Friday, September 15, 2017

Ghosts of Arizona Route 66 and the Santa Fe Transcon - Part 3

We are near the end of my travels on the Mother Road for now, but rest assured, I am not finished.  There is so much more to explore and experience and as time and money permit, I will be picking up where I left off.  With that said, in this post, I will briefly touch on the third piece of the Route 66 experience.

This trip started a little differently than the last two in that instead of working east from our previous end point, we started on the eastern end of the leg and worked west.  We drove to Williams, AZ and stayed our first night in the Canyon Motel and RV Park in an authentic Santa Fe caboose.  The caboose was set up to sleep 6, but accommodations were tight for sure, but at least the beds were comfortable.
Our motel room for our first night stay in Williams, AZ.
Room one.  Room two is underneath the cupola and has a queen bunk bed.
My dad, my aunt, and my son hanging out on the platform of the caboose.  There
is a wood deck the length of the car along the back side, part of which can
be seen here.
Day two began with breakfast at a lovely restaurant in downtown Williams, followed by a trip to the old Santa Fe depot.  The depot was transferred to the Grand Canyon Railway when the line was reopened to the South Rim and has been beautifully restored.  We had plenty of time to explore the depot before our train departed for the canyon.  The grounds are well kept and look much the same as they did in Santa Fe days.
Williams Depot
Saginaw and Manistee Lumber Company Shay displayed out in front of the
Williams Depot.
View of the west end of the depot.  The passenger car parked to the left is
painted for the famous Polar Express.
Outdoor waiting area at the center of the depot building itself.
One of a few unique benches around the grounds.
Grand Canyon Railway #539 on display at the Williams Depot.

The train ride to the South Rim was certainly well worth the price of admission.  Our car was clean and comfortable and our car attendant was friendly as can be.
Doug, our car attendant.
The train strolled at a leisurely pace for the two hour ride to the canyon, taking us through some very striking scenery that displayed the stark contrast that is Arizona.  We started in the tall pine forests that surround Williams which quickly gave way to groves of much smaller pinion pines.  Soon we were in sagebrush territory that characterizes the open expanses of the high desert only to return to the pine forests that surround Grand Canyon National Park.
The tall ponderosa pines surrounding Williams, AZ.
A view of our trains power as it rounds a curve one of the pinion pine forests
along the line.
Along the line there are a couple of ruins of old Santa Fe section houses.  The Grand Canyon Railway made them uninhabitable when they took over the line to avoid having to pay property taxes on the buildings.  Vandals have taken their toll on the ruins that remained.
One of a couple of old Santa Fe section houses that were still standing along
the line.  The railroad made them uninhabitable, but left the walls to preserve
a small piece of the lines Santa Fe heritage.
Near the end of the line, I saw more relics from the Santa Fe days of the line, such as this low wooden bridge over a dry stream bed.
Small wooden bridge set on concrete piers and abutments over an intermittent
stream.  There were many of these bridges constructed on the northern end of
the line to combat the flooding that happens in Northern Arizona's monsoon
Once at the canyon, we got off the train and immediately boarded a bus and headed for one of the lodges for a tasty buffet lunch.  We then got back on the bus for our tour of the canyon.  Our tour guide was a friendly gentleman by the name of Benjamin and kept the tour lively and entertaining.  The views of the canyon were breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
A quick photo from the bus of the steam locomotive that powered our train to
the South Rim.
The obligatory family photo with the canyon in the background.

We returned to the depot, which is the only log cabin depot in the country still in use as a depot, and waited to board our train back to Williams.
The former Santa Fe depot at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  It was built
around 1906 and serves passengers and tourist to the canyon to this very day.

The 1926 power plant built by the Santa Fe Railway to supply power to the park
and Grand Canyon Village.  It is no longer in use as a power plant, but retains
much of the original equipment inside.  It ceased operation in 1954 and the
smoke stack was demolished soon after.  Today, it houses storage and some
On the trip back, our train was 'robbed' by a rather comical pair of dunces.  The lawman chasing them didn't seem too worried as the would be crooks didn't realize that the would soon run out of!
Robbery in progress!
Help!  Somebody please help!

