If you love the Old West, trains pulled by steam engines, or more importantly, both, get ready for some good news.
The Grand Canyon Railway has announced its steam engine will pull trains at 9:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month from March through October 2022, as well as on February 21 (President’s Day), April 22 (Earth Day), and September 17 (the anniversary of the Grand Canyon Railway).
The trains will leave the train depot in Williams, Arizona, and arrive at the Grand Canyon train depot on the park’s South Rim. Later in the day, the trains will make the reverse trip back to Williams.
“One place where romantics, rail enthusiasts, and younger generations can hear, see, smell, and feel the majesty of the Iron Horse is on the Grand Canyon Railway,” Grand Canyon Railway told TravelAwaits. “Of the more than 30,000 steam engines originally built in the United States, fewer than 200 survive today. Only a few are still running, and even fewer run on everyday passenger railroads because most run on museum lines.”
The Steam Engine Returns
Grand Canyon Railway runs a number of all-diesel locomotives. However, the decision was made in 2009 to convert steam locomotive engines No. 4960 and No. 29 to burn nearly carbon-neutral waste vegetable oil.
No. 4960, which will pull the 9:30 a.m. trains on the first Saturday of the month, was built in 1923 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. It was then used extensively by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q RR) to haul iron ore and other freight.
“Retired from CB&Q RR in 1960, it pulled excursion trains, museum trains, and circus trains throughout Wisconsin and other mid-western states until the early 1970’s, when it was put on static display. Grand Canyon Railway purchased No. 4960 in 1989, and then in 1996 the locomotive underwent one of the most extensive rebuilding and restoration projects in modern history, converting it from a coal-burner to burn diesel as fuel,” Grand Canyon Railway explains.
“Further modifications were made to No. 4960 in 2009 as Grand Canyon Railway converted it to run on recycled waste vegetable oil,” Grand Canyon Railway continues. “Since 2009, No. 4960 has served as the backbone of our steam fleet, powering all of our steam excursions and round-trip trains to Grand Canyon. Due to its popularity, No. 4960 has taken its place as an icon among operational steam locomotives in the United States.”
About now, you may be wondering about the train’s various cars. Grand Canyon Railway explains that “our crew works to maintain the original look of the rail cars, showcasing rail travel’s rich and diverse history.”
A Taste Of The Old West
Each day’s journey begins at the historic Williams Depot, which was built in 1908 by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.
“Each morning before the train leaves, the Cataract Creek Gang and the Town Marshal square off at the Williams Depot,” Grand Canyon Railway explains. “Then later in the day, don’t be surprised if those cowboys are up to their shenanigans… they’ve been known to try a train robbery or two in their day.”
Live cowboy musicians also troll the train during the trip. Those musicians play the fiddle, guitar, banjo, or squeezebox.
You’ll be able to see the Old West out the train window as well. The journey through what’s called Grand Canyon Country offers views of the Ponderosa pine forest around Williams, then the wide-open prairie, and finally Pinion pine forests as the train approaches Grand Canyon National Park. Along the way, travelers may see elk, mountain lions, mule deer, squirrels, pronghorn, and bald eagles.
As the 2 hour and 15-minute journey ends, the train will arrive at the Grand Canyon Depot, which is part of the Grand Canyon National Park Historic District and is a National Historic Landmark.
“The building is one of approximately 14 log depots known to have been constructed in the United States, and one of only three remaining. Of the three, the Grand Canyon Depot is the only one in which logs were used as the primary structural material and which still serves an operating railroad,” Grand Canyon Railway explains. “The depot’s logs are squared on three sides, creating bearing surfaces, flat interior surfaces, and a rustic exterior appearance.”
Travelers then have three hours to explore the Grand Canyon’s South Rim before the train departs for Williams.
Know Before You Go
For more on exciting train trips, be sure to read Luxury Canadian Train Experience Offering Free Upgrades For 2022 Trips as well as the rest of our Rail coverage, including: