Located at Ellen Trout Memorial Park & Zoo
Depot Phone (936) 637-6810
Prices:$2.00 per ride
Children 3 and under ride free
Weekdays from Spring Break to start of school in August 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Weekends from first weekend in March to the last weekend in October 10:00 – 5:00 pm
To Schedule A Reservation of 25 or More
10/21/2004 Z&OO Railroad’s new engine arrives
By HILLARY MEEKS, The Lufkin Daily News
The little locomotive came a little late, but when engine No. 337 finally arrived at Ellen Trout Zoo at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, its shiny red body, gleaming gold trim and starry wheels made it worth the wait.
Members of the Lufkin Host Lions Club gathered at the front of the zoo to carefully unload the miniature engine they bought to replace the one that has been used for the Z&OO Railroad since 1984. The passenger train’s tracks loop around the zoo and its lake, giving those who visit Ellen Trout Zoo an extra bit of fun.
There were some troubles with the first forklift used to hoist the 6,500-pound machine bolted onto a 500-pound piece of track on top of a truck bed. A larger forklift had to be called in to make sure it was safely carried off the truck and onto the ground, where it was unbolted from the track it was on and ramped down onto Z&OO rails.
“It looks virtually like the old one. These locomotives were patented by C.P. Huntington, and he doesn’t allow the manufacturer to change the look,” said Don Roberts, chairman of the Z&OO Railroad board.
One major difference between the old engine and the new one is that engine No. 337 has been brought up to speed with state-of-the-art technology.
“It’s a pretty sophisticated train, with the latest and greatest technology for engines in 2004. It has emissions control, electric fuel injection and a computer-controlled engine,” said Derek Schrag, a representative from the manufacturer, Chance Rides Inc.
After 20 years of running the old engine, the Lions Club decided to purchase the new locomotive. Club members were proud to say they were able to pay for it in full with money earned from the train’s ticket sales.
“Over 67,000 people have enjoyed a train ride over the last 12 months and over 1 million riders over the last 20 years,” Roberts said in a press release.
Of course, the cost of the patented locomotives has risen since 1984. Jimmy Ford, the railroad’s treasurer, looked a little worried when the train was being forklifted off the truck, and wondered out loud if it was considered the Lions Club property yet, in case it was dropped.
“It cost $117,113, to be exact. It was only $87,000 back in 1984,” Ford said. “As they built it, they’ve been billing us, and the last 10 percent is due on delivery.”
Z&00 Railroad ticket sales pulled in enough money to buy a new engine, as well as the train’s maintenance barn, depot, parking lot and pavilion.
“Z&OO Railroad spends a lot of money every year on charities,” Roberts said. “We put the irrigation system in the lake and we feed the lions at the zoo. All of that comes from those little $1 train rides.”
The train depot bears the name of Lions Club member George Thannisch, one of the originators of the railroad, which officially opened July 4, 1970. He said he toyed with the idea of putting the train near Lake Sam Rayburn when it was first being created, but when the zoo was built, Thannisch decided it would be the ideal spot to attract children.
“We’ve had a lot of community support. I am personally proud that this time the Z&OO Railroad is writing a complete check for this new train, and I want to thank the community,” Thannisch said.
After a few adjustments are made, such as painting the cars to be as shiny as the new engine, Z&OO railroad will be ready to run again in about a week, said Gil Cox, the railroad’s coordinator. After that, the old one will be retired and put up for sale.
“Personally, I hope they don’t sell it. I’d like to keep it for a spare,” Cox said, pointing out that they wouldn’t be able to get much for the 20-year-old locomotive.
Z&OO Railroad is open every day during the summer and on weekends for the rest of the year.
“It’s great fun for us and it’s great fun for the community,” Roberts said. “There’s nothing like seeing a little kid’s eyes bug out when he gets off that train.”