Our train for the return trip was powered by an ex-Amtrak FF40PH and a
historic Montreal Locomotive Works FPA-4.
The rest of the trip into Williams was uneventful, but the clouds that dominated much of the day finally started to clear.  We found our way to one of the local restaurants for a delicious dinner.  Afterwards, we checked into our motel and strolled through downtown Williams taking in the nightlife before we turned in for the night.
The El Rancho is the quintessential 1950s motel.
After a good night's rest, we checked out and headed west on what remained of Route 66 through Williams.  There were several old alignments of the highway west of town, but none are readily drivable as they all pass through National Forest land.  The portion that follows the current route of and subsequently replaced by Interstate 40, however, can still be driven.  Most of it was buried under portions of freeway, but there are stretches that were not used in the freeway construction and became frontage roads.  We drove to Ash Fork, Arizona where a portion of the old road survives as the main streets in town.  Here the road splits and the westbound lanes become Lewis Avenue and the eastbound lanes take the form of Park Avenue.  Something I discovered in my research of Route 66 is that the road actually had two alignments at the west end of town, which for such a small community is rather unusual.  The older alignment turned south at Pine Avenue and continued onto what are now the westbound lanes of Interstate 40.  The newer alignment continued west into a sweeping curve to the south and rejoined the previous alignment further west of town.  Continuing west, the original 1926 alignment turns to the southwest and drops down a hill before crossing Partridge Creek on a beautiful concrete bridge.
The 1926 Partridge Creek Bridge is still in use, but this portion of old Route
66 is now a local road to access a home on the hill at the other end of the
Since the only access to this part of the road is from the west, we turned around and returned to the Crookton exit.  This exit is the eastern end of the longest contiguous stretch of remaining Route 66 in the country.  Instead of getting on the interstate to return to Kingman, we stayed on Route 66 to share the experience with my aunt, who joined us for this trip to see the Grand Canyon.  Next stop on our way home was Seligman, which is where we ended in part 2 of this blog.  Of course, no visit to Seligman is complete without a stop at the Snow Cap Drive In.  After we ordered, we went out to the patio to find out table and were pleasantly surprised to find some live entertainment.  After discovering that one of the entertainers was Angel Delgadillo, one of the founders of the Arizona Route 66 Foundation, I just had to meet the guy.  I got him to sign a dollar bill that I had in my pocket and had my dad take a picture of me with him.
Angel Delgadillo, famously known as one of the two men
that got the Route 66 preservation movement started, is
pictured here in the center with his nephew, Paul Alvarado
on the left.
Since we were now retracing our steps from our previous trip, we knew that a top at the Hackberry General store was in order to see if we could find our dollar bill.  We did, and it was nice to see a number of others have been added since then.
Our dollar bill from the previous trip has been joined by a number of other
bills from around the country and the world.
We continued on our way and made Kingman in no time at all, where we had planned to spend the night before returning home.  We checked into the El Trovatore, another classic Route 66 motel that has quite the history.  One thing I like about this motel is that you don't have to leave the property to watch trains.  The canyon behind the motel just so happens to have the Transcon running through it.
This was the door to our room.
This was painted on the building towards the back of the property.  I love the
eagle above it as well.  To the left of the eagle is a large tower that has the name
of the motel spelled out in neon lights.  The pink Route 66 shield is a modern
The mentioned in the previous photo at night.

BNSF intermodal train hot-footing it to the port of Long Beach.  This train
happened to have some NS power, including the Barcode Unit (#1111).
After we got checked in, we went to dinner at Dambar Steakhouse.  If you are ever in Kingman, this restaurant is a must.  The food is great and the prices are reasonable.  In addition, the staff are very friendly.

Of course, being in Kingman, I had to stop by the restored Santa Fe depot as well as pay a visit to the locomotive across from the Power House Museum.
Kingman Depot.
This was on the fence that Kingman installed during the restoration of the old
Santa Fe depot.  It is refreshing to see Kingman recognizing the historical
significance of the depot and the railroad.
and its history.
Santa Fe 3759.
Santa Fe 999520
This concludes my story about the ghosts of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Transcon.  I hope that you enjoyed the trip as much as I did writing about it and encourage you to make a similar trip of your own.  It is an experience that you will cherish while creating memories to last a lifetime.

- Matt Liverani

Saturday, September 9, 2017

In Regards to our Previous Post about Ogden Union Station:

We wrote a recent post on the Desert Empire Project blog that reported on recent events at Ogden Union Station and previous plans to remove the rail center. While the information presented was dated, it is factual and was available to the public. We believed it was current information at the time of publishing. 

