In January, 1967, the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square introduced a new attraction: a miniature train. This brand new train was purchased from the Allan Herschell Company and is model number S-24, also known as the "Iron Horse". The Iron Horse is a miniature train designed to carry a larger number of passengers per trip than prior park trains. Its cars have colorfully painted canopies to protect riders from the sun. Each car is 17 feet long and can carry up to 14 adults. The engine was designed to resemble vintage locomotives of the 1870s. The same type of train was shipped all over the world to locations in Toronto, Canada, San Paulo, Brazil, Tokyo, Japan, and Barcelona, Spain.
The Zoo would not have been able to make this purchase without funds from Dr. Carl H. Iberschoff, a Saginaw school teacher, who left the money to the city of Saginaw for improvement of parks and playgrounds. The train is affectionately called the Iberschoff Special, in memory of Dr. Iberschoff's generosity.
The Iberschoff Special is brightly painted in red and black and comes fully equipped with brass fittings, including a bell and a whistle to greet park animals and visitors. The Train ride quickly became, and has remained, one of the most popular attractions at the Children's Zoo. The Iberschoff Special has run faithfully for over 40 years despite increasing challenges in its maintenance.
Finally, the maintenance challenges caught up with the beloved train. As the Allen Herschell Company has discontinued the Iron Horse model only a few years after the Zoo purchased the train, replacement parts had become increasingly hard to find. This, combined with long-term wear and tear contributed to problems which required the Zoo to discontinue train rides in late summer of 2007 in the interest of visitor safety. A comprehensive inspection revealed that replacement of the entire train system was needed to ensure the safety and longevity of this cherished Zoo tradition.
The Train Replacement Project was developed to do just that. A major grant from the Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation helped the Zoo raise enough funds to begin accepting bids for the project. In the spring of 2008, Billy’s Contracting rebuilt the track bed and the Crafton Railroad Company, Inc., of Illinois, laid a new track spanning 1,745 feet.
However, with the new track came the decision to remove the trestle, a favorite part of the train ride. In the interest of visitor safety, the trestle area was replaced with a hill at about the same height of the previous trestle. Another effect of removing the track system, was the loss of the tunnel, which was situated on top of the old railroad ties. However, while the trestle is now a part of the past, visitors who missed the tunnel in 2008 will be happy to hear that a new tunnel was constructed. As before, the tunnel serves as overnight and winter storage for the train, but this time around, it has doors at either end to better protect the train from the aging effects of weather.
Another phase of the Train Replacement Project was to replace the train, itself. However, as the current economic situation has diminsihed the level of funding opportunities available, this part of the plan is on hold. In the meantime, the good news is that Scientific Brake has discovered that they can perform a level of refurbishment on our existing train not previously thought possible. Therefore, the existing train will continue chugging around the track, but with less challenges to deal with to keep it going.