"Back to Steam"
The transformation and
rebirth of two narrow gauge locomotives.
Part 2: The Zoo Years
"Hiawatha" Milwaukee Road #1" on one of her first runs at
Brochure image from the Ed Korn collection, by permission
of Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo.
click to enlarge image
Written by Jim
construction crew pauses for a photo in the summer of 1969 after the 2-8-0
("Hiawatha" Milwaukee Road #1) was loaded onto a flat bed truck for the 100 mile
journey south to the Brookfield Zoo. The Zoo is located in the Chicago
suburb of Brookfield, Illinois.
Hiawatha #1 was the second of 3 locomotives built (or rebuilt) by the the
Sandley Light Railroad Company for the zoo. The 2-8-0 had started its life in
1918 as a "Brigadelok",
0-8-0T (60 cm gauge). It had operated in the "Black Forest" area of Germany.
Loaded on a flatbed and ready for the trip south to the
Brookfield Zoo. The 2-8-0 was
named "Hiawatha" and painted "Milwaukee Road #1" (click to enlarge)
August, 1969 Photo by Ollie Reese.
|Hiawatha #1 was delivered to the
Brookfield Zoo in August, 1969. The Burlington switcher #999 had been shipped to
the zoo 2 years earlier and had been the only locomotive in service up to this
point. It was wonderful to see a real live steam engine plying the rails
at the zoo, a real dream come true for
publishing giant and zoo train
sponsor, Elliot Donnelley.
ceremony in 1967. Trustee Elliott Donnelley (from left), Zoo Director Dr. Peter
Crowcroft, Russell Coulter, and Bill Dickinson cut the ribbon on the new
"Brookfield, Salt Creek, and Western Railroad" (note the Burlington switcher,
"Rudy" #999 on the track). Photo courtesy Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield
to enlarge image
|Zoo Train "Opens The West"
The "Brookfield, Salt Creek, & Western" train was an instant hit with
zoo visitors. For a small fee ($1.00 adult round trip), visitors could
ride the 2 foot gauge coal fired steam train from the main entrance, to the far
corner of the zoo to see the zoo's major attraction: The Seven Seas Panorama.
Seven Seas was the first inland exhibit of dolphins built far from any
ocean and natural sea water. The sprawling 200 acre zoo had its dolphin
exhibit at the farthest point from the zoo parking lot. The train was a great
way to bring folks to the far end of the park. Now the zoo was free to
open up more of the "wild" west side of the park which had been left mostly in
its "natural" state.
Riding the Brookfield Zoo train was cool. Riders on the zoo train got
to see plenty of "behind the scenes" areas (route).
The new 2-1/2 mile railroad had only a slight grade. The 2-8-0
Consolidation could pull all six of the zoo's "Sandley" passenger coaches with
up to 35 passengers in each.
Leaving the North Gate Station you travel behind the 31st St. "run". The
"run" was a group of exhibits including camels, European bison and the (extinct
in the wild) "Father David's Deer". Then you would catch a view, and
smell, of the manure barn. Legend has it that the famous elephant, "Ziggy", was
buried out here somewhere. After you cross the mighty "Salt Creek" on a wooden
trestle, you visit the bison yard. The American Bison was the zoo mascot
and appeared on Brookfield Zoo's logo. But the only way for a visitor to see the
real American Bison was by riding on this train.
As we approach the Bison yard, the train stops, the engineer opens a gate to
the North American Prairie exhibit, and we actually proceed into the
exhibit. Funny, the only thing keeping the massive (their heads are as big
as your office desk) animals from forcing their way onto the tracks were 3
strands of rather flimsy looking electric fence wires. "Zoo Legend" tells of the
day a bison walked right thru the fence and stepped up on the running board of
one of the coaches. If it's true, it would have been rather exciting for
After the bison yard, the train travels behind "Indian Lake" and makes
another crossing of the wild, untamed "Salt Creek". The only other station
along the loop is coming up. The "Seven Seas Station". After taking
on water and passengers, we're off to more behind the scenes viewing. Our string
of Sandley cars passes along the one story brick "zoo train" maintenance
building where our engine and coaches will spend the night and the long Chicago
Up next, in quick order, the old "Power House" building (the massive coal
fired boilers had long since been removed), the "Animal Hospital", the zoo's
"Greenhouse" (where some of the impressive plant collection was raised), and
Administration Building. The full size crossing gates lower as the train
slowly passes by the "South Gate" entrance arch. After passing the "Children's
Zoo", "Arctic Island" and the back of "Safari Lodge" restaurant, our train
crosses the north end of the main mall and returns safely back at the "North
Gate Station" .
clean burning "Pocahontas" coal in the new firebox. Image from a brochure from
the Ed Korn collection, used by permission of Chicago Zoological
Society/Brookfield Zoo. click to enlarge image
#242 delighting zoo visitors way back in 1977 at the North Gate Station. (click
Photo courtesy of www.jankovsky.net.
Road #1) )2-8-0 as she crossed the "North Mall" at Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield
Illinois. (click to enlarge) Photo courtesy of the Jim Sanders collection
The route of the "Brookfield, Salt
Creek, & Western" railroad from the back of a train ticket.
(click to enlarge) Courtesy of The Olin Anderson collection
"High Stepping" 2-4-2 dead heading east to pick up passengers at the zoo's
"North Gate" station in 1974.
click to enlarge image
The "Brookfield, Salt Creek, and Western Railroad" operated seasonally until
the mid 1980s. At that time, the three locomotives and six coaches were
placed in a Cook County Forest Preserve warehouse.
|Why was the train removed? The reasons could
be similar to the demise of the full scale steam locomotive; time, money and
real-estate. Maintenance time, and therefore costs, on the steam locomotives
would have been a factor.
The zoo had acquired several rubber tire "trams" a few years earlier.
These "Safari Trains" were much more flexible in operation than a railroad. A
Safari Train could travel along the same wide roadway system the zoo visitors
used, allowing the Safari Train to tour the entire zoo and not just the
perimeter. Like a bus, they had maintenance cost advantages over the
But perhaps the final blow to the steam train came when it was decided that
the "Seven Seas Panorama" exhibit was to be replaced. The Seven Seas' salt water
tank was now too small to house the dolphins it was designed for. New government
regulations to protect marine mammals required a much larger facility. If
the zoo was to display and try to breed the smiley, lovable creatures, a new
complex would be the only way.
1983 shortly before it's removal from the park.
(click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of www.jankovsky.net .
"Brookfield, Salt Creek,
& Western" train ticket. (click to enlarge) Courtesy of The Olin
The location chosen for the new
dolphin facility was smack dab in the middle of the railroad "right-of-way".
Removing and reinstalling the track would have been expensive and since the man
behind the railroad, Elliott Donnelley had died several years earlier, it would
seem the money to relocate the track was not available.
So the rolling stock was shipped off,
the track pulled up and the new dolphin house was built. It's quite
splendid and if you get a chance to visit the
Brookfield Zoo, you must
see it. Today, the trams carry all the passengers at the zoo. There's no
evidence remaining that a train had ever run there. But that's not the end
of our story. After years and years of storage, there is a new beginning.
Something happened in 2002 that changed the future of the zoo train. Here
is a hint; click
Hesston Steam Museum
continued in Part 3 of "Back to Steam".
Written by Jim
Thanks to The Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield
The R&GN Railroad,
Hesston Steam Museum,
The Ed Korn collection
The Jim Sanders Collection.
Photographer Ollie Reese.
The Olin Anderson collection
the Lions Roar: The Evolution of Brookfield Zoo, Andrea Friederici Ross,
publisher to ask about use of this article (less images).