Union Pactific steam engine arrives in Tucson

The good old days of railroading returned at Vail Thursday when the Union Pacific Railroad’s steam locomotive No. 844 pulled up for a stop. For those who’d like to see it in person, the engine will be on display at the rail yard today and at the downtown depot Saturday morning. 

Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star

Any Tucsonan who has been stuck in his or her car at a railroad crossing while waiting for a very long, slow train to clear the track will not be blamed for occasionally saying to himself, "I wish the railroad had not come to Tucson." But without the railroad, Tucson would not be the city it is today.

Tucsonans considered it a very big deal when the railroad came to town. On March 20, 1880, when the first train arrived in Tucson, the celebration was one that would be remembered. Thousands assembled to see the train arrive. a cannon was fired and the Sixth Cavalry Band serenaded Southern Pacific Railroad President Charles Crocker, General Superintendent James Gamble of the W.U.T.Co. and other dignitaries in celebration of the big day. There were many speeches.

The day before the celebrated arrival, The Arizona Daily Star ran an opinion piece by Charles D. Poston, an Arizona pioneer considered by many to be the "Father of Arizona" because he was instrumental in procuring Arizona's territorial status.

It is reprinted in its entirety here, although one might be advised to skip ahead since Poston doesn't get immediately to his point. The long prose might be an indication of the importance of the arrival of the railroad.

From the Arizona Daily Star, March 19, 1880:

THE RAILROAD IN TUCSON

The railway comes booming across the desert a thousand miles from the Golden Gate to Asia, without a subsidy; without a land grant; without a mortgage on posterity, and is welcome to Arizona as the fertilizing stream that makes “the desert blossom like the rose.”

The vitalizing power of steam infuses new energy into the merchants, new hope into the miner, brings comfort to the farmer, and sends the product of flocks and herds to busy hands in the hum of human industry.

In past ages the labor of mankind was consumed in public works of no benefit to the people.

The Mongolian crawls along in sight of the Chinese wall in worse condition than his ancestors were twenty-five hundred years ago, when their labor was consumed in that stupendous folly. The magnificent net-work of canals, constructed to connect the Empire have fallen to decay, The fellah of Egypt turns the mournful wheel of the shadow in the fashion of forty centuries ago, and toils under the shadow of the pyramids for the same spare diet supplied to the captives of Israel, and yet the source of the Nile remains an undiscovered mystery. The Italian mendicant crawls under the shadow of the dome of St. Peter’s and begs the stranger in the name of the Christ in whose honor it was reared for a few lire to purchase the macaroni necessary to his miserable existence. The Pontine marshes are still undrained. The stalwart beggar stalks in the purlieus of Westminster Abbey, and wonders that amidst such piles of wealth there should be such piteous poverty—and yet the Thames flows by loaded with turbid filth.

It is because the labor of man has been consumed to gratify the pride of man, rather than for the benefit of mankind.

Across the Atlantic a new phase occurs in the disposition of the powerful aggregate of human industry, and public works are constructed to improve, elect and advance the condition of the human race. Among these the greatest us undoubtedly the railroad.

Ask a school boy what laid the foundation for the grander of the Roman Empire and he will answer: The construction of roads.

The Appian way over which Saint Paul walked from Brindujsium to the Eternal City, now whirls the mails and passengers between Europe and Asia, over the iron track from Rome to Brindisi, with a rapidity which Saint Paul never dreamed of, even in his ride to Damascus.

The locomotive plunges through tunnels in the Alps in less time than it required to Hannibal’s elephant train to mount the howdah, or for Napoleon’s army to clear the road of snow.

The railway train traverses the boundaries of ancient Gaul in less time than Caesar’s army required to build a bridge across the unspanned streams.

The ancient battlements of York and the high walls of Chester have been perforated by the battering ram of the nineteenth century.

In America its greater wonder has been performed in spanning the continent and uniting a people.

Now, having reached the tides of the Pacific, it wheels like the isothermal stream of the ocean, for miler climes and fairer lands.

When time was found, and man first traversed the continent in search of an abiding place, the present site of Tucson offered water, shade and the arable soil necessary for his subsistence.

The Toltecs and Aztecs hovered under the shadow of the everlasting mountains, and passed the dim ages of the dawn, and passed away, leaving fading monuments of their existence; and still the water runs and the grass grows and the shade trees relieve the glare of the blazing sun.

The Spaniards came and passed through this valley three hundred and thirty-eight years ago (in 1542) in search of gold and the “seven cities of Civola,” and the first animal transportation made a path over the Indian trails.

The church which planted its seeds in the rocky hills of Judea, and spread its branches from Rome, overshadowing the civilized world, came along, and lo! there rises from the ruined temples of the sun an edifice of architectural beauty, dedicated to the adoration of the great spirit whom the aborigines ignorantly worship; and the cumbrous ox-cart with wooden wheels transports to the wilderness images fashioned in Rome. The Spaniards pass away; but the church remains; and the Mexicans contend with the fierce Apache for the mastery of the land upon which the track is laid.

The Mexicans pass away, and the americans come along with the emigrant wagon and make another step in progress and the evolution of mankind.

And now the railroad comes along, like a giant anaconda, embracing the continent in its coil, and its ponderous machinery breathes the vitality of civilization in sonorous respirations, breaking the silence of the desert and awakening the reverberations of the mountains for the first time since the planet commenced its revolutions in the universe.

“Welcome her thundering cheer of the street.”

The ancient pueblo of Tucson is roused from the lethargy of ages, and is embraced i the network of the civilized world.

The lightning records the event with tongue of fire and pen of wire wherever the current of electricity permeates the brotherhood of man.

“One touch of nature makes us all akin.”

Go on brave toiler for the benefit of mankind. Open our opulent mountains until treasures stream down their sides; gladden the valleys with the harvest and the vine; make the cattle on a thousand hills skip for joy; span the Rio Grande; stretch over the plains of Texas and rest your head by the waves of an “American lake” called the Gulf of Mexico.

The construction of the Southern Pacific railroad demonstrates the uselessness (to say the least of it) of former subsidies and land grants.

As we fought for free trade on the sea let us now contend for free trade on the land, and a fair competition for the commercial transportation of the product of labor for the least price to the best market.

The name of the builder of the Chinese wall is long in the Asian mystery. Eleven acres of solid masonry has not served to preserve the name of the builder of the Pyramid of Ghizah. The were of no benefit to the human race. But the names of the builders of roads are immortal. The Mongolian shepherd will show you the road which Gengis Khan made through the Nankon pass. The Swiss peasant will guide you over the road traversed by Hannibal across the Alps. and the veriest yokel in England watching his kine graze over Salisbury plain, from the ruins of Stone Henge, will answer your question, “Who built that road to the heights of old Sarum?”—“Caesar.” The typical New Zealander, in crossing this continent by the “Southern Pacific Railroad” a thousand years hence to visit the ruins of London, will stop at the “Casa Grande” and ask a descendant of the Pima Indians, who built the cuticle of that name, and the gentle savage will reply, in the soft dialect of his tribe, “pima’h” (I don’t know); but ask him, “who built the Southern Pacific Railroad?” and the child of centuries will answer, “Crocker.”

C. D. Poston.