The Territorial Times says it “wasn’t the cowboys and it wasn’t the cavalry, but the iron horse that finally conquered the West’s great wilderness. And there’s no better example of hidden treasures revealed by the locomotive’s journey west than the Grand Canyon.”
It is Bucky O’Neill who is responsible in great part for making the original Grand Canyon Railroad a reality. Possessing a number of copper claims near Williams, AZ., he also had staked several in the Grand Canyon area, and actually had built a cabin there. (I’ll tell you of my experience with that cabin later.)
He began lobbying for such development in Chicago and New York, and finally, in 1901, after many delays and disappointments the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Company opened the legendary Grand Canyon Railroad. In addition to hauling copper and ore, the train became the preferred method of transportation for tourists interested in visiting the Grand Canyon. The railroad line thrived.
Unfortunately Mr. O’Neill never saw the fulfillment of his dream. Serving with great distinction as one of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Rough Riders, he was killed by a Spanish sniper and today rests in Arlington.
The Railway revolutionized the canyon, sharing its natural wonder with the general public. In its heyday, Grand Canyon Railway had two scheduled arrivals per day at the South Rim, but as many as six special trains might also arrive at the Grand Canyon in one day. Notable, famous people traveled this rail.
And then came the automobile and “as America fell in love with the automobile, the locomotive’s romantic wail faded like an Arizona sunset.” (Territorial Times)
“The final rays of golden sunlight disappeared June 30, l968 as Train No. 14, a diesel locomotive pulling only one b aggage car and one coach car left Grand Canyon Depot with just three people aboard. Beginning the 65-mile trek to Williams, the engineer gave the horn two short blasts heard only by those aboard and canyon wildlife. No one was present to send the train off, or to celebrate the contributions the Railway had made.
As the last passenger train traveled out of sight, the tracks grew quiet and stayed that way for nearly 20 years.” Territorial Times
Then in 1989, after an initial investment of 15 million dollars, Max and Thelma Biegert brought back the powerful pull of the steam locomotive to the Grand Canyon National Park. Since then it has transported more than 2 million people, and every year now offers the joy of the restored Railway to 225,000 passengers.
When we arrived in Williams on Friday morning, I was surprised to see the large number of cars and to learn that the train is not a narrow guage as we had ridden in Durango last year, but a full sized train including an observation car, a cafe car and one with first class, white glove treatment. Ours was an air conditioned coach that rode smoothly for the 2 hour and 15 minute trek to the Grand Canyon.
We had a charming young woman as hostess who passed around soft drinks, and answered any questions about the Canyon, tours and best places to eat. Then a fiddler entered our car and regaled us with humor and excellent blues type fiddling.
The terrain I observed through the large windows was rather scrubby, but shortly before we pulled into the depot at the Grand Canyon the appearance changed somewhat. The altitude at the South Rim is 7000 and there is little rainfall in this semi-arid high desert area which gives to rather scrubby plant life.
As Jerry and I walked around the canyon area, I spied this strikiing, cottony looking plant. I have no idea of its name, although it resembles thistle blooms.
…and trees, their clear green leaves fluttering in the cool breezes.
My devotional blog is here.