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Destination Nacozari 1988

by Chris Guenzler

After reading an article in Pacific Rail News and seeing Pentex's Best Of 1987, I decided that I wanted to go to Nacozari. Let's Travel Tours of Riverside sponsored a trip in September 1988 and booked space for my Dad and I. On September 6th we drove to Tucson following the Southern Pacific mainline from Yuma east and I did a little railroad photography along the way as the Sunset Route is always a good choice.

9/8/88 We spent the night at the Roadway Inn and following a group breakfast we were driven in a bus down Interstate 19. Our luggage would never travel inside of Mexico as it was taken straight to the Motel 6 in Douglas and placed in our rooms awaiting our arrival. Meanwhile all the passengers and cameras headed towards Nogales where we crossed the Mexican Border into Nogales, Sonora with its narrow streets and numerous shops. We were taken straight to the train station but our train had not even been made up yet. This allowed me time to walk over to the Pacifico's engine shop and to shoot pictures to my heart's content. The five photographers and I were asked by a Mexican railroad worker if we would like to go for a short ride while they made up our train. We all gladly accepted and got pulled down the yard tracks then switched out onto the mainline and coupled onto our waiting train. Our train was an RS-11, wooden open window coach, two Primera Japanese made coaches, an open window steel sided coach, another open window wooden coach and an FCP caboose.

We departed heading back towards the border before we turned east on a south leg of a wye. We headed up a ravine with houses and shacks located on its side and then left Nogales quickly behind. We traveled through some green hills as this color is normal for this time of the year as summer is the rainy {monsoonal} season. Oak trees abound in this location and the countryside opened up into a short valley where ranching was taking place. The valley narrowed to the point where our train crossed the Santa Cruz River on a brand new bridge and it was announced that we would hold our first photo runby of the day here. We all got off, and picked our spots for our pictures. The train was backed out of sight and then ran by us with us all taking all the pictures we wanted.

We reboarded the train and I decided to ride on the rear steps of the caboose for about an hour. I enjoyed a Tecate Beer with my lunch, shooting an occasional picture of the countryside. The valley opened up with scrub bushes and rugged mountains off in the distance. There is no evidence that I'm even in Mexico with the exception of the Spanish lettering on the steps of the caboose. We passed through the town of Santa Cruz and outside of town we passed a small reservoir making a nice little lake in the green countryside. One had to be careful of the line side vegetational growth as my feet got whacked a few times. I made my way through the train and out onto the front of the engine. On any Let's Travel Tours train trips any part of the train is yours to ride except the engineer seat, so I enjoyed the open air until Del Rio our next photo runby stop. I climbed down off of the engine which put me at the rear of the photo line. I walked down away from the train and found I had better lighting plus the plants would hide the others taking pictures. Two other people joined me then agreed to stand by me as the photo runby commences. After its conclusion, one of them used my camera to take a picture of me in front of the train.

Del Rio is the junction of the branch line to Cananea which is a mining town. The line was almost perfectly straight and after a twenty minute climb the train came to the literal end of the line in the town of Cananea. The train crew all railroad employees on this trip were posed on the front of the engine for a group picture. They gave us twenty minutes to look around town so I took a look inside the stone depot. They blow the train's horn signaling for us to get back to the train as I would not want to become a resident of Cananea and the train was wyed so we could continue our eastward trek. The train retraced its path back to Del Rio and rounded the eastward leg of the wye there to begin our run for Naco and today's destination of Aqua Prieta. The train crossed the treeless hills with just low grasses with mountains off in the distance with those to the north being in the United States. We were heading north at this time and were fast approaching the town of Naco. The tracks used to go up into the United States and trains went east on the SP's Douglas Branch then crossed back into Mexico at Aqua Prieta before continuing south to Nacozari. On November 7th, 1967 a new line was completed between Naco and Aqua Prieta keeping the entire operations within Mexico. At Naco you can see where the former line through town went and we passed the former station with its train order signal still standing as we made our turn to the east heading down the new line keeping us in Mexico. When you think about it why should they have an operation cross the International border twice? Why get hassled by US Custom officials when now don't have to? This line made perfect sense to me.

Across the US border was Bisbee with its copper industry remnants of a smoke stack. The line is straight climbing out of the valley with Naco before descending into the valley with Aqua Prieta. I have been surprised by the weather here in early September with temperatures in the low 80's and no humidity. Just a very pleasant day in early September in Sonora. The train approached Aqua Prieta Jct before backing into town stopping two blocks from the International Border. We detrained and walked to the border and since so few people have beat us there, we got asked just one question, "Citizens of what country?" Answer, "United States!" "Have a nice evening." My Father and I walked through Douglas past the large Southwestern Depot, under the railroad bridge to the Motel 6. We got the key to our room and found our luggage inside. I went to the McDonald's for Chicken McNuggets and then found a liquor store for a few nightcaps of Kesseler and 7-UP before calling it a night in Douglas.

9/9/1988 Saturday morning was sunny and cool starting off with a trip to McDonald's for Hot Cakes and Sausage. We retraced our path from last night, walked back into Mexico and immediately notice the differences: Paved streets in the US and dirt roads in Mexico. At the small train yard I walked into a coach used on the mixed train which smelled so horrible I had to make a rapid escape into the fresh Sonoran air or else my breakfast would have come up. I shot a few pictures of the locomotives hanging around and walked into the depot and bought a one way ticket to Nogales for a dollar as a souvenir of this trip. The rest of the group arrived and we were off for Nacozari. We headed out of town, passed through Aqua Prieta Jct and met the cows out on the track in the open range lands. Our train today had an extra locomotive, a U-23-B so that the point of our train will always have a cab unit on the front for our trip to and from Nacozari. We head up the long valley away from Aqua Prieta and then passed through a little open canyon before the valley opened up again. We came to the town of Fronteras where we made a static photo stop with the train order board and depot. This was all done as our crew went into the station to get their new orders.

