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A Visit With Ward Kimball - Part
by Bob Welbaum with Fr. Ron Aubry
If you missed it, click for Part One
During our tour of Ward's various collections, he had mentioned he always had to be doing something, he always had to be creating. As he got older he realized the most important gift he had was time. We remembered him saying, "I have so little time [left] and I want to be as creative as I can during that time.â€?
That was part of the reason he stopped doing club shows, signing autographs, the whole fan bit. It also cost him money to reply to people asking for autographs, most of whom wouldn't even enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Ward did attend Disney club functions in earlier years. Then he realized he was doing a lot for the clubs and basically all he was getting out of it was a free hotel room, simply the minimum one would expect. The overall impression we took away was Ward was very happy to show you his collections as long as it was on a friendly, personal basis. (Ron recalled reading that Ward at one time said he liked to collect people, which would explain why he insisted we sign his guest book.) But if he felt he was being taken advantage of or you wanted something for personal gain, he would turn off.
Our tour next took us to the toy room. This was in a separate building from the miniature trains, across from the swimming pool's dressing room. It was a bit smaller than the train rooms. There were a lot of metal, especially tin, wind-up toys to about 1930. Any type of early wind-up toy you could imagine was here. We remember seeing only three or four Disney toys - a Dumbo that would flip over, a car with Mickey as the driver, etc.
Mounted on the walls were six to eight strips for a zoetrope -a round toy with a paper strip inside a cylinder. An animation progression was drawn on the strip, and the animation could be seen when the toy was spun and the strip viewed through slots in the circumference. There were clowns playing leapfrog, horses jumping over a barricade, things like that.
There were other types of motion toys. One especially unusual French design Ward delighted in showing us (with sound effects) was modeled on a circus act done totally in the dark[?]. A ball revolved up and down a pillar (as much as 50 ft. high in the act) like a corkscrew. Strings pulled the ball all the way down around the corkscrew. When the string was released, the ball ascended and popped open at the top to reveal the performer.
There were also marble-powered toys. Ward called one the Panama Pile Driver - large round marble-like balls rolled into a little compartment that would travel straight down, pulling a man in a little wheeled cart up an incline. At the bottom it would trip a lever, the compartment would open, the marble would roll out and the compartment would return to the top to get another ball as the man descended the incline in his cart. Interesting, except the name's significance completely eluded us.
We also recalled a camp scene with a U-shaped slot on the side. Marbles would roll from the top of the U down, propelling the toy: Campfire Girls waving flags and sawing logs as we recall. When all the marbles were on the bottom, the U would be flipped over to repeat the cycle.
One more example - four little mice formed a band; Ward said this predated Mickey by about four years. One played a piano, one conducted, one danced and one beat a drum or some such. This was a wind-up with a flailing kind of action. Arms would swing and the sound was nothing like the music they were supposedly playing. It actually reminded me of The Skeleton Dance. And the mice themselves had very pointed noses and large eyes. The overall result was more hideous than playful. No wonder Mickey caught on so quickly!
A lot of Ward's wind-ups had removable keys and good locks; they could be wound, and then turned on and off without the key.
On top of one shelf were all sorts of wooden boats with paper printed to resemble lithograph. Ward really seemed to appreciate these because they were so ephemeral. Very few are around any more because they were destroyed so easily; putting one in the bathtub as originally intended ruined the paper.
We also noticed some early model ships. These could be very elaborate, with such features as rubber-band springs to shoot cannon balls.
On the ceiling were model airplanes. These included various models from the early days of aviation. One which appeared to be a favorite of Ward's was a gasoline-powered Curtiss flyer based on an original design from right after the Wright Brothers. We also remember a dirigible with wind-up propellers.
The room's decorations included a Mickey's 50th Anniversary sign which had been used on the trains that took Mickey from coast to coast during that promotion, which Ward and his wife had been a part of.
We also noticed some magazine covers Ward had done with model-train themes. One was a attic scene, because people always like to dream of finding a box of valuable toys in an attic. The most whimsical example was of an artist in Renaissance costume at an easel eyeballing perspective with his thumb. His model was a young nude woman holding a large model locomotive, and the artist was painting only the locomotive! Ward explained his son posed for the costumed artist and his granddaughter posed for the nude model. We immediately assumed she was just the face model, until Ward mentioned she posed because he'd promised to alter her face. You can draw your own conclusions.
That completed our tour of Ward's collections. As we returned to the house, I was afraid our visit was over.
But that was not the case. We ended up on the sofa in Ward's living room. He had some time left to chat, so we took advantage by asking his version of some of those wonderful stories we'd heard about him.
Next: Ward's stories.
-- Bob Welbaum
Bob Welbaum has been associated with Tomart Publications for the past fourteen years, and is currently Managing Editor of Tomart's DISNEYANA Update magazine.
Father Ron Aubry is a Disney enthusiast currently ministering to the Catholic community of Holmes County, Ohio.
-- Posted October 15, 2004