Monorail Part II

July 27, 2015

As previously mentioned, I’ve purchased a retired monorail train from the Minnesota zoo. This follow-up documents some of the steps involved in moving a 100-ft long, 6-car monorail train from one place to another. All 6 cars are now in their new home in the countryside, the train makes a terrific weekend cabin and a very unique conversation piece!


The original weight was in the neighborhood of 27 tons (numbers vary depending on the source consulted, and few documents agree). We were able to lose quite a bit of weight by removing the wheel bogies and drive motors, which was also required for uncoupling and removal from the track.


For those interested, here are some of the bogies removed from the train. One is powered (with the large motor on top), and one is an unpowered idler:


The zoo was able to uncouple each car and move it on a maintenance track – actually two rails that support small casters under the cars. These originally allowed access to the underside of the train in an inspection pit.

For loading, we backed a trailer up to extensions of these maintenance rails, and winched each car onto the trailer using a cable puller or “come-along”.


Photo by Megan Emerson



Loading each car was about a 3-hour process, requiring occasional adjustments and stops to bridge various gaps in the rolling surface. After getting each car secured to the trailer, we drove them to their new home.


Quite a few unfortunate drivers can now say they’ve been stuck in traffic behind a monorail. The open ends of middle cars act like huge fiberglass air scoops and make for slow progress. I was able to take back roads for the journey, but you know you’re slow when a loaded cement truck passes you going uphill.

I had originally hoped to unload these by hand, using some redneck technology (a platform to roll them onto, and a series of jacks and blocks to lower them to the ground). Some friends pulled an all-nighter doing materials strength calculations and modeling possible methods, and convinced me this was even less safe than it sounded.


Instead, I hired a crane to do the hard part. Wieser Concrete has been amazingly helpful with this project, going above and beyond what we had hoped. I would highly recommend Wieser for anyone needing crane service in Wisconsin!


We tried various rigs for lifting these. The arrangement shown below was the first setup, strapping around the car with wood spreaders at the top to prevent crushing:

For the rest of the cars we used a much simpler and more stable lifting rig, with chains run down the ends to the steel frame. Most of the weight is in the bottom of the cars, the rest is mainly fiberglass.



After unloading from the trailer, we parked the monorail cars in a line so they formed a full 6-car train again. Below is an aerial view of one of the cars being moved into position:

Photo courtesy of Tim Walgrave

Photo by Tim Walgrave

The crane was able to place these very precisely, so we could nest them together as designed. We had assumed that fine adjustments would need more jacks and rollers, but an expert crane operator who can save hours of manual labor is well worth it!

Each car is fairly self contained, much like a small camper or RV. They have small hatches allowing access to the interstitial space and crawling passage between cars if desired. We may add bunks or other changes down the road, although I’m still planning to make as few major modifications as possible to preserve the original vehicles.


I’ve even started a very small museum of sorts in the driver’s cab, with a few historic photos and artifacts related to the monorail. And of course, no monorail would be complete without a Simpsons reference!