A mural on the side of a building in Needles depicts this Santa Fe "War Bonnet" locomotive paint scheme on a covered wagon (A General Motors built F7A unit).
Anthony Bourdain, an American chef and television personality, has hosted several television documentaries describing various locations in the world. One of these included a portion of America's Route 66, the so called mother road. While he focused on sights and food along the route he totally missed the old Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF) Railway which parallels Route 66 for part of the way. This web presentation aims to correct that oversight with the following:
In the early 1900's the American Federal government felt the need for a national highway, so in 1927 the National Highway System was formed. People from eight states formed a Route 66 Highway Association to expedite the construction of their highway. By 1937, Route 66 was completely paved from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois. Now known as Historic Route 66 the longest remaining section in Arizona lies between Topock, in the west, and Ash Fork to the east. * See this Arizona Route 66 map.
Early Railway History
In 1866 the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (A&P) gained a charter to construct a line from Springfield, Missouri to San Diego, California. The American federal government granted a 200 foot right-of-way and sections of land along the route through the Arizona and New Mexico territories.
Ten years later the A&P had laid just 351 miles of track in Missouri and the territories only to become bankrupt. The St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad (SL&SF), known as the "Frisco", took over the A&P holdings coming close to bankruptcy itself.
Next came the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF). This railroad actually began seven years earlier in Kansas prior to the charter of the A&P. ATSF's original charter covered only the distance between Missouri and Topeka, Kansas, but the railway had a grand vision of expansion to the west. By 1863 ATSF had coaxed a grant of 3 million acres of land from President Abraham Lincoln to complete a railway in the direction of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In 1876 the ATSF reached Pueblo, Colorado. In 1878 they crossed the New Mexico border. And in 1880 Santa Fe, New Mexico, was reached.
However, ATSF still looked westward. Its charter terminated at Albuquerque but the A&P had a charter reaching the Colorado River and beyond. ATSF found a solution to its interests in an agreement whereby they purchased a half interest in A&P so they could make use of the A&P charter to extend their reach through the rest of New Mexico and Arizona.
In 1880 Lewis Kingman carried out a survey for the route from New Mexico to Needles while construction started at Albuquerque at the same time.
By summer 1881 two thousand men were labouring in Arizona preparing the right-of-way for rails. 550 foot wide Diablo Canyon (between Winslow and Flagstaff) caused a major delay in progressing west as the prefabricated steel bridge built for the crossing turned out to be too short. The corrections were made and the bridge was finally completed in 1882.
In 1883 work commenced on a wooden trestle over the Colorado River near Needles. The river flooded wiping out the nearly completed bridge forcing a month's wait while it all dried out enough to return to work. On 3 Aug 1883 the bridge was completed and the A&P charter was thereby fulfilled.
Over the following years the ATSF was well managed and very profitable. In fact so much so that other railways began to take notice. A bidding war for acquisition of the ATSF commenced between Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern (BN). BN won, so in 1996 ATSF and BN merged to form the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF).
The Seligman Subdivision
Using very large steam locomotives the Santa Fe railway had climbed its way over the Arizona summit from Needles, California, in the west to Winslow, Arizona, in the east. Small mementos of the Santa Fe still pop up as you travel along Route 66, murals depicting Santa Fe F7A covered wagons (General Motors A units) in the "War Bonnet" livery, bright red cabooses bearing the Santa Fe logo, ATSF refrigerator cars, and a steel water tank with the famous Santa Fe logo, not to mention various girder bridges still labeled Santa Fe, gone but not forgotten it seems.
The old Santa Fe route is virtually the same (except for the Crookton Cutoff) but the railroad is now known as the Seligman Subdivision (Sub) of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). For this article our tour of the Sub begins in the west at Needles, California, following the tracks east to Flagstaff, Arizona. The eastern end of the Seligman Sub is located at Winslow, Arizona, a total distance of 293.5 miles from Needles. Shortly after leaving Needles the double tracks of the Sub begin an ascent to a summit at an elevation of 7,322 feet between Williams and Flagstaff, approximately 235 miles from Needles. From this point east it's downgrade all the way into Winslow. As the main east/west railroad route between Los Angeles and Chicago these tracks can see 60 to 70 trains per day. However, be aware of Two Train Tuesday, traffic on Tuesdays is reduced to permit maintenance along the lines.
Seligman Subdivision Route Map
Seligman Subdivision Grade Chart
Along the Sub
Needles - We'll start this brief tour of the Seligman Sub at the west end in Needles, California, a crew change point, work our way eastwards terminating at Flagstaff, Arizona. However, Winslow, Arizona, is the actual eastern end point of the Sub. Needles lies on the west side of the Colorado River which marks the boundary between California and Arizona. The town lies within the boundaries of the Mojave Desert where temperatures can reach as much as 52 degrees Celsius during the summer and -7 C during winter. The city is named for a group of pointed rocks lying on the Arizona side of the river.
Topock Bay - The railway crosses the Colorado River on a long steel truss and girder span near Topock Bay. Interstate Highway 40 (I-40) also crosses just to the south of the railway bridge. Further to the south the original Route 66 bridge, coloured bright white, carries a Texas to San Francisco gas line across the river. The area is a popular boating area with several marinas. The state boundary, in the center of the river, marks a time zone change from Pacific to Mountain time.
Happy Jack Wash - The railway most likely has a different name for this location but the wash is reachable from Happy Jack Road which is 3 1/2 miles south of Yucca at Exit 25 on I-40. The desert is bare and rocky with little habitation nearby but the dirt access road is passable, when it's dry.
