact, quite often—I find myself thinking back to the days of my youth. In idle moments, I shut out the clamor and demand of a busy world, and drift back to a carefree time, an innocent time, one where the hardest decision a child had to make was how to spend his last “E” ticket, and where there was no place a train-loving little boy would rather be than with his family at Disneyland, where trains literally surrounded the place. In the years and decades that have passed, the aura and charm of those times continue to be with me, and now run round and round in my head like the steam trains of the Disneyland Railroad.

As I got older, my interest in the Disneyland Railroad became something of a grand obsession. While waiting with the family to be seated for lunch at the Blue Bayou restaurant, I would run to Frontierland Station to study the trains and chat with the crews. The constant races that my sisters and I engaged in going from ride to ride would be temporarily halted (much to their consternation) while I waited at trackside in Tomorrowland for a perfect picture of a train rolling into the station. At home, I drew pictures of the engines and tried to make models of Main Street Station.

It was obvious that Walt loved trains. Not only was there a steam railroad at Disneyland, but there were hints in other places as well. There were the cartoon shorts about Casey Jones, and Donald Duck and his backyard live-steam misadventures with two manic chipmunks named Chip and Dale. There was a movie called The Great Locomotive Chase, which told the tale of the adventurous attempt of Union troops to steal a train during the Civil War. There was the little circus train known as “Casey Jr.” in Dumbo. When I was young, I would pore over the souvenir books sold at Disneyland, which invariably devoted a few paragraphs to Walt’s interest in trains, or his backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific, which had a locomotive that looked a lot like one at the park. Of course, at Disneyland there were mine trains and horse-drawn street cars and monorails (even a Casey Jr. train that one could ride!) that reminded me that the person who created Disneyland was someone with a deep interest in railroading, much like myself. Walt Disney was someone I could relate to.

I read everything I could get my hands on about the Disneyland Railroad. It was during this period that I learned of a wizened elf with round Coke-bottle glasses and a noticeable twinkle in his eye named Ward Kimball, who had worked for Walt as an animator. I read about Ward’s magnificent toy train collections from my involvement in the model railroading hobby, and I remember reading that he didn’t just have model trains, but was so enamored of the iron horse that he had laid tracks in his back yard, and occasionally fired up a real steam locomotive.

Walt and Ward were kindred spirits when it came to trains, and their relationship went deeper than boss-employee. They were friends who shared an interest in the hobby of trains. That confluence of interests between Walt Disney and Ward Kimball led to many creative endeavors, the most awesome of which is the creation of the Disney theme park empire. Ward’s trains inspired Walt, and Walt’s railroad passion led to the creation of Disneyland. And so, it is entirely fitting that the Disneyland Railroad, in 2005, unveiled its newest acquisition—a locomotive named Ward Kimball.

I did not intend to be the one to chronicle this story. I was just very lucky. Like most fans of the Disneyland Railroad, I had heard about a rumored fifth locomotive for the park, but nothing ever seemed to come of it, and my interest would wane with each passing year. This all changed one autumn morning in 2004, when—just out of curiosity—I placed a call to a company called Boschan Boiler and Restoration, which I had heard might be handling the actual rebuilding of the locomotive. I spoke to Paul Boschan, company president, and when I asked him if he was, in fact, the one who was handling the restoration, I was disheartened to be told that he did not discuss the particulars of his customers’ projects. He did tell me, however, that his shop was on public property, and he was always available to discuss potential projects with customers personally. Needless to say, I paid him a visit.

As our friendship grew, Paul gave me unprecedented access to the locomotive as it was rebuilt, even allowing me to help with small projects here and there. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be allowed not only to witness but to actually participate in the rebuilding of a Disneyland Railroad locomotive. My childhood dreams of growing up to be an engineer, like many naive fantasies that must be secreted away when faced with the realities of adulthood, never came true; but being allowed to participate in the rebuilding of a Disneyland Railroad steam engine was the fulfillment of my youthful longings to somehow be a part of the Disneyland line. Walt Disney, the ultimate fulfiller of childhood dreams, would understand. And through it all, I became intimately acquainted with a little steam locomotive, now over a century old, that runs around Disneyland today.

This is the story of how Disneyland Railroad locomotive Number 5, the Ward Kimball, came to be. It is the story of a tiny steam locomotive built over 100 years ago, and of an entertainment genius who believed that trains were an essential element of his new idea in family entertainment. It is the story of a goggle-wearing personality who in photographs embodied the essence of a cartoon character come to life, who was not embarrassed by his passion for trains, but actually shared the steam experience with others by hosting “steam-ups” at his home. And it is the story of the men who labored to bring a piece of American history back to life, expert craftsmen who are keepers of the lost art of steam locomotive repair and operation, and of those charged with keeping the Disneyland trains running, in essence keeping one of Walt Disney’s dreams alive for generation after generation to enjoy.

