In Gore Vidal's play "The Best Man" the actor portraying the ex-president explains to one of the current candidates that, "What you have to learn is that there are no ends, only means." In the context of a tourist operation like the Grand Canyon Railway or in fact any railroad this means that each days operation is not an end in itself but overlaps from one into the other. The decisions and actions taken on day "A" will effect the operation on day "B" and day "C" and day "D". Plans are made, supplies are ordered and stashed at other points for future use, reservations are handled and anticipated as to the projected volume of work, etc.
It is a Saturday afternoon in Williams, Arizona and George Haughton is in the dispatcher's office of the Grand Canyon Railway which has been relocated to a glass enclosed portion of the museum. Overhead a ceiling fan is slowly revolving. On the wall clock to his left the time is 3:14 PM. Above him on a black slate Santa Fe timetable reminiscent of all those displayed in shots of historic train depots with the information that:
No. 47 Depart 2:00 AM DISCONTINUED
No. 3 Arrive 5:30 PM on time
No. 42 Depart 8:27PM DISCONTINUED
No. 2 Depart 9:30 AM on time
The museum is located in what used to be the lobby of the Fray Marcos Hotel and behind George is the massive cast iron door of the old safe. A small boy pokes his head in the office door and asks George if there is any money still in it and if there is can he have it. George chides him that not only is the door much to heavy to open but that the handle on the door has been removed. Disappointed at this he leaves to go and stare at some of the other exhibits. The museum opens at 7:30 in the morning and used to close at 10:30 but with the dispatcher now here it remains open until he leaves which is usually about 5:45. Laura Zabala opens it in the morning and then whoever is the dispatcher takes over at 8:45.
He is monitoring two trains headed his way down the branch that takes the daily tourist train to the canyon's rim. One of these is the actual passenger excursion with 2-8-2 #4960 and the other a ballast train with road foreman Ervin White in #GP7 2134. #4960 is scheduled to depart the canyon in about 30 seconds if none of the tour buses have been late in returning. Over the radio at 3:15.30 comes the voice of conductor Paulus that #4960 departed on time. Checking with #2134 for location it is at Quivero at MP 20.5. Since #4960 is at MP 63.7 which is listed on the timetable as GRAND CANYON there is plenty of time to get it in ahead. None the less George issues #4960 a track warrant as far as MP 24. All of this is written down on the green sheet on his desk that reads "Grand Canyon Railway Inc. DISPATCHERS RECORD OF MOVEMENT OF TRAINS". On the right side is the northward movement and the left side the southward movement. He then reads over the radio, "Grand Canyon Railway track warrant #35, #2134 MP 24 to Williams." This is copied and repeated by trainmaster White. He then reads, "Track warrant #36 #4960 Grand Canyon to MP 24." and this is copied by conductor Paulus. As he finishes reading the warrant and hears it repeated he initials on the bottom GWH. Once the train is given a new warrant the old one will be marked VOID and goes into the dead file in the drawer eventually to join other voided warrants in storage in the attic of the depot.
"Out of Grand Canyon yard limits (MP 62.7) 3:22." Three radio channels are used by the road 1-3 but 1 and 2 are actually the same frequency of 160.350 using different repeaters and the #3 which is for in the yard is 160.485. #1's repeater is atop Bill Williams Mountain and #2 atop Hopi Point. Using the same frequency allows all of the occupants of the branch to be aware of what is going on. This is important because as well as #4960 and #2134 there is the car department's hyrail which reports that it has picked up a hat belonging to one of the passengers which blew off while he was standing on the rear observation platform of the CHIEF KEOKUCK. This is just one of the administrative duties related to passenger care and comfort that the dispatcher takes care of. In addition George notifies the car department that #4960 will have to take a water car up to the canyon tomorrow (There are no water facilities at the canyon and so the Railway owns several water cars it can fill in Williams and leave at the canyon). Conductor Paulus reports that there is 7,000 gallons in the car still there and that they will drain that into the tender tomorrow prior to returning with it. He also receives a message from Paula Rascon, who is the supervisor in charge of passengers, to relay a message to the ticket counter to scratch off a buffet charge on a credit card for a guest. Handling all these items means that the "guest's" (how passengers are referred to on the Grand Canyon Railway and are treated as such) are given a first class treatment. Of course tomorrow's guests must also be anticipated and while the ticket counter is already handling ticket sales for then, the reservation phone (1-800-THE TRAIN) has been processing tomorrow's list weeks if not months in advance as people make vacation arrangements and the car department calls over to check on how many cars will be needed for tomorrow's trip. The Grand Canyon owns 17 Pullman cars which were built in 1923 and retired in 1980 by the Southern Pacific after working the commuter line between San Jose and San Francisco. 13 of the cars, which seat 88, have been restored to factory specs.
