(This contribution is from Mike Anderson, Bisbee Historian, who earlier wrote our stories about the Bisbee Influenza of 1918 and the Bisbee Deportation)
This is the final part of a three-part series. You will find Part I of the Railroad series here. You can find Part II of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad here. [—ATOC—]
The EP & SW Passenger Service
At its height, the EP & SW ran 4 passenger trains and a variable number of mixed “local” passenger/freight trains and pure freight trains daily. Much of the freight traffic was generated by Phelps Dodge. The daytime passenger trains, called the “Southwestern Flyer”, included first-class coaches and observation parlor-café cars, where passengers could dine a la carte as they watched the passing scenery. That train took a side trip to Clifton and Morenci from Hachita through Lordsburg, returning on the same line to Hachita before resuming its trip to Benson.
The night passenger trains, known as the “Drummers’ Special” included coach class and drawing-room sleeping cars, as well as a Parlor Café car. Both day and night trains also included smoking cars, mail and baggage cars.
Local trains were usually made up of freight cars with an attached coach car or two. All of the EP & SW trains were pulled by a single steam locomotive, which had to stop to refill its large water tank every 40 miles or so. Train crews consisted of an engineer, fireman, two or three brakeman and a conductor, who was responsible for the train, its cargo, passengers and crew.
Passenger trains had additional crew members (chefs, waiters and car attendants) to serve the needs of the passengers. Crews would be swapped out at specified stops along the line, staying over at contracted hotels.
Dining parlor cars provided casual dining with food prepared in a modern, stainless steel kitchen. Later luxury trains provided formal dining with multi-course meals and, after prohibition ended, a fully-stocked bar.
As the principal carriers of freight and passengers in the first half of the 20th Century, railroads were major participants in important historical events. The EP & SW was no exception. Several of those events are described here.
Baseball Around The World
At the end of the 1913 baseball season, two major league teams – Charlie Comiskey’s Chicago White Sox of the American League and John McGraw’s National League New York Giants – set out to tour the world by passenger train and steamship, seeing the sights, generating publicity for America’s “national game” and spreading the gospel of baseball, as well as making money for the two team owners. Starting from Cincinnati, OH (the birthplace of professional baseball), they traveled across the country, playing exhibition games in a number of towns that had successfully bid for the right to host them.
A number of the Giants and White Sox players, thinking of what had happened to the passengers and crew of the Titanic just a year and a half before, balked at the idea. Their spots on the rosters were filled by stars from other teams who lacked such concerns, A number of future inductees into Baseball’s Hall of Fame ended up taking the trip around the world.
On November 5, 1913, the two teams and the others traveling with them on the tour left El Paso, heading west across southern New Mexico on the EP & SW line. Their destination was Douglas, where they played the first-ever game in Arizona between major league teams, the following day at Sportsman’s Park.
On November 7 the Tourists traveled to Bisbee, where they played an exhibition game before a standing-room-only crowd at Warren Ballpark. On the field that day were six future Hall of Famers: New York Giants manager John McGraw, National League umpire Bill Klem, White Sox spitball pitcher Red Faber, outfielders Tris Speaker (Boston Red Sox) and Sam Crawford (Detroit Tigers), and Chicago White Sox catcher Ray Schalk. Also playing for the Giants that day in center field was 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon gold medal winner Jim Thorpe, who hit a home run over Warren Ballpark’s center field fence.
The Tourists (as they were nicknamed by the press) then traveled to the west coast before sailing across the Pacific Ocean to Yokohama, Japan. They visited four continents (Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe), playing a series of games before kings, a tea-growing tycoon (Sir Thomas Lipton), assorted lesser dignitaries and other curious spectators, before returning to the U.S. on the Lusitania (which would be sunk by a German submarine in 1915) in early 1914.
The Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution, which started in 1910, had morphed into a bloody civil war between rival revolutionary factions by 1915. Former cattle rustler, bandit and current commander of the Division of the North, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, was allied with Emilio Zapata in the more “radical” faction, while the conservative faction was led by Venustiano Carranza and his allies. Villa’s forces had been badly defeated in April 1915 by the Carranzistas at the battle of Celaya.
By October 1915, Villa controlled only the state of Chihuahua and a few other pockets in the north. He decided to recoup his losses by attacking a weak Carrancista garrison stationed at Agua Prieta, Sonora, which was commanded by future Mexican president Plutarco Elias Calles. After moving with great difficulty across the Sierra Madre Occidental, Villa hoped to quickly crush the outnumbered Carrancistas, who were unable to receive reinforcements from eastern Mexico because Villa’s troops controlled the railroads passing through Chihuahua.
It appeared to most observers that Pancho Villa had the Agua Prieta garrison firmly in checkmate. But unbeknownst to him, the rules of the game had been changed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the directors of several American railroads, including the EP & SW.
