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Verde Canyon Railroad 2/02/2021

by Chris Guenzler

We got up in Cottonwood then walked over to the Black Bear Diner on Elizabeth's birthday where she had Cinnamon French Toast and a hot chocolate and I had Classic French Toast. We checked things on the Internet before we drove to Clarkdale for our train ride.

Verde Canyon Railroad

The Verde Canyon Railroad is a heritage railroad running between Clarkdale and Perkinsville in Arizona. The passenger excursion line operates on 20 miles of tracks of the Arizona Central Railroad, a shortline. The Verde Canyon Railroad has its depot, headquarters and a railway museum in Clarkdale, about 25 miles southwest of Sedona.

Motive power

The vintage diesel locomotives, EMD FP7s 1510 and 1512, pulling the classic passenger cars are two of only ten remaining in operation in North America. They were originally built for the Alaska Railroad in 1953 by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in LaGrange, Illinois. The engines debuted their eagle-inspired paint livery along these rails on March 8, 1997. Before setting out, numbers 1510 and 1512 were meticulously renovated with modern features added for safety. In 2019, these prized locomotives were imprinted with an updated paint motif and advanced mechanics.


The tracks on which the Verde Canyon Railroad runs were opened in 1912 as part of a north-south branch line linking a copper smelter at Clarkdale and the copper mines at Jerome to Santa Fe Railway tracks passing through Drake. The Santa Fe Railway owned and operated the 38-mile branch line from 1912 to 1988.

David L. Durbano bought the branch line in 1988. Passenger service between Clarkdale at milepost 38 and Perkinsville at milepost 18, resumed in 1990 under the name Verde Canyon Railroad. Milepost 0 of the AZCR is at Drake, where the line meets the BNSF Railway system. The AZCR track to Drake is still used for hauling freight even though the excursion line stops at Perkinsville.

Excursions involve a 4-hour, 40-mile round trip from Clarkdale to Perkinsville and back. Scenes from "How the West Was Won" were filmed at Perkinsville in 1960. The route follows the Verde River, crossing bridges and trestles, and passes through a 680-foot-long curved tunnel. Between milepost 30 and Perkinsville, most of the land along the railroad right-of-way is in the Prescott National Forest or the Coconino National Forest.

The railroad carries about 100,000 passengers per year. In 2005 the Verde Canyon Railroad celebrated its one-millionth passenger, and the following month was named an "Arizona Treasure" by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.

Our Trip

We walked into the station, had our temperature taken and were declared normal, then picked up our tickets. As we had plenty of time, Elizabeth and I bought two coffee mugs and a T-shirt for each of us, which Elizabeth changed into. We then walked around to get a picture of the locomotives on our train.

The Verde Canyon Railroad sign in front of the depot.

The train at Clarkdale.

Verde Canyon FP7A 1510, previously Wyoming and Colorado and originally Alaska Railroad.

Verde Canyon FP7A 1512, previously Wyoming and Colorado and originally Alaska Railroad.

The enginehouse of the Arizona Central Railroad. We walked back around to the station side to photograph the consist of this quarter-mile long train.

The route map sign board. There are sign boards for the history of the railway, the animals, bald eagles and flora found along the railroad.

Verde Canyon Railroad (VCRR) power car 110.

VCRR 113 "Scottsdale", originally Santa Fe 52-seat coach 3104 built 1938 for the El Capitan, sold to Penn Central and converted to 100-seat commuter car then sold to New Jersey Transit as 2412, and acquired by Verde Canyon in 1996.

VCRR 116 "Santa Fe Bell", originally 28-seat lounge, barber shop, shower and dormitory 1395 built 1946 and operated on the Super Chief. It was retired in 1968 to Champlin Realty in Enid, Oklahoma for use at Maple Street Station restaurant. It was also acquired in 1996.

VCRR open car 108 "Prescott", originally a flat car. This was the open car that we used.

VCRR coach 114 "Wickenburg", originally Santa Fe 52-seat coach 3153, built 1946, operated on the El Capitan then sold to Amtrak as 5230 and acquired in 1996. This was the car that Elizabeth and I were assigned to.