#2134 checks back in to report that it is setting out ballast cars and #4960 reports that it is by VALLE (MP 29.0) at 4:33. At 4:40 George picks up the hand held radio and heads for the ticket office with the latest weather report and to let them know that the train will arrive on time. So it goes in the dispatcher's office as #2134 makes it back to the yard, a new warrant is issued and the old one voided for #4960. Cars are being readied, tomorrow's guests handled as they arrive to check out tickets and watch #4960 arrive on the dot at 5:30 (since there is only daylight movement here the crews and dispatcher do not use the military time formula where 5:30 pm would be recorded at 1730). As it pulls in blowing its whistle chief mechanical officer Robert Franzen is on hand to watch what he considers his baby pull in. While the passengers disembark and the car department places a blue flag in the front knuckle he is poking around with his Ray-O-Tech heat sensor measuring the heat emission of the bearings and at the same time getting a report from the crew. Having overseen the $1.5 million overhaul which required about 80,000 man hours of work he is both proud and protective of the result and tomorrow will be taking it north as the engineer.
While he gets it ready to be bedded down for the night the newly arriving guests are filling up the parking lot with many of them headed for the Fray Marcos hotel next to the depot. Either eating at one of the many restaurants around town or ordering a pizza or sandwich at the bar they will be well rested for the trip tomorrow. At the hotel is the famous "Spenser's Bar" which was hand crafted in 1887 in the small English village of Shepherd's Bush for the popular pub, the Lion's Den. The Lion's den proprietor, Daniel Hollings, commissioned George O. Spenser, a noted cabinet maker to construct the "best bar in the Bush." Given two hundred pounds for materials and the promise that he would never have to pay for another drink, Spenser worked day and night for four months to create the solid oak masterpiece. The deal proved to be a bargain for Spenser, who visited the Lion's Den every day and lived to the ripe old age of 84. Of course George could not have envisioned that while his bar would occupy the west wall at the rebuilt Fray Marcos hotel across the sea in America he would have been even further astounded by the large screen TV on the north wall.
At 4:30 in the morning all of the guests are snugly abed. However of the railroad the action is already beginning again carrying over the plans and preparations that will enable those still asleep to experience the style and service that would have taken place had they been here in the 1920's. It is cold enough to see your breath and at over 6,800 feet the night sky is exceptionally clear. A thin crescent of a Moon is showing with Mars and Venus grouped next to it in the west. They sparkle like diamonds in the thin atmosphere and seem close enough to reach out and touch. To the north Orion's three belt stars and the big and little dippers. To the right of them is the jewel created by Saturn. From the distance comes the sound of a BNSF eastbound on its mainline and then finally headlights swing around the bend and travel across the tracks next to the shops. Karl Zicopoulus and Marcus Petropoulos pull up in their respective cars with the tires crunching on the cold gravel that makes up the parking area. Pulling on their safety shoes they prepare to wake up #4960. Once inside the shop it is warm picking up the heat from the behemoth that lives within. Also sharing its space is #18 which at the moment is cold and silent as it undergoes inspection and repairs and the more modern configuration of Alco diesel FPA-4 #6793.
But the bigger steamer is not really asleep, merely resting. The two hostlers approach it is as Bilbo sizing up the dragon Smaug inside the Misty Mountain. Touching her side you can feel the heat given off by the 110 pounds of steam still inside after having been shut down last evening. Water drips from various valves as Karl attaches the air hose to the main reservoir to provide pressure to release the brakes. Once this is accomplished the main door to the shops is rolled open bringing in the cold early morning air. There is water on the shop floor and Karl opens valves with a hissing of steam using the residual pressure to ease it forward. As he does the metal deck between the cab and tender shifts position lowering and raising while at the same time shifting from side to side. This engine is alive and as we pass through the door its heat reacting to the cold air creates its own breathy fog.
But as well as seeming ancient its innards are protected by modern technology in the form of computer screens above the throttle that monitor the temperature of all of the bearings. This small green display contrasts with the wet smell of steam and roaring sounds coursing through its metal tubes that are its arteries and veins. Marcus is busy blowing down the boiler with approximately 200 to 300 gallons to remove any solids that may have settled in the firebox mud ring and checks the water glass facing him on his right to make sure the level descends to an eighth of the glass.
