Steam Locomotive Engine No. 844 will stop in Willcox Thursday, Nov. 10

Posted on by az100
By Carol Broeder/Arizona range news
Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 1:29 PM CDT

Willcox will be the scene of an Arizona Centennial Signature Event, as the Union Pacific Heritage Train makes its first stop in Arizona on Thursday, Nov. 10.

The historic Union Pacific Steam Locomotive Engine No. 844 is reprising the Southern Arizona “Sunset Limited” route, traversing the state through Wednesday, Nov. 16. in recognition of Arizona’s 100 years of statehood, said Katie Sauer with the Arizona Centennial Commission.

Steam Locomotive Engine No. 844 is scheduled to arrive in Willcox at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10.

After departing Willcox, No. 844 will travel through Benson and Vail for “whistle stops,” said Sauer, adding that it will arrive in Tucson for its first display day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11.

That schedule is subject to adjustment by Union Pacific.

Director of Public Relations Zoe Richmond, with Union Pacific, invites everyone to visit their website,

“We have an interactive map which allows folks to see exactly where the steam train is as it approaches their community,” she told the Range News.

“One of the rail cars that travels with No. 844 has a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) transmitter integrated with a map on UP’s website,” said Richmond, adding “Enter the word ‘steam’ in the search box on the home page for a shortcut to the map.”

Willcox City Manager Pat McCourt said the train will stop for about 30 minutes. While the Stewart Street crossing will be closed, the Maley Street crossing will remain open.

“No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific and will travel more than 2,900 miles from its base in Wyoming on a 32-day, nine-state tour that will honor the rich railroad heritage of the scenic southwest,” Richmond said.

“Union Pacific long has been a part of the Western United States landscape,” said Scott Moore, vice president of public affairs for Union Pacific’s western region.

“It is fitting that No. 844 will be the flag bearer for these centennial celebrations.”

The “New Mexico/Arizona Centennial Tour” began Oct. 29 when No. 844 departed Cheyenne, Wyo., Richmond said.

The train, which includes passenger cars from Union Pacific’s renowned Heritage Fleet, will have traveled through Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah before arriving back in Cheyenne Nov. 29, she said.

“We’re honored to deliver another very special Centennial Signature Event and see that mammoth engine travel through Southern Arizona, Phoenix, and on to Yuma during this momentous year,” said Executive Director Karen Churchard, with the Arizona Centennial Commission and 2012 Foundation.

“The adventures of steam locomotives captivate us even today. They literally blazed the trail westward,” she said.

A self-proclaimed “train buff” here locally is City Councilman Bob Irvin, who will ride by special invitation that morning from Lordsburg to Willcox.

As an elected official, Irvin will have to pay to make that ride, while wife Joanne gets to ride for free.

Irvin, who has lived in Willcox since 1986, has had an interest in trains his whole life.

“My grandfather worked on the railroad near Bisbee,” he said.

“My uncle was an engineer in Texas. The company he worked for used to go right by his house, and we’d wave at him as he went by.”

Irvin remembers learning a lesson in railroad terminology from his uncle when as a young person, Irvin made referencing to “driving a train.”

“‘You don’t drive a train – you run a train,” his uncle corrected him.

“I never forgot that,” Irvin said.

The skilled engineers who operated No. 844 years ago “are still required today, and especially so for this ceremonial Arizona Centennial tour, which traditionally fascinates history buffs and attracts new fans, as well,” Sauer said.

“The massive steam engine, two-and-a-half times larger than today’s streamlined, computerized locomotives, makes a modern-day expedition a challenging task,” she said.

“A team of engineers travels with the historic train that consumes oil, water, and needs adjustment every 20 to 30 miles.”

Sauer called the engineers who run the train “another historical aspect of the expedition, since they work for years studying the generational knowledge passed on from railroad workers before them.”

“They apprentice to master the inevitable adjustments and sometimes on-the-spot ingenuity required during travel,” said Sauer, adding that No. 844 will travel with a “souvenir car, water tanker cars (vital for the steam locomotive’s operation); transport cars for the engineers and conductors, and more.”

The celebratory Union Pacific tour originated in Cheyenne, Wyo., where the massive Engine No. 844 is housed, and continues south to Tucumcari, N.M. on Nov. 4, in honor of that state’s Centennial, which is Jan. 6, 2012, she said.

The train then enters Arizona six days later, making its first stop in Willcox on Nov. 10.

It has been 34 years since a steam locomotive made its way through Southern Arizona, as part of a cross-country tour for the United States Bi-Centennial in 1977.

“The exultant whistle stops are expected to be greeted by enthusiastic residents and visitors alike this fall, just as cooler temperatures embrace the Southwest region,” Sauer said.

Also known as Union Pacific’s “Living Legend,” No. 844 “returned to service in 2005 after one of the most extensive steam locomotive overhauls” in the U.S. since regular steam service ended, Richmond said.

The work, which started in 2000, included overhauling that locomotive’s running gear, pumps, piping, valves and springs, along with replacement of its firebox and extensive boiler work, said Richmond, adding that the cab interior was also refurbished.

“No. 844 was the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific Railroad and was delivered in 1944.”

A passenger locomotive, it pulled such widely known trains as the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose, and Challenger, she said.

“When diesel locomotives took over all passenger train duties, No. 844 was placed in freight service in Nebraska between 1957 and 1959,” said Richmond, adding, “It was saved from being scrapped in 1960 and held for special service.”

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