MIKE BRONSTEIN REMEMBERS…

Mike Bronstein PhotoI was really interested in trains and such, and because of that fascination, I got to meet Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball. Ollie lived out in La Canada and I had sent him a letter discussing live steam locomotives. He was having a birthday party and invited me out to see his backyard railroad. Well, I drove out and he and a bunch of his friends and family were there riding around on his little railroad. He was a great person; very friendly. He even invited me out to Julian, near San Diego, to ride his 2' gauge locomotive. I never had the chance to do that one; didn’t have the time, but i happened to mention that I had seen Ollie’s railroad to Ken Kohler. He smiled and said that Ollie had contacted him to help with something on his locomotive. He told me Ollie jumped into the cab of the locomotive and proceeded to run it up and down the line of track he had on his Julian property. Now, Ken worked at Disneyland and trains and monorails were what he worked on, and he oversaw their repair. But to spend time going up and down the line on a flat car was not what he found exciting. He would have rather been having a drink at his vacation house in Bullhead City, on the Colorado River. But Ollie was having a great time.

I also contacted Ward Kimball and asked to see his railroad. I first wrote to him and discussed my interest in steam locomotives and he wrote back inviting me over to see his railroad collection. I asked if it was alright to bring my wife and kids and he enthusiastically answered “yes.” We came out on a saturday morning and he met us at his front door. He smiled and said to go around the back to the garage and see his 2.5' gauge steam locomotive, Chloe, in the garage. There were tracks leading from the backyard garage up along his house to the front curb; probably about 800'. He came out and explained that certain times of the year he would fire it up and run it up and down the tracks; I’m sure the neighbors loved the noise from the hissing and belching steam locomotive. After viewing his outside train collection we went inside and got to view his real passion: Lionel and Tin Plate toy trains. He must’ve had everything that Marx and Lionel had produced in the 30’s and 40’s. There were boxes everywhere! There were even boxes of Toy Trains that had never been opened—I'm talking about trains that were in boxes made of wood with gleaming locomotives still in their wrappers! Most were 30-40 years old. He explained that some people would buy their child a train for their birthday or Christmas. In a few instances, the child got sick and died and the parents left the toy in the closet, never to be opened. Quite a collection. I have to say that Ward was truly another wonderful person. Friends of mine who knew him said he was very eccentric, but i didn’t see that. These two guys that worked for Walt Disney, each holding a passion for trains and such, were truly creative individuals that shaped our world through their artistic abilities. I’m sure Walt could see that in all of his 9 old men, as his animators were called later in life. I'm proud to have met them.