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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
12:32 AM Tue, Dec. 11th

Remembering the railroad

PRESCOTT ­ About 50 Santa Fe Railroad employees ­ current and retired ­ met Wednesday for a luncheon at the China Buffet. They talked with, laughed with and cajoled each other as they reminisced about their years as railroad workers.

"We meet once a year in Prescott because that's where it all happened," said John Stevenson, a retired Santa Fe Railroad official who worked for the company from 1954 to 1998.

Until 1962, Prescott was home to a terminal on the Peavine District (formally known as the Santa Fe Railroad's Fourth District).

The current A.G. Edwards building in the Depot Marketplace at the corner of Sheldon and Montezuma streets in Prescott was at one time the train station, Stevenson said. However, after a flood in 1985 washed out several miles of railroad, the Santa Fe Railroad stopped using the Prescott depot altogether.

Robert W. Webster of Cottonwood worked as an engineer for the company from 1942 or 1943 until 1984.

"You know what a truck driver does?" he said, "Engineers do the same thing, only you have 100-and-some cars behind you."

His favorite part of working for the railroad was "the fellows," he said. "The camaraderie the guys had."

Ken "Porky" Carlson of Prescott Valley retired as a train engineer after working for the railroad from 1945 until 1976.

"I worked with a lot of wonderful friends," he said. "They were the best friends of my life."

Stevenson recalled a run he and Carlson made together. It was Stevenson's first trip out of a Clarkdale cement plant.

"The train got away from us," Stevenson said. "We came flying down that canyon at about 100 miles per hour!"

He admitted that the speed was an exaggeration, but, with a heavy load in tow, they were going pretty fast.

Don Kenyon of Dewey worked for the railroad from 1955 to 1993. Frank Shipley worked from 1953 until 1975.

Shipley said his favorite part of working for the railroad was the trip from Skull Valley to Prescott. He said the scenery was beautiful.

Kenyon said the route followed the Verde River. He recalled one run when the Jordan Spreader, an on-track snowplowing device, took off and rolled from Castle Hot Springs to Peoria.

He remembers using his radio to alert the people at the next station that the Jordan Spreader was coming in. They asked him which train it was coming in on and he said it was coming on its own.

Cliff Cherry of Phoenix worked for Santa Fe between 1940 and 1979. Eugene Smith worked between 1946 and 1987.

While they both said they most enjoyed pay day, they also said they had fun checking out wildlife along the way.

"We saw all kinds of game all the time," Cherry said. "Lots of rattlesnakes."

"We'd kill them," Smith said, and Cherry added, "With a rock or we'd shoot them."

Like many other railroad professionals, Cherry and Smith said they'd seen their share of train wrecks.

Smith was on a train that had a head-on collision with another train.

"It had new engines that didn't work like the old ones did," he said.

And Cherry experienced a turnover while he was engineering a passenger train.

"I always told everyone that when I retire I'm going to sit back and tell what I did," Smith said, "not what I'm still doing."

Contact the reporter at heller@prescottaz.com