May 7 2012 by Sam Lowe
Many years ago, during my youth, the Soo Line Railroad tracks ran directly behind our house, so my brothers and I learned to tell time by the blasts from the old stream engines that belched across the North Dakota prairies. Taking the train to grandmother's house was a major adventure. When our dad got a job with the railroad, he'd let me ride in the caboose, where I'd sit up in the cupola and wave down to my pals. As I mentioned, that was a long time ago.
The encroachment of age has not stilled my love for trains. I seek them out whenever possible, even though much has changed. There are few passenger trains now, so tourist trains have become my focus. Over the years, I have ridden four of them. They don't quite match the excitement of a clickety-clackety ride to Grandma's, but they're enjoyable nonetheless.
Two great trains are in Arizona. The Grand Canyon Railway makes daily runs over tracks laid around 1900. Passengers board at Williams, then take a day-long trip through flatlands and pine forests before arriving at the Grand Canyon. The journey is enhanced by strolling musicians, changing scenery and fake train robberies. Original passenger service stopped in 1968 but was restored in 1989. It's about a 130-mile round trip. For information, log on to www.thetrain.com or call 1-800-843-8724.
The Verde Canyon Railway wanders along the Verde River from Clarkdale to Perkinsville, with ample time to shoot pictures and watch for bald eagles. The train crawls through a 680-foot tunnel and crosses a major bridge on its 20-mile, four-hour round trip. Those who want to see more can stay over at the BEST WESTERN Cottonwood Inn, less than three miles from the depot. For info, log on to www.verdecanyonrr.com or call 1-800-582-7245.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad's history is almost as interesting as the ride itself. It began in 1880 but went belly-up in 1967. Three years later, the states of Colorado and New Mexico bought the line and set up a bi-state commission to run it. Now, the train crosses state boundaries eleven times as it climbs 3,000 feet on the 64 miles between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado, along the Animas River in the lower Rocky Mountains. Need more info? Log on to www.cumbrestoltec.com or call 1-888-286-2737.
At the risk of being accused of being disloyal to my home state of Arizona, I liked the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad the best. It has breathtaking displays of waterfalls, sheer drop-offs and snow-capped peaks that appear as the train chugs through Colorado's San Juan Mountains. The train has been operating since 1880, and it still uses the old puffer-bellied engines, restored to meet state and federal emission rules. Details: www.durangotrain.com or call 970-247-2733.
There are many other similar rides across the nation and the world. I found several by logging on to www.excursiontrains.com.