WF&P Steam Railway Just Keeps Chugging Along
Each Sunday from May to October, the Wabash, Frisco and Pacific Association operates a 12 inch gauge steam locomotive passenger train thru the forest of Glencoe, Missouri. Don’t be fooled, these are no little “toy” trains by any means, these locomotives are actual fuel burning engines that are powered by steam.
Mike Lorance grew up in the area and, like so many other locals, never paid much attention to the “WF&P RR” signs that would appear at Highway 109 and Old State Road on Sunday mornings. Years later he ended up buying a home on Old State Road and, in 1989 at the request of his son, the pair went to check out the mystery railroad.
Lorance had always had a fascination with steam engines, and on his first visit to the club quickly became captivated by these mechanical curiosities. He says, “the steam engines are the reason that most of the guys join.” His son’s interest waned after a month or so, but 28 years later Mike is still a member. He serves on the Board of Governors, is the group’s Treasurer, handles public relations, and holds a handful of other unofficial titles with a variety of responsibilities.
The WF&P was originally established in 1939 at Brown Road and Natural Bridge near Lambert Field. With one steam locomotive, 30 acres of land and one mile of track, the railway operated for a couple of decades until airport expansion compelled the group to move out to Glencoe. The current site has been in operation since 1961.
The railroad is stationed near the western end of the Al Foster Memorial Trail, part of the Meramec Greenway project in Wildwood. A large parking area directly adjoins the train depot and ticket station, where riders can embark on a two mile, 30 minute journey along the Meramec River. Following the call of “All aboard!,” passengers take a short ride through the train yard and quickly plunge into a lush canopy of greenery and natural beauty.
The group currently owns ten steam locomotives and three diesels, with several in the yard being machined completely on site by members. Everyone who works on the railroad is a volunteer, from the ticket attendant to the engineer, to the mechanics who meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays to do service and maintenance on the engines, train cars and tracks. There are currently 24 active volunteers working as engineers, signalmen and linemen for the railway.
The trains carry between 13,000 and 14,000 passengers a year, with visitors coming as far away as India, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. While children ride free, a small donation of $4 per adult is requested for each ticket and provides funding to preserve and expand the railway. Lorance points out that “funding is obtained purely through the ticket booth. We don’t get any grants or anything, it’s completely supported by the people that ride the train.”
Recent floods in 2015 and 2017 hit record levels in West County and put the railway and depot under approximately 12 feet of water. According to Lorance there was “no track damage, but lots of clean up.” Realizing that the Meramec will undoubtedly rise again in future, the group continually seeks new ways to upgrade and protect their buildings and electrical systems. In addition to protecting the existing line, the group is currently laying new track up to Rock Hollow and the infamous Zombie Hill. The new track will provide an escape route for the locomotives when the waters rise again.
The railway is open on Sundays, May thru October, from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with trains leaving approximately every 30 minutes. Sodas, water, snacks and souvenirs are available for purchase at the station. The train is available for special bookings on Wednesdays and Saturdays by calling 314-401-1687.
When asked what message he’d like to relay to the public about the WF&P, Lorance says, “Come out and ride us and support us, help keep us going, that’s the biggest thing. We think we have something unique.”
Indeed they do.