In 1888, the Montana copper magnate William Andrews Clark arrived in Arizona. A hundred years later, the magnetic David Louis Durbano landed in Clark’s same footsteps. Even though a century separated each arrival, the serial entrepreneurs came to the southwestern state for the same reason: Money. The two men would only meet in history books, linked together over tracks through time by a vintage rail line. One would leave a manmade ruin like the Colosseum; the other, a rail adventure to praise. This is the Verde Canyon Railroad story, captured in an illuminating new book Tracking Down the Past.
One of the visionaries behind the Verde Canyon Railroad and the woman behind the man, author Linda Durbano shares the incredible and inspiring history of this scenic rail line beginning with its storied past dating back to territorial times before the 48th state even existed. Since 1990, this successful excursion train has carried nearly three million passengers deep into the heart of Arizona, traveling through stunning, red rock scenery accessible only by train along a legendary line completed in 1912.
William Andrews Clark, a ballyhooed tycoon who lent his name to both the United Verde Copper Company town of Clarkdale, Arizona, as well as Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada, was the original visionary who saw the need for a rail line to transport copper from his booming mining operations in Jerome to the world. Clark died in 1925, and when the mines shuttered and the smelter closed in the 1950s, the rail line continued in a diminished capacity, still carrying freight to the ATSF (now BNSF) line at Drake, AZ. In 1988, Dave Durbano, a Utah native, entrepreneur, owner of several shortline railroads and Western Railroad Builders, first saw what the route had to offer. His vision, honed with the creative artistry of wife Linda (and much sweat equity), came to life as Verde Canyon Railroad on November 23, 1990.
“It was the pandemic that spurred me to sit down to write this story, but once I really got to know the cast of characters who were involved in making this railroad a reality, it became a passion that took nearly two years to complete,” said Linda Durbano. “I also am glad that we ‘righted’ the story with the ‘write.’” Many oft-repeated “facts” ended up crumbling under the scrutiny of the research as Linda uncovered even more fascinating reality around every twist in the history.
The history of Clarkdale, Jerome and the mining operations of Arizona’s Verde Valley are the beginning of the story. Linda Durbano partnered with local archivists to uncover out-of-print recounts of the early years, gather seldom-seen images and dive deep into the life of William A. Clark, noting the fascinating parallel of this brilliant businessman’s life to the story of the current owner of the rail line, Dave Durbano, and his rise from rural Utah. The 516-page coffee table book is full of seldom-seen imageries, rich history, and the wild and witty tales of the men and women who have made the railroad what it is today. Tracking Down the Past: The Verde Canyon Railroad Story is a must for the library of any rail fan, Arizonan, or enthusiast for what and who shaped the Industrial Revolution, the American West and the rails that made it possible.
In addition to her success with Verde Canyon Railroad, the author, also a Utah native, is a former art and English teacher, a long-time writer, designer and visionary in her own right. Once an avid skier and tennis player, today, through their private foundation, Linda has a passion for helping to protect and care for those in the animal kingdom that aren’t as fortunate as their household menagerie.
The book may be purchased at Verde Canyon Railroad’s Boxcar Giftshop or online via www.verdecanyonrr.com.