Oregon Zoo trains make stop in Ridgefield

They will be repaired, refurbished by Pacific Power Group

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



Two of the Oregon Zoo’s popular train cars will spend the summer at Pacific Power Group’s facility in Ridgefield for repairs and refurbishing, leaving throngs of zoo visitors waiting at the station until late this fall.

The Centennial steam locomotive and its tender car, as well as the modern-style Zooliner engine, were transported by flatbed truck to Ridgefield on Monday for mechanical repairs and physical maintenance that will include fresh coats of paint.

A third locomotive, the Oregon Express, remains at the zoo, though it is not currently running. All three trains were temporarily taken out of service in September for line improvements and upgrades that will continue through the summer. Those changes include rerouting the line to make room for a service road and build an elevated trestle overlooking a new Elephant Lands habitat. Rail service with the upgraded trains is expected to reopen in time for the popular ZooLights tours this November.

The cost of the entire contract was $280,000, according to Hova Najarian, spokesman for the Oregon Zoo.

Pacific Power Group, with a specialty of sales and service on new and remanufactured engines, hopes to have its work done in October, said Ken Weese, the company’s body shop manager. The company is familiar with the Zooliner’s Perkins automatic transmission engine, since it sells and repairs Perkins products, Weese said. The company replaced the Zooliner’s engine six years ago at the zoo, and this time is replacing the Perkins engine with a new engine, said Tiffany Landers, Pacific Power’s marketing and communications manager.

The Centennial steam train is modeled after the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s Reno locomotive, built in 1872 and featured in more than 100 films. The Zooliner is a scale replica of General Motors’ futuristic Aerotrain from the mid-1950s. Its name is a nod to the Viewliner train used in Disneyland in 1957 and 1958, according to information provided by the zoo.

The zoo’s 30-inch-gauge railway line and its trains have a long and briefly colorful history. The Zooliner went into service on June 9, 1958, at the zoo’s former Washington Park site. It was moved to the grounds of the Oregon Centennial at what is now the Expo Center for a celebration of Oregon’s 1859 statehood. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, soon to be elected president, visited the site and was photographed stepping off the train during a staged Wild West train robbery, according to Zoo officials.

The steam train went into service around June 21, 1959, at the centennial site, and both trains were put into service back at the zoo in the fall of 1959. The route through Washington Park opened in 1960, and the rest of the loop line through the zoo was finished in 1962, Najarian said, The steam locomotive left the zoo just once, for repairs. The Zooliner hasn’t left the zoo since it returned from the Centennial site.