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Riding the Grand Canyon Railway

During a trip to the Canyon in September 1999 I finally got a chance to take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. I have always loved those old vintage era steam engines and I was very happy that they would be using one of them for our trip up to the Canyon, instead of the diesel locomotive.

The engine that took us up to the Canyon (Number 4960) was the latest addition to the Grand Canyon Railway family and not the smaller steam engine (Number 18) that I had been used to seeing at the front of the train. Number 4960 was rebuilt by the Grand Canyon Railway but it was originally used by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad during the 1960's for special steam excursions in the Midwest. I have no idea what it was used for before that but seeing that it was built in 1923 it must have a lot more history that I am not aware of. Number 4960 is a 2-8-2, Mikado type, locomotive and was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The 2-8-2 designation refers to the wheel arrangement of the locomotive: 2 lead or guide wheels, 8 drive wheels, and 2 trailing wheels. The Mikado name (also nicknamed Mike) was given to this type of locomotive because the original models were built for export to Japan.

Our train to the Canyon

Prior to the train's departure we were treated to a sort of Wild West Show involving a dispute between some drunken cowboys and the town Marshall. The town Marshall wins, of course. I thought it was sort of corny but the kids in the audience were sure eating it up, as well as large number of the adults.

Shoot out at the Grand Canyon Railway corral

As soon as the train leaves the station it gets going at a pretty good clip, maybe 30 miles per hour, in a very short time. We had 9 or 10 cars on our train so this engine obviously has some power. The 65-mile trip up to the Canyon takes slightly more than 2 hours. We left Williams around 9:30 and pulled into the Canyon around 11:30. The train went through some strange manuevers when it arrived at the Canyon to get the engine oriented properly (at the front of the train) for departure and all that took another 10-15 minutes. We finally backed in the Grand Canyon Depot around 11:45 and detrained.

The view from the train for the first 2/3 of the journey is mostly rolling prarie. We crossed numerous washes along the way and also passed the remnants of a number of old train stations and stops, which were used back around the turn of the century, when Grand Canyon Railway was part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. We saw some prarie dogs as we were leaving Williams and some antelope when we were about 30 minutes out. The digital camera I was using is useless for any of this stuff unless you happen to have it powered on and ready to shoot when you see them, which I didn't.

View from the train

While the train is enroute to the Canyon a singing cowboy wanders from car to car, plays requests and has some sing-alongs. I asked him to play Ghost Riders (In The Sky) and was very pleased that he knew it. In my opinon he wouldn't have been much of a cowboy if he didn't. I also asked him to play Cool Water, a song that my Dad always used to sing to us when we were kids, and he knew this as well. I actually don't think that anyone asked him to play anything that he couldn't, at least not while he was in our car.

Entertainment aboard the train

During the last 1/3 of the trip, as the train approaches the Canyon and gains in elevation, the prarie thins out and eventually goes away and is replaced by a more dense pinyon-juniper forest. As you get closer to the Canyon some bigger trees like Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs start to pop up as well. The train follows up a drainage and a small side canyon for the last part of the journey. You get some really nice views of the whole train along this part of the trip, as there are a number of nice curves along the track as the train weaves and winds its way through this canyon.

Approaching the national park entrance

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