As Villa’s army approached Agua Prieta, Wilson announced formal U.S. recognition of the Carranza, isolating Villa diplomatically, damaging his prestige and cutting off U.S. as a source for munitions and other supplies. Then, Wilson added injury to insult by authorizing the transportation of nine trainloads of Carranzista troops and military equipment traveling on rail lines from northeastern Mexico, bypassing Chihuahua and entering Texas across the Rio Grande.
The Mexican troop trains passed through El Paso to Douglas on the EP & SW line and then crossed over into Agua Prieta. On November 1, Villa launched a night assault on the reinforced Agua Prieta garrison and was repulsed with heavy losses. It was the beginning of the end for Villa, who vowed to exact revenge on the U.S.
Villa chose Columbus, NM, an EP & SW rail stop located four miles north of the Chihuahua border, as the target for his vengeance. On March 9, 1916, several hundred Villistas attacked the town, destroying part of it and killing 18 Americans before fleeing south. Villa and his band were chased all over Chihuahua by the American Punitive Expedition led by Gen. John J. Pershing, but he was never captured. During the Punitive Expedition’s foray into Mexico, the EP & SW line served as an important segment of the supply line for American forces.
The Bisbee Deportation
On June 26, 1917, copper miners in Bisbee organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), went on strike, demanding higher pay for Mexican workers and improved safety conditions. On July 12, vigilantes acting at the behest of the copper mine operators in Bisbee kidnapped the strikers and other “undesirables” at gunpoint, forced 1,186 of them into EP & SW cattle cars, and shipped them from Warren Ballpark to Columbus NM, in the event that would become known as the Bisbee Deportation.
The train was turned away at Columbus by village officials and the men were finally unloaded at the Hermanas siding some 20 miles to the west. Although hundreds of the vigilantes were identified by their victims and charged with kidnapping, only one stood trial and he was subsequently acquitted. Several high-ranking officials of the EP & SW among the vigilantes were arrested, as were other railroad employees who also took part in the action.
Although none of the vigilantes were convicted for their participation in the Bisbee Deportation, hundreds of the deported men signed on to the class-action lawsuit filed on their behalf by lawyers hired by the IWW. The lawsuit, titled “Simmons v. EP & SW Railroad” et al, was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
The EP & SW continued to operate until November 1924, when it was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Employees, rolling stock, equipment, facilities and rail lines were immediately absorbed into the S.P. system. The EP & SW route between Tucson and El Paso became known as the Southern Pacific’s “South Line” and remained in use until the early 1960s. Among the luxury passenger trains that operated over the South Line under the Southern Pacific were the Golden State Limited and the Sunset Limited.
Falling demand for freight services and a drastic drop in passenger travel led the Southern Pacific to abandon the South Line in early 1962. In the following years, the track between El Paso and Douglas was removed and most of the railroad buildings and facilities were also dismantled. Trackage between Douglas and Curtis, located a few miles south of Benson, was also removed in recent years.
Although many of the Southern Pacific employees were reassigned to jobs in other locations, the effect of the closure was devastating to all the communities in southern New Mexico and southeast Arizona that relied on the railroad for jobs and to bolster the economy. Communities such as Hermanas, Hachita, Columbus, Animas and Rodeo were hard hit. Some of the smaller communities faded away completely. Others linger on as near-ghosts. None enjoy the prosperity that existed during their earlier days.
While most of the structures belonging to the EP & SW were demolished or put to other use, there’s still much left in evidence. Depots still exist in Columbus, Douglas and Tucson. The long-abandoned Douglas depot was renovated in the early 1990s (in large part with confiscated drug money) for use by the Douglas Police Department. Trackage between Tucson and Benson is still used by the Union Pacific. Abandoned right of way, culverts, bridges, crumbling buildings and other vestiges of the road can be found all along the route from the Apache Nitrogen plant located south of Benson to Columbus, NM.
The Crook Tunnel remains just south of Border Road, a short distance from Mexico, between Paul Spur and Bisbee Junction. The Tucson roundhouse is still used by a building supply company. The EP & SW Depot in Tucson still exists opposite the Federal Building off Congress St. Much of the track between Tucson and Benson is still used and there is an interpretive exhibit devoted to the EP & SW, including a short section of original track remaining from 1912, in a small park located south and west of the fire station in downtown Tucson off W. Simpson St. in the Barrio Libre.
Long forgotten by all but railroad enthusiasts and historians, the EP & SW no longer runs through Pima and Cochise Counties or the counties of southern New Mexico. All of the people who worked for the railroad or rode on it as passengers are long dead, but the communities the EP & SW created, the place names it left behind, and the history it generated still remain.
Perhaps someday, railroads will come back to Douglas, Bisbee, Rodeo, Hachita, Columbus, and all the other communities located along the line. But even if those now-sleepy towns never again hear the rumble of a locomotive or the sound of its horn, the story of the EP & SW and its contribution to the development of this region will forever remain as part of their heritage.