Our intention was to raise awareness of the value of the depot and its outdoor collection of historic railway equipment. The post rapidly received wide spread coverage, and took off across many railroad related social media platforms. Furthermore we learned of some updated facts that we were not aware of and did not take into account in our original post. Because of the unintended reactions and conflict the post was causing online, we decided to delete it and took a brief break from the subject.  We took time to refocus on what we love about the hobby and discuss internally how to avoid causing such conflict again in the future. We did not intend to create a problem were there wasn't any and for that we extend our deepest apologies. We did not wish to impede on the volunteer work being done by organizations such as the Union Station Foundation and Dynamic Rail Preservation and we extend our apologies to those who work with those organizations for the stress we have caused.

We will be returning to our normal focus in a few days on our railfanning trips and adventures. We are glad for those of you who bore with us during this, and hope to repair any burnt bridges our previous post has caused. Figuratively speaking, we hope to see you all trackside soon! 

The Desert Empire Project Editors

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ghosts of Arizona Route 66 and the Santa Fe Transcon - Part 2

In my last installment, I briefly introduced you to Route 66 and my first real encounter with the famed highway.  In this part, we will cover the stretch between Kingman and Seligman, Arizona.

On August 19, 2014, we woke up from our room at the Hilltop Motel in Kingman, AZ to embark on the next piece of Route 66.  The Hilltop is typical of motels of the 1950s and 60s and really speaks to the essence of what travel was like before the advent of the interstate highway. 
The main sign at the HillTop Motel.  The motel is the very essence of post-
World War II highway travel, simply constructed, minimally appointed but
most importantly, easily accessible.
Here we see part of the motel itself.  That is my white Expedition in the corner
since that is where our rooms were.
Ours was the room on the left, while my dad's was on the right.  Yes, there
was a door between rooms on the inside as that was popular during the 1950s
for travelers who took extended family along for the trip.  One could visit
between rooms without having to go outside during bad weather.
 Leaving the motel, our first stop was at the Power House Visitors Center and Route 66 Museum.  The building began life as, you guessed it, a power plant.  Built by Desert Power and Water Company in two phases between 1907 and 1911, it supplied power to a fledgling Kingman as well as a number of local mines and was powered by coal.  There was a spur from the Santa Fe main on the north side of the building that ran to the south side of the building as seen in this photo inside the museum.
Early photo of the Kingman Power House when it was still in service.  It was
closed in the late 1930s when the Hoover Dam was completed since hydro-
electric power was so much cheaper to produce.
It also provided power to the Boulder Dam project (most know it today as Hoover Dam).  Upon completion of the dam, it was determined that the electricity from the dam was cheaper to produce so the Kingman power plant was deemed surplus and closed.  The building was renovated and reopened as the museum/visitors center it is today in 2001 and is a must stop for anyone with a passing interest in Route 66 and Kingman. 
That's a lotta threes!  As indicated by the sign, the bolt it points to has a curious
claim to fame.
Continuing on from Kingman, we don't have far to go before we stumble on our next roadside attraction, Giganticus Headicus, which was created in 2003 and 2004.  Located at the old Kozy Corner Trailer Park, it has been a favorite of travelers who frequently stop to take pictures at this oddity in the Arizona desert.
Me and my family at Giganticus Headicus.
We continue east headed for the old town of Hackberry.  Just a couple of miles before the town, I spotted one of the old stone culverts that the Santa Fe built when they were laying the first rails through this area, with what I believe is the milepost location written on the arch.
Stone culvert dating from the original construction of the route through here.
As we come into Hackberry proper, there really isn't much aside from the General Store which thrives as a rest stop and photo op for tourists.  There is an eclectic mix of stuff around the property that makes for many an interesting photo.
Hackberry General Store
Across the road from the store, the old Santa Fe water tank still proudly displays it's heritage for all who care to notice while at the bottom of the hill from the store and just to the west sits a bridge over a wide dry wash also letting visitors know who put it here.

Santa Fe water tank across the road from the Hackberry General Store.
I wandered down a dirt road to explore the railroad a little and found this
bridge.  Luckily, I wouldn't have to wait long to see a train as there was a
westbound train coming just as I stopped to check things out.  Here we see
the tail end passing by.
Better view of the bridge over the wash.  Look at the pier and you can see the
difference in the construction materials.  I forget when this line had a second
track built, but it is obvious that it was the closer one that was built later.
After the train went by, it was time for us to move on as well.  As we headed east, we came upon the near ghost town of Valentine.  There was a two-story brick building here that was build as a school for the local Indian population.  The school was opened in 1901 and only operated until 1937.
Hualapai Indian Boarding School, Valentine, AZ
Traces of the Santa Fe can be found here as well.
Just in case you thought that dirt road was the interstate.
BNSF eastbound train waiting for a signal to proceed.

