What do a railway robber baron from the 1800s and a small construction engine have to do with this podcast? You’ll have to listen to connect the dots. This week, I go in-depth on the history of the old Iron Horse called the C. P. Huntington, in her career from 1863 to present, and the 400+ Chance miniature versions that have been built since 1960: possibly the most popular miniature train for theme parks and zoos out there.
The Human C. P. Huntington
The roots for this episode began growing a long time ago. I was looking at pictures of miniature theme park trains on Google. I started seeing these trains that looked really similar, except for the numbers on the sides, and started casually making A List. I later learned they were called C. P. Huntingtons, but I still had that question: what was the deal with all these trains?
The story of the C. P. Huntington trains begins with a member of “The Big Four”, the four tycoons who built the Central Pacific Railroad. We start our story with a great man from the 1800s: robber baron Collis Potter Huntington.
Collis had a nose for buying and selling. If you’re at all a fan of Star Trek, he would’ve made a fine Ferengi – very concerned with profit. Born in 1821 on the East Coast, Collis came westward in his late twenties, making money by selling supplies during the California gold rush. He was an entrepreneurial man, making his way up in the world by moving on to hardware store ownership before setting his sights on the “railroad issue”.
Collis invested in the new Central Pacific Railroad Company, along with the other members of the Big Four: Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker. Ultimately, their railroad in California connected with railroads from the east to finally make transcontinental travel possible.
Starting in 1861 in Sacramento, CA, the Central Pacific railroad began building eastwards until it met the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory, Utah, in 1869. This was accomplished with the driving of a ceremonial “golden spike” which is now on display at Stanford University.
This was a huge deal – coast to coast train travel was finally possible, allowing for people to reach the opposite coast in about eight days. This replaced months-long sea voyages around South America’s Cape Horn, or rickety and dangerous wagon rides across the United States.
Huntington continued on throughout the rest of his life as a railroad tycoon, getting involved in the Southern Pacific Railroad line, too. He became a lobbyist, bribing politicians and Congressmen. He was reportedly one of the most hated railwaymen in the country by the end of his life, due to his preference for profit over people. According to his contemporaries, he was “possessed of the morals of a shark.”
The CP Huntington Locomotive
“In the early days of locomotive building, it was considered a great achievement when that pygmy engine with a flaring superfluity of a smokestack, the C. P. Huntington, was put on the road,” wrote a 1926 newspaper op-ed.
Stories from a century ago often seem to bring up the wild adventures of these “Monarchs of the West” as the early Iron Horse engines were called. Apparently, all of these vintage engines were known for having interesting stories or thrilling escapes.
The CPH was one of these.
Origin of the CPH
Collis Potter Huntington needed some engines for his transcontinental line, but nothing else was available due to the Civil War – only these two small identical engines. Both engines had originally been built for a different railway back East, but were never delivered as the original purchaser did not pay for them. Collis Porter Huntington went ahead and purchased the CPH and her sister.
The engines shipped from Cooke Locomotive Works (also known as Danforth-Cooke) in New Jersey, all the way to San Francisco in a journey of 131 days around Cape Horn. CPH was #277 out of the locomotive works, and given the #3. The identical sister engine was #325 out of the factory, less popular in cultural references, was named the #4 T. D. Judah, in honor of the CP railroad’s first chief engineer who surveyed a passable route over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The CPH engine was put to use to help build Huntington’s transcontinental railway.
The CPH: 4-2-4T
In technical details, the CPH is a 4-2-4T. I’ll give a layman’s definition of what this means, but I’m not a true train junkie (yet?), just a research nerd, so please forgive any errors. (I already know I’ll get letters about calling it a “train” and not a “locomotive”. Be kind, my train-friends.) 4-2-4T is train shorthand for the configuration of the wheels on the locomotive. A 4-2-4T has four leading wheels on two axles, two powered driving wheels on one axle (on the CPH, the big wheels) and four trailing wheels on two axles that support the tank (here, a “side tank” is noted with the T-suffix). There were other trains beyond the CPH that also bore this configuration, but a 4-2-4T is apparently colloquially known as a Huntington.
