Whistle-stop shout-out for state’s centennial

Posted on by az100

by Ron Dungan – Nov. 9, 2011 01:17 PM
The Arizona Republic

Trains were a vital part of Arizona’s past.

They moved goods and people quickly and were the cornerstone of such industries as mining and ranching. They helped launch tourism in the region long before statehood and put small towns on the map.

To celebrate Arizona’s centennial, Union Pacific has sent a steam engine to the Grand Canyon State for a series of whistle stops. The train is scheduled to stop in Gilbert, Tempe and Phoenix this weekend as it makes its way through the state.

“If you look at some of the locations that we’re stopping at along the way … these are smaller communities that really wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the railroad,” said Zoe Richmond, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific.

The trains not only drove commerce by moving goods and people, they also stopped every 30 or 40 miles or so because they had to. That’s how far a steam engine could travel before it had to stop for maintenance, fuel or water.

If a town didn’t exist, the railroad built one. For towns that did exist, the railroad was a vital economic link to the rest of the country. It still is, even though roads, phone lines, planes and the Internet have become part of the nation’s infrastructure.

“People in general enjoy trains,” Richmond said. “It’s really hard not to revert back to your childhood when you see a train.”

Younger people remember toys, stories or cartoons about trains. Older people remember riding them.

No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific. It was retired in 2000, then returned to service in 2005 after a five-year overhaul of its running gear, pumps, pipes, valves, springs, fire box and cab interior.

The train is traveling from its base in Wyoming on a tour honoring the railroad heritage of the Southwest. Because parts for steam engines are rare, the company trains people to repair and manufacture parts.

“We have folks with titles we don’t use too much in the railroad anymore, like brakeman and boilermaker,” Richmond said.

The train also travels with a number of spare parts on board.

“It is expensive, but it is one of those things that as a company we feel is important to promote our heritage,” Richmond said.

“Our history is important to us.”

No. 844 also helped New Mexico celebrate its centennial. The Land of Enchantment Special became the Grand Canyon Steam Special when it crossed the state line. It made its first Arizona stop in Willcox on Thursday.

One of the cars that No. 844 pulls has been outfitted with a GPS unit. The device is linked to a map on Union Pacific’s website. Go to www.up.com and type the word “steam” into the search box to access route maps and follow the train’s progress.

GPS updates also are available at twitter.com/UP_Steam.

Where to see the train

Today: The train is scheduled to pass through Coolidge, Gilbert and Tempe.

Sunday and Monday: Public display in Phoenix. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at 631 S. Seventh St.

Tuesday: Passing through Casa Grande, Gila Bend and Wellton.

Wednesday: Public display in Yuma. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at 599 S. Gila St.

There is no charge to see the train. For more about the train and the route, go to www.up.com/aboutup/special_trains/steam/index.shtml.

Celebrate Arizona

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Be notified of upcoming events, press releases and more!

Follow Us!

Will open a new window