|By Keith Mahne|
Outside of the studio, Walt Disney and Ward Kimball shared an amazing love of scale-trains, thanks to Ward introducing Walt to this wonderful pastime. Another thing we can thank Kimball for was his far-sightedness to film his life. As you'll see in a moment, we have some fantastic home movie footage of Walt Disney personally operating a scale-train for the first time in his life. It's truly a fantastic moment to witness. Continue after the page break for some great home movie footage of Walt Disney and Ward Kimball...
In a moment, you'll watch a rarely seen piece of movie footage shot by Ward Kimball himself. For those that may not know, Kimball was one of Walt Disney's most creative and gifted artists and was one of Walt's Nine Old Men.
Let me tell you more about the footage you're about to see just to set the tone a bit. It was recorded April 4, 1948 and in it, Ward and Walt Disney visit the home of Dick Jackson, a wealthy businessman who operated a scale-railroad in the backyard of his Beverly Hills home.
Kimball had been a close friend of Jackson’s for years, and would often drop by for a little backyard steam train fun. In fact, over six years earlier, on December 7, 1941, as he was driving to Dick Jackson’s, he heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Naturally, hearing the news unsettled him, but he soon “forgot it all with Jackson’s locomotive,” is what he once wrote about the day in his journal. During this time in American history, backyard railroading had a soothing effect of temporarily allowing people to put the real world on hold for a short while, which I'm certain, is why Walt fell in love with it immediately. One can only imagine the stress of running a studio. It's easy to understand why Walt would love escaping on his backyard steam train and how relaxing it was for him.
In spring 1948, Ward had become aware of Walt's new found interest in scale-model trains, and so that April day he invited Walt to come along to Dick Jackson’s place for an afternoon of railroading. According to Ward's journal entry of the day that you'll see in a moment, this would be the very first time that Walt had ever personally operated scale-trains. Disney was hooked during the visit, and soon after he began constructing his own personal backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific.
Kimball’s unusually close friendship and shared love of trains allowed him to capture these unguarded moments of his boss. As you'll witness in the footage, Walt appears to be enjoying every second of the railroading experience. He often takes the time to acknowledge Ward’s camera on multiple occasions. Ward wrote about the day’s events in his private journal:
Sunday, April 4, 1948
Up with bright sun. Kids helped me put nitrogen around orange trees. If they didn’t, no Jackson train ride. Damp grass. At 12:45 left for Jacksons in Beverly Hills. 1st over there. He started the Colorado Central. Steam up at 2:00. Walt Disney arrived soon after. Got a big kick out of it all. We showed him the works. He couldn’t quite believe that it was all scale! He tried it out—got scared when drivers spin. “What the hell was that!” he’d ask me. He had lots of fun. We all took movies and Jackson took stills. Showed Walt Jackson’s shop. Kids rode and played “Train Robbers.” Home at 5:30. Broiled corn beef over fire place.
Here now is the original film with background music of Kimball’s band, The Firehouse Five Plus Two. Enjoy!
(Please pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of this page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)
Below are identifications of the people in the film, including Ward’s wife Betty and their three children:
This truly was a memorable day in the life of Walt Disney and we can thank Ward Kimball for preserving these special moments for generations to come.
Source: Cartoon Brew
Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.
Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.
You can find all of Keith's articles here.