Working History of the CPH
The CPH did good work on the Central Pacific Railway, used in construction as well as pulling some passenger cars. Notably, she pulled the first passenger cars over the newly completed Western Pacific Railway from Sacramento to Stockton in August of 1869. In 1871, Southern Pacific purchased the engine and re-numbered it the #1.
Under Southern Pacific operation, things were not as rosy for the CPH. In 1872, the train suffered a massive collision with a larger train. The engineer in the CPH was killed. Quote: “The San Jose Mercury of June 7, 1872, noted: “the construction locomotive is small, and when the collision occurred the larger engine went completely through the smaller, taking in steam boxes, cylinders, smoke stack, driving wheels, boilers, etc., and leaving it a mass of ruins.””
It took several years before the engine was rebuilt. Quote from “May 1, 1875, the following account appeared in the Minor Scientific Press of Nevada – most likely taken from an article originally appearing in a San Francisco newspaper. “Certainly a peculiar looking craft it is [the CPH]. The engine is of a most unique pattern, there being but one or two others like it on the coast. ””
However, the CPH was only put to limited use once she was rebuilt.
Around the turn of the century, the engine spent some time in storage before being rebuilt as a weed burner (someone’s got to clear the tracks, after all). Reportedly this didn’t last long either. The engine was rebuilt again back to her original configuration, and bounced back and forth out of storage in Sacramento at Southern Pacific’s machine shops, where it was put on a platform to display at the shops. She was pushed into official service retirement around 1900.
Disuse of the CPH
Why all this bouncing around instead of actually using the engines? Well, apparently this 4-2-4 locomotive design had significant issues. The single driving axle was too light and did not carry the full weight of the engine’s trailing rear end. The engine couldn’t reliably pull trains, particularly not on gradients. And the Forney-style water tank was too small, so the trains would consume all their water (necessary to make the steam) if they went any moderate distance.
Something that’s hard to convey from all of this discussion so far is how small the CPH is. Technical schematics indicate she is 7 ¾ ft wide, 12 ½ ft tall, and 29 ½ ft long. This is incredibly small compared to many other locomotives. Indeed, some of my favorite pictures of the CPH I’ve found during my research are those where she is posed next to a larger engine.
The CPH Out of Working Service
As the years went on, loads grew larger, and the small CPH just couldn’t handle the requirements for larger modern loads of the times. With a need for bigger locomotives, the small 4-2-4s were left in storage, on back spurs at the train yard, or up on high trestles in the paint shops, for longer and longer, until they were scrapped.
The T. D. Judah, C. P. Huntington’s sister engine, was rebuilt into a 4-2-2 configuration at some point in the late 1800s. Some reports indicate that the Judah worked at a sugar plantation in the Hawaiian islands (“Sandwich Islands”); others say she was sold to the Wellington Colliery Company in British Columbia, sometime around 1889. Ultimately, the Judah was scrapped in between 1912 and 1914. (Though several of the 1922 texts I found indicated she was still in active service, nothing else I could find to substantiate this. Another 1899 text indicated she had been scrapped several years earlier. Central Pacific #93 was also converted to a 4-2-2 configuration, so it’s likely that the confusing reports is a result of mixing up the two. Big mystery, our T. D. Judah.)
Why the Poor Railroad Records?
As an interesting sidebar, you might be wondering why the stories of the CPH and the Judah are relatively light with details and mixed in with a bit of confusion. Well, as so often happens, this is a tale of fire damage. The 1906 San Francisco fires, the result of a devastating earthquake, destroyed nearly 80% of the city. Among the losses were those of the railroad: records, drawings, and photographs. A decade later in 1917, another fire in the Sacramento train shops destroyed more railway documentation. What we have available to us now from the time of the Iron Horses is what was saved by families of employees and the occasional state library record – the tip of the iceberg compared to what had been.
Back to the end of the working service record, we’d been talking about the scrapping of the T. D. Judah.
The C. P. Huntington was nearly scrapped in 1914 as well, but was saved this fate by the decision to have her put on display for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. This was a World’s Fair, meant to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and showcase San Francisco’s recovery after the 1906 earthquake.
At the World’s Fair, the C. P. Huntington was displayed alongside a much larger loco, a 2-4-4-2 Mallet. This was meant to drive home to the visiting audience the massive changes in railway needs over the prior 50 years, and it did so very well. The 1840s CPH looked practically like a child’s toy next to the large and modern 1900s locos.
