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Repairs bringing historic train car in Maricopa back to its glory days
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MARICOPA — Repairs on the historic rail car that has been greeting drivers coming into Maricopa from Casa Grande doesn’t have a completion date yet, but they’re chugging along.

Dorothy Charles, a member of the Maricopa Historical Society, which has been taking care of the California Zephyr car, gave an update on what needs to be fixed.

Most of the windows are now replaced, though about three to five need to be fixed and should arrive back in a couple weeks to be put in. The windows come from a company in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The windows are made from plexiglass. This is a hard material to come by in the pandemic since it is frequently used as a protective barrier.

The interior of the car needs cleaning and the air conditioning needs to be repaired.

The lighting in the car was changed to be more efficient. An electrician came out and inspected the system. There will need to be new attachments going into the car.

The floor will be redone with carpet. Volunteers are trying to decide on what to do with the area by the dome — whether to put in chairs or leave it as it is.

The exterior of the car will be made shiny. Charles said they’re working with some people to get the outside of the car done before it is reopened.

She feels from the society standpoint the most important part of the history of the car is the transportation aspect. The Zephyr train went through Maricopa a few times or so on its route.

“It represents transportation, which was a major reason that Maricopa is here,” she said.

Maricopa Wells was to the north and the community moved south because of the railroad. About where APEX Motor Club is located west of the current city is where the settlement of Maricopaville used to be.

Because of the location of the Gila River, the junction railroad tracks moved 5 miles to where Maricopa Junction was then located. This route was closed in the 1930s since there was another branch route. The town then came to be called just Maricopa.

She said all the locations for the town have been called Maricopa at one time or another by people or on maps as an abbreviation.

“I’d say it’s important because it was, although for a brief time, a depot and because it is an icon,” Charles said. “It’s something that catches people’s eyes as they’re driving down the road, so hopefully that’ll draw people in.”

She said the society will be able to have displays inside the car on the history of Maricopa and on transportation and how it’s important to Maricopa. They haven’t finalized anything yet on what will go on the inside, but those are some ideas they’ve talked about.

“We don’t want to plan too much for it because whatever the public wants we’ll try to do,” she said.

There isn’t a set date for the car to be completed yet.

The car used to be parked at the Amtrak depot, but when the new overpass was built it had to be moved to make room. The cement area where the car used to sit is still at the depot.

Silver Horizon, California Zephyr

On March 20, 1949, the California Zephyr train was inaugurated. It was built by the Budd Company in 1948. The train ran for over 20 years.

It was built with three dome coaches and a dome buffet lounge. It had a diner and sleeper too. The “signature car” for the whole train was the dome observation lounge.

There are seven of these cars with the names Silver Horizon, Silver Penthouse, Silver Solarium, Silver Lookout, Silver Sky, Silver Crescent and Silver Planet.

Each car had three double bedrooms, dome and observation seating for 50 Pullman passengers and a drawing room with a private shower.

This train was made for sightseeing rather than basic transportation. The route covered 2,525 miles and took about two and a half days to complete.

These train trips were planned so people could see the beautiful scenery during the day and pass through the desert and Plains states during the night.

In 1962, the train started to become a financial liability. Rail transportation was slowly going down. Airplanes and buses were a faster and cheaper way to travel.

The Silver Horizon was renumbered multiple times — each time it was sold. In 1990, the car was moved to San Antonio and gutted for a planned rebuild. The car didn’t get completed but was sold to Les Kasten during 1991.

Kasten took the car to Illinois Transit Assembly, where it was stored. It was sold in 1998 to be rebuilt for the Maricopa-Phoenix “remote,” Amtrak station.

In 2001, the car was moved to Maricopa to be used as a ticket office for Amtrak. In 2010, it was moved to its current location.

A fun fact about the Silver Horizon car is that it starred in the movie “Pearl Harbor.”