Train Transportation, A Rail Treat!by John Scott on Apr. 25, 2012, under Uncategorized
Around 1878, the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad changed transportation for Arizona. Up until that point, public conveyance was equine-powered. If a town was getting a train depot, it increased its chance of success. The steam-powered locomotive was an unbelievable jump in technology.
This mode of travel made it possible for people to ride in comfort and not have to worry about the dangers and pitfalls of the rugged landscape breaking the wheels of their stagecoach. Nor did they have concern for cramped spaces and potentially long, dusty voyages. Railroads also revolutionized shipping, making livestock, agriculture, and mail service available to major cities across America.
Chinese laborers were brought in to build the great Southern Pacific Railroad’s tracks in 1878. They worked for $1.00 a day and in less than a year had 182 miles of track built! It grew from there. The only break they got was during the hot summer months. Even then, some of them went to work in mines until the railroad picked up again.
Of course, with industrial expansion comes outlaw ingenuity. Arizona was rife with rapscallions taking pointers from the James’ brothers and holding up trains. One of the most famous ones in Arizona happened in 1900 near Fairbank. “Three-Fingered Jack” Dunlap and his gang held up the Southern Pacific and met with heavy resistance from the express car. Jeff Milton, hero of the day, managed to mortally oxygenate Jack with a shotgun (but apparently left his remaining fingers intact). Like the owlhoots in Bisbee, they didn’t time the payroll shipment right. The remainder of the gang got away with a whopping 17 pesos, and were eventually captured. Sigh…will they never learn?
last week I wrote about Willcox and its historic depot. A neighboring town, Cochise, was a water stop and housed a hotel and general store. So, while the train was refueling, one could get some snacks or a meal to tide them over until the next stop. Probably couldn’t get a Slurpee, but whatever the Old West equivalent was.
Other notable historic depots lie in Tucson, Tombstone, Williams, Holbrook and the Grand Canyon (to name a few). Most are still in use, as the Southern Pacific sold their lines to the Union Pacific in the 1900′s.
For you ghost town hunters, the Esmond Train station (originally named Papago) built in 1885 has visible ruins and lays not far from Tucson.
Tucson’s recently restored depot is home to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, and will be hosting National Train Day on May 12. There will be exhibits, food, model trains, and real steam trains to explore. At this time there are no Chihuahua or turtle races, but I’ll let you know if that changes.
If you just like trains, Chandler has the Arizona Railway Museum, where you can climb aboard some of these historic locomotives and passenger cars. If you want ones that move, head to the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams or the Verde Canyon Railroad in Sedona. In addition to these giving you the historic transportation, they offer incredibly scenic views and maybe a mock holdup.
What I hope you take away is an appreciation of the mode of transportation that was instrumental in settling the wild west. By the way, it’s acceptable to whistle Big Freight Train Carry Me Home when the locomotive pulls out of the station.