Bart Jennings is running a trip over the two southeastern Arizona ex-SP copper branches now owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings and operated by the Arizona Eastern. We decide to add to these a ride on the Phoenix light rail system, and thus (since the schedule of the Sunset Limited does not meet our needs, to fly back and forth between Bakersfield and Phoenix, renting the needed car at the latter.
There are strong winds blowing up on Tehachapi Pass today, so we have lunch a little early and head out for Bakersfield, in case something untoward on the highway down the mountain causes us a long delay. That not being the case, we get down to town in plenty of time to go to Henley's Photo (which we have to find, never having been there) and buy a replacement lens for the one that has stopped working (range-finding, etc.) in recent months. Shopping accomplished, we continue out to the airport, with plenty of time before our 4:25 pm flight to Phoenix.
Since this is Friday afternoon, the flight is completely full. The plane goes somewhat further north than I had expected, passing both Barstow and Yermo yards (clearly visible from the air) before finally turning towards Phoenix, bypassing storm clouds off to the south. On landing at Sky Harbor Airport, there a considerable delay in moving the skyway up to the aircraft, so we're not in the terminal until 20 minutes after landing, and not to the Rental Car Center, keys in hand, until over an hour after landing. The rental clerk gives clear instructions on how to get to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, but Chris misreads the map and thus it takes us the best part of an hour to get there, rather than fifteen minutes.
We have dinner in the hotel restaurant, and go to bed.
We get up this morning, and use the "free breakfast" tickets in our packet, before heading out to ride the new Phoenix Metro light rail system. It take just about two-and-a-half hours to ride all the way to the west end, back through downtown to where we got on, and past to the east end, through Tempe and Arizona State University to just into Mesa, and then back to the hotel again. Near the west end, the car is completely full and standing heading back towards town, and is clearly being used for a local transportation function. Nowhere is the train less than half full.
After the light rail ride, we get the car and head towards Tucson and then Willcox, our destination for the next three nights. We stop for lunch in Casa Grande, and negotiate the highway construction in Tucson, before leaving I-10 to go railfan at the Cienega Creek Bridge, where the line built by the El Paso & Southwestern bridges over the line built by the Southern Pacific. (They're now used for directional running by the UP.) In just under an hour, we see four trains there, three of them on the line over the bridge. One of the trains on the bridge is heading east, and passes over a manifest on the lower track heading in the same direction.
While we're at this location, another car with Robert Lawrence, Sy Reich and Rob Mandeville pulls up, and we introduce ourselves and chat before continuing on to Willcox for the night. At the hotel, we run into Bart and Sarah Jennings, and later Bob and Diane Heavenrich, before having dinner at a Mexican restaurant and turning in for the night.
This morning, we get up early and drive to the meeting location at Bowie, where all of the train riders park their cars, and we check in with Sarah and greet Mia Mather, Greg Molloy, and a number of others whom we know already. There's a busload of people here by the time the first bus arrives, so we load up and leave, with Bart riding this bus, heading for the far end of this branch at Claypool, near Globe. The drive takes about three hours, but the train is waiting there in the yard at Hill Street when our bus pulls up to it. After boarding and selecting some seats in the full-length dome, I get off again and take some photos before the second bus arrives. Once we're all here, and a train has come down the hill from the smelter, the train leaves heading east, towards Globe.
Dome RPC X 510 Chulitna
Lounge Calumet Club
|Hill Street (Claypool)||11:30 am||10:45 am|
|Bowie||7:00 pm||8:31 pm|
Miami/Globe Branch Route Description
The full-length dome is a former Santa Fe car, built by Budd in 1954, of the type once used on the El Capitan (pre high-level cars), Chief, Texas Chief, and San Francisco Chief. This one, originally ATSF 510, was sold to Auto Train, becoming their 522, and later owned by Holland America Westours as their Chulitna. The blunt-end observation lounge is former Illinois Central 3378, built in 1918 as heavyweight coach 2211 (based on information that Mark Entrop obtains from Bill Howes during the course of the trip).
Seated near us in the dome are Dave Arthur, Bruce Heard, and Mark Entrop, as well as others whose full names I never determine. Mia, Greg, Diane, Bob, and Joe Maloney, are also seated in this full-length dome, as are Richard Buckner, Rich Copeland, Steve Miller, Stan Hunter, Jon Arbuckle and Carol Sulanke, among others whose names I know or determine during these two days. In spite of warning about the need to rotate seating, there never seems to be a moment when all the seats in the dome are taken. No-one ever asks to sit at the two unoccupied seats at our table. However, there are sufficient interesting people around that the conversations going on are fascinating to listen to, even as my primary focus is capturing the route details for my route descriptions.
Our schedule is constrained by the need for the regular excursion train (the "Copper Spike") to clear the track at Globe before we can proceed east from that point, so we have a photo-runby before we even reach Globe, and another in the street-running trackage just west of the Globe depot. There's time to visit the museum in the Globe depot, and the museum in the adjacent freight depot before the pizzas and sandwiches that had been pre-ordered are available for pickup, and still more time to finish eating them before we can head east.
Once the regular train returns and is moved to a siding, we can proceed, and we head east, out of Globe, passing the casino that is the turnaround point for the regular excursion, and then dropping into the Gila River Valley, where there are some wooden trestles over a side river and a side gulley that make excellent locations for photo-runbys. There is water in the very bottom of the adjacent reservoir, but not enough to produce water below the trestles. The speed restrictions along the line are such that darkness falls over an hour before the train can return to Bowie (but fortunately, the last section of the line runs through a flat scrubby area with little scenic merit).