Before the actual firing that will bring it completely back to life from the current somnolent state Marcus is down on his knees before the firebox opening which includes a small swinging inspection latch. Using his flashlight he makes the pre-fireup check looking at the side sheets, crown sheets, tube sheet, circulatory tubes, back head, and the brick work to make sure none has fallen in. He accomplishes this by specifically listening for leaking tubes, and looking at stay bolts. White deposits can mean a leak and he checks for bulges in the metal and hot spots. The steam pressure that is now down to 105 following the exit and blow downs is still able to provide the power for the dynamo for electricity in the cab and under the illumination it provides he prepares the pile of "waste" which is actually a pile of cotton thread soaking it with oil from a long spouted oil can. With this sitting in the open door of the firebox he strikes a wooden match (somehow in this setting flicking one's BIC to light the firebox would seem a sacrilege). With the threads taking light he holds it for an instant in his protective gloves and then throws it in then shutting the door and turning the valves that will make sure there is a proper mixture of air and oil and then there is fire in the belly of the beast and it is truly beginning to arouse.
As the fire begins to heat the water which will in turn increase the steam pressure until it reaches its operating peak of 200 lbs Karl and Marcus begin their inspections. Actually the locomotive undergoes three inspections in the course of each and every day. Chronologically this begins with the morning hostler crew, then the road crew that will take it over at the depot and finally the night hostling crew makes their inspection. All routine maintenance is done by the night shift at the shop which finished up around 1am taking care of any missing or broken parts, loose nuts and bolts, running gear, and the fire box. Marcus, who is from Amarillo, Texas and started out on the GCRR as a boiler maker is watching the gauges as the pressure rises to 115. Karl is from Fontana in California and sort of fell into the job. Originally he worked in construction and hired on at Williams as a laborer then became a hostler helper, then hostler, graduated to engineer and is now the hostler foreman. On the GCRR the hostler is trained the same rule wise as the road engineer though Marcus is restricted to yard limits. The hostlers have to put in 2,000 miles on the road to become qualified. This doesn't take to long since between its inaugural in July and the this September morning #4960 has already logged over 5,000 miles. Both Karl and Marcus signed on in 1989 and as he watches the gauge creep slowly upward Marcus pulls out a rag and in a proprietary manner polishes the mirrors and windows.
The light is finally coming up in the east with a deep blue providing a contrast to the hills, some of which are the rounded humps of extinct volcanos, standing out in black. On the interstate the lights of big rigs at this early how far outnumber those of cars. But big rigs and cars are not the only things moving around Williams in the morning. One morning as they pulled the locomotive out of the shop the two of them looked up and saw perhaps thirty deer watching the switching operation and occasionally they hear the sound of elk bugling for mates off in the pines.
Marcus is then up on the tender checking the water level. If it is not completely full he will pump in more making sure there is plenty to keep the water glass, which sits at the fireman's right and a separate one at the engineer's left has plenty in reserve when it starts to fall. Back in the cab he injects some more water watching the glass and also the steam gauge next to it to make sure it reacts by showing the pressure falling slightly. He squeezes in a little more on the oil and then hits the atomizer to spray the fuel back in the firebox to beef up the fire.
By now the skies are even lighter and the other cars and locomotives that have remained hidden since they were not being illuminated by the lamps surrounding the shop are coming into view. With the still hidden sun lighting the sky it is time to start the actual once over. Karl picks up his inspection hammer on its two foot wooden handle and climbs down from the cab. The metal head is actually divided into specific measurements with 4960 stamped onto one side and 2" and 2 1/2" on the other. The 2 1/2" indicates the condemning length for wheel flat spots and the total length of the head is the proper closing space for a coupler. Tapping with the hammer he checks for loose bolts and nuts. As he taps he listens for a solid ringing sound and the feel of the response from the hammer's handle. While every nut has a slightly different sound he has learned to hear and appreciate their music. A dull thud however is usually the sound of a loose or possibly broken one. As he makes his way around the locomotive reaching in to tap between the wheels or along the side condensation is dripping from the water pump and the steam inside the belly is making a thumping sound. But should he hear that one sour note out will come the wrench to tune it to the proper pitch.