We headed south for another twenty minutes where we stopped for another runby with the train crossing a nice wooden bridge. I was sure that was going to be a great picture. On this trip you heard everything by word of mouth, so once we were underway again, I heard we would met the Mixed Train 12 at Turichaci, so I walked up to the front of the train through two engines back out onto the lead units front walkway.

We traveled for about twenty minutes and at Turichaci I saw a headlight approaching far down the mainline. We pulled up to the switch we all climbed down past the point where our train would stop in the siding and shot Mixed Train 12 with a combination of a U-23-B and M-420W for power, eighteen cars of freight, one coach and caboose. I turned back and shot the Mixed Train passing our special train. Once abroad and on the mainline again we started our final climb, twisting and turning to gain elevation before we arrived at today's destination of Nacozari..

Nacozari 9/9/1988

I detrained and walked into town searching for a small steam locomotive and monument to Jesus Cruz, the Casey Jones of Mexico, who is a national hero of this country. He worked for the railroad and one day when a car of dynamite caught fire, he took his locomotive, coupled onto the car and took it out of town saving the town of Nacozari. Unfortunately the dynamite exploded before he could uncouple the car and thus Jesus Cruz was blown up along with his locomotive. I found the engine and when a local saw me trying to read the plaque in Spanish, he translated it into English for me. I asked him the best place in town for a cold beer and he took out a piece of paper, drew me a very nice map and pointed me off in the right direction. Bar number one was three blocks away and with my map I found it with no problem. I was the only American inside and when I ordered a Chihuahua, the bartender said in English, "You have good taste in beer, Sir!" I had a nice cold one before I ventured past the train and six blocks to bar number two where I ordered, "Cervasa Chihuahua" with everyone smiling at me. I guess Chihuahua Beer is the preferred local brew and I like it also because it has a picture of a train on its label. I went to use the bathroom and found the cleanest restroom I had ever seen complete with a man who passes out fresh hot towels. Back out on the streets, I noticed how Nacozari is backed up against the mountains on three sides with narrow side streets. There was not a lot of auto traffic here but a lot of people walking. It was a rather clean town and I was most impressed with the friendliness of its people who were warm and caring.

The Train Back

I walked back to the train about twenty minutes early and when everyone was accounted for we started heading back to Aqua Prieta. I decided that I might as well ride the front of the locomotive back to Aqua Prieta so I grabbed my jacket, tied it around my waist and headed to the front end. We descended down through the canyons and valleys. By Fronteras the sun was setting so we made the rest of the trip in the dark with a sky full of stars only being blocked by the occasional high clouds. The train made really good time and when I saw the lights of Aqua Prieta I headed back to the coach and found my father. We pulled into Aqua Prieta, did not get asked anything coming back into the United States and walked back to the Motel 6 after a great day of train riding and a visit to the neat Mexican town called Nacozari. I fell into a delightful slumber.

9/10/1988 Back to reality as we backed up to Aqua Prieta Jct and then pulled towards Naco. Rainstorm or not, I was going to ride in that Milwaukee built engine. I walked quickly in and around the other locomotives reaching the M-420W rather roomy cab. We will have another photo runby at Naco if it stops raining and if on cue it did when we arrived. We shot the train rounding the curve in Naco then headed for Del Rio. We crossed the highway with people out of their cars waving at the train before we were back in the green hills stopping just short of a little bridge for another runby. It was done in quick fashion and I was back on the front pilot of the train as the day was finally warming up. We passed through Del Rio, stopped at Santa Cruz for new train orders and learned we would get the PA right outside Nogales. It was sent up from Empalme on the first class train and was making the first trip since the engine's return to service.

It had rained through the night and we walked to the town hall for a pancake breakfast. We arrived early, ate a quick breakfast, crossed the border and beat the rain shower back to the train. It came down pretty good so by departure time a lot of our group arrived somewhat wet. We had added another locomotive to our consist, a M-420W on the point so now we had three locomotives for a five car train. The talk of the morning was that sometime today we will get the newly rebuilt ex Santa Fe/ex Delaware and Hudson Alco PA locomotive 19 on the point of our train. In North America there are only four of these locomotives left. Number 17 is in the National Museum in Puebla, 16 and 18 are in the dead line at Empalme and 19 was just restored to operating condition. I hoped the talk was true as I always wanted to ride behind one of these locomotives and take a few pictures of them.

Everyone on the train was counting the kilometer posts to Nogales waiting for the big moment. Almost into Nogales, I spotted the rear of a cab unit and there it was, the PA waiting just for us. We proceeded up to it and almost the entire train got off to photograph it. A dream that has come true. I saved an entire roll of film for this, so I shot away. We were going to do a runby with it on the point of our train so everyone found their spot. I choose a vantage point with perfect light. As the now four unit train five car train approached, everyone's attention was the lead unit and a lot of Kodachrome Film was used. With the photography and runby over, now it was time to live out the dream of riding behind a PA and for the last few miles into Nogales that is exactly what we did. Arriving in Nogales, we took a quick tour of the PA cab and this brought to a close in a perfect fashion 1988's Destination Nacozari Trip.

Homeward Bound

We boarded buses back to Tucson, crossed the border with the Custom Agent just looking at us and we sped up the Interstate 19 back to Tucson. We collected our bags and then started driving home, stopping at Casa Grande for dinner with me doing most of the driving. We arrived back in Santa Ana at 3:30 A.M. and I was up ready at 6:00 A.M. for work at MacArthur after a great trip by Let's Travel Tours of Riverside and Ed Van Nordeck.