A tunnel under the Rim is all that is left in the Payson area of the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad. This railroad was an ambitious plan that would have connected Flagstaff to Globe via this area, though variations through the years included many other destinations.
The Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad was organized in January of 1881. Its board of directors included John Hise, who was in Globe at the time, but later made an impact in Payson. Much of the driving idea behind the railroad was to connect Globe with the outside world. Initially, prior to 1881, the company had been formed as the Globe and Pinal Valley Railroad, but sights were soon set northward and the company reorganized.
Colonel James Ward Eddy was the driving force behind the railroad. Born in Java, New York in 1832 he studied law and was admitted to the bar in Chicago in 1855. He served in the Civil War and later served in the Illinois Legislature before coming west. He became President of the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad and led efforts to obtain financing.
By 1883 the railroad had finally gained some momentum. The June 9, 1883 Arizona Silver Belt shared text that had apparently been published in the Boston Herald shortly before. It states in part:
“The route of the Arizona Mineral Belt road as laid out, certainly promises very large earnings. It starts through a country in which timber is plentiful for a stretch of 60 miles, and then traverses for 100 miles or more a country where there is absolutely no timber at all, and where much timber is required in the mining camps and large towns through which it passes. It will cross a large coal area, which article is so requisite in a mining region where smelting works abound. It will also pass through the copper deposits of the country east of the Verde, and is within easy distance of a great many little valleys now being rapidly occupied by Mormon and Gentile farmers. It will run through the gold district of the East Verde, the silver regions of the Tonto, the agricultural lands of Salt river, and the silver, lead, gold and copper veins of the Globe district. Between the Mazatzal and the White mountains and Globe are many fine ranches, and it is known as one of the finest grazing districts in this country. There cannot be built in Arizona a north and south road offering fewer difficulties of construction, and none more promising of large earnings.”
By the latter part of the summer of 1883, a tunnel was being worked on at the base of the Mogollon Rim, the same tunnel that now exists as a destination point for many hikers. The August 18, 1883 Arizona Silver Belt says of the tunnel:
“The length of the main tunnel, upon which work is now being pushed, under the management of Capt. Wm. Tucker, who has 42 men employed, will be 3100 feet, and the width at the bottom 16 feet, which will allow a water way to be cut on either side of the road bed. … The formation through which the tunnel will pass, is a white and yellow sandstone, and consequently will be easily driven, and competent authority places the cost of the removal of the rock at $2.50 per cubic yard.”
A little less than a month later, on September 8, 1883, the Arizona Silver Belt reported that, “the approach to the tunnel and face is completed and in about 25 or 30 feet. The work is in sandstone and comparatively easy.”
The promising start on the tunnel soon stopped as funds ran out, though efforts to fund and build the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad continued. Eddy continued to search for funds and by the middle of 1886 efforts to build the railroad had picked up steam once again, this time in the form of a partnership with the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. As 1887 arrived, work was underway on the line near Flagstaff. Over 35 miles of the railroad would be completed before work came to a halt once again due to lack of funds.*
Soon after this, Eddy was finally out of the project after a struggle for control of the laid track occurred. Ultimately the Riordan family from Flagstaff led future efforts. However, only a small amount of the track layed near Flagstaff, about 12 miles, would ever be used, with the rest being sold off. The 12-mile stretch that remained was used by the Riordans for logging. Subsequent efforts to revive the railroad would fail, though there were occasional newspaper tidbits, such as this one from the October 13, 1898 Arizona Silver Belt that kept hope in the air.
“There is certainly a good opening here for mining men with money and energy, who are willing to take an even break for their money. The completion of the railroad to Globe it is expected will help this district and it would pay mining men who are visiting Globe, and who are looking for mine investments, to extend their trip to Payson, and look over the district.”
While the railroad never happened, the following statement from the April 19, 1900 Arizona Silver Belt Payson News column perhaps sums it up best.
“Railroad or no railroad, Payson with her mines of gold and copper, timber and water, cattle and goat industry is sure to get to the front.”
- When I say lack of funds, it’s really not that simple – there were some complications regarding shareholders and the arrangement with Atlantic & Pacific that was to deliver funds once this stretch of track that was built.