The Original CPH on Display
Thus began the history of the original C. P. Huntington engine as a display piece and a showcase from a different era.
In January of 1920, national papers reported the CPH being put on display in a place of honor outside Sacramento’s train shops. They called her “California’s oldest locomotive”, and in a bit of revisionist history, the papers declared that she had been the first loco to ever operate in California, a claim which certainly cannot be true. Tall tale or not, the CPH was getting a rest, and getting the due come to her.
She next went on major display at the “Days of ‘49” celebrating the 1849 Gold Rush. Not just a poem by Joaquin Miller that was turned into a song by Bob Dylan…no, in this context, I’m talking about the May 1922 celebrations in California to commemorate the Gold Rush. Old #1 was cleaned up and hooked up to a flat car with seats. She pulled passengers around the city for a modest fare of 49 cents.
After this, she was kept in better repair, and participated in other displays and showcases, such as being part of the filming for the 1924 movie “The Iron Horse”, the highest grossing movie of that year.
The Iron Horse movie (click for more information).
Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, a lavish movie palace in downtown Hollywood that opened in 1922, held the premiere of “The Iron Horse”. During the movie’s run there, the little CPH was parked in the forecourt of the theater, facing the street, in order to help promote the film.
She went to state fairs, dedicated bridges and railroad depots, and so on. When she was not out on display, she sat in front of the railyard there in Sacramento, under a small pavilion.
On December 16, 1935, she was even driven on a flat car down to New Orleans, where she was the first train to cross the new Huey P. Long Bridge.
1939 Opening Ceremonies
In 1939, the engine participated in the opening ceremonies for the Los Angeles Union Station.
The occasion was observed by Ward Kimball. If this name sounds familiar to you, that’s because he was one of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men”. Kimball was an animator, responsible for the creation of Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio), Jaq and Gus (Cinderella), and the Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland) among many many others.
Kimball was also a railway fan. He had his own narrow-gauge railway collection which he ran in his 3 acre backyard. Reportedly, Kimball’s train enthusiasm bumped up against Walt Disney’s, and Kimball helped encourage Disney to install the iconic railroad at Disneyland when it opened in 1955.
Well, don’t mind me, going down a Ward Kimball rabbithole. He was a very interesting man, particularly if you’re into Disney.
Why did I bring him up?
Oh yes. Kimball was on hand to observe the opening ceremonies for the Los Angeles Union Station in 1939 because he was a train buff. Not only did he see the ceremonies, he filmed them on 16mm color film video, incredibly expensive in 1939.
Kimball captured the only known footage of the opening. Decked out in brilliant red and green paint, Southern Pacific’s engine #1 was a relic from a different time, even in 1939 – the little engine was 76 years old at that point! It can be seen puffing smoke, wheels churning, steaming down Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles.
It’s an incredible sight.
This was likely one of, if not THE, last time the boiler of the venerable CPH was fired and moved under her own steam.
Later Years of the CPH
The CPH was towed out for a few more railway events in the late 50s and 60s, but primarily sat on static display in the Sacramento park in front of the trainyard.
The railway donated the CPH to the state of California in 1964. It was displayed at the Stockton fairgrounds for years. After refurbishment at the Southern Pacific’s Sacramento train shops, the CPH was moved to an exterior display at the Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station.
C. P. Huntington on display. Click for more information.
In 1981, the CPH moved into the newly-opened California State Railroad Museum, where it is still on display in 2019.
She was restored to her 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition appearance, covered in complicated and artistic gold leaf highlights. A 1930s newspaper article on California railroad history devoted several newspaper inches to descriptions of the paint schemes of the old wood-burning locomotives – what a luxurious, different time it was to see a newspaper devote column inches to such a thing.
The engine is reportedly the only surviving standard steam engine of its type. Danforth-Cooke’s factory produced well over 3000 engines in the Iron Horse era between 1852 and 1926. Of these, only 11 reportedly remain in existence now in 2019, one of which is the CPH; she is the only 4-2-4 remaining.
