A Trip Through Time

Globe’s Copper Spike excursion offers unique slice of history

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From the upper deck of the 1954 dome car, 66 passengers settle in quietly among rows of blue and white booths. Waiters in white coats and bow ties busily take orders as the conductor mingles, briefly pointing out details of the refurbished car. With its walls of wrap-around windows, it is hard not to find yourself glancing out and then back in. All of sudden a slight jerk jars you out of a sense of reverie as the world outside slowly slips away.

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Photos by Tom Brossart

Photos by Tom Brossart Volunteers helped restore the 1916 Arizona Eastern Railway passenger lobby to its former glory..

On this ride, it isn’t the scenery that grabs you; it is the history of the train and how a railway put Globe on the map.

Through the early 1900s, rail travel transformed Globe from a small, dusty town into a major mining stop on the transcontinental highway from New Orleans to Los Angeles.

As one historian puts it, “it brought the world to Globe.”

Exotic foods, fashion and wealth all streamed in as sliver and copper poured out.

The two-hour Copper Spike excursion offers visitors a chance to settle back into the pace of the early 1900s and explore the golden age of rail travel.

The ride joins a small list of Arizona rail trips. While it does not have the bald eagles of the Verde Valley or the scenery of the Grand Canyon Railway, it offers a unique slice of history. Like a time capsule, perfectly sealed in all its glory.

From tip to toe, the train is a wonder to the eyes. From the 1953 E-8 diesel locomotive painted in black widow colors to the 1918 Mardi Gras club car.

Geared for a maximum speed of 85 mph, the train never inches above 20 mph as it meanders through historic Broad Street, by the Old Dominion mine site, past homesteads and out to the Apache Gold Casino.

While speed isn’t the name of the game, authenticity is.

“This is a vintage experience of the golden age,” said Kip Culver, director of the Globe Historic Main Street Program and stationmaster.

Even before boarding the two-car commuter train, visitors literally step back in time when entering the newly renovated train depot. With painstaking detail, organizers restored the 1916 Arizona Eastern Railway passenger lobby to its former glory. From a painted compass rose on the ceiling to the ticket windows, everything is as it was.

You wouldn’t know it, but the station once hid under coats of lime green paint and rows of washing machines and dryers as a Laundromat. Growing up in Globe, Culver said he dreamed of the day he could help restore it.

Starting in 2005, volunteers renovated a nearby freight office into a museum and in 2007, the lobby. Using grants and volunteer labor, the town came together and worked on both projects. Once it had a station, the town went to find a train.

At first, an electric car was leased for short stints, but then the Arizona Eastern Railway decided to add the Copper Spike excursion tour, which runs Thursday through Sunday in the winter. In the summertime, the cars are shipped back to Colorado where they run on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad.

Adding the train trips has been a huge boost to the downtown, Culver said.

“It has brought back excitement,” he said to the area. “People come up and stay, ride, shop and that is the beauty of it.”

Back in the early 1900s, Globe was booming. With mines roaring in full force, prospectors and travelers poured through the region. When the railway finally came through in December of 1898, an article proclaimed “capital from the east would pour in and bullion would pour out and there was prosperity for all.”

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Tom Brossart photo

The view from the Mardi Gras car lets passengers know where they have been.

Nevertheless, that is enough history for now, the conductor is shouting, “All aboard.”

After getting your ticket clipped, riders have the choice of sitting in the dome or the Mardi Gras cars.

If eating, head up a narrow flight of stairs to the window-lit dome. Today’s conductor, Steve Torrico, who is also the manager of operations, said the real star of the show is the car itself. Despite what you see rolling by outside, Torrico wants you to look in.

In its third season in Globe, this is the first time food service is being offered.

Adding food, Torrico found, brings the attention back into the car.

Torrico who designed the menu, tried to keep everything close to the standard of the South Pacific Coast Railway dining car service.

Old-time music plays while waiters wearing white coats and bow ties take orders. The tables are covered with white linens and vases with a single carnation. Even some of the food is traditional, including a family-style salad.

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Tom Brossart photo

What once was a Laundromat is now a destination for rail enthusiasts.

“Everything is just like it would have been,” he said. “It takes you back to that time.”

Torrico’s greatest reward is when someone who rode the rails during that time tells him how genuine the ride is today.

“When that happens, it makes it all worth it.”

The only thing a little off today is the dress of most passengers.

“Back in those days, everyone dressed up,” Torrico said. “Men always had a tie on and a hat.”

Back to the train, the dome car was built in 1954 for the Santa Fe Railway and used on long-distance rides. Upstairs is seating for 66 while the lower level has seating for 22 and a small kitchen. Originally, passengers would rotate to the lower level when they wanted to eat and upstairs to lounge. Today, the lower level is used entirely for food prep.

Pulling up the rear is the Mardi Gras car. Originally a day coach for the Illinois Central Railway, the car has gone through a few uses in its lifetime. In 1947, it was converted to a club car and a round end was added. The car ran from Chicago to New Orleans. Many passengers continued from there, taking a boat to the Panama Canal. From there, the car traded hands before ending up in a museum, where it was purchased last year.

With its wood-paneled walls, central bar and plenty of lounge seating, the car is a perfect place to relax with a drink.

When people get on a train, Torrico explained, they do three things: eat, sleep and look out.

On the Copper Spike, you may find yourself doing all three. With its slow speed and gentle rocking motion, it is easy to drift off after lunch or dinner service.

Back in the Mardi Gras car, while several people dozed, a group of friends laughed over their glasses of wine. One woman, from Cleveland, said the refurbished train was one of the best.

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Tom Brossart photo

The dome car provides a great place to view the countryside.

With a last chug, the train came to a gentle stop back in Globe. Friends, families and couples filed off, back to their modern, often-busy lives. But for two fleeting hours, they rode a piece of American history.

For more information on the train, visit www.copperspike.com. Thursday though Sunday, the train runs at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. from the depot, at 230 S. Broad Street. On Friday and Saturday, a dinner train departs at 6 p.m.

Daytime cost for adults is $18, $15 for seniors and $12 for children. The dinner train is $50 a person.

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