Visiting the Orange Empire Railway Museum
Wednesday, March 28, 2001
Text and photos by Adrienne Krock, staff writer
My husband is
a Disney nut. My son, although only two, is a Disney nut and a train nut.
My recently retired father is becoming a train nut; after 36 years as an
electrical engineer, you can imagine how a train interest can manifest
itself in his mind and heart.
So what's a wonderful wife, mommy, and daughter to do for these three
men in her life? Why, take them to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in
Perris, California, of course!
I'd actually heard bits and pieces about this museum for some time, but
last Sunday we finally made it out there. Perris is located in Riverside
County, about 50 miles east of Anaheim. The Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM)
moved to its five- acre location there in 1958. Today, OERM is the largest
railway museum in the west, occupying 65 acres, and operating entirely on
donations and an all-volunteer staff.
On the site are several barns that house various engines,
cars, and workshops, such as the woodworking shop, where volunteers
refurbish the wooden parts of the trains, and the machine shop, where
volunteers build replacement parts for engines and cars.
When we arrived at the museum, our
first stop was the gift shop. Although the museum charges no
admission, there is a fee to ride the trains. On the weekends, city
streetcars run on the Loop Line around the museum grounds, while a train
from the museum's collection carries visitors up the mainline and back to
the museum. On Sunday, there were two electric cars running and a diesel
engine pulling two cabooses and two open cars.
Matthew waves from the 1201, a
California Car from the Los Angeles Railway.
With our ride tickets in hand, we first proceeded to board the 1201, a California car from the Los Angeles Railway on the Loop Line.
This was a great way to get acquainted with the museum grounds. As the
electric car made its circuit around the grounds, the volunteer engineer
occasionally stopped to describe what we were seeing.
At one of our first stops, we had our
first Disney moment of the day. The volunteer stood
up, faced the guests on board and asked, Who here knows who Ward
Kimball is? Kevin (my husband) and I were the only two who did. The
volunteer explained Ward's history with Walt Disney, pointing out the Grizzly Flats Railway barn.
Ward Kimball is one of Walt's Nine Old Men. He was
especially noted for creating Jiminy Cricket, but it was Ward's enthusiasm
for trains that motivated Walt's interest in trains. Ward built a railroad
in his backyard and dubbed it theGrizzly Flats Railroad.
In 1990, Ward and Betty Kimball announced that they were donating their
train collection to the OERM, and began constructing the Grizzly Flats
Railroad barn. The first two major pieces from their railroad collection
are housed here. The Grizzly Flats Railroad Coach No. 5 sits near the front
of the barn. Originally purchased for $50 in 1938, the coach was the first
piece of railroad equipment the Kimballs acquired.
Ward and Betty Kimball's steam engine, the Emma Nevada.
Display cases in this barn house: magazines featuring stories about
Ward and his railroad; photos of Ward; and even some interesting
invitations to private parties the Kimballs held at their home in San
Gabriel, featuring picnics and rides on the Grizzly Flats Railroad.
Emma Nevada, the Kimballs' steam engine, rests at the back of the barn.
Visitors can read about her history there, from her construction in 1881
through her restoration at the hands of Ward's family and friends. Emma
Nevada carried passengers along the Grizzly Flats Railroad in Ward and Betty's backyard
until 1951, when she experienced boiler problems.
The back half of Emma Nevada.
In addition to the Grizzly Flats Railroad Barn, also called Engine House No.
6, there are several other barns that house train cars and engines,
historic buildings, and lines of cars and engines stored outside in
various yards. On Sunday,Car House No. 1 was
open, so we strolled up and down the tracks filled with 42-inch
narrow-gauge city streetcars. This collection includes electric Los
Angeles Railway Yellow Cars, a San Francisco cable car, and
even an 1898 streetcar from Japan.
Car House No 1.
Ready for more Disney connections?
Remember the shiny red cars from the Disney film Who
Framed Roger Rabbit? The museum currently has several big red cars
from Los Angeles's old lines. Volunteers have been refurbishing one of
these for the past five years and should have it complete in just about
another year. [Hey, readers, if any of you can think of other Disney connections to OERM, send them in.]
We enjoyed walking around the museum and encountering several engines
and cars, and Kevin and my dad spent considerable time examining them.
Matthew, our little train buff, was able to get many close-up views of
diesel engines, steam engines, and a variety of cars. Several cars and
engines in the barns had ramps and decks built next to them so that
visitors could look inside.
Near the gift shop, there was a small scale version of a Pacific
Railway Red Car made from wood for children to play on. This was a nice
place for Mom and Grandma to rest while Matthew played and Grandpa and Dad
examined a few more engines. Matthew was very excited being in a train-filled environment.
This diesel locomotive was running on the mainline when we visited.