Reportedly, this locomotive will never operate under its own steam again. The California State Railroad Museum made investigations as to the state of the CPH in 1998. Reportedly “the boiler shell is too worn out to be safely steamed again without major repairs and replacements that would compromise the state of the otherwise intact artifact.”
The C. P. Huntington is the second oldest locomotive owned by the California State Railroad Museum, and one of the older surviving locomotives worldwide. (The oldest known locomotive is the 1813 “Puffing Billy” at London’s Science Museum, an engine some fifty years older than our heroine the CPH.) The CSRM currently owns eight of the 45 pre-1880s locomotives still extant in the US, inclduing the CPH. The CPH silhouette even serves as the logo for the museum.
The Chance CPH
Now, if you’ve sat through this episode in confusion so far about how all this locomotive talk ties into the theme of the podcast, get ready to have a galaxy brain moment. You might think back to the Joyland episodes, for a bit of a clue to the rest of the story.
In the mid-twentieth century in Wichita, Kansas, a man by the name of Harold Chance was building miniature steam trains. First under the Ottaway Amusement Company name, Chance incorporated his own company as Chance Manufacturing in 1961. A year earlier, in 1960, Chance had begun production on the first version of a new miniature train.
It was the beginning of something magical.
According to the CSRM, the C. P. Huntington had been displayed at at least two occasions: the Southern Pacific Centennial Celebration in 1955, and the Salute to Steam Age in 1958. (The latter event was a good-bye ceremony marking the last run of the last steam engine of SP, #4294. The engines were placed side-by-side in the park in Sacramento to mark the beginning and end of the steam era in Southern Pacific’s history).
Additionally, scale models of the train were reported nationally around this time in the papers, including a 1951 half-size model by a man named Jack Collier, and much smaller 1.5” scale rideable models by a man named Bob Harpur. Oh, and a very large model made entirely out of fruit by an enterprising Lions Club.
Being a person interested in trains, it’s highly likely that Harold Chance saw news reports of these events, at the very least, particularly the reports on the end of the steam era for the Southern Pacific in 1958. And like a train at a switch, we can see the leap Harold Chance might have taken.
He began building a miniature C. P. Huntington train for use in amusement parks.
Chance’s CPH was a one-third scale model of the original. His miniature version was faithful to the original as far as looks – handmade, and incredibly detailed. The littler steam engine had the unique design of the original, with the iconic stack and wheel arrangement.
From a mechanical perspective, his models made some changes. Apparently the big “drive” wheels are false (they can even be removed without affecting the locomotive’s operation, which many operations do to ease maintenance) and the engine powers drive shafts on the front and rear trucks of the locomotive. Gone too was steam power: Chance’s model used gasoline for fuel.
He delivered his first engine to Joyland Park, there in Wichita, Kansas, in 1961.
Joyland’s iconic train served that park from 1961 until 2006. “Joyland’s train really launched Chance Rides,” said Larry Breitenstein, National Sales Director at Chance Rides, some time later. The train was last seen publicly when the park closed in 2006. Reportedly, it is in the hands of a private collector local to Wichita.
Other Chance CPHs
Joyland’s CPH wasn’t Chance’s last miniature CPH, though.
The company has produced over 400 miniature CP Huntington rides as of the time of this recording – 400+ trains over about 60 years.
Some basic stats: engines run about $200k, and coaches run around $60k (prices from Wikipedia, date unclear). The trains are a narrow gauge. Most CPHs are 24” gauge. However, some of the early CPH models were 20” gauge. Chance still provides individual parts for the CPH in their sales inventory. This is unsurprising, as the CPH is reportedly Chance’s most popular ride.
To some in the amusement park world, the train is frowned upon – considered a cookie cutter train, which is both sad and inaccurate. Each engine has its own modifications and personality, and each engine runs differently. But to a general audience, the CPH is an incredibly popular thing – because it’s a train! Who doesn’t love to go on a train ride?
I’m not going to talk about every single engine on this podcast – that would be a wild, very long episode and I’ll tell you right now that this will already be a long one as it is. But I will hit a few highlights.
Why should you care, and what is the reason for me even doing this episode in the first place?
Rabbitholes and those giant numbers on the side of the locomotive.
