Built to Last: Keeping The Giants of Diesel Power Alive
Posted by Teresa Propeck on January, 25 2019

This story was inspired by photos shared with us from Dale Martin, a gentleman who photographed Verde Canyon Railroad’s future FP7 locomotives, #1510 and #1512, in 1987. The engines were parked at a railroad museum in Portola, CA not long after being retired from the Alaska Railroad. The neglected condition of these classic locomotives could not disguise their beauty, though it sometimes takes a special kind of dreamer to keep such machines alive…

 Built to Last: Keeping These Giants Alive

Imagine a world were connections were hard to come by, and far from the closest coffee shop Wi-Fi signal. States and towns were separated by vast distances, forests, deserts and wilderness. Once upon a time news traveled slowly, delayed by days and weeks, via inky newsprint that stained fingers and lined birdcages. Access to certain fruits, veggies and other regional perishables was limited.

Finally, the time came when muscle, sweat, imagination and steel forged connections linking far-flung territories with people, livestock, goods and information. This era was long before cell-phones, leased cars and hairstyles demanding an update every six months. Railroads were built to last; so crucial they were to the country’s commerce, travel and security. The visionaries who built these train lines had an eye on the nation’s future, just as the visionaries who now maintain this living history share a keen appreciation for their importance.

The Western Group understands the great value of train travel and how it built the West. In keeping historic locomotives, railcars and tracks maintained as living, breathing links to the past, The Western Group shows an immense respect for our nation’s forefathers and the epic effort that linked our country one rail at a time. Historic locomotives, with storied pasts worth sharing, are iconic to both the Verde Canyon Railroad and Texas State Railroad.

In 1912, Verde Canyon Railroad predecessor, United Verde Railroad, was completed the same year Arizona became the 48th state. Built to serve the booming copper mines in Jerome, the line linked rugged, rural Central Arizona to the world at large when the short line connected to the Santa Fe Railroad in distant Drake, AZ.

The United Verde Railroad, finally absorbed by the Santa Fe Railroad, continued its life as a freight workhorse long after the mines closed. In 1988, Utah-native Dave Durbano purchased the route based on freight figures alone. After viewing the line from the front end of a GP7 locomotive, he realized the vast, raw red-rock beauty of this rare riparian canyon should be shared with a larger audience. In 1990, Verde Canyon Railroad was born as a scenic passenger train, and in the years since has carried more than two million visitors into the unspoiled wilderness curving along the Verde River. The train’s success has been a boon to both the local tourism economy and wildlife conservation efforts that Verde Canyon Railroad supports. Liberty Wildlife, an animal rescue and rehabilitation facility in Phoenix, and Arizona Game & Fish’s conservation and nest watch programs are two very important partners.

With restored passenger cars retired from major midcentury passenger lines like the Santa Fe’s Super Chief Route and the Long Island Railroad, the consist is powered by classic FP7 locomotives, built in LaGrange, Illinois in 1953 by General Motor’s Electro Motive Division. These engines served heavy duty for the Alaska Railroad for three decades before arriving in Laramie, Wyoming in 1987. After some serious renovation and TLC, the locomotives powered Wyoming Colorado Railroad excursion trains for a number of years before finding a new home in Arizona in November of 1996. The season is longer in Arizona and the FP7s have enjoyed two decades powering the year-round Verde Canyon Railroad. These handsome engines are two of only 18 in existence in the U.S. today. Painted in a striking bald eagle and turquoise livery, #1510 and #1512 remain iconic in Arizona tourism and a fan favorite of rail enthusiasts worldwide.

Rail travel is classic; reminding us that the U.S.’s golden age is still viable through new adventures, innovations and connections. The Western Group is proud to invest in these precious pieces of living history and the employees working hard to keep these giants alive to share with future generations.

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