VCRR coach 116 "Flagstaff", originally New York Central 64-seat coach 3132, built 1946, rebuilt 1966 to 108-seat commuter coach 1721, then became Penn Central 2121, Metro- North Commuter Railroad 1983 and accquired in 1996.

VCRR open car 109 "Camp Verde", originally a flat car.

VCRR coach 3107 "Sycamore", built in 1938 and operated on the El Capitan. Rebuilt 1960 and sold 1969 to Pen Central, converted to 100-seat commuter coach 2915 then to New Jersey Transit 2415. After becoming Wyoming Colorado Railroad 3017, it was acquired by the Verde Canyon.

VCRR coach 3199 "Yuma", built 1938 as Santa Fe rear-end observation, 50-seat coach 3199 and operated on the El Capitan, rebuilt 1947 and in 1960, converted to 44-seat, mid- train coach 2947. It was sold to New Jersey Department of Transportation in 1969 and became 2407 and it was also acquired by the Verde Canyon in 1996.

VCRR open car 112 "Mesa" built from a flat car.

VCRR coach 101 "Cottonwood", built in 1946 for New York Central as 3048, rebuilt 1966 to 108-seat commuter coach 1726, then to Penn Central and Conrail as 2126, then to Metro North Commuter Railroad after 1983 and acquired in 1996.

VCRR open car 102 "Clarkdale", built from a flat car.

VCRR coach 107 "Tucson", built as New York Central 31145, rebuilt 1966 to 108-seat commuter coach 1722, then to Penn Central and Conrail as 2122, then to Metro North after 1983 and acquired in 1996.

VCRR open car 104 "Jerome", built from a flat car.

VCRR coach 103 "Phoenix", built 1945 for New York Central 3048, rebuilt 1966 to 108-seat coach 1728, then to Penn Central and Conrail as 2128, then to Metro North after 1983 and acquired in 1996.

VCRR open car 117 "Tuzigoot", built from a flat car.

VCRR coach 105 "Sedona" built in 1946 as New York Central rebuilt 1966 to 108-seat coach, then to Penn Central and Conrail, then to Metro North after 1983 and acquired in 1996.

VCRR caboose 999373 is Santa Fe 999373, built in 1929 and rebuilt in 1969. This is the most expensive class on the train.

The rear of our train. We walked back to the car and Elizabeth put her jacket and purchases in the car before we walked to other passenger cars that have been stored opposite the station complex for years.

Wyoming Colorado coach 3087 "Laramie" originally Santa Fe 3087 built 1937, sold to New Jersey Transit in 1969 and converted to commuter coach, then acquired by Verde Canyon in 1996.

Former Santa Fe 38-seat chair-baggage-coach 3493 built 1940, rebuilt 1945 to 28-seat chair-baggage-dormitory and donated 1968 to Emmett Kelly Museum in Sedan, Kansas and acquired in 1996.

VCRR open car 118. We waited for the 12:45 boarding time just as the Arizona Central freight train was switching cars on the adjacent track.

We boarded and I immediately went to the open car to get roster shots of the Arizona Central train.

Arizona Central Railroad (AZCR) GP26 2026, originally Gulf Mobile and Ohio GP30 514.

AZCR GP9 3413, originally Southern Pacific 5682.

AZCR GP7u 2164, originally Santa Fe GP7 2662.

The Arizona Central pushed his train up the hill to the cement plant.

Our train started moving at 1:05 PM toward Perkinsville. Elizabeth and I spent the whole westbound trip in the open car. Sit back and enjoy a trip on the Verde Canyon Railroad.

The track down to where the cars are stored.

Passing by the slag heaps from the copper mines that were once here.

Views along our route.

Sinagua cliff dwellings from pre-Columbian people who moved into the Verde Valley area between 1110 and 1125.

Views along the route.

The Tapco Power Plant smokestack.

Snow on Woodchute Mountain.

The North Pole used for Santa trains by the Verde Canyon Railroad.

Views along our route.

Crossing Sycamore Creek.

More scenic views.

Crossing S.O.B. Canyon Trestle. Contrary to what some might think, it stands for Superintendent of Bridges.

Views on the way to the Verde Canyon.

Click Here for Part 2 of this story