Delivered to BNSF in Santa Fe Warbonnet dress, this was among the
locomotives waiting to power their train east.
This westbound train was waiting for a new crew to finish taking the train to
its destination.
The railroad through Valentine follows the road pretty closely, but not for very long.  Valentine, at least for the railroad, marks the western end of Crozier Canyon and it is only a couple of miles east of Valentine that the road and the railroad split.  The old highway takes to the high ground into Truxton and Peach Springs, the headquarters of the Hualapai Indian Tribe.  Here, the tracks and the highway briefly rejoin before splitting up again at the east end of town.  Named for the abundance of peach trees surrounding the spring providing water for the locomotives, Peach Springs was established  in 1883 as a division point on the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later absorbed by the Santa Fe Railway).  By 1887, a post office was established and the town began to grow.  By 1907, the Santa Fe moved the division point to Seligman and the town began to fade.  That is until the push for better roads started in earnest around 1910.  The town began to prosper once again and by 1926, the National Old Trails Road was incorporated into Route 66.  The town enjoyed moderate prosperity until Interstate 40 bypassed this portion of the highway.  While the town isn't totally abandoned today, the effects of the interstate can clearly be seen in the condition of many of the old buildings.  There is somewhat of a third life for the town, however, as Peach Springs is now the gateway to the west rim of the Grand Canyon and as mentioned before, the operating center of the Hualapai Tribe.
The westbound signals in Peach Springs, AZ.
After Peach Springs, the last major attraction before reaching Seligman is Grand Canyon Caverns.  Anyone traveling old Route 66 really must stop here and tour the caverns.  Outside, there is an old gas station and motel with several old vehicles on display.  Go a little deeper into the property and you find yourself at the restaurant and gift shop.  It is here that you can acess the caverns, but not without a ticket and tour guide.  As for the caverns themselves, they are the largest dry caverns in the US and extend up to 300 feet below ground.  The conditions in the caverns are so perfect, the US government stored emergency supplies here during the Cold War and remain unspoiled to this day.  The temperature remains a constant 56 degrees and remains at 0% humidity year round.  There is a mummified bobcat that is believed to have died around 1860 and the skeletal remains of a prehistoric giant ground sloth were found in the caverns.  The sloth had apparently fallen in and tried to get out, but was unsuccessful.  There are claw marks on the cavern walls and there is a life-sized replica of the sloth as it would have appeared at the spot it was discovered.  There was even a piece of the sloth's claw found embedded in the cavern wall!
Herbie lives at Grand Canyon Caverns!
Thermometer showing the constant, year round temperature
in the caverns.
Perfectly preserved in the location it was found.  It is believed that the animal
suffered a number of broken bones after falling into the cavern and that is why
it died here.
Replica of the giant sloth based on the skeleton that was found at this spot.
Look above the sloth to see the claw marks on the wall from the claws of this
Just outside the restaurant/gift shop at Grand Canyon Caverns.
Leaving the caverns, our next stop would be Seligman.  Seligman was a division point on the Santa Fe beginning in 1907 and once featured a depot and a Harvey House.  Harvey Houses were famous for their world class meals and accommodations.  The Harvey House no longer exists, nor does the depot, but Route 66 runs through the town roughly two blocks from the tracks.  Near the east end of town is a small eatery known as the Snow Cap Drive In.  It is NOT your typical burger joint.  You walk into the breezeway at the front of the building and the first thing you see is the walls and ceiling covered in business cards, credit cards, money, and all sorts of personal notes from those who have stopped.  There is a window where you place your order and the staff are super friendly and are always looking to show you a good time.  You have to visit to see for yourself the many antics and the all around good time.  The food is pretty good and the menu is simple.  After you walk out of the breezeway, you step out onto a covered patio where you wait for your order.  While we waited, we checked out the grounds surrounding the place.  There is a wide assortment of items that make you want to explore more.  Also on the property are a number of vehicles that you would swear you've seen before.  If you have ever watched Disney's Cars, then you'd be dead on.  This was one of many places along Route 66 that inspired the movie.
Our first view of the Snow Cap when we pulled up and got out of the car.
Sheriff, I need directions please.
Order up!
While eating lunch, a brief rainstorm blew through that made the temperature drop quite a bit and quite fast, but was soon over.  What a fitting end to a wonderful trip.  Stay tuned for the third and final part of my Route 66 journey along the Santa Fe Transcon.

Until next time!
-Matt Liverani