History Continues Its Journey at Verde Canyon Railroad
Verde Valley locals and area visitors may have been surprised to see two mid-century Budd stainless steel railcars rolling down the road, but not on an iron road as one might expect. The cars were transported down historic 89A enroute to their new home at Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale; the first midday on May 24th and the second on the evening of May 26th. The soon-to-be VCRR #1106 rolled over pavement right through lunchtime rush in Old Town Cottonwood, leaving diners dumbfounded as they looked up from their meals or wine samplings at the rare sight of a railcar atop a semi-tractor trailer. Other motorists were agog watching the second truck negotiate the roundabouts along Highway 260 well after dusk.
Recently purchased from Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona, the history of these cars dates back to the 1940s. VCRR #1106, originally delivered to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1947, was quickly sold to the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad that serviced passengers traveling between the Northeast and Florida, and later spent many years rolling along Amtrak rails. #1106 will undergo extensive renovation and restoration prior to joining the Verde Canyon Railroad consist in the spring of 2023, increasing the popular excursion train’s number of passenger cars from 11 to 12. An exciting aspect of this car is its double-duty ability, since part of the car is slated to hold new generators that will power the train through the canyon. The car’s compartmental quality is owed to its former life as a staff dormitory car as well as, unfortunately, the segregated southern laws of its pre-Civil Rights vintage. Its sister car serves a similar dual power-car purpose on the Branson Scenic Railroad in the Missouri Ozarks.
“Having the new power car will accomplish a couple of different things for us,” said Verde Canyon Railroad lead mechanic Joe Rosenthal. “First and foremost, the current power car, which has no seating capability, will become a back-up in case of any unforeseen mechanical failures. The existing power car has worked hard for us for many years, so as time permits, we will do much-needed work on the generator and the car itself.” “Also,” added Verde Canyon Railroad General Manager Daniel Adair, “when we build the new power car, the generators will be more fuel efficient. Using two smaller generators will allow us to primarily rely on just one generator and use the second generator to start and run only when more power is needed, cutting our fuel consumption significantly.”
The second well-worn and not track-worthy railcar that came from Williams remains unnumbered but not unloved or unused. It arrived eerily during the dark of night under a starlit sky on May 26th, most appropriate considering its new vocation is the third and final car on Verde Canyon Railroad’s upcoming “Fright Night” haunted train debuting this October. This stationary display of horror is parked along a lower track at the graveyard …er, train yard. “If you get hungry, we can get you a bite to eat at our Killer Café,” chuckled Vice President of Marketing Teresa Propeck. “We hope you’re not a vegetarian.”
Delivered and ready to roll on the Southern Railway in 1949, this Budd car’s infancy was spent on a route between Atlanta and New Orleans, but it also saw tracks between Washington, D.C. and New Orleans as part of the Southern Railway’s famous “Crescent” train. By 1979, it had been sold to Amtrak, and later it ran on Alaska Railroad’s northwest rails from 1981 to ‘89. More recently, prior to its arrival in Williams, it was part of Via Rail Canada. Its decades of service and the spirits that still linger within will no doubt add something extra spooky to the Railroad’s static haunted train this Halloween season. Traveling a historic rail route completed in 1912, Verde Canyon Railroad has been operating as a scenic wilderness excursion since 1990. Each of the train’s renovated mid-century passenger cars has an interesting pedigree from various rail lines throughout the U.S., and its handsome 1953-built, diesel-electric, FP7 locomotives with their eagle paint scheme are iconic emblems of Arizona tourism.
The train has long been a proponent of conserving history and complementing it with nature. In addition to restoring and preserving its consist of vintage railcars and locomotives, Verde Canyon Railroad also maintains its classic train route, a rare riparian ribbon between the high desert and Verde River, constructed for the United Verde Copper Company well over a century ago. Mindful of its storied past, Verde Canyon Railroad also has an eye on the future with updates and improvements to enhance the guest experience. In the past few years, the train has undergone extensive renovations, and in 2022 the depot facilities will follow suit, with expansive covered outdoor patios, a new welcome center and an enlarged gift shop, scheduled to improve comfort, options, special event presentations, and visitor and employee interaction.
It’s Not the Destination, It’s the Upgraded Journey