I hope you will enjoy the trip through history you are about to undertake. Welcome aboard the Ward Kimball!

Steve DeGaetano

Steve DeGaetano has always loved trains. He traces this fascination back to his first encounter with the steam engines of the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad when he was five years old. In addition to being an avid collector of railroadiana and Disneyland railroad memorabilia, Steve is also an accomplished artist. His print of the E.P. Ripley entitled “One of Walt’s” hangs in the home of Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller.

When he’s not painting or writing, Steve spends his time on the New Hope Valley Railway in Bonsal, North Carolina, where he is a qualified steam locomotive fireman. He lives in Wake Forest with his wife, Alice, and sons, Chris and Jonny.

The Maud L. locomotive, built in 1902 for Louisiana plantation owners, had a long layover on its trek to Disneyland and eventual resurrection as the Ward Kimball.

During much of the early 20th century, Cedar Point was a small, resort-style amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie. By the mid-1950s, the park had seen better days, and attendance had dwindled considerably from its glory years. Newspaper headlines in 1956 predicted doom for the park, as two businessmen—George Roose of Toledo and Emile Legros, from Cleveland—had bought the property with the intention of turning the park into a housing development. But the park’s lease didn’t expire until 1959, and in the intervening years the two men studied the park’s operation.

However, after Roose visited a new type of “themed” amusement park in Anaheim, California, called Disneyland, the two men thought that there might in fact be money in the amusement park business if they could make a few changes, and the plans for a housing development were soon dropped. In 1960, they announced their plans to spend $16 million to build an “Ohio Disneyland”, which would cater to families.

During his visit west, Roose was also smitten by the trains of the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad and decided that his park could use a similar train operation. In 1960 he began looking for suitable motive power. He eventually contacted Arthur LaSalle, and in 1961 he purchased his first steam locomotive: a downtrodden little Baldwin teakettle named Maud L.

The engine arrived at Cedar Point in poor condition. The locomotive was coated in dirt and grime, and the headlights and whistle were missing. The boiler jacket had been removed, and many of the pipes had been disconnected. The engine still wore her jaunty cap stack proudly, however, and the name Maud L. was just barely legible on the cab sides. Over the next few years, the small engine was completely restored by a company called Lakecraft Welding. The pilot deck was extended, a new pointy wooden “cowcatcher” was installed, and a pony truck was added, making the engine into a 2-4-4T. Gold striping was applied, and intricate oil paintings adorned the sand dome, one showing a fierce 18th century naval battle. The engine was converted from an oil burner so that it could be fueled on Ohio coal, and—in a respectful nod to the engine’s past—the name Maud L. was kept.

As Roose expected, the railroad attraction proved to be quite popular and, like Disneyland, the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad added locomotives to its fleet through the decades. Over the next 44 years, the Disney quartet of motive power would steam on—a small close-knit family in southern California—while in Ohio, the CP&LE RR soldiered on as well. Neither park realized their paths — or perhaps their tracks — would cross in the late 1990s.

As the years passed, great changes were taking place in the theme park industry. No longer could a benevolent founder devote untold dollars to unprofitable expenses like upkeep and paint. The bottom line ruled the industry, and Disneyland was no exception. Profits and earnings had to be kept high; seemingly needless expenditures kept low.

In the mid 1990s, Disneyland Park Operations understood well that the Disneyland Railroad was popular with guests, and expressed their preference that four trains operate simultaneously every day. This schedule would play havoc with the railroad’s traditional maintenance routine, which had one locomotive of the quartet rotating out per week into the roundhouse service bay. That way, three trains could operate, while the fourth received its dose of mechanical care, and all the engines would see service during a month’s time. In order to implement a constant four-train operation, the park decided to obtain a fifth locomotive, allowing four to operate on the line at any given time, while one engine received service. It was thought that perhaps a trade of some type could be arranged, saving the company money. A wonderful plan, but not without its problems.

The first hindrance was where to find an engine. Conveniently, Bill Norred, a collector owning what was thought to be a suitable locomotive, lived nearby, and negotiated with Disneyland to trade his engine. The large and heavy 2-4-4T Forney built in 1927 by the Davenport Locomotive Works went to Disneyland in exchange for the park’s set of enclosed wooden passenger coaches, which hadn’t been used in decades. Problem was, Disney didn’t examine the engine closely enough before the trade, and its large size would not only mean trestles along the railroad would have to be shored up, but that it might not fit in very well with Disneyland’s diminutive structures, rolling stock, and scenery.

“Plan B” had Disneyland executives unceremoniously sending the large Davenport to the Magic Kingdom in Florida. The Walt Disney World Railroad, not really needing or wanting a fifth engine, reluctantly went through with plans to officially name and dedicate the locomotive. There was no one in Disney history more deserving than that pioneer rail preservationist and Walt’s trusted employee and fellow railfan, Ward Kimball.