Kingman - This is a fair sized city with a population of about 30,000 located northeast but close to Kingman Canyon. The city is named for Lewis Kingman who surveyed the original Atlantic & Pacific Railroad's right-of-way between Needles and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Seligman Sub uses Kingman Canyon to cut through the Hualapi Mountain range to gain access to flatter terrain east of the city. The main line is double-tracked but separated into a north and south track as it traverses the Canyon. It appears to be a popular location for railfans with endless photo opportunities. Kingman depot has daily service by Amtrak's "Southwest Chief". The station is constructed in Mission Revival Style architecture, completely renovated in 2010, it contains a model railroad museum.
Antares - Departing Kingman eastbound the track is perfectly straight until hitting the first curve at Antares. Compared to Valentine this place is a metropolis with maybe two dozen houses north of Route 66. The terrain is still relatively flat but low hills begin to appear as one travels eastward.
Hackberry - Unincorporated... a former mining town now a ghost town. Aside from the Hackberry General Store beside Route 66 with a couple of rusty old cars and some vintage gas pumps that's about all there is to see here.
Valentine - Population 36, but that was in the year 2000. Not much left now except the abandoned Indian school, and a few buildings, the post office is long gone. The post mistress was murdered during a robbery in 1990. Her grief stricken husband, who owned the building, bulldozed it and left town. A signal bridge labeled East Valentine is located over the double track slightly west of the crossover switches.
Crozier - There's not much to distinguish Crozier except for the railway's small black girder bridge over a dry wash on the south side of the highway. A dirt road parallels Route 66 then dives under the girder bridge leading to the west end of Crozier Canyon. The road is nearly impassible in the dry season so when it's wet, forget it, you're not driving into the Canyon. By now you must be beginning to appreciate the country Route 66 covers. Empty, hilly, rocky, sagebrush, sparse vegetation with stunted trees and cactuses, but no Saguaro.
Yampai - Hyde Park Road leads south off Route 66 to Yampai. The double track main line is slightly separated at Yampai and there is a double ended siding located here. The place is sometimes called Yampai Divide but it is only a minor summit, at 5,600 feet, as the true railway summit between Needles and Winslow lies about a hundred miles east of here. The two railway grade signals, 4512 and 4514, are just a few feet west of the actual divide.
Fort Rock Road - This minor road intersects Route 66 slightly west of Seligman. The grade crossing there is located at milepost 431.67 of the Seligman Sub. We know this because the signal bungalow is labeled as such.
Seligman - Have you seen the Pixar movie "Cars"? The movie's cartoon town of Radiator Springs was loosely based on Seligman, another useless but interesting fact. However, Seligman can boast of the Roadkill Cafe, "You kill it, we grill it", with its interesting menu choices such as Thumper on a Bumper, Chunk of Skunk, Shake N' Bake Snake, Flat Cat, Smear of Deer, and everyone's favourite, Pavement Possum. Today the railway pretty much whistles past on the south side of town along with the traffic on Interstate 40 to the south of that. There are a couple of sidings and a wye within town limits.
Crookton Cutoff - * See this map. At Crookton, Route 66 and the railway go their separate ways. Route 66 continues east towards a junction with Interstate 40 and Ash Fork. The abandoned right-of-way may be seen from I-40. The current tracks, known as the Crookton Cutoff, head northeast into the hills and plateaus for approximately 40 miles to reach Williams. Looking at a map makes one wonder why it is called a cutoff as it appears to be a much longer route to Williams.
Ash Fork - About the only good thing to say about Ash Fork is that it has a tall steel water tank labeled with the Santa Fe logo. Tracks that pass through town belong to the Phoenix Sub, named the Peavine for some unfathomable reason or other. Trackage here was originally on the abandoned main line right-of-way, pre-Crookton Cutoff construction. The dusty yard tracks are used as a crew change point.
Williams - This map may make the railway junctions at Williams and Williams Junction more clear for the reader. Williams is an interesting little town surrounded by low hills and pine forest which lie at the southern end of the Grand Canyon Railway (GCRY). The GCRY has its headquarters, shops, and a large station located here. This tourist railway connects Williams to the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim 65 miles to the north. Their trains are mainly diesel powered but steam locomotives run special excursions on certain occasions. The GCRY also has a junction with the Phoenix Sub which passes through the center of Williams. Amtrak's "Southwest Chief", which travels between Los Angeles and Chicago, stops at Williams Junction. BNSF trains on the Phoenix Sub generally just whistle right through town.
Williams Junction - This is the junction between the Seligman Sub and the Phoenix Sub. The junction lies in the pine forest 3 railway miles east of Williams station. What I find strange is that traffic coming north off the Phoenix Sub can only flow east onto the Seligman Sub. Checking the maps and Google's satellite photo there doesn't appear to be a route west onto the Seligman Sub.
Flagstaff - A city of about 70,000 Flagstaff lies at an elevation of 7,000 feet surrounded by a Ponderosa Pine forest. One more interesting but useless fact for you... the Mount Lowell Observatory is located on a hill overlooking the city where the planet Pluto was first discovered with their telescope. The Seligman Sub runs east and west through the city which has two depots, the larger being constructed in 1926, is the Amtrak stop, information center, and gift shop. The other smaller depot to the east, constructed for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad in 1886, is used strictly by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe for their own purposes.
This is as far east as this article covers. The Seligman Sub continues past Flagstaff and terminates at Winslow, Arizona, another 52 miles.