Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Former Brookfield Zoo Train Bridges over Salt Creek

Repurposed Bridge: (Satellite)
Abandoned Bridge: (Satellite)

The formal name of the miniture railroad was Brookfield, Salt Creek & Western. [rypn] It had a 2' gauge.

Flickriver is a collection of photos for the Brookfield Zoo train.

Edward Kwiatkowski Flickr, 1984, this is the first photo in an album.
This little railroad, operated at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo from May of 1967, until Labor Day weekend in early September of 1985.

This was their other steam locomotive.
Edward Kwiatkowski Flickr, 1982

This is the first of three web pages about the railroad. The railroad equipment was donated by Elliot and manufactured by the Snadley Light Rilway Equipment Works in Wisconsin. It ran in the zoo from 1967 to 1985. Riding the train was the only way to see the Bison that were on the west side of Salt Creek. There were two steam locomotives, one switcher and eight open-air passenger cars. In 2002, the locomotives and cars were hauled to the Hesston Steam Museum, which was another endowment of Elliot Donnelley. One of the reasons why the railroad was removed was that the zoo had aquired rubber tire "trams". The Safari Train could run routes that better showcased the zoo's exhibits and they were cheaper to maintain and operate. Another reason the railroad was removed is that the dolphin exhibit needed to be expanded to accommodate bigger tanks to meet new government regulations. The new facility needed some of the land on which the railroad ran.

Edward Kwiatkowski 0:35 video @ 0:22

Riverside & Great Northern Preservation Society posted
Norman and Elmer Sandley pose in front of 242 at the R&GN before delivery to the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois in 1971.

ChuckmanChicagoNostalgia, 1965

They had a different train before Elliott Donnelley's donations arrived because here is another photo of the smaller locomotive. "Captain BrianJ: This is a shot of the first Brookfield Zoo train. It was a C.P. Huntington and I remember it well as a kid growing up in the Chicago Burbs. This first train only went about 1/2 way around the zoo. As eack end there was a turn table; the engine was uncoupled, pulled forward, turned and then ran back to the front where it was switched back to the main line, the run around track is seen here. CP Huntington engines (still made today btw) ran on gasoline. Later this railroad was expanded to the live steam one, ran a loop all around the zoo and those engines are now at the Hesston Museum. CP Huntington is still made (2011) by Chance Morgan Rides"

The original train was built to transport people from the North Gate, which is near the big parking lot that is north of 31st Street, to the new Seven Seas Panaroma dolphinarium. "The price of this first inland exhibit of salt water-living creatures was approximately $1 million dollars, and much of that total was raised from peanut sales at the zoo."

What the zoo looked like before the railroad was added.
EarthExplorer: Apr 20, 1962 @ 24,000, AR1VAHU00020171

After the Donnelley railroad was added. I could not figure out how it got between the southwest and the southeast.
EarthExplorer: Oct 26, 1972 @ 30,000, AR1VDCR00010432

But it did find its way along the south side.
The Olin Anderson collection via DiscoverLiveSteam-2
"The route of the "Brookfield, Salt Creek, & Western" railroad from the back of a train ticket."

This is the post that motivated this research.
Kevin John posted two photos with the comment: "Any idea what this old rail bridge was for? West of Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield IL. Crosses Salt Creek."
[This is the southern bridge over Salt Creek that is shown on the above route map.]



  1. I think that just south of these bridges are (or were) the piers for the Chicago and West Towns Railway's streetcar bridge on their LaGrange line. It lines up with the east/west Rockefeller Ave./Monroe Ave. alignment. Just east of Salt Creek the ROW jogged north and ran along the south side of the zoo. You can see the line of the old ROW on satellite. It shows up on the USGS Berwyn quadrangle as "electric railroad" in 1928 and 1945, but 1945 doesn't show the zoo (opened 1934). The West Towns went to buses in 1948.

  2. Yes, those bridge piers are from the West Towns line. I think that are still signs of the line east of the zoo crossing the Des Plaines River. The line went west behind RB high school, stopped at the south zoo gate, and headed west to Brookfield and 8 corners.

  3. Bridge has seen better days but is still intact

  4. There also was a line than ran in front of RB High School and stopped in front of the South Gate. A few of the cars and an engine are preserved at the railroad museum in Union Illinois.