Railroad buffs track history of lines running through area
Mining interests were the primary reason the Santa Fe Prescott and Phoenix Railway owners built the line through Central Arizona.
"Mining died out pretty quickly. But the ranchers found that the railroad was good for livestock transportation," said Stephen Tucker, member of the Central Arizona Model Railroad Club.
Tucker and three other members presented a fascinating history of central Arizona railroad lines this past Tuesday at the Prescott Valley Civic Center, using a PowerPoint program full of photographs and maps.
Even today, Tucker said, 120 trains, some a mile long or more, travel each day on the main line, the former Atlantic and Pacific Railway built along the 35th parallel, that goes through Flagstaff.
The connection between Ash Fork and Prescott was the Peavine, although that name commonly referred to several places between Ash Fork and Skull Valley.
In addition to technical data on locomotives and other train information, Tucker provided background history on the life and times of railroad companies, engineers and owners. Thomas Bullock, for instance, began the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway.
"By any measure, the SFP&P was a failure. Thomas Bullock had never built a railroad before," Tucker said. He added that Bullock was born to a poor family and came to Arizona from California, walking most of the way. Bullock worked hard, invested in many businesses, and by 1899 he was worth $4 million.
"He is often portrayed as a villain, but he bought houses for people who helped him as a young man," Tucker said in Bullock's defense.
One of Bullock's downfalls was that he didn't keep to a timetable. He also bought used Civil War-era engines, and he had no turntable at Prescott, which meant that trains heading back north had to back up all the way to Seligman. He also laid track near Willow Lake on silt, which the rains soon damaged or destroyed.
Tucker included in his slide show old photographs taken during construction of the tracks and trestles. He supplemented these with present day, same-location photographs. He also offered maps and locations at different times in the development of several railroad lines that traveled through current Prescott Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, Prescott, Chino Valley and Paulden areas. Part of those railroads makes up the Peavine and Iron King walking trails today.
It took two years to get the Prescott-Phoenix connection built that went over the Sierra Prieta Divide out Iron Springs Road.
"In fact, Skyline Drive is built on the rise, the ridgeline that you see behind Thumb Butte," Tucker said.
"There was a 4 percent grade that meant the locomotive had to double its horsepower to pull half the load," he said, adding that the downhill portion was more dangerous than going uphill.
Some of the trestles built for the railroad still stand. The railroad company would send engineers out to build bridges and trestles ahead of the workers laying track, he said. Over time, workers filled in some trestle foundations with rocks and gravel, strengthening it even more.
"The Granite Creek trestle is the largest on the Peavine," Tucker said. Another trestle still standing can be found near Larry Caldwell Drive in the middle of a gravel company.
Today about 90 percent of the Peavine track no longer exists, Tucker said. The Rails to Trails project follows a section of the railroad next to Watson Lake and through Granite Dells, Point of Rocks or Entro, different names during different timeframes for the same place.
Also speaking at Tuesday's presentation were Bob Lanning, Dave Martin and Ray Marinaccio. Lanning talked about the United Verde and Pacific narrow gauge railroads around Jerome; Martin and Marinaccio talked about the Prescott and Eastern Railway that ran through Prescott Valley, Dewey, Humboldt, Mayer and Crown King.
The Central Arizona Model Railroad Club plans to offer this program, or segments of it, again to the public at varying venues. For more information, call Robert Campbell at 775-5733.