The last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific will chug through the Valley this weekend to help Arizona celebrate its centennial with a piece of Western history.
And along the way, railroad enthusiasts can get up close to the railroad workhorse that was replaced with the far less romantic diesel engine.
The train’s longest East Valley stop is in Gilbert, where volunteers with the Gilbert Museum have worked with Union Pacific since 2009 to have No. 844 pay a visit.
“In most places they’re stopping for about 15 minutes,” said Ann Wilson, one of the museum volunteers who worked on the visit. “I think because we started so early, they’ll be here an hour.”
The locomotive will arrive at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the east end of downtown, by the park-and-ride lot. People can’t board the train, but they can see the outside and several other vehicles including a passenger car. Other attractions include historical displays, Arizona’s Territorial Band, a farmers market and bounce houses for kids.
The locomotive’s roll through the Valley will be one of the few times a passenger car has ever been on what was always a freight line, Wilson said.
The visit is a reminder of the community’s roots, when landowner Frank Murphy was identifying where the railroad would be built in 1902.
“He bought land from Bobby Gilbert, named the spur the Gilbert Spur and eventually that became the town of Gilbert,” Wilson said.
During World War I, so much hay was shipped from that spur that the community was dubbed the Hay Capital of the World.
Union Pacific built a depot in 1905 that was demolished in 1965. Trains haven’t stopped there in at least 45 years, Wilson said.
After the Gilbert stop, the train will make a short stop in Tempe and a daylong one in Phoenix.
The locomotive was delivered in 1944 as a high-speed passenger engine, pulling trains that include the Overland Limited and the Los Angeles Limited. It was placed in freight service from 1957 to 1959 and saved from being scrapped in 1960 to be held for special service. The visit is part of a 32-day, 2,900-mile tour to commemorate the centennials of Arizona and New Mexico.
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