The ambient light provides enough to read the plaque on the
locomotive's boiler which proudly reads:
"The Super Heater Co. Super Heater patented in U.S.A. Feb. 14 1905 Oct. 6, 1906 Jan.7, 1908 Nov. 17, 1908 Feb. 15, 1910 Jul 1, 1913 Sept. 28, 1915 Jan. 25, 1918 Feb 5, 1918 Other patents pending" And below that: "The Baldwin Locomotive Works Philadelphia 56809 U.S.A. August 1923"
As Karl watches Marcus turns on the headlights and ditch lights (which were not standard equipment in 1923) and the bell. Finally all of the nooks and crannies having been poked into and around Karl climbs back into the cab and by now the rising sun is fully on the unit. The Eastbound Southwest Chief passes over the line above and in front of us and Karl reaches to the knotted cord above his head to blow the whistle and the engineer in the Chief returns his early morning salute.
Making a switch move is for all practical purposes the same for both diesel and steam. Marcus is down on the ground to line the switches and Karl is in the cab. Sound-wise there is no comparison with the hissing of the steam, the blow of the whistle. Whistle signals used here are 1=STOP, 2=FORWARD, 3=BACK EM UP. Now up to 200 lbs #4960 proudly struts herself across the rails pulling out to filled tank car she will be carrying north to replenish her tender on tomorrow's trip. Ready for the trip to the depot the paperwork is filled out, the roller door closed on the shop, and it is time for the airbrake test. On the square glass gauge to Karl's left two arrows indicate the air pressure. The red arrow indicates how much is in the main reservoir and black arrow what is in the equalizing reservoir. At this moment 135 is in the main and 90 in the "EQ'lg". He performs the test that includes the tank car now behind the tender to make sure there is no more than 5 lbs. loss per minute and if it is more than 3 will start looking for the cause. This may include placing soapy water on the hoses to see if they bubble. Everything satisfactory he pulls forward through a cloud of steam and calls onto the radio that we will be going onto the main line. Already the hyrail has raced out towards the canyon while he was making his inspection and Marcus is throwing switches and giving a roll by so we can back down to the cars.
Once again the whistle sounds to indicate we are moving backwards WHOOSH! WHOOSH! WHOOSH! and Marcus and Karl call out the crossings.
"Clear at the crossing"
"Gates going down...crossing clear"
Having backed across the streets of Williams the BNSF westbound tracks are now above us and yellow ballast cars. This is the car department section where Karl and Marcus pick up those that have been gone over and made ready by the car department. While railfans stand at the street crossings with both video and still cameras Marcus is busy checking his gauges and down peering through the inspection hole of the firebox and Karl to their delight using the whistle to signal his moves.
Karl has the radio above his head on the yard channel and the car department has a request that he hold off until they change the gasket on one of the air hoses on a passenger car. Marcus is back down peering through the firebox inspection hole checking for the flame height and then back looking at the glass to be sure that it is at least 1/2 since this is the minimum allowed in the Williams' yard limits.
Finally the car department reports that everything is ready and Karl pumps up the air on the cars prior to backing over to the depot.
"4960 let me know when you have a charge so we can do a set
"4960 Ok set em up."
"4960 Ok release."
WHOOSH WHOOSH!! We pull forward with the cars to take them to the main. Marcus taps his gauge which now reads 180 and squirts on the atomizer which has it coming back up.
"4960 2 1/2 cars to a stop."
"4960 one car."
"1/2 car 60."
"60 clear at the crossing...back em up."
"60 5 cars to a stop....60 4 cars...60 2 cars...60 1 car...60 clear of the derail bring em on back."
We back towards the depot and hear and Marcus calls out from the fireman's side, "Clear on the platform."
"Clear on the platform." Repeating Marcus' statement Karl gives a single loud blast on the whistle that delights the waiting guests (especially those recording sound with camcorders) and Karl starts the leakage test while Marcus is down again peering into the firebox. After consulting his watch and the gauge Karl announces a 1 lb leak for the entire train during the minute that just passed. The time is now 7:35.
Already the museum doors are open and Laura is at her desk greeting guests and answering any questions. Other cast members are busy changing into their clothes which on board are black pants, white shirt, and black tie. Marshal John B. Goodmore is already checking out the platform and looking official in his long brown coat, Stetson hat, silver badge, and brace of six shooters. The Marshal's real name is John W. Moore and he was a real marshal in Missouri which is the reason he has such a western twang to his voice and he eventually moved to Williams where he again served as marshal until he retired about four years ago. Out at the corral standing next to their horse is Chuck Gericke who puts on a display of roping and Glenn Rimmer who goes under the name of Two Feathers since those are what he sports in his hat. Also making the rounds is "Chance" ("There's a good chance I'll shoot ma self with ma gun again.") who the Marshal keeps a stern eye on since along with his six-shooter he is also carrying a shotgun.