A small dedication ceremony was held backstage with Ward Kimball in attendance, but after the hoopla, the engine was quietly set aside on the property. It seems as though the engine was deemed too small to pull trains up the WDW RR’s slight grades, and it remains in doubt to this day whether the engine ever pulled a train of any kind on the Walt Disney World Railroad. At the Magic Kingdom, it was simply an unwanted orphan.

However, Disneyland Park Operations’ preference to run four trains was not forgotten. Since the Florida park couldn’t use the engine, Disneyland pursued several leads for a possible trade to acquire the proper size locomotive for their needs. Coincidently, an amusement park in northern Ohio was looking to add a larger engine to its fleet, and had a smaller one they were willing to part with. As fate would have it, it was Cedar Point and the Maud L.

In 1999, after months of negotiations, the trade was consummated. Walt Disney World Railroad’s neglected stepchild, the Ward Kimball, would be traded to Cedar Point for the petite steamer that was nearing her 100th birthday, the Maud L.

Two events that occurred 43 years apart—the saving of the Maud L. and the 1999 trade—had finally come together to add to Walt’s railroad legacy.

Continued in "The Ward Kimball"!

After extensive restoration, the Ward Kimball is finally brought to "life".

On Saturday, April 30, 2005, a milestone was reached. For the very first time since Disney acquired the Ward Kimball, the engine was brought to life. The fire was started in the engine’s firebox in the morning. An air line was connected to a fitting in the locomotive cab to operate the things that normally would operate on steam, like the blower and the atomizer (which the fireman uses to control the fire). The burner itself was also operated on air, and the fire roared to life in the belly of the beast around 10:00 a.m. Two hours later, the flanks of the engine were warm to the touch, but the needle in the pressure gauge had not lifted off its peg. A slight diesel leak was discovered on the burner, and around lunchtime, the burner was extinguished. This repair could wait until after lunch.

A couple hours later, the leak was fixed and the fire relit. The process to heat the water to boiling was done very slowly. The engine was started dead cold, and every effort was made to bring the heat up slowly and methodically, so as not to thermally “shock” the boiler.

Around 2:30, the needle on the pressure gauge came to life. First, it moved slowly—1 pound…2 pounds…5 pounds… But after it reached about 10 pounds of pressure, the gauge began to climb rapidly.

While this was all going on, preparations were underway to fill the hydrostatic lubricator (a device in the cab that feeds steam oil to the air brake compressor). A leak in the device was discovered and soon fixed. The pressure continued to rise: 25 pounds…30 pounds…35 pounds…

Paul made the decision to get the engine to 100 pounds of pressure, and then remove the umbilical air supply that was supporting the engine.

The pressure continued to climb. The freshly applied graphite-and-oil on the smokebox began to “cook”, giving off smoke as the paint hardened onto the surface.

Seventy-five pounds…80 pounds…90 pounds…100!

The steam pressure gauge showed 100 pounds of pressure in the little teakettle. The air line was removed, and when it was, the engine became suddenly quiet. There was no fire; the blower was silent. One could hear a cotter pin drop.

Then, the header valve—the main valve that allows steam into every pipe on the engine—was opened, admitting the vapor that would operate everything that the locomotive depended on for life. Pipe joints creaked and strained under the pressure as the steam filled the pipes; wisps of white mist escaped connections and curled into the air. Water sizzled on hot surfaces. The engine yawned and groaned to life.

Now the locomotive would be operating on the steam she herself had created. The atomizer, blower, and burner would now operate on that steam. The fire was relit with a soft thud, and showed a golden yellow in the firebox. The blower shot a jet of steam up the stack to aid the engine’s draft. A nice, clean fire was created, with a very slight haze of smoke rising from the stack into the exhaust vent in the roundhouse’s roof. The fire rumbled and pounded in a deep bass that could be felt in the pit of one’s stomach.

The engine’s air compressor was started. It was operated very slowly at first, allowing hot steam to warm the moving parts of the device. The compressor’s exhaust was piped under the engine through a drain that would soon be closed, creating a gentle panting sound with each exhaust.

After a few minutes, the compressor rate was increased. About the same time, the exhaust bypass was closed, allowing the spent steam from the compressor to exhaust up the stack.

And what a sound it made! With each stroke of the compressor, loud, sharp blasts went up the stack, sounding like cannon shots! Boom!! Boom!! Boom!! The sound was incredible, and was far different from the relatively soft compressor exhausts that the other engines exhibit. With each exhaust of the compressor up the stack, the fire was almost sucked out.

Boom...Boom…Boom!! went the compressor, while the blower jets and rumbling fire created an absolutely beautiful symphony of noise. Up went the pressure: 125…135…145…

Continued in "The Ward Kimball"!

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