Mine Tales: Mining railroads overcame obstacles – by William Ascarza (Arizona Daily Star – August 3, 2014)


William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at mining@tucson.com

Created in 1910, the Tucson-Nogales Railroad supplemented a line established 20 years prior between Nogales and Guaymas.

At an elevation of 4,613 feet, Dragoon Railroad station — the highest point on the Southern Pacific line between Los Angeles and El Paso — also served as the junction of the Johnson, Dragoon and Northern Railroad.

The railroad supplanted the freight wagon and stagecoach as did its method of power generation. Steam, electric and diesel locomotives were employed in Arizona history for mining, passenger transport and irrigation projects for agriculture.

Standard, narrow and baby railroad gauges used at the mines in Arizona were based upon the width of the track: standard gauge (56ƒ inches), narrow gauge (less than 56ƒ inches) and baby gauge (20 inches). Standard-gauge railroads in Arizona became dominant in the early 20th century, though many narrow gauge railroads continued to service the mines.

Challenges facing railroads included rockslides, floods, Indian raids and steep gradients. In 1910, the Arizona Eastern Railroad connected the eight miles between Winkelman and Christmas. It proved challenging, requiring drilling a 979-foot tunnel through solid granite, with costs averaging $100,000 per mile.

A plethora of railroad operations existed at Clifton and Morenci in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Arizona’s first narrow gauge railroad operated along Chase Creek above Clifton. The Coronado Railroad, built in 1880 and converted from 20- to 36-inch guage by 1902, connected the Metcalf mines, including the Longfellow Mine incline to the Clifton smelter until it was decommissioned in 1922.

About 71 miles away, the Arizona and New Mexico Railway in 1883 added a Southern Pacific junction at Lordsburg, opening the Copper Mountain mining district by rail to the outside world. The railroad imported coal and coke for the Clifton smelter while exporting copper bars from the Arizona Copper Co. and Detroit Copper Mining Co.

The Detroit Copper Mining Co., by then a subsidiary of Phelps Dodge Corp., built a line, the Morenci Southern Railway, in 1901.

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