By Eleanor Gilley
(Last week in part one, the author wrote about the first railway through Prescott from Seligman, and later Ash Fork, to Phoenix)
Financiers, looking for more railroads in Central Arizona to invest in approached Frank Murphy, who was principally responsible for bringing the railroad to Prescott, to promote another railroad into the Aqua Fria Valley and the Bradshaw Range.
Once approved, the 26 mile long Prescott and Eastern Railway was organized on September 14, 1897, and full grading began on March 1, 1898. The Prescott and Eastern connected with the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway just north of Granite Dells and was going to run to Mayer and eventually Crown King. The junction, often called the "Point of Rocks", had only a few years before been one of the worst feared areas for travelers, wagon trains and stagecoaches. It was an excellent hiding place for renegades and highwaymen.
The work on this line was much like the principal line from Seligman to Phoenix through Prescott, or Peavine, difficult and dangerous, and there was also a constant shortage of workers. The local sheriff often helped produce workers for the railroad. He would explain to the prisoners the benefits of working for steady wages rather than sitting behind bars. Many of his prisoners chose to work. Other railroad workers were Indian and Mexican, but mostly they were imported Greeks and Italians who were known for their skill as stonemasons and building smooth, mortarless retaining walls. Many of these types of piers and abutments are still in service on parts of the Santa Fe system.
The P & E traveled through beautiful country, beginning with Granite Dells and continuing through Lonesome Valley and Yeagar, a siding near the road to Jerome. It then crossed Lynx Creek and continued into the Aqua Fria Valley. The first depot was at Cherry Creek, now Dewey. At the present day Humboldt, formerly the Bower's Ranch, the railroad turned southwest toward the Bradshaw foothills and the Big Bug Country, past the depot at Huron and on to the terminus of Mayer. The work was completed on schedule and the first run reached Mayer on October 15, 1898.
The P & E was so successful that investors wanted more lines into the mine areas of the Bradshaw Mountains. This resulted in the construction of the Bradshaw Mountain Railway, which was incorporated on February 6, 1901. Two branches were built on the Bradshaw line; the Poland Branch and the Crown King Branch. The Poland Branch left the mainline one mile south of Huron and ran along the Big Bug Creek for nearly eight miles to the rich Poland Mine, more or less the same road that runs from Poland Junction on Highway 69 and the mountain community of Breezy Pines. This branch was also very difficult and expensive to build, running through rugged, mountainous terrain that needed much drilling and blasting through solid rock. Two long timber trestles and a tunnel nearly 200 feet long were built. Many men again deserted the work force and another shortage of men developed when gold was found valued at $30 per ton. Laborers wondered why they should work for $2 per day when gold lay only a few inches below the surface. Many left, but few were successful at finding gold, due to a lack of knowledge about prospecting. Laborers caused another delay in progress when they celebrated for one whole day after the rail was completed on half of the line. So intensely did they celebrate that they could not work for three days. The final rail reached Poland Mine on April 21, 1902.
Work on the Crown King Branch was already in progress. The nearly 25 mile line left Mayer and cut through Cedar Canyon, crossing the ranching country west of Cordes Station on the Black Canyon Stage Route. It then headed south toward Crazy Basin, 12 miles from Mayer. This, too, was treacherous country necessitating many steep grades and switchbacks. The men had to contend with snow, blizzards and intense cold and the area was infested with rattlesnakes. The remaining 13 miles of the line were considered by some to be an engineering challenge, as well as a financial one. Others considered it a "Bradshaw Boondoggle". However, this area turned out to be one of the most visually beautiful lines in the area with views up to 50 miles. Mining and excursion trains began traveling on the line by mid May, 1904.
There were proposals for more rail lines in the area, but economic conditions put an end to any more plans.
The Prescott and Eastern Railway and the Bradshaw Mountain Railway were legally independent lines, but were owned and controlled by the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway. All three were eventually absorbed into the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company.
By 1911, many mines were worked out and closed. The few that remained did not merit a daily train. The first World War temporarily created a demand for copper and other metals and mines were reopened. Railroad traffic to these areas was unprecedented in 1916-1917. However, when the war ended, so did the demand and the mines were again closed. Workers were laid off and the lines fell into disrepair.
In 1926, The Bradshaw Railway ran a last excursion train for friends and residents of the railroad to say "goodbye". There were tears and railroad stories as the train pulled away from Crown King Depot for the last time.
The view from the top, near Crown King, is still beautiful and modern vehicles can climb the switchbacks to the summit, but it is a "white knuckle ride". The Poland Branch was partially abandoned on November 30, 1932, and fully closed on April 10, 1939. An era had come to an end. The Prescott and Eastern Railway rail was entirely removed in 1949. You can still see some of the old roadbeds along Highway 69 between Dewey and Mayer.
The demise of the Peavine from Ash Fork to Phoenix via Prescott was not far behind that of its branches. In the early 1960s, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was facing competitive changes in Arizona, not only from other railroads, but also from the long distance trucking industry. The Peavine railroad had been constructed to the standards of the day and the line had become an operational nightmare. Traffic between Prescott and Phoenix had declined and it could no longer support the line.
In the Spring of 1961, after an extensive railroad relocation from Williams to Crookton, Arizona, by the AT & SF Railway, the crews were sent to Prescott for a rerouting of the old Peavine railroad. Interestingly, the employees were paid $125 per month for their housing, in addition to their regular salaries. As in Flagstaff, the information grapevine reached Prescott before crews and every rental in Prescott was $125, a boom for the crews and the landlords.
The relocation would leave Prescott at the end of a branch making citizens understandably unhappy. Opposition to the realignment was organized and six days of heated debates were held. The Interstate Commerce Commission finally found in the railroad's favor and actual construction began on March 29, 1961.
The new line began one and one-half miles east of Abra Station and 24 miles north of Prescott. It then headed westward across Chino Valley at Paulden, then turned southerly along the Williamson Valley Wash, Long Canyon Wash and Tonto Wash to the mainline at Skull Valley, eliminating one of the most difficult 23 mile stretches of railroad over Ramsgate Hill between Prescott and Skull Valley. The line was completed on April 21, 1962. Running times were reduced by two hours for freight trains and over one hour for passenger trains.
Over the years, most of the smaller railroads have been abandoned or merged into larger railroads. Even the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, a giant among railroads, has now merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad. It is now called the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. The name Santa Fe still appears, but some of the romance is gone with the loss of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railway name. And, there was a great romance with the railroads in days gone by. Miners and pioneers in remote areas watched the steam engines rolling toward them with happiness and excitement. It was almost like watching the mother lode coming toward them bringing things that would improve the quality of their lives.
The old timers who worked for the railroads still carry that romance for the trains. If you can find one, and there are fewer each year, ask him if he misses the good old days. He may not say much, maybe a "Yup" or two, but if you look closely you will see the glint in his eyes and you will know that in his mind's ear he can still hear the steam engines being fired-up and the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails and you will know he is remembering, remembering, remembering.
Eleanor Gilley is a volunteer and tour guide at the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (rr247pa). Reuse only by permission.
Long lengths of welded rails are pulled from a flat car in Williamson Valley in the early 1960s, as the Santa Fe Railway straighten out the old Peavine. This realignment was one of the final acts for railroads that used to come to Prescott and wind their way into the Bradshaw Mountains.