The best and worst thing about these trains is that they often (but not always) have the engine number visible on the side. This number is usually (but not always) the loco number from Chance. This is the reason I got into the topic in the first place – I got sucked down into a Google image search, wondering why there were similar-looking trains all around parks and zoos, and why they had the numbers they did.
A minute ago, I said “usually” the numbers reflect the manufacturing number from the factory. It’s not always true. Some park remove the numbers, some parks never have the numbers installed, and some parks change the numbers to reflect internal numbering schemes, confusing us all. The only way to accurately know which number CPH a particular train is would be to look at the builder’s plate, attached to each loco, which contains the engine’s serial number. But sometimes these too have been removed, or have become illegible.
Additionally, they are usually robust little trains. (Engine #2 has been in operation for almost 60 years at the time of this recording!) Given their hardy nature, the trains are often sold from park to park. This often leads to confusion about the trains, as when they are in storage or in the hands of private owners, their locations are unknown or unclear. Some engines have also been scrapped, such as the #29, formerly of the St. Louis Zoo, where it was involved in an accident that more or less destroyed the entire engine. Others are nearly so, such as the #8, which currently sits without wheels on the dirt at New Orleans City Park.
Should this podcast ever make money (lol) it would be fantastic to do a history on each of the parks associated with a CPH. I cannot count the number of times during my research for this topic that I would get stuck down a rabbithole for a particular train.
I’m not even going to include a list of the CPHs in my shownotes, the List being the holy grail of CPH research. For that, I’m going to direct you to the incredible Facebook group “C. P. Huntington Train Project”, where you can find an incredible Excel spreadsheet and some very smart people and a lot of cool photos.
Anyhow, let’s talk about some of the engines. Every engine has a story, and here are a few.
#2 – “Robert D. Morrell” at Story Land (Glen, NH)
The #2 is the oldest train currently in public operation, as the #1 from Joyland is in storage or private ownership. It lives at Story Land in Glen, NH, a small family amusement park aimed at the under-teen set. They have five CPHs: #2 (red), #4 (blue), #14 (in storage), #18 (used as a backup), and #47 (green).
There are a lot of interesting things about the Story Land engines that we could get into at another time. For today, we’ll talk about the number on the front. Every CPH has the year 1863 on the front of the engine – that was the year the original CPH was manufactured. There’s only one exception: CPH #2, the red engine from Story Land named “Robert D. Morrell”. It says 1861 on the front. It’s a bit of a mystery why this is. One possibility is that this is a reference to the incorporation date for the Central Pacific Railroad, which of course was where the original CPH first operated as engine #3. It’s not clear why only one engine has this plate, however (and only #2, not #1!).
#34 – Coney Island and Lake Como Railroad
The trains with the smallest numbers are the oldest, and some of these have been through multiple hands. Let’s take the case of #34, and I’ll illustrate how you might go down a rabbithole of fascination with just a single engine.
This engine #34 was a 1964 model, part of the “Coney Island and Lake Como Railroad” in Cincinnati. It was painted light blue and red, the “standard” color scheme, and was called “Mad Anthony Wayne.” Coney Island in Cincinnati is a park with an incredibly long history, which we may get to one day. For now, we’ll just talk about the train,where engine #34 operated with engine #35 (“George Rogers Clark”). The train and amusement park delighted guests there at the site of a former apple orchard until 1971, when Coney Island moved to Kings Island. This was a larger site, further away from the river floods that had constantly plagued Coney Island throughout its history, and most of the rides from Coney Island were moved over to Kings Island. However, Kings Island already had trains – larger Crown models, so the small CPH engines were no longer needed.
CPH #34 was sold to the World of Golf in 1971, reportedly along with the former station which had been cut into sections. Unfortunately, shortly after it was all installed, the nearby Florence KY sewer treatment plant overflowed in 1976 into the area, and the park, including railroad, was shut down. The train was reportedly stored in the deteriorating station for most of the next 20 years.
In the early 1990s, it was sold to the Oil Ranch in Hockley TX. It has been repainted black and red and lost its number but still operates there as of this recording in 2019.
#235 – Michael Jackson’s Neverland
Other notable trains belonged to public figures. Take #235. Michael Jackson was a hugely influential public figure, of course, no matter what your stance on his personal life and the decades of abuse allegations against him.
