The California Zephyr was a passenger train that ran between Chicago and Oakland, California, from 1949 to 1970 and was once called “the most talked about train in America.”
Today, the passenger cars and other equipment that made up the California Zephyr are scattered across the country. Some are still part of operating trains, but others are in museums or held by private owners.
One piece of the Zephyr, the Silver Horizon dome car, has been in Maricopa since 2000. The 85-foot-long, stainless steel car was built in 1948. Only seven were ever made.
In January, to avoid State Route 347 overpass construction, the Zephyr had to be moved from its location next to the Amtrak train station. Two large cranes picked up the rail car and placed it on an oversized tractor-trailer for the three-tenths-of-a-mile ride southeast on the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.
Now the rail car is in the process of being rehabilitated so that it can serve as a welcome and visitors center for the city of Maricopa, said Paul Shirk, president of the Maricopa Historical Society. Shirk said it will be open to the public again soon, maybe before the end of June.
The city is planning a new public library near its Civic Center complex. When that’s complete (plans call for the end of 2020) the Maricopa Veterans Center will move from its current location on property next to the Zephyr to the old library building at 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road. The current veterans center will become part of the Zephyr welcome center, allowing for more space for historical displays. The city is planning a park around the area, Shirk said.
Shirk said early settlers and explorers such as Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and Native Americans will be featured. Exhibits will change and rotate.
“It will focus on local and southern Arizona history, the diverse people in the area who have much history along the way,” he said.
Toward the end of the last century, the Zephyr car was sitting in a boneyard in California until Hollywood called. Filmmakers used it in the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor.” After filming, Amtrak restored the car as a ticket office and brought it to Maricopa before the city’s incorporation. It served as the Amtrak ticket station from 2001 until the current station was finished next to it in 2003. Afterward, it stayed next to the Amtrak station, where State Route 347 and the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway come together. In 2017 Pinal County sold the car to the Maricopa Historical Society for $1. Shirk found a $1 bill with the series date of 1948, the same year the rail car was built, to pay for it.
“We all like history, but we like having fun with history,” Shirk said at the time.
Said Mayor Christian Price at the time, “the Silver Horizon means a tremendous amount to this city, and we are excited to have it in its new permanent home.” | PW