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Running the rails for 53 years

Posted at 4:08 PM, Jun 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-14 17:07:36-04

These days, most of us rarely stay in same job for more than a few years. J.D. Ayers been a volunteer engineer for 53.

"This was part of the rail we laid in 1963," he says, holding a spike and silver bar. 

When he was 16, Ayers was hired to help lay the 17 thousand feet of track. In the summer of 1963, Ayers was among workers who were constructing a permanent children's zoo. While buildings and exhibits around the property were being constructed, work on the Zoo's train had come to a conclusion. With the train track laid and the locomotive ready to operate, the idea came to sell tickets to ride the train, named the Iron Horse, to help raise money for the completion of the zoo.

"Guests could actually watch the Zoo being constructed as they rode the train," Zoo president and CEO John Chapo said.

"It was hard. Everything was laid by hand. It's all gritty, it's all hot, it's all dirty. It's very very physical work. Today they have machines. 53 years ago we used sledgehammers and dry bars and wheelbarrels."

Ayers doesn't mind the less glamorous parts of the gig, like sitting between then engine and radiator on a 90 plus degree day. He says its all worth it for his favorite thing that happens on the duo loops the train makes around the zoo: seeing the kids reactions.