Last week I had the opportunity to meet Nate Lord, grandson of one of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” Ward Kimball. Nate is one of our steam train engineers on the Disneyland Railroad, and perhaps by a little more than coincidence, often operates his grandpa’s namesake train – Engine #5, the Ward Kimball.
Kimball, a Disney Legend and animator who contributed to such Disney classics as “Cinderella,” “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo,” had his very own backyard railroad, and shared his love of steam trains with his grandson, Nate.
Do you credit your grandfather with your passion for steam trains?
He certainly was an influence. He lived in San Gabriel and had the first backyard steam train line, the Grizzly Flats Railroad. His second train was a wood-burning Baldwin named after my mom, Chloe, and we would often operate it together. He also had two huge rooms attached to his garage lined with train models, and in the center of each was a track layout where we would run the trains together for hours.
How did your grandfather get his Disney start?
Walt Disney was hiring at his studio and my grandpa dropped off his portfolio. He wasn’t necessarily looking to be an animator, but Walt opened his portfolio and saw this drawing of two men running, and from that one drawing Walt hired him as an animator. I think identifying talent and placing it in the right spot was something Walt was really good at.
Which Disney character do you think best showcases your grandfather’s animation skills?
Take Jiminy Cricket, for example. My grandpa had the ability to take something like a cricket and turn it into something adorable and now very iconic. There’s actually an image of Jiminy on the front of the Ward Kimball steam train and that’s very sentimental for me because my grandpa is an influence on my conscience, and that’s what Jiminy represents. I also think there’s a piece of my grandpa in each of the characters he animated, like Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland,” who has that joke-playing sensibility.
What do you like best about working at the Disneyland Resort?
Feeling like I’m in a different world when I’m out on the line. I especially love riding next to the Rivers of America, catching the Mark Twain at the right moment. It’s like being in a different time and place – like the Old West or somewhere – certainly not Orange County.