His private ranch, Neverland Ranch, was over five times the size of Disneyland. It had a zoo, a movie theater, an amusement park, and two different trains. One was a CPH – #235, a 1990 model. It was customized for Michael Jackson, and had extra twinkle lights around the coach canopies, extra decorations, and a high end sound system installed. When Jackson died, David Helm (of Helm and Sons Amusements based in CA) purchased the CPH as well as other amusement rides. The engine hasn’t been seen in public since then.
#195, 196, 178, and 89 – Heritage USA
Other problematic public figures had CPHs, too, like Jim Bakker over at his Heritage USA “Christian Disneyland”. (Don’t worry, Heritage USA is a whole, giant episode for the future. The story of Heritage USA is absolutely wild.) Although general public reporting only refers to one train at Heritage USA, it turns out that there were actually FOUR.
Two trains were delivered new to Heritage USA in 1979, funded by the many private donors who believed in Jim Bakker’s televangelism – these were #195 and #196. One of these was featured on the Tammy Faye Bakker album cover for “Movin’ On To Victory”. The other two trains were purchased used (one was described as a “shell” and the other barely ran), one of which was #178.
When the park went under in the late 80s as Bakker’s pyramid scheme collapsed, the amusement park assets were liquidated. #195 had been involved in a minor collision with a gate during Heritage USA’s operation, and suffered cosmetic damage. It also was reportedly cannibalized for parts to keep #196 running. As such, #195 was reportedly traded back to Chance Rides during the liquidation of the park in the late 80s (1987/1988). Chance rebuilt the loco, and sold it. This engine is currently in operation at Lakemont Park in Altoona, PA, home of Leap-the-Dips, the world’s oldest surviving, still operational rollercoaster.
#196, the loco in better shape, was purchased by private collector Mokey Choate, who owned 13+ CPH locos under the business name Big Mokey Trains, Inc. While Mokey passed away in 2016, the business is still in operation. Big Mokey Trains leases out its fleet of trains to parks. Perhaps someone needs short-term extra capacity for an event, or perhaps a park finds it cost-effective to have the trains only during the season and outsource any maintenance costs. This of course adds an extra level of confusion for any CPH hunters, as trains are rotated in and out for maintenance and may not always be at the same park. #196, then, is one of the Mokey trains, and was last seen operating at the Jackson Zoo in Mississippi.
The other two locomotives, #178 and the unknown loco, have not been seen since.
Electric #400 and it’s Electric Brother, #402
If you’re in Houston and you’re hearing this, I hope you’ve visited the Houston Downtown Aquarium. That’s the home of the groundbreaking landmark CPH #400, the first electric CPH train from Chance. It was named “Electric Eel”. CPH #402, also an electric CPH but this time with a blue color scheme, went to the aquarium just recently, in July of 2019.
Both trains run through an incredible exhibit called the Shark Voyage, where the trains travel through a completely see-through tunnel with a unique view on a massive shark aquarium exhibit.
Chance Rides spent quite some time perfecting their electric train. One of the few train videos they’ve posted on YouTube is from fall of 2017, showing the electric prototype in a stripped down state, taking some test laps in the Chance lot there in Wichita.
It is likely not surprising considered today’s environmentally conscious consumers, but it appears that Chance will be making a big push for electric trains as the main CPH going forward. Reportedly, many places looking to make a new train purchase have inquired about electric models. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the next trains be predominantly electric over gasoline models, particularly for more environmentally-minded zoos.
The St. Louis Zoo’s Many CPHs
Finally, the last in the case studies I’ll cover today…the St. Louis Zoo. If there were a record for the place that has had the most CPH engines pass through it, that place might be the St. Louis Zoo.
The zoo has a long history with the engines. They started with engines #27, 28, and 29 in 1963 and 1964. The Zoo caught the CPH bug, and began purchasing additional trains for what became known as “The Emerson Zooline Railroad”. They are reportedly the business that has purchased the most trains direct from Chance, and in the early years, replaced their trains after 10 years of service.
