How I Miss The Elephant Train

You have to have lived in San Francisco for awhile to remember the elephant train that ran at the San Francisco Zoo. Later becoming the zebra train for some odd reason, I still miss the original zebra train tours around the zoo.

I think they cost about 75¢ at the time which tells you about how old I am. You would hop on by the Children’s Zoo and ride around the entire zoo getting a little lesson on all the animals that you’d see. It was a good way to start your trip to the zoo, then you could walk around and take your time. For elderly people who had trouble walking around the zoo it made it much more accessible. While to many the zoo seems large today, it was even larger back then when they were using more of their space.

I have heard, but can’t confirm that it original ran from Playland at the beach to the zoo back in the day when it didn’t cost anything to get in. It was also said to have been used at one time to help students get around at SF State University, which if people thought of the place as a zoo that would give them proof.

I do remember going on field trips to the zoo and that was always the best way to move the kids around the zoo quickly and then get them back to the school. Field trips like that made going to school fun back then. It’s hard to find pictures of the trains now and I couldn’t even find one of the zebra train that replaced it. It’s even harder to find any information about them, but I believe the zoo stopped them in the early 80’s. I can’t even find out when they started using them there. There’s actually more information out there about the Little Puffer train, but doesn’t mention that it runs on a shorter track today than it used to. There’s a lot of stuff out there about the old zoo like Storyland which every kid had to see back then. Sure it was a little beat up and run down when I was a kid, but it was still fun to see all your nursery rhymes and storybook characters in 3D.

I’m a bit out of shape and when we got back from taking our daughter to the zoo today I was out of breath and sweating. I think that’s part of the reason I really miss the elephant train.

Grizzly Bears? In Golden Gate Park?

Today’s column comes from The Western Neighborhoods Project, run by Woody LaBounty. Woody has collected a group of people who remember the old days from their own stories and ones that have been passed down to them by relatives. I’m trying to dig through my archives of stuff my Mom used to tell me about how the city had changed from when she was a kid. I’m glad her vision was going because she’d probably not like today. So here’s another one from the Good Ole days file.
Golden Gate Park Children’s Playground 

Golden Gate Park Children's Playgroundby Pat French Swendsen

(Originally published in theRichmond Review andSunset Beacon,January 2002)

Yes, there were grizzly bears in Golden Gate Park, near the Children’s Playground.

Far from the benign setting of swings and sand boxes, the bears roamed gloomily in a sunken, almost underground, alleyway near smelly, dank dens where the bears lived.

Before they were removed from the park, the giants of the wild were confined in this cavernous layout as people peered down on the bears from above, standing on strong iron bars.

The playground at that time contained a wonderful corkscrew metal slide. It had nice architectural touches, including stairs that looked like fancy furnace floor vents. Sometimes on hot, sunny days the slide would get very hot, but that was never a problem—the trip down was always swift.

There were also elephants in the park. Children could ride in a seat on the elephant’s back along a designated path: two rides for a nickel. I never found out where the elephants went at night or where they came from (retired from a circus?), but it was an exotic ride that for a few moments transported us to India, where we felt important and powerful.

One of my fondest memories of the Children’s Playground was getting into a scooter that would go down a concrete path from the top of a nearby hill to the bottom. An eager young man always started our journey at the top when we were securely seated in the Kiddie Car. When riding in the cars, the “clickity clack” of the wheels could be heard as we sped along. It was marvelous.

The nearby merry-go-round was a whole other scene, with its mirrored panels and glockenspiel sounds coming from a loud music box. At the end of a ride, there would be a rush of kids coming to grab their favorite animals for the next ride.

Sometimes we barely had three seconds to get off the animal before someone else was trying to get on. For many children, a dream ride was on the line.

Everyone had their favorite rides on the carousel—the giraffes were wonderfully high but didn’t move and the chariots where mothers sat with their toddlers were a choice of last resort.

The swings at the old playground were different than today, with the seats of the swings being made of heavy wooden rectangles that gave many a youth a bloody nose for standing too close. Other features at the park included steel ladders that were mounted horizontally so we could swing on them rung-to-rung.

That was a long time ago, but I still have many fond, poignant memories.