Last Thursday marked the 55th anniversary of the Emerson Zooline Railroad at the Saint Louis Zoo.

The nation’s largest miniature rail line has carried more than 39 million riders since it opened to the public Aug. 30, 1963.

The late Marlin Perkins, then director of the Zoo, drove a golden spike into the ground at a VIP ceremony Aug. 29, 1963. The railroad began “tracking smiles” with visitors the next day.

The Zooline Railroad’s engines are a one-third size replica of the original C.P. Huntington, a famous steam locomotive first built in 1863. Known as the “Iron Horse,” the C.P. Huntington helped build the first transcontinental railway.

Though the Zooline is gasoline-powered, it has the bells and whistles of a steam engine. Carrying passengers over 1 1/2 miles of track that includes 8,638 railroad ties, the railroad can reach a top speed of seven miles per hour. The 20-minute conductor-narrated tour takes riders through tunnels and past favorite animal exhibits.

The six locomotives each weigh an impressive 6,600 pounds and are named Daniel Boone (No. 45), Pierre Laclede (No. 46), Lewis & Clark (No. 47), Ulysses S. Grant (No. 48), Charlton Tandy (No. 49), and Emerson (No. 100).

Five trains (plus a spare engine) pull six coaches with seating capacity for 78 adult passengers per train. The trains were fitted in 1995 with a special coach to accommodate riders who use wheelchairs.

Zooline Railroad tickets are $7.95 per person and include all day on-off privileges for the day. Children under age 2 ride for free.

Summer Hours Over

The Zoo’s summer hours came to a close on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3.

The Zoo’s regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

This time of year, the Zooline Railroad begins its daily run at 9:30 a.m., weather and conditions permitting.