Excerpts from

Casa Grande & the Southern Pacific Railroad
by David F. Myrick

After lurching along the newly laid track, the train slowed and nodding passengers were awakened when the conductor yelled "Casa Grande." Pausing to catch his breath, he continued with "End of the line," a far more significant statement.

And so it was during most of 1879 and into the early part of next year. The Southern Pacific Railroad had built to the southeast comer of California and then a bridge over the Colorado River. No rails stretched across the bridge until the wee hours of September 30, 1877 when construction men surreptitiously laid rails across the span. A shrill locomotive whistle, rousing Yuma residents from their Sunday morning slumbers, announced the arrival of the first railroad in the Territory of Arizona.

This construction constituted a step in the formation of the second transcontinental railroad by the builders of the Central Pacific Railroad, the first transcontinental railroad, opened in 1869. The "Big Four," as the builders were known, consisted of Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford. Ambitious as they were, the Big Four recognized possible legislative barriers to their railroad in Arizona and prudently waited over a year before resuming work at Yuma. In the late fall of 1878, Crocker dispatched train loads of ties and rails to Yuma but progress hit a snag as the prospective Chinese workers "went on strike against going into Arizona," as Stanford wrote Huntington in New York. A $3.00 increase in monthly compensation to $23.00 enticed about 100 men to board the train at Oakland for Yuma but only after another $3.00 boost did Sisson, Wallace & Co., a labor contractor, fmd 800 more Chinese willing to venture to Arizona. Grading began in November, 1878 and track laying soon followed. Two months later, SP trains operated to Adonde, then Stanwix, Gila Bend, and Maricopa (Wells) following the route established by William Hood, the chief engineer remembered for his spectacular Tehachapi Loop enabling trains to continue to a summit in California.

A few weeks before opening the railroad to Maricopa April 28, 1879, James H. Stobridge, superintendent of construction, wrote Crocker saying he expected most of his track layers would quit after the next pay day as the temperatures in early April regularly stood at 90 degrees and even reached 100 one spring day.

Crocker went down to the end of the line and on his return to San Francisco on May 13 he promptly wired Huntington that track layers were 20 miles beyond Maricopa and that he had ordered construction to end 26 miles east of that point. Though Crocker did not mention that tools had become too hot to handle, the often-told story undoubtedly contributed to suspension of work. More controlling were the slow deliveries of rail from the Eastern rollingmills.

At first called "Bluewater," the railroad officials chose Casa Grande for the station at the end of the line, suggested by the ancient structure about 15 miles northeast. In view of the warm weather, it is interesting that the private SP telegraphic code word "Shine" represented Casa Grande.[...]

S. P. Extends Track to Tucson

Tombstone silver mines received greater attention after the Corbin mill turned out its first bar of silver in June, 1879. Crocker, recognizing the railroad. In a December letter to Huntington, he included the usual request for rails and added: "It is very important for us to build that road from Casa Grande, to the point on the San Pedro River opposite the Tombstone mines, as soon as possible.

Finally, with promises of rail deliveries from Albany and Rensselaer Iron and Steel Company of Troy, New York, Stobridge's forces resumed grading at Casa Grande on January 24, 1880. Tucson celebrated the arrival of the railroad on March 20; three months later, the SP reached Benson, the new town at the crossing of the San Pedro River which served as the railhead for Tombstone.

Better rail deliveries enabled track layers to continue eastward and trains entered Deming, New Mexico, December 15, 1880. The birth of the second transcontinental railroad occurred when Santa Fe, building south from Albuquerque, reached Deming March 7, 1881, to connect with Southern Pacific. This considerably shortened the distance from Casa Grande to Missouri River Gateways and also eased travel for those westbound for Southern California Some tarried in Casa Grande.[...]

New Passenger Trains to Chicago

Traffic over the SP-Santa Fe route through Deming faded with the opening of Santa Fe's Needles route to California. True, by using through cars on connecting railroads, patrons reached Chicago via the Sunset Route but it was a cumbersome choice. All that changed after February 1, 1902, when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and the predecessor of the El Paso and Southwestern met at Santa Rosa, New Mexico, thus forming the Golden State Route. That fall, the well-appointed Golden State Limited began operations between Chicago and California. Subsequently, two more trains, the Californian and the Apache, also served this route. The Sunset Limited became a daily train in 1902, and some years thereafter the Sunset Express, served local stations over the Sunset Route. While most Southern Pacific trains ground a halt at all but the smallest Arizona stations, the faster schedule of the Golden State Limited necessitated fewer stops. In the 251 miles between Yuma and Tucson, the Limited paused at only three points: an operating stop at Gila Bend for changing crews, a pause to Maricopa for the Phoenix connection, and an unexplained stop at Sentinel. Then possessing only a small population, trains whizzed by Casa Grande. Palm Springs, later a prominent California resort, fared no better at that time. Phoenix, first linked to the outside world by rail in 1887, secured its second railroad in 1895. For local citizens, having their city served by two branch lines was degrading and in June 1923, the front page of the Arizona Gazette carried the demand "Phoenix Must and Will have a Main Line Railroad." Through a series of circumstances, the citizens of Phoenix realized their goal and, beginning March 20, 1927, most of the SP passenger trains switched to the new line through Phoenix. For a time, as local train ran, originating in Phoenix, through Maricopa, Casa Grande, and Tucson on its way to and from Douglas.[...]

 

SUNDAY MORNING INFERNO DESTROYS DEPOT
by Tom W Phillips

That special peace belonging to Sunday mornings enveloped Casa Grande back on June 13, 1937, with churchgoers quietly preparing for attendance and Saturday-night revelers sleeping in. At the depot a train stood with the engine making intermittent, hollow panting sounds, and the steel rims on the wheels of mail and express wagons being pilled made grinding noises on the paving to disturb the morning serenity.

It was shortly after 9:00 a.m. when Hulda Elliot boarded one of the coaches for the trip to Tucson to visit a sick friend; as she settled herself into a seat she heard a loud blast as an oil stove used for cooking exploded in the upper story of the depot occupied by the family of D. E. Hall, night operator. Looking out of the train window, Hulda saw the flames quickly licking through the tinder-dry timbers of the 50-year-old building. If the wind was right and the depot burned, her home and a house she rented out to tenants just across the street to the south might go up in flames and she would lose everything she owned. But signals were being given to get the train moving and she would have to make a quick decision to either get off the train and try to save her home or to continue her journey of mercy. Hulda was a fatalist and decided that nothing she could do would matter, and she kept her seat. It was just as well, because a gentle but steady breeze was pushing the flames toward the business block across the street on the north side.[...]

 

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