Riding the train up and down the mainline was a treat for Matthew. On
our first ride, we chose seats in an open car lined with benches. Later in
the day, we returned so that Matthew, his dad, and his grandpa could ride
up in the high seats of a caboose, with a special view out of the windows
up there. We enjoyed this advantage of the unlimited ride
Museum volunteers chose this caboose to give rides to guests on Sunday.
The high windows provided special views. We watched several children
enjoy trips up high.
Tips for visiting OERM
Plan your trip for a weekend or holiday when the trains are running
The museum was not crowded at all on the Sunday
afternoon we visited. Keep in mind, however, that Perris gets very warm in
the summertime. If you plan for a summer visit, dress lightly, bring
plenty of water, and plan to take your time exploring.
Drive to the museum
As Southern California natives, we tend to
be very dependent on our cars and drive everywhere. If you're flying in to
the Anaheim area, I highly recommend renting a car to venture out to the
museum. Frankly, driving to Perris is the most convenient and efficient
way to visit this train museum (ironic, isn't it?).
Bring a picnic lunch
The gift shop sells chips, cookies, and
candy bars, and there are soda machines outside of the gift shop.
Otherwise, the museum does not offer any food option. There are several
picnic tables in the shade fronting Grizzly Flats Railroad barn, providing
a lovely location for lunch. If you're driving, stop by a grocery store on
your way out to Perris. Even with a rental car, you can still purchase a
cheap Styrofoam cooler at a grocery or convenience store for your picnic
food, and to keep in your hotel room during your stay.
Matthew shows Grandma where he wants to sit on the train's open car.
Be prepared to off-road it
Much of the museum
grounds consists of dirt roads, and the building floors are concrete or
dirt. We chose to keep Matthew's stroller in the car until we really
needed it, which we never did.
We did however, attach an elastic leash to our little
engineer's overalls when he made it clear that he didn't want to hold
anyone's hand. Volunteers drive around the museum grounds and visitors
need to cross the un- gated Loop Line tracks, so we had to make sure that
Matthew couldn't get too far away from us. The leash worked very well,
giving Matthew a sense of independence while ensuring his safety.
[Updated July 2003: OERM has paved many of its roads and walkways.]
Bring your checkbook or credit cards
The OERM gift shop offers
very tempting merchandise. There were several children's T-shirts to
choose from, as well as a display full of children's literature that
featured trains. The toy selection was smaller but also tempting. There
was also a music CD that caught my eye, but I resisted that temptation. Of
course, adult-size shirts are also available.
A large variety of things like train books, videos, and calendars fill
the main room of the gift shop. There are also patches, pins, maps,
prints, and more. Our family made four separate trips to the cash
register. Every time we thought we were finished shopping, we found
something else we could not live without!
Regular admission is free!
There is no admission charge for
visiting the museum, which is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The
train and streetcars run from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Children 4 years and
under can ride the trains and streetcars for free. All-day ride passes
cost $5 for children 5 to 11 years, and $7 for adults.
Matthew and Dad take a stroll along the tracks.
Consider a museum membership
Kevin and I did some calculating
and decided to become museum members. For $50 a year, a family membership
covers two adults and all the children in their household. Although
Matthew and his soon-to-be-born-sibling are younger than the 5-year-old age cut-off for buying ride tickets, Kevin and I plan a few more trips
this year. We were also pleased to provide a little extra funding to the
museum, even if we don't make it as often as we plan to.
With your membership, you receive a monthly newsletter, and discounts
on hardcover books and videos from the museum gift shop. The museum also
offers occasional members- only events throughout the year.
RailFest 2001 is coming up next month
on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.:
The museum will be powering up several of its trains and streetcars,
including some steam engines. One special treat will be pit
tours in Car House No 2, where visitors can go into a pit underneath
a trolley car to see how trollies work. There will be several additional
exhibits including a G-gauge live steam system as well as a 1 1/2 inch
gauge steam engine.
The RailFest includes exhibits at both the museum and the train depot
in Perris. Of course, trains will run on the mainline linking the two so
that visitors can enjoy both.
There are too many special activities planned for me to name them all
here, but if you're interested in a chance to operate a diesel locomotive
yourself, bring an extra $10 donation... General admission will be $12 for
adults, $8 for children 5 to 11, and children under 5 years will be free.
Members get free admission.
If you are already planning to attend
MouseAdventure on Sunday, April 29,
this leaves Saturday to visit the RailFest, making for a fun-filled
weekend full of activities. You can figure out how the Krocks will be
spending their weekend!
If you have a train nut in your family, this museum is definitely worth
the trip. If you're a Disney nut, it may be worth a trip for you. For more
information, visit the Orange
Empire Railway Museum's Web site (link). Maybe we'll see you there!
Revised July 10, 2003.