Chesterton Tribune



Revisit memories of old Chicago train rides this weekend

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Next stop Memory Lane. . .

The Hesston Steam Museum in Northwest Indiana (only a 90 minute drive from the Chicago area) has brought back some fun childhood memories for people of a certain age, and into the present for all to enjoy again. Two of the most fondly remembered train rides are the miniature steam train from Kiddieland in Melrose Park that carried families since the 1930s and the Brookfield, Salt Creek & Western Railroad that meandered through the Brookfield Zoo, giving a behind-the-scenes zoo tour from 1967-1985.

The best-known pair of steam locomotives that ran at Kiddieland are "The Hudson" and "The Northern" which are art deco streamlined trains of the 1930s. At the Brookfield Zoo, three locomotives were in operation - two steam engines, nicknamed ‘The Blue Goose’ and “Granny”, and a diesel powered locomotive, fondly called “Rudy”, commissioned and donated to the zoo by the late Elliott Donnelley of RR Donnelley Printing.

Although some people might think these trains only exist as memories, they were not scrapped after all and are now located very close to Chicagoland. Some of these engines have been fully restored and are ready to take passengers for a ride on the rails again.

Other engines, such as “Granny’, are still in need of restoration, but are available for viewing. Up until a few years ago, ‘Granny” had not been on display since her days of operation at the Zoo, so viewing this locomotive is a rare treat. Adults who grew up with these trains in Chicagoland can now experience them again and bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy the experience with them.

“I remember riding both the zoo trains and the trains at Kiddieland as a child,” said museum manager, Ted Rita. Rita, now in his 40s, took several trips to Kiddieland Amusement park with his dad as a child and one trip to the zoo with his grandmother. Rita says he is always excited to meet others who have fond memories of these trains. Some of the Hesston Steam Museum volunteers also remember them from the past.

“Not only are these trains fun to ride, they are important parts of history of the Chicagoland area and we are very happy to be home to them now. Every time I ride behind the Blue Goose (Brookfield Zoo locomotive) I have fond memories of my grandmother.”

Robert Franken, a museum volunteer and head conductor of the Hesston Scenic Railroad, along with others, have restored a coach that was still in the original paint from the zoo which reads Brookfield, Salt Creek & Western. Franken and his crew kept this coach in its original colors when they restored the paint on it. “It’s interesting to talk to people who rode these trains in the past and this coach, with the original paint scheme, is a great conversation starter,” Franken said. The zoo coach is ready to ride for this year’s Chicago Day Event at the museum.

All Aboard!

These Chicagoland trains now run on two of the three different track routes through beautiful, shady woods and along fields at Hesston. Listen to the clickety-clack of the wheels as the train gently rocks along the track and the sound of the steam whistles as they take riders back to another time and back to childhood. Speak with engineers of these trains at the Hesston Steam Museum, learning more and sharing memories.

A fully-restored vintage Cretors steam-powered popcorn machine will also be in operation for this upcoming Chicago Weekend Celebration. Charles Cretors, founder of C. Cretors and Company in Chicago, introduced the world's first mobile popcorn machine at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Be sure to enjoy a bag of hot, freshly popped popcorn during your visit.

Another piece of steam-powered Chicagoland history is on display at the museum -- the Good engine that ran Chicago’s Cook County Hospital. This piece of Chicago history was built in 1876 and was in operation at the hospital until 1918. Also view other steam equipment, ride a variety of miniature trains, purchase a memento from the gift shop and treat the family to ice cream or a deliciously cool soda at the restored vintage 1930s soda fountain or enjoy a tasty, freshly created meal at Doc’s Soda Fountain.

Grounds open at 11:30 a.m. and trains run from noon to 5 p.m. (Central Time).

For more information and for a schedule of operating days visit or call 219-778-2783 (weekends).

Train fares are $5 for adults and $3 for kids 3-12. Parking is free and there are no admission fees.

The Hesston Steam Museum is a 501(c)(3) organization that is located east of State Rd. 39 (west of Basswood Rd.) on LaPorte County Rd. 1000 North. From I-94, take Michigan Exit 1, New Buffalo, or from the Indiana Toll Rd. use Exit 49, LaPorte, IN.




Posted 10/5/2017




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