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© March 24, 2005 

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"Back to Steam"

Brookfield Zoo locomotive #242 with a fresh coat of paint pulling one of the original zoo coaches.
photo by Mike Lagness


The transformation and rebirth of two narrow gauge locomotives.

Written by Ted Rita and Jim O'Connor

                        continued from part 2

Brookfield Zoo's railroad ceased operation on Labor Day weekend, 1985.

The Brookfield Zoo, just outside Chicago, was no longer interested in operating its narrow gauge railroad.  The Zoological Society was formed during the great depression of the 1930s to bring a world class zoo to the Chicago area.  The land for the new zoo was provided from Forest Preserve District of Cook County holdings.  While the Zoological Society runs the day to day operation, the land and buildings (and train it seems) were all owned by the Forest Preserve Distinct of Cook County. And it was the Forest Preserve District  that took possession of the railroad equipment when it was removed from the zoo. The rolling stock was stored in a Forest Preserve barn until it could be disposed of.

The Forest Preserve District made an attempt to place the train in south suburban Lockport Illinois. They planned a park with a petting zoo, sawmill, and the train as attractions. Apparently, the residents of Lockport had no interest in the project and it was shelved.

With no place to go, the 2 steam locomotives, plus a gasoline powered "diesel" switch engine, and eight cars remained in storage. Year after year, all this narrow gauge equipment sat.  It succumbed to the effects of corrosion and rot for 17 long years.

Finally, in 2002, after negotiations with the Forest Preserve District and some help from the Donnelley family (Elliot Donnelley had donated the train to the zoo), a deal was struck allowing the equipment to be moved to another Donnelley  endowment, the Hesston Steam Museum in North West Indiana. 

All of the stored zoo equipment was flat-bedded the 80 miles to Hesston in late fall of 2002.

Locomotive #242 (2-4-2) in 1983
photo by Kevin McQuarters

2-8-0 #1 ("Granny") and #242 ("Goose") in 1983.  This photograph was taken outside the "roundhouse". Note one of the zebra striped "Safari" vehicles to the left which soon would replace the railroad.
photo by Kevin McQuarters


C&O #242 with a holiday bow in 2002.
photo by Clinton B. Rigg

Our two steam locomotives, the diesel, and the coaches were rusty, dirty, and in need of a good scraping and painting and tons of tender loving care.

Hesston volunteers had little difficulty getting "Rudy" the BN "diesel" switcher running again. Rudy had a gasoline fueled "Jeep" engine which, when tested, could barely pull its own weight around Hesston's grueling 5.5% grades.  It appeared Rudy would need a more powerful engine and other upgrades before it could be placed in revenue service.

Of the two old steam locomotives, which do you try to get running first? C&O #242 ("Goose" as she was known as by the zoo railroad staff), with her roller bearings, was picked for refurbishing ahead of the 2-8-0. We felt it could be made operational sooner. During the winter and spring of 2002-2003, work on #242 began.  The plan was to see if she would fire up, hold pressure, and perhaps move on her own power. 

The access holes ("clean-outs") were opened, the boiler was washed out, and a hydrostatic test was performed. The hydrostatic test involves pressurizing the boiler with cold water.  A high pressure water test will insure the boiler can hold up to the pressures of "live" steam. After the "hydro" test, the fire box was cleaned out.  She had remnants of her last fire, 17 years ago, still on the grate.

After a successful firing, work began in earnest. On a clear, crisp fall day in 2003, she was being fired for only the second time since arriving in her new home in Indiana (right photo).  Things went well until it was time to replenish the water that had been consumed.  It turned out that both of the steamer's injectors were hopelessly clogged, preventing the boiler from taking on fresh water.  After the boiler cooled, the injectors were removed for service.

BN #999 "Rudy" as it looked on arrival at Hesston in 2002
photo by Clinton B. Rigg

Locomotive #242 in the shops, spring 2003. Now the work begins.
photo by Kevin Chevalia

#242 being fired for the second time, fall 2003
photo by Jim O'Connor

Work continued and, by summer 2004, she was ready.  On July 2, sporting a new coat of blue paint, she made her first test run. By days end, she had completed 6 round  trips over the Hesston track pulling one of her original coaches.  

Our little blue steamer sounded great and performed well.  Even with only one coach, she still needed to attack the Hesston 5.5%+ grades at a pretty good clip.  #242s large drive wheels were built for speed, not power. The old Brookfield Zoo track was nearly flat along its entire length.  While at the zoo the she was able to pull 4 or more coaches here at Hesston, one will put the engine's and engineers' capabilities to the test.

#242 sporting her new paint. The lettering has not yet been done. July, 2004.
photo by Mike Lagness
The restoration of old #242 has been remarkable.  She is finally approaching the condition she was in back in the "Zoo" days.  When you think back to the thousands of kids that rode behind her and her sister locomotives, it's nice to think that those folks can now bring their kids for a ride behind the same engine. An all new generation of steam train fans can make their own memories riding with the old "Blue Goose" from Brookfield Zoo.
#242 crew (left to right). Conductors Bill Gibson and Nick Cales. Engineers Steve Brown and Ted Rita. photo by Mike Lagness
The future for the little 2-4-2 is bright. She and her sister engine #1 (Granny) join five other narrow gauge steam locomotives on Hesston's "Flying Dutchman Railroad".

While the majority of the limited crew's time will be spent on the Shay (big # 7) this year and most of next Winter, plans do call for the re-flueing of the little engine and work to increase the braking efforts (grades here at Hesston are more then 5.5%). The little engine really sounds great as she makes her way up the tough grades up to Glassier Pass (5%+) and on the Michigan Curve (5.5%+ on a 160 degree curve). Our railroad sounds more like a logging line doesn't it?

Our plans are to run #242 every Fathers' Day weekend starting with the 2006 season. The engine will be on display for all major holiday weekends during the summer. The zoo coaches are used in operation every weekend in the schedule.

If you live within driving distance of North West Indiana, please consider joining us at Hesston as a volunteer.  We have lots of work to do.  As of this writing, we haven't even started on "Granny" (right).  She is in need of some major work.

We welcome everyone to enjoy the sights and sounds of a by-gone era that ended in the mid 1980's when the zoo ended operation of that fine railroad.

Ted Rita
Assistant General Manager
Hesston Steam Museum

The 2-8-0  "Hiawatha" (Granny) Milwaukee Road #1 waits out of the weather for her turn to be steamed. 

photo by Jim O'Connor


Written by Ted Rita and Jim O'Connor

Special thanks to the Hesston Steam Museum, Hesston Indiana
Hesston Volunteers Website

Photo credits as marked.

Hesston Steam Museum is conveniently located in harbor country, only 1˝ hours from Chicagoland. For visitor information, call (219) 872-5055.   Hesston is open to the public from Memorial Day until Labor Day.  Volunteers are need throughout the year.  Track gauges include 7 ˝", 14", and 24"/36" dual gauge.


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