So when it came time to purchase the next engine, we reach the slight snag in the story. Remember how I mentioned that sometimes, the big numbers on the side of the tender don’t always reflect the manufacturer’s number? This is one of those times. The St. Louis Zoo wanted the numbers of the new trains to be consecutive. So St. Louis Zoo #30 was not CPH #30, muddling the issue of The List significantly. And, as noted, they’ve moved through a number of different trains, with their old trains being sold across the country, continuing to muddle the history of the individual trains.
All told, St. Louis Zoo has owned a total of 23 different CPH trains to date. The current trains in operation are St. Louis Zoo #45 “Daniel Boone” (CPH #247), #46 “Pierre LaClede” (CPH #263), #47 “Lewis and Clark” (CPH #289), #48 “Ulysses S Grant” (CPH #300), #49 “Charlton Tandy” (CPH #303), and #100 “Emerson” (CPH #362, purchased during the zoo’s centennial).
Reportedly, the Zooline Railroad is in the preliminary steps of exploring an electric locomotive purchase. Apparently the Zooline Railroad is reputedly the steepest of any CPH railroad, and there is some question as to whether the electric version could handle fully loaded trains on that grade.
And if you’ve got a child who’s a train lover, you’ll love the St. Louis Zoo – they’ve got a program where kids can shadow an engineer for part of the day.
Other Variations on the CPH
Of course, Chance isn’t the only game in town when it comes to the CP Huntington.
Western Train Co CPH
Western Train Co, in California, builds its own variation of the 24” miniature engine, suitable for theme parks and zoos as well. There are subtle differences between the WTC versions and the Chance version, but both are beautiful miniature trains.
Little Engines and Bob Harpur
Or, if an even smaller version is your speed, Little Engines makes a 1.5” scale model. Yep, still to this day! These can hold 2-4 people, perched on top of the cars like giants. Remember the 1950s model written up in the newspaper by Bob Harpur that I mentioned, oh, thirty minutes ago? Yep, that was these. Bob’s miniature CPH can actually be seen onscreen in the 1956 film “The King and I” starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr. http://www.trainweb.org/jeffhartmann/CPH_models.html
The episode is running long, so we probably don’t have time to get too in-depth here. However, the short version is that Bob Harpur was a fascinating man. He was incredibly involved with the live steam engine scene through his work with the Little Engines company after his discharge from the Army. He met Walt Disney in 1949 when Walt and his daughter came to the shop to look at the trains. Bob ultimately joined the Walt Disney company as an Imagineer twenty years later, in 1969. He had his hands in a number of different projects, notably including the trains at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Disney Paris, and WDW Animal Kingdom.
So there you go, information on two different Disney Imagineers in an episode that has little at all to do with Disney. Isn’t life grand?
CPH in Pop Culture
Elsewhere in pop culture, the CPH (or T. D. Judah, depending on your perspective) are iconic, providing inspiration for books, film, etc. The most well-known of these is the design for the Little Engine That Could – think on that friendly blue engine in your mind, and you might immediately see the parallels. Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, the logo for the California Railway Museum is a silhouette of the CPH. And the engine was featured on the cover of the Nostalgia version of Monopoly.
#44, #55, the Pittsburgh Zoo, and Chris Churilla
It’s not just the classic Little Engine That Could, though. There’s a whole series out there in recent days, aimed at the elementary school and younger audience, starring zoo trains Zippy and Guido.
The best part is that Zippy and Guido aren’t fictional. The series is based on author Chris Churilla’s experiences with the real trains, CPH #44 and CPH #55, both from from the Pittsburgh Zoo. I know I said I was done with case studies of individual trains, but let’s get into just one more.
Churilla actually spent several years as engineer for the #44 and #55, there at the Pittsburgh Zoo. At the age of 14, he began spending summers as “host” of the trains (since he wasn’t allowed to engineer/drive them until age 18). At that time, the Pittsburgh Zoo train ride was dilapidated, giving out a lot of problems for the zoo and receiving very little love in return. After all, the trains had been there since 1965. Chris was instrumental in restoring the trains. He gathered together a group of train lovers, and together they cleaned up the trains, performed regular maintenance, and began raising funding from donors to keep the trains running.
Eventually, Chris became the primary engineer, in charge of the whole train operation. “Engineering them was a dream come true!” he told me. In 2010, he upgraded the train exhibit (along the train route) to tell the history of the Pittsburgh Zoo and breathe new life into the ride.
