Thursday, November 29, 2012

Orange Empire Railway Museum: The Little Museum That Could

With every passing year, I less and less subconsciously make my birthday "no big deal."  In the end, it works out far better for me; instead of one celebration, my birthday is spread out into a whole bunch of mini parties, getaways, dinners, and adventures.  The most recent birthday celebration came last weekend in the form of a trip to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, CA as the guest of my sister, brother-in-law, and cutest nephew in the world!  ALL ABOARD!

Orange Empire Railway Museum (and boys' reformatory from the looks of the fencing)
I think I have gotten this kid two engineer caps but both were lost
 by the time he actually made it out to see the trains. 

Founded in 1956 by a group of ambitious, rail-loving high school students that were upset by the demise of rail transit (trains and streetcars) in Southern California, the Orange Empire Railway Museum has survived nearly 60 years and has grown to 100 acres!

The music may be a little lackluster, but this video 
has neat old footage of the streetcars' retirement.

Recognize the headlight?

The OERM features everything from giant, 1880's steam engines, to streetcars from the the 1920's, to modern diesel locomotives from the 1950's.  We rode on a 1921 green car, a 1930's yellow line car (originally used for inner city travel) and a red car (used for interurban travel) from 1913 called "Blimpie."  This particular red car was brought down from San Francisco to Los Angeles and carried steel workers from downtown Los Angeles to San Pedro during WWII.  During the war years there were so many dock workers, ship builders, etc. that several streetcars were connected to form light rail transport trains.  An interesting note is that San Pedro has revived a small portion of the red car line which we were able to ride that last year.

The museum acquires  pieces through auction, personal sales, and donations.
They have so many pieces in the collection that some are still waiting in
line for restoration.

The yellow car ready for duty at the Pinacate Station

The fare meter on the streetcar
Depending on the time of day an the distance the passenger rode, the
conductor (from any point in the cabin could turn the dial to indicate the
appropriate fare.

In direct disobedience to Ordinance No. 71, 031, we got chatty with our motorman and he explained that the museum's current focus is actually the acquisition of Pacific Electric cars but, truthfully, we were there for more than just streetcars.  Trains are in our blood; our great-grandfather was an engineer on the Santa Fe for his entire career and our great-aunt worked for the company as well.  Not only that, but we had an unyielding "Thomas the Tank Engine" fan in our midst.

In honor of our family history, we did our best
engineer impersonations.

I guess options are pretty limited when you're trying to rhyme with "Pacific."

Even the stretchiest of imaginations couldn't possibly allow for me to be classified as a train buff or even a train enthusiast, but the fact is that I do like trains.  I can't leave Disneyland without riding the train around the park at least once and I usually try and sneak  ride in on Casey, Jr. too.  The great part about OERM is that it is run by volunteers and there excitement for the trains is palpable.  It turns what is actually kind of a ho-hum experience into something that sparks a desire to be more creative, to be more mechanical, and to be more involved.  A person who was very involved in the museum was one of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men," Ward Kimball.

Major pieces from Kimball's collection are some of the mueum's finest examples of early railroad history.  Grizzly Flats Railroad was Ward Kimball's backyard railroad and our tour guide said that Kimball was the real influence behind Walt Disney's own railroad mania.

Ward Kimball -a train buff through and through he had full scale,
 miniature, scale model and electric trains

Chloe, a narrow-gauge steam locomotive

The Emma Nevada
The OERM volunteer explained that Ward Kimball did not just donate the trains, he also volunteered his time.  Until the time of his death in 2002, Kimball visited the trains and worked on their maintenance.  It is said that he painted the female figures on the Emma Nevada and even applied more modest apparel for them once they became part of the museum.

We tried to get more information but this guy
couldn't help us; he had a splitting headache.

No matter what, it all comes back to Disney, doesn't it?  As always, there is ever an appropriate Disney cartoon to suit the occasion.

"The Brave Engineer" (1950)

It was my grandparents who brought me to the Orange Empire Railway Museum more than twenty years ago.  Revisiting was a cool opportunity to not only relive some of those memories but also to create new ones with my favorite person on the planet.  Since my grandparents are interred very close by, it was nice to ride the emotional train full circle and visit them on our way out.  They, for me, were the originators and the arbiters of wacky tacky, and to them I will ever be indebted.

You've reached the end of the line! 

Orange Empire Railway Museum
2201 South A St
Perris, CA


Mr. Tiny

p.s.  One last reminder to enter our GIVEAWAY; it ends tomorrow, November 30, 2012 at 12am PST.  GOOD LUCK!!!


  1. Thank you Mr. Tiny! Have never stopped by this place, may have to do so on my next visit to Riverside County.

    1. I hope you enjoy it! In my opinion, it only needs a couple of hours, unless you are a major train enthusiast. It is great to talk to the guys who run the place, their excitement for trains will rub off on you!

  2. Howdy, Ive given you an award. Please go to my humble page to find out.

  3. I've always heard those large interurbans, which came to the Pacific Electric, referred to as "blimps" but "Blimpie" is a new one. Perhaps your motorman has a financial interest in the sandwich shops of that name.

    1. I hope not! I enjoyed my ride on the streetcar much , much more than I did my one encounter with a Blimpie's sandwich. Every sign that talked about this particular streetcar called it "The Blimpie." Perhaps it was king of all the lesser blimps.