In Bowie, the train is stopped on the road crossing for ease of detraining, but we must all find our cars in the darkness. The remote-locking feature helps, since it either turns the lights on when unlocked or honks the horn when locked, so one can determine which responses are one's own rental car. Unlike many others, who are heading for Lordsburg, we've chosen to stay in Willcox, just 20 miles to the west, and will cover the miles to Lordsburg and beyond in the daylight, in the morning. Back in Willcox, we fuel the car and get takeout hamburgers for dinner in the hotel room, before hurrying to bed against our early alarm in the morning.
Our choice of hotel location means that we have a little over 100 miles to go to the boarding location at Duncan, AZ, this morning, but the first seventy of them are on I-10, with a 75 mph speed limit and no limiting traffic, so we're on US 70 heading northwest just an hour after leaving the hotel, and at the boarding area in Duncan before the train arrives. When it does, everyone is on board before the appointed departure time, so we start our initial trip back to Lordsburg ahead of time. This is the only time all day that we're not significantly behind Bart's planned timings.
Dome RPC X 510 Chicutimi
Lounge Calumet Club
|Duncan||9:00 am||8:51 am|
|Duncan||5:30 pm||6:27 pm|
Clifton Branch Route Description
The locomotives on today's train are former LMX (BN leases) B39-8s. The cars are the same as yesterday.
Today, Joe McMillan (whom I know electronically, but have to introduce myself in person) is one of the people seated near us, along with Dave Arthur and others whom I cannot name. The section of the line southeast from Duncan to Lordsburg is largely across a scrubby plain, where we can proceed at a track speed of 30 mph. Even at this speed, however, we can't cover the distance to Lordsburg in the single hour that Bart has planned. At Lordsburg, there are three other B39-8 locomotives (one in 'Rio Grande' paint) waiting on a spur (adjacent to some new UP trackage containing strings of tank and covered hopper cars), that couple on to our northwest end and move the train back just a little to let the locomotives that are hauling us out onto the runaround track, and then shove the cars back to the point where they clear the other end of the runaround so that the locomotives can get out. The three additional locomotives then cut-off and return to their spur, and our original pair recouple to the train. This takes almost half an hour, and the return to Duncan takes the same time as it did coming southeast.
In Duncan, there's about a 20-minute stop, during which Bart learns that it will take "three hours" to get to Clifton, not the hour he had planned. (Since there are ten miles of 20 mph track and 20 miles of 10 mph track, the crew's estimate is a little high, but not unreasonable, whereas the original estimate is clearly unrealistic.) Bart makes a call to the American Legion folks in Clifton, who agree that they will stay around to feed us at 3 pm, so all is well in that regard.
North of Duncan, now in the Gila River Valley (again), the scenery improves greatly. First, the line runs alongside the river (which does have water in it, here), on a ledge below some interesting rocky cliffs, passing beneath a couple of high road bridges of different vintages, and then climbs out of the river valley, over a watershed, and descends to the valley of the San Francisco River (a Gila River tributary) through six rocky tunnels and over some high embankments along the rock walls of the river valley. Clifton is on the river at the base of the descent, and the depot where the train stops (at 2:45 pm) is on the north side of the river. The American Legion post is just a short walk beyond that. The Mexican-style lunch is excellent. (The post does this every Monday, as a fund-raiser.) Bart tells us all to be back on the train by 3:45 pm.
Chris and I, and a few others, are back on the train at 3:30 pm. Shortly after that, with passengers climbing on and off the train, it suddenly starts away southward, with no audible warning, and no railroad person anywhere near the stepbox. The crew has received a radio message asking them to clear for a train of empty sulfuric acid tank cars coming down from the Morenci Mine, and they have decided to comply. The trainmaster gets on the radio and bawls the crew out, using 'expletives deleted', about running the train this way when operating a passenger train. The train sits around a bend, just south of the station but out of sight, for almost half an hour, while the Morenci train (headed by Morenci GPs 56 Jack, 58 Gini, 49 Paycheck, and 51, Bud) comes down, drops its cars off in the yard, and the locomotives return. After we return to the depot and board the passengers, it's 4:15 pm before we depart, and any chance of a photo-runby at one of the tunnels is gone.
The return to Duncan is just as spectacular as the trip north, with late afternoon light this time, but no runbys. We get back to Duncan at 6:45 pm, after sunset but still light. Chris and I get away from the parking area smartly, but full darkness has still fallen by the time we reach Lordsburg. Nonetheless, we're back at Willcox by 8:15 pm (40 minutes earlier than last night!), where we eat dinner in a restaurant before returning to the hotel for the night.
Today, we arise an hour later than the last two mornings, and take our time about departing. We've left plenty of contingency time for our trip back to Phoenix, but don't need any of it, and we've dropped the car off by 11:30 am and are in Terminal 4 by a little after noon (with some of that time occupied by loading and tying-down a wheelchair on the shuttle bus). We have lunch in the main concourse, and then go through security to the gate, where we have most of an hour to wait before the plane boards.
This time there are no clouds along the way, as we pass Blythe, Twentynine Palms, the San Bernardino Mountains, and Palmdale before arriving at Bakersfield on the northeast side, and turning over Oildale into the airport. We're up at Tehachapi by 5:05 pm, stopping to get the mail before heading home to a welcoming greeting by the cats.