While they are being photographed the real work continues on under the passenger cars where car tote Victor Gorraiz is crawling under adjusting a piston retainer and then turning on the air conditioning for the "Chief Keokuck". This is the last car in the consist and the only one with air conditioning. The other cars rely on the 40/40 system which translates out to 40 windows open at 40 mph. Victor started out with GCRR as a brakeman and also worked in the restorations of #4960 and #18. On board the Chief is chief coach attendant Todd Nemura. He is checking on the food being loaded on board, making sure the cars are setup properly and that everything is ready when the guest board. In the morning this includes a fresh Danish, orange juice and coffee which must be placed on board. In effect Todd is the Maitre De. His day starts out at 8am and lasts until 6pm. In his hand is the list from the night of what is needed and during the break at the canyon they will again go over the carpets with the vacuum. Other attendants are busy loading on the souvenir 8 oz bottles of Coca Cola that display the GCRR logo and bags of ice to keep them cool in the old style aluminum ice chests that are at the head end of every car. Of course this is Coke Classic. For those who are on diets or diabetic Diet Coke Caffeine Free is available in cans. The "Chief" is the 1st class car with comfortable couches and of course the air conditioning. In the next car forward, the club car, the seats are more conventional but in the center is a full service bar complete with a brass rail to rest one's foot on. Passengers in the "Chief" are allowed to wander forward to the club car or stand out on the rear platform though at the risk of having a hat blown off. The next car has the traditional conductor's desk where he can rest his clipboard, hang up his hat and coat, or use the radio to call the head end or the dispatcher. The baggage cart is also out piled with suitcases for those who will be laying over at the Canyon to come back on another day.
By 8:45 the thermometer on the wall of the depot is reading 65 and Ken Stephenson is in the dispatcher's office. Ken has been with GCRR for almost three years and is the usual Sunday dispatcher. Robert Franzen shows up at the locomotive dressed in all the proper gear for a steam locomotive engineer and starts to go over the locomotive with Karl as Paul King who will be today's fireman hands up his kit, which includes a red flag, to Karl and climbs on board. He is soon up on top of the tender checking fuel and water levels through topside hatches with giant dip sticks since nothing is left to chance. In any other profession this might seem obsessive compulsive but here safety is the paramount concern. Back in his seat he goes through a typical fireman pre-check as he fiddles, tinkers, adjusts his valves and is never completely satisfied. He turns this valve, opens that one, listens to the sound, feels the handle, adjusts the rubber bands securing a label. Like most of the people working here Paul loves trains and had just come back from Colorado shooting the SP on Tennessee Pass. Conductor Mike Paulus has had an interest in model trains ever since he was knee high to a journal box and now gets to spend his days in railfan heaven.
"Locomotive brake test good, one pound leakage on the train." Robert stows his gear in the case behind his seat and places a few cans of ice tea in the ice bucket. He checks the tools in the cabinet, goes over the inspection report, and meets with conductor Paulus. Mike Pulls out an engraved pocket watch from his vest pocket and flipping open the cover with its engraved golden steam locomotive the three of them coordinate the time though the engineer and fireman more conventional watches and then go over the orders.
"Dispatcher to #4960 for radio check."
"#4960 to dispatcher you are coming in loud and clear."
Mike exits the cab with an, "I'll see you on the other side." and Robert selects a hammer from the tool cabinet and climbs down to tap some nuts. We hear a flurry of gunshots from the corral area signaling that Marshal Goodmore has once again triumphed over the Cataract Creek Gang who were out harassing tourists and the dispatcher calls over the radio for an "All Aboard." Paul reaches up and give the whistle four blasts with three short and one long and then hands down to Robert a long spouted oil can since he is still getting his "baby" ready. Then he climbs back up, places the oil can in its holder, the hammer back in the cabinet and sits down in his seat. The steam pressure is just shy of 200.
Ear plugs go into ears, the hat is adjusted by tugging on the bill, and Paul is watching for the conductor's signal through his mirror.
"All moving." From conductor Paulus as we pull out at 9:30 on the dot.
