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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Nov 1, 2022

The St. Louis Zoo is a large place indeed, and there is much ground to cover in a visit to see the animals and sights. Starting in 1963, a new alternative to walking was given to the patrons of the zoo, a miniature rail line. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------ 

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Adam Kloppe, public historian with the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ———

The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the true gems of St. Louis. Every year, about three million people visit the zoo to see animals from all over the world, including Asian elephants, orangutans, tigers, and penguins. For many St. Louisans, a summer vacation just isn’t complete without one trip to the zoo. ———

For many visitors, though, the highlight of the trip isn’t necessarily the animals. The highlight is a chance to take a trip around the zoo on one of the locomotives of the Zoo Line Railroad. And even those who prefer getting around the zoo on foot can’t help but smile and wave at the passengers as the train rolls past with a blast from its whistle. ———

The beginnings of the Zoo Line Railroad date back to 1963. In January of that year, zoo director Marlin Perkins announced that the Zoo had begun construction on a one and a half mile rail line that would travel around the grounds. This rail line would feature three real, gas-powered miniature locomotives that would pull passengers seated in small coaches. In his announcement, Perkins stressed that while the train would undoubtedly provide entertainment, its main function would be to deliver passengers to planned stops at popular spots on the zoo grounds. Admission would be 30 cents. ———

Construction took a little longer than expected, especially as workers had to dig large tunnels under sections of the zoo, as the trains would not be large enough to haul passengers up some of the hilliest sections of the grounds. But by late August, the line was complete. On August 29, Howard Baer, the chairman of the zoo board, drove in a golden spike to ceremonially complete the line, and zoo officials took an inaugural trip around the zoo. The next day, the rail line opened to the public. It was an instant success—even if some youngsters had to be convinced not to place rocks on the tracks to see what would happen. ———

In the years since it has been open, the Zoo Line Railroad has been a smash hit. Zoo officials estimate that it is still the most popular paid attraction at the zoo, and that almost 40 million people have taken a ride on the miniature rails since 1963. Admission no longer costs thirty cents, though—today a day long ticket to the Zoo Line Railroad will cost you $7.95. But for many visitors that’s a small price to pay for the chance to travel around the zoo on a train. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam Kloppe and this is eighty-eight one, St. Louis. ———