Unfortunately, despite a new paint job for the trains in 2011, the entire train ride was shut down indefinitely in 2013. Although the trains themselves were in good shape, the tracks weren’t. The zoo didn’t see sufficient value in the train ride. They were unable to find funds to repair the tracks, and were looking instead for a place to locate a new dinosaur exhibit.
To honor Zippy (#55) and Guido (#44), Chris honored them by writing and illustrating first one, and now four, books about them. “There were so many people who loved riding the zoo trains so I wanted them to be able to continue to bring smiles to families for years to come!” If you follow him on social media, he’s recently been showcasing delightful hidden details from each book, such as the real-life counterparts to the cats, coaches, and other engines in the book.
He still loves trains today. The CPH Facebook group I referred you to is a project Chris moderates, along with several other train-minded folks. There, they collect information on each of the C. P. Huntington trains. Chris now travels the world to ride CPHs, especially those where he can participate in “engineer for a day” programs to get his engineering fix. He also consults with zoos and parks on all things train: finding used trains, operations, and historical information.
As of the time of this recording, a private train collector has purchased the real #44, Guido, and the real #55, Zippy, and is in the process of slowly restoring them.
No End to the CPH Rabbithole
There’s something about the CPH, that quirky little engine and her 400+ quirky little Chance copies. The CPH gets in your head, gets her hooks in you, and you can’t stop falling down the rabbithole. Maybe it’s something in the steam?
I don’t quite understand it, myself. I’ve reiterated this a few times on the podcast so far, but I’m not really a train buff, not particularly interested in the technical specs and all that. But this episode on the C. P. Huntington train is the one I’ve been working on the longest. If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d spend fifteen single-spaced pages writing an essay about theme park train history, I’d have called you mad. But there’s just something about the diminutive overall size, the comically large smokestack, the proportions of the wheels…the CPH just such a classic-looking train, and she really gets in your head.
There’s so much interesting information out there, not only about the 400+ Chance trains but about the namesake engine herself. Someday I hope to visit many of the places I’ve covered on the podcast and visiting the original CPH on display in northern California is definitely high on my bucket list.
Chances are (see what I did there?) that there’s a CPH at a zoo or theme park near you. Maybe get out there and ride one soon.
I’d like to particularly thank Chris Churilla for patiently answering my many questions on the C. P. Huntington trains. You should check out his Facebook group “C. P. Huntington Train Project”, an exhaustive resource and archive for the person interested in compiling a more complete history of each Chance C. P. Huntington. And check out his books about Zippy and Guido – ask your local bookstore, or find them at a major online retailer.
I also recommend the 1943 article by D. L. Joslyn, “The Life Story of the Locomotive C.P. Huntington As Told By Itself”, available for free online. It’s a charming chatty first-person history of the original locomotive, and I think you’ll enjoy it.
Podcast cover background photo is by 4045 on freepik.com. C. P. Huntington photo is by Chris Churilla, used with permission. Theme music is from “Aerobatics in Slow Motion” by TeknoAXE. Incidental sounds and ambience: FreeSound.org (Dungeness miniature railway – jjbulley; old railway station – YleArkisto; Jacksonville Zoo Ambience – inspectorJ; Amusement Park – _alvaro_; Steam Train Interior – allh; Brighton carousel – onetwo-ber) and freesfx.co.uk (Blacksmith Working on Anvil With Hammer).
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on your podcast app. You might also leave a review, or share an episode on social media. Your word of mouth brings new listeners to the Abandoned Carousel fold.
I’ll be back soon with another great episode, so I’ll see you then. As Lucy Maud Montgomery once said, nothing is ever really lost to us, as long as we remember it.
Remember that what you’ve read is a podcast! A link is included at the top of the page. Listen to more episodes of The Abandoned Carousel on your favorite platform: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RadioPublic | TuneIn | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Castro. Support the podcast on Patreon for extra content! Comment below to share your thoughts – as Lucy Maud Montgomery once said, nothing is ever really lost to us, as long as we remember it.
I’ve included a complete list of references used while researching this topic. It’s hidden under the link for brevity.
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