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Adrienne Krock, editor

All Aboard!

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
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 the“Grizzly 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
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.
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
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
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 opportunities.

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
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
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
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.

All Aboard! Visiting the Orange Empire Railway Museum


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being Matthew and Spencer's mom.

Adrienne, Matthew and Spencer visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy.

Besides Matthew and Spencer, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain the award-winning Happiest Potties on Earth here at MousePlanet.

You can contact Adrienne here.

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