Whistle blowing we pull out of the depot and through the crossing to get a roll by from Victor, "Good roll by from car shop."
"Clear around the curve." From Paul as ahead a BNSF pig train with red and silver warbonnets passes before us. Paul opens the lid of the box holding the fine silver colored sand, opens the firebox inspection hole and throws in a scoop which is immediately sucked in by the draft. This scourers the soot off of the flue and cause black smoke to rise out of the stack. He taps the scoop with a "K- clang" and then shots the peep hole and then knocks it over with the scoop to allow him to observe the fire. We pass the shops, are under the BNSF main and headed into the pine trees and the open countryside. Robert reaches over his head, turns to channel #1 and reports in to the dispatcher.
Swaying down the track Robert has his hand on the throttle that juts out from the center of the cab and Paul keeps an eye on his gauges as he matches Robert's throttle movements with the fuel valve. Anticipating when the locomotive will be working hard up the grade he increases along with the throttle increase the fuel flow to keep the steam pressure at 200 or just below. This is range country here and we spot cattle grazing in the fields along the track. As we leave Williams we are climbing and then begin to descend into what is almost a desert environment. It is a lovely day with blue skies and high cumulus clouds, the temperature just right with the sun coming from our right showing the shadow of the locomotive with the smoke and steam from its stacks running along the sandy ground. We pass through PITT (MP 6.5), RED LAKE (MP 9.0), BLY (MP 14.8), QUIVERO (MP 20.5) VALLE (MP 29.0), and reach WILLAHA (MP 37.7).
"Stop em when you can." Ahead we see passengers waiting to board. These are park rangers who will be lecturing to the passengers on fire safety and the canyon. Occasionally one will dress up in a Smokey the Bear suit to give the talk. The program runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and this will be the last trip for this year. "Ok 60 highball." Robert pulls pack on the throttle, Paul adjusts his lever on the fuel control squeezing the handle with left to increase and right to decrease and soon we are back to 40mph. As we are climbing again and the locomotive working hard Paul is down to throw in more sand looking up through his side window to determine when it is coming out clean again. Our cars are following behind the tank car which is painted to blend in with the steam and passengers are leaning out the open windows to catch a glimpse of the locomotive on the curves. Looking back through the open space between the cab roof and the tender we can see the smoke streaming back and blending with the clouds. As we near the canyon Robert takes the speed back to 30mph as we travel through steep cuts and are once again in among pine trees. As we were climbing we could see the rock formations rising above as a ridge and now we are in amongst it. He checks in over the radio from APEX (MP 52.0) and in a little over 10 more miles we will be at the canyon. This is a beautiful area with not just the pine trees and rock cuts but also wild flowers blooming beside the tracks. The "CHUFF CHUFF" of the locomotive echoes off the sides of the walls as we pass over some of the 37 bridges that cross the streams flowing under the route. Coming around a final curve we see the rim of the canyon standing out as a cut the trees and park visitors turn to point both fingers and cameras in our direction. Robert brings the train in to stand against the end of the track and we hear Mike report in over the radio that it is 11:46. We have reached Bright Angel Lodge.
He places a pin in the throttle to keep it from being
accidentally moved and climbs down to once again put his heat sensor
to use while most passengers head for the tour buses though some
remain to ask questions:
"Is that a coal burner?"
"No, it uses oil. Coal was more popular in the east."
"Oh, well coal was better."
There actually four bus tours available. The Grand Tour 3 hours for $29 (children 16 and under $21), the Special Tour 3 hours for $22 (children under 16 $16), the Whistle Stop Tour 2 hours for $19 (children under 16 $14), and the Freedom Tour 1.5 hours for $13 (children under 16 $7). These are run by the Fred Harvey Transportation Company and reservations can be made at the same time as the train reservations also at 1-800 THE TRAIN.
Once the passengers have disembarked it is time to turn the train on the wye. Robert pulls the pin from the throttle and pulls the reverse lever.
"Clear to back em up 6." With all of the curves, trees, and
pedestrians the clearance is give for a limited amount of space.
"Clear for 6 more."
"Lined to the wye...8 to a stop to play."
"Traffic is clear."
