It was 1948, and Walt desperately wanted to go to the Chicago Railroad Fair. Knowing Lillian and his daughters wouldn’t want go, Walt invited his friend Ward Kimball. Walt and Ward enjoyed the fair, and when Walt started building Disneyland in 1954, he knew he had to have a train. This wasn’t the first time Walt and Ward talked about trains. Back in 1945, Ward let Walt drive one of his engines at the Grizzly Flats Railroad, Ward’s personal railroad. We can’t say for sure, but it’s very likely that Walt’s Lilly Belle came because he wanted to have a railroad just like Ward’s. Now Ward Kimball is immortalized in the Ward Kimball engine at Disneyland.
Ward Kimball was an animator for Walt Disney. Hired in 1934, Ward started on the Silly Symphony cartoons. He went on to help animate many films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Ward was one of the studio’s “Nine Old Men”. He was a brilliant animator, known for creating Jiminy Cricket. In 1989, he was honored as a Disney Legend. Ward was more than just an animator to Walt. When medical recommendations pushed Walt to find a hobby as an outlet for his stress, he chose trains likely because Ward liked them so much. I can only imagine the hours Ward and Walt (with their friend Ollie Johnston) poured into their trains.
In the mid 1990’s, the Disneyland park started searching for a 4th engine for the Disneyland Railroad. A locomotive was purchased, and Disney started the restoration process. They soon realized the engine was much too big. It would look out of place compared to the other trains, and they would have to reinforce the trestles because it was too heavy. Since it didn’t work at Disneyland, theydecided to send it over to Walt Disney World where it got painted and named Ward Kimball. Ironically, the train ended up being too small for the Magic Kingdom.
Disneyland continued looking for a train and eventually found the Maud L. The Maud L was built in 1902 and used for transporting Sugar Cane. In 1959, it was bought by Cedar Point, restored, and used in their amusement park in Ohio. By 1999, Cedar Point began looking for a larger locomotive. Disney and Cedar Point arranged to trade the old Ward Kimball and the Maud L.
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The Maud L. was in pretty rough shape when it arrived. Disney built a new boiler and a new cab for it. Sadly, there were some budget issues, and the train sat uncompleted for a few years. In 2003, Matt Ouimet became the President of Disneyland and spent gobs of money on refurbishing the park. His goal was to have the park well-polished for its 50th anniversary. Thankfully, this spending included the rest of the refurbishment. When the engine was ready, its name was changed to Ward Kimball.
The Ward Kimball was completed in time for the 50th celebration and began its service on June 25, 2005. Though Ward passed away in 2002, his son John Kimball christened it on February 15, 2006.
The Ward Kimball has taken guests on the “grand circle tour of the Magic Kingdom” thousands of times. And now, on a regular basis, Nate Lord, Ward Kimball’s grandson, gets to operate it. As a steam train engineer for Disneyland, Nate recalls the influence his grandfather had on his love of trains. What a wonderful opportunity for a grandson to drive the train named after his legendary grandfather.