Saturday, May 28, 2011
I've been to the Zoo!
There was a steam train! And naked mole rats! And baby turtles, and polar bears, a rhinoceros, a zebra and some otters and some other stuff!
The steam train was the main object of my field trip today. I went during my vacation week before last, and it was too early in the season for them to be running it. I was quite disappointed, and vowed that I would ride the tiny locomotive at the earliest opportunity. The very nice man at the ticketing booth told me they would start running it this weekend, so in spite of the chilly weather this morning, I got up and went off to the zoo.
At the ticket booth by the train station I asked if the next ride was the regular train or the steam train. I felt a little sheepish. No, it was the regular one, the Zooliner, said the ticket agent. The Oregonian would be another half an hour, he said, would I like to wait? I said yes, I only came to ride the steam train. Well, I think that's great! That one's my favorite too, he said. Nerrrrrddds.
By chance, I had arrived just in time to catch The Oregonian's first run of the day. The Zooliner, which dates from some time in the early sixties I think, was already running. As they loaded it with passengers, I could see these two guys in stripey engineer's overalls messing around with the steam engine, which was parked on a siding. Once the Zooliner left the station, the engineers backed the steam train up to the platform. Sorry about the jiggly camera angles, there were a bunch of us milling around watching.
I hope the station attendant didn't think I was really annoying. I was the first person in line to board. Maybe the engineer's cap was a bit much? He's probably seen worse. One benefit of riding the first train of the day is that you get to watch the engineers perform a couple of maintenance tasks that aren't done at other times. One of those is sanding out the engine. They drive the train to a section of track with a slight downward slope, then blow a large quantity of (I think) steam out through the smoke stack while backing the train uphill. The steam essentially pressure washes the guts of the engine stack and flushes out all the accumulated soot and grit. They back it up the hill so that all that stuff will fall onto the tracks in front of the train rather than back onto the passengers. When they're done, the train starts rolling forward again. I didn't get a very good shot of it; it's quite dramatic, and I was too busy gawping.
The other thing they do is blow down the boiler. I imagine this serves a similar purpose, but for the tanks of water to make steam which powers the engine. Much of the Washington Park loop of the track is laid in close proximity to the sides of the hills, so they have to drive the train to an area that has a large ravine on the left side so they can safely vent the steam from the boiler.
After that, it's just a very pleasant little ride through the woods and around the bottom of the zoo. The last part of the track before the station is a miniature tunnel. It's probably only about 50 feet long, but there are no lights in there so you can see the reflection of the boiler flames coming off the bottom of the engine, and the smoke billows around the ceiling in this very spooky-cool way. Is a bit stinky though. If you want to get a good view of the engine working, I recommend riding somewhere in the middle of the train. If you ride right behind the engine, you have to stick your head way out of the car to see anything, which is frowned upon, and if you ride at the end of the train, you will be too far back. Sit in the middle, and you will get very nice views of the engine every time the train goes around a curve in the track. Also, the train stops above the rose test garden for a photo op, and you can get a re-boarding stamp if you want to get off and mess around in the park. Next time!
Still, for me it was all about the little train. On Friday I heard somebody say that they rode the train for zoolights a couple years ago and didn't think it was anything to get all excited about. Dude. Some people are crazy, that's all I'm saying.
More pictures on my photostream!