Worlds of Fun Railroad
Manufacturer: Crown Metal Products
All Time Maximum Capacity: 2,030 an hour
Engine Specs: 25 ton, 4-4-0, Balloon Stacked
Track Specs: Over one mile, 36" narrow gauge
The Worlds of Fun Railroad is one of the handful of original rides still operating at the park today in much the same configuration as it originally opened in 1973. Today, just as in 1973, riders are taken on a circular mile long tour of the park powered by a 25-ton steam locomotive named ELI. When it opened in 1973, ELI could accommodate up to 480 guests on its six coaches, for a total maximum capacity of over 2,000 guests an hour. With six coaches the engine was required to park on the bridge separating Americana from Europa. By the 1980's the railroad was running only five coaches, for a maximum hourly capacity of slightly over 1,400 guests an hour. Today, the WOFRR currently operates four coaches, (it went from five to four in the early part of the 2000's). WOFRR has always been incredibly popular with guests of all ages being a ride that is able to be enjoyed by guests of all ages. A highlight of rides on the WOFRR to many was the "train robbery show" that began in 1974 (the 2nd season) when as the park advertised, Jesse James came riding back into town. It went through a variety of alterations over the years, with the "town" receiving its own name of Yumma Yucca Mesa, and at one time featuring live horses that were corralled in the large grassy area near the train turn around. The train robbery show continued until at least the late 1980's when it was discontinued. The train robbery show was re-instated for three seasons from 2014 to 2016 by General Manager Frank Wilburn, whom the new train robbery gang was named after, The Wilburn Gang.
One aspect of the WOFRR that has changed very little is the actual engine, named ELI. Manufactured by Crown Metal Products of Pennsylvania, ELI is a 25 ton, 4-4-0 Balloon Stacked, steam locomotive. Unlike most parks that operate steam locomotives ELI is, has been, and still is Worlds of Fun's only steam locomotive since day one. ELI's name itself has its own story, and it is one that can be just a touch confusing. ELI was named after a route on the Chicago, Burlington and & Quincy line (became Burlington Northern) that operated for 80 years from 1888 to 1958, that ran from Kansas City to Chicago. When the train began running in 1888 some now-forgotten Missourian likened its speed to that of a popular Chillicothe racehorse of the day named ELI, and shouted "Git thar, ELI!". The name stuck and the train that ran the line was named "ELI", which was adopted by Worlds of Fun as a tribute to its then sponsor, The Burlington Northern when the park opened in 1973.
A question that is often asked about ELI is whether or not it is a real actual steam engine, and the simple answer is yes. ELI does not burn coal, oil or wood though, instead, it burns propane, as it has since day one. Many people point to the six propane tanks located on the engine's tender, what isn't seen, is the 1,000 gallons of water that are also stored in the tender, and must be replenished 2-3 times a day from the water tower located by Scrambler and Zulu. ELI's operation is simple in theory, propane is injected into the firebox (it sounds like a blowtorch), the propane is burnt and used to boil the water that is also injected into the train's engine, in this case into the boiler. One the water boils it creates steam, which is used to push the pistons, and move the engine's wheels. If the entire park was to lose power ELI could and has still operated. (and I can attest to that from personal experience..)
Driving ELI isn't quite so simple though. ELI requires two operators, an engineer, and a fireman. The fireman is usually the easier of the two positions, but just as important. It is the fireman's responsibly to inject both water into the boiler, ensure that there is enough water in the boiler to operate, (and not blow ELI sky high), and control the propane fire to ensure enough pressure is maintained both prior to each departure and during the journey itself. it is also the responsibility of the fireman to give the "high ball", (a signal given by outstretched hand from the cab) that alerts those on the train including the conductor that departure is imminent.
The engineer's responsibility is to actually drive the train, and like all steam trains, this isn't a simple "push the button and it goes" operation. There are four primary components that an engineer is using daily, the Johnson Bar, the throttle, and the coach and engine brakes. The Johnson Bar, is a large bar located on the floor of the cab and is like an old-style transmission, it controls whether the engine goes forwards or backwards. ELI running backwards from its storage shed to the depot every morning is one of my most favorite sights from park opening every day. The engineer also operates both the coach and engine brakes as part of normal operation as well, and like many things with a steam engine there is no exact science to it, it's more a matter of feel and experience. The last tool of an engineer is the "go bar" or throttle, a large, brass lever that when pulled injects steam into the steam box and moves the engine forward. All Crown Metal engines have a rather "bouncy" throttle, which if as a guest you notice, the bar is actually bounced back and forward to create motion. Again, its the type of thing that is not an exact science, and requires a definite understanding of the course, and inclines and declines. The largest decline begins just after exiting the depot and ends near Scrambler, the largest incline, and actually there are two, at approximately a 2- 2 1/2 % grade are between the back of Tivoli to just as the train enters the turn at the train turn around, and from the Zinger bridge (near Boomerang, but its still called Zinger bridge), to the Depot.
The last major operational component that the engineer has control over is the train whistle. Many just think the whistle is just a "cool" feature of a steam train, and it is, but it also serves a very real communication purpose, each whistle cadence has its own meaning and this is the case across all trains and other larger vessels. One whistle signals "ready", you will hear this when the fireman is notifying the conductor that the train is ready to go. Two whistles indicate "forward motion", and is signaled just prior to forward motion. Two whistles can also be used as a notification of sort, such as when approaching a blind curve. Three whistles is rare, but heard sometimes to indicate reverse motion. A two-long, one-short, one-long whistle indicates crossing, and at Worlds of Fun it is signaled once prior to the Europa/Forum road crossing (its never used but is still an official road crossing).
An interesting fact about ELI is the fact that Worlds of Fun as mentioned only has one steam train. At one point during the 1980's, Hunt Midwest attempted to sell ELI to buy two diesel trains to increase the capacity of the ride. They didn't find any buyers so elected to keep ELI. Many other parks have sold their Crown Metal engines, for example, Six Flags St. Louis previously had two Crown Metal Steam Trains, but today only has one, the Tommy G Robinson. Some parks committed the ultimate evil and converted their operating steam trains to diesel, such as what occurred at Six Flags over Georgia. Many parks, however, still operate steam trains, and in many cases, these are Crown Metal Products. Other Crown Metal engine include in addition to Six Flags Over St. Louis, one of the steam trains at the Omaha Zoo, as well as Kings Island near Cincinnati.