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You can sense the anticipation. They stand on their tip toes looking down the line. Young boys have their ears to the rails listening…intently… for the “Clack-a-ta-clack.” And they the cry: “Train’s a Comin’!” The year is 1880 as the Southern Pacific heads into Benson, Arizona Territory. Billows of smoke pour out of the smoke stack and drift back over the train. As the train pulls into the station, some folks step down from where they came and others climb aboard for their own travel adventure to some distant place.

Trains were slow, but had the rails to run on. Because they burned wood or coal, embers floated back over the train along with the smoke. Sitting near a window or outside opening meant singed clothing. The steam engine, invented in 1705, was a marvelous and efficient engine. As the high steam pressure built up, it drove the pistons which turned the wheels. At the end of the stroke, the high pressure steam was released into the air and made the sound “Choo.” Now you know why they are called “Choo-Choo trains.”

The first train to enter Arizona was the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad, which arrived at Yuma on the morning of September 30, 1877. Through the years, hundreds of railroad companies formed and as time passed, many faded into history. They laid about 2,000 mile of track in Arizona and the rails went to areas, seemingly inaccessible just, to reach the raw materials found in Arizona. Copper and lumber were two of the largest items. Of course tourists from back East were eager to come get a “taste of the West” and see the wonders for Arizona.

While the SP of Arizona moved across the southern part of the state in 1881, the Atlantic and Pacific moved across the northern plateau area in 1883. The A&P formed a partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad. The second transcontinental railroad came through New Mexico into Arizona in 1880. The main obstacle was Canyon Diablo near Winslow. It took six months to build the bridge that stood 200 feet above the floor of the Canyon and was 600 feet long.

The railroads made a difference in Arizona at a time when Arizona’s richness was just being discovered. Bisbee Copper and Morenci Mines each delivered their raw materials via trains. Cattle were shipped from various points both east and north. Logging businesses were able to move large loads quickly and efficiently. Dry goods and other materials could now be freighted to areas hard to reach. The railroad transformed the county and it was a new beginning for an entire nation.

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