Aug. 29, 1963: Train debuts at St. Louis Zoo

Aug. 29, 1963: Train debuts at St. Louis Zoo

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Ever wonder how many people have ridden the Zoo Line railroad at the St. Louis Zoo?

The train took its inaugural run on Aug. 29, 1963, for zoo officiais and dignitaries and opened to all zoo visitors the next day.

Since then, the Zoo Line has recorded nearly 40 million rides on its 1.5 miles-plus of track, and it can reach a top speed of 7 mph. In 1995, all five of the zoo trains were fitted with a special coach to accommodate people who use wheelchairs.

And the railroad employs 30 engineers, 50 conductors, five dispatchers along with a manager, a manager and assistant mechanic and a general laborer.

Back in 1963, here's how the Post-Dispatch covered the inaugural run of the Zoo Line trains.

Aug. 30, 1963: The new St. Louis Zoo Line began passenger service in Forest Park today. A golden spike was hammered home at 5:18 p.m. yesterday (Thursday, Aug. 29) to officially complete the narrow-gauge railroad.

Train whistles screeched and several hundred spectators cheered as Howard F. Baer, chairman of the Zoological Board of Control, swung a sledgehammer at the traditional "wedding of the rails."

The crowd then boarded cars pulled by the streamliner Spirit of st. Louis and two vingage engines, the Auguste Chouteau and Pierre LaClede, for a 20-minute trip beginning and ending at Vierheller STation.

Members of the Zoo's bird collection staged an unscheduled fly-by for the occasion. Two flights of wild ducks, flushed form North Lake by the commotoin, whirred over the trains in tight formatoin.

Two attempts by boys to derail the train were foiled when alert crews removed rocks and wire form the rails.

Children were enthralled by the engines' brass bells, the shout of "Boa-a-a-rd!" by the conductors and the clang of signal grade crossings along the meandering right-of-way.

Much of the animal population can be seen from the route and reached from three stations. Tunnels, ravines and varying grades occur along the one and one-half miles of track.

Railroad buffs will relish the clicking wheels, the scraping sound of flanges on numerous curves and the side-to-side sway of the rolling stock.

The sight of the gaudy diamond-stacked Chouteau or Laclede, appearing from the Zoo's wooded area with white smoke billowing downind, is pure Currier & Ives.

One apparent attempt to derail the first train occurred when a boulder two feet in diameter was found between the rails at a secleded point. In adition, wire had been wrapped around a rail near the Elephant House.

As happy as anyone was B.F. Schneider, a retired veteran of 46 years as a Missouri Pacific fireman, engineer and road foreman. He has a new career as an engineer-brakeman for the Zoo Line.

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