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© May 5th, 2004 

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"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 Brookfield Zoo
Brochure image from the Ed Korn collection, by permission of Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo.
click to enlarge image

Written by Jim O'Connor     

Continued from part one.
The 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. 

Ribbon cutting 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 Zoo.

click 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 the visitors.

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 winters. 

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" . 

#1used 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




Here is #242 delighting zoo visitors way back in 1977 at the North Gate Station. (click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of




"Hiawatha" (Milwaukee 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


The "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 railroad.

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.


#242 in 1983 shortly before it's removal from the park.  (click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of .



"Brookfield, Salt Creek, & Western" train ticket. (click to enlarge) Courtesy of The Olin Anderson collection

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 O'Connor     

Thanks to The Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo
The R&GN Railroad, Wisconsin Dells,
Hesston Steam Museum, Hesston Indiana
The Ed Korn collection
The Jim Sanders Collection.
Photographer Ollie Reese.
The Olin Anderson collection
 Let the Lions Roar: The Evolution of Brookfield Zoo, Andrea Friederici Ross, 1997

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