Neighborhood Travels

Orange Empire Railway Museum

A few days ago I zigzagged my way over to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California.  I was off to satisfy my childhood fascination with trains.  I planned to just walk around a bit and get the feel of the place.  Frankly I didn’t know what to expect.  As it turned out I arrived just as a busload of third-graders was preparing for a tour.  The lady in the gift shop suggested I simply tag along with them in order to see the buildings which are normally locked.
School group walk with docent to the Pullman train carWe  rode the train seen above and a couple trolleys.  After about an hour, I was warm; those old cars were not air conditioned!  I left the school group and moved on to wander by myself.  I was there to take photos and I didn’t think getting a huge group of children in every shot was exactly what I had in mind.  Still, this is a great spot for kids.  What a thrill to go on a field trip and ride these trains.

I didn’t see all the buildings because they’re scattered about on 90 acres and I didn’t have a docent with me to unlock them.  I did visit two buildings and took a few pictures.  I especially liked the building called Grizzly Flats Engine House.  As with so many other areas, this is a working shed.  The locomotives and train cars are in various stages of restoration.  Many are still awaiting attention.

Old yellow passenger car badly in need of restorationThis old passenger car was being used as a family home before being abandoned and eventually coming to the museum.  The wood is in poor shape and is riddled with woodpecker holes.  The wheels have been removed by the museum staff and the car is up on supporting blocks ready for restoration that may not happen for a while.

This location also has this wonderful old narrow gauge steam locomotive.  Now we come to the reason the building is called Grizzly Flats Engine House.  This locomotive used to belong to Disney animator Ward Kimball and was part of his backyard railroad (Grizzly Flats)  in San Gabriel. How cool is that? Mr. Kimball died in 2002 and the train came to the museum  for display in 2007.  It looks terrific!

Small steam locomotive in Grizzly Flats shed

I had arrived at Grizzly Flats just as the docent was finishing his talk with the children.  The staff would soon close the buildings to visitors.  I hurried over to the trolley shed and took a few more pictures and almost was caught in the back of the shed as they pulled in the very trolleys I had ridden earlier in the day.  The good thing about these cars is that they are big and yellow.  I could see them coming.  Still I didn’t hang around to be in the way while the men locked up.

The grounds are large, and desert-like.  And scattered with pieces of equipment and even modern-day gear.  Track and trains are everywhere you look.  It pays to be careful. Train yard at the Orange Empire Railway MuseumIn addition to the docents and other railway museum staff, a landscaping company was on site.  Men were trimming trees and there was just a feeling that I was interrupting a busy farming operation or something.  This place didn’t have commercial glitz but rather the down and dirty look of a museum loaded with huge donations (box cars, steam engines, and even a diner) that are all in need of work.  The photo below is O’Neill’s Diner which used to be on CA Highway 395.  At present it’s serving as a storage facility.  No one has the time to restore it.
O'Neill's Diner shaped to resemble a Union Pacific locomotive

There is one new building which is housing the museum’s paper archives.  And from what I hear they have a lot of old records to sort.  All kinds of railroad related material is in that building just waiting for willing volunteers.  It’s a lovely building and, of course, they are busy working outside and redoing the landscaping. Men are working everywhere.


Elizabeth Boatman

Traveler, explorer, memory maker and someone who's just downright curious about stuff. It's all about finding joy.

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