"Over clear for 6." Robert backs the cars down the wye to turn the train passing various lodges around Bright Angel. Mike is on the rear and as we pull forward again down the south leg of the wye we watch crossing gates descend. Mike has now assumed the role of a switchman and leaves his fancy conductor's cap with its shiny bill at his desk putting on a baseball style cap with the 4960 logo to keep his nose from getting red. At 24 he looks much younger and is constantly asked, "Son are you sure you're old enough to be doing this?" As we back the train again up the grade to its holding place he is providing the rear protection as well as throwing switches and calling out the car lengths to a stop. Once they are parked and the brakes set we take off with the tank car to leave it, pick up the old one which will be drained and then back to the cars.
"Cleared for 6 more." He is using his orange covered copy of the timetable as well as the radio to provide a visual as well as audible signal. Once we back to the old tank car, set it out on the adjacent track and place the new one in its place Paul can begin to fill the tender. Making the trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon usually takes 7,500 to 8,000 gallons of water with the return trip (with a descending rather than an ascending grade varies from as little as 3,000 to as much as 9,000). On this trip they used 7,750 coming up the grade and replace 4,000 planning to add the rest at Williams.
We pull forward again on the wye and then with Mike riding the rear on the tank car again back up towards the lodge and our cars.
"Down and clear." The crossing gates.
"4960 back em up."
Against the cars again Paul is down checking the firebox while Robert and Mike do the brake test.
"4960 set em up."
"set em up."
We take a break while the car attendants such as Eleasha Bailey in the last car is making sure everything is in place, the floor vacuumed, blankets in the overhead racks to be used as either covers or pillows and an ample supply of the Coke on ice.
Finally the clock creeps towards 3:15. The tour buses have arrived back on time and the passengers are aboard.
"Highball." It is 3:15 as Robert reaches overhead to tug on the whistle cord and eases back on the throttle.
"Dispatcher...departure Grand Canyon on time." and with this note from Mike over the radio we move down through the pines and yellow wild flowers at the 10mph yard limit speed.
"Kid on the right down by the speedboard." Paul calls to Robert who repeats it.
"Train #3 out of the yard at 3:22." At a "W", which is the BNSF sign for whistle, Robert tugs on the cord again. A resting cyclist sitting beside a stream waves as we pass and our speed is now 25 on the grade. Of course since this is not diesel there are no dynamics restraining us and Robert plays with the brakes and throttle to keep everything under control. Once again it is pines and deep cuts and then emerging from this at MP 52 the track ahead seems to drop off the edge of the world. Actually it is just an optical illusion but an interesting one none the less. Again the landscape turns rather barren and on the horizon the soft humps strung out along its lines demonstrate the volcanic history of this region. To the north and south are rain clouds with thin sheets between them and the ground. Further to the south a portion of a rainbow shines briefly against them. Robert and Paul continue to function as a well oiled team (pun intended) as they keep the water glass full, the valves and gauges synchronized, and the sanding scoop clanging against the firebox door. There is still one last event to take place and ahead we see two figures with one on horseback and the other afoot standing in the center of the tracks. He prudently steps to the side at out approach but Robert stops the train anyway allowing the one on foot to board the front car while the one on horseback gallops back to the rear coach. Could the engineer and fireman be getting a cut of this action? Then after making sure the now riderless horse is clear we highball out for the trip back up the grade and into trees, through the tunnel under the BNSF main and past the shops where trainmaster Ervin is once again in the cab of 2134. Outside the depot are a throng of people waiting to greet our return and as he did last night and again this afternoon Robert is down with the heat sensor checking to make sure everything is buttoned down and proper. The hostlers are standing by and let him know they will be setting out the cars for tomorrows trip. The attendants are busy unloading empty Coke bottles from the coaches. Ahead an Amtrak unit is waiting to push back with the American Orient Express which will be making the trip up to the canyon tomorrow with diesel power. Including #4960's steam there will be two passenger trains out on the branch for the dispatcher to handle. Plans are being made, the gift shop is closing, the dispatcher shutting down and as a final testimony to the end of the show Marshal Moore is climbing into his truck, rather than astride a horse, still dressed in his western garb for the short trip home. But for a brief time we were back in the era of steam, of the wild west, and of a time when Coca Cola came only in bottles the way God intended it to be drunk. That is it for today but as Scarlet O'Hara intones, "Tomorrow is another day." They will be ready to do it all again tomorrow.
I want to thank Robert Franzen, Julia Andrick, George Haughton, Karl Zicopoulos, Marcus Petropoulos, John W. Moore, Laura Zabala, Todd Nemura, Paul King, Mike Paulus, Victor Gorraiz and Ervin White for their kind assistance in helping me put this story together.