Peavine Specials

During the past four years while living near to and railfanning the BNSF Phoenix Sub, I've witnessed a number of special trains. I classify a special as any train pulling anything other than your standard, run-of-the-mill freight cars. This page consists of photos and anecdotal musings about the various specials I've caught rolling along the Peavine.

23 October 2004

The first special I witnessed was by accident. It was October 2004 and my dad and I were driving east (RR west) along Grand Avenue (US60) through Sun City. I was really new to the area and I'd not yet quite sorted out the radio frequencies or operational characteristics of the Peavine. We were waiting to turn north at 91st Avenue when all of a sudden the lights and bells go into action. Obviously, nothing is coming towards us at Peoria Curve, so I glance in my side-view mirror and see a couple of "blue-bonnet" Geeps approaching with a string of polished metal "varnish" behind them. I quickly grab my camera, jump out onto the median and snap a couple of photos as the train approaches the grade crossing.

To say the least I was flabbergasted and my dad (not to mention countless other drivers) probably thought I was off my rocker. I immediately calculated the next photo opportunity and sprang into action. Tossing the previous plan to turn left into the wind, I safely get back out onto Grand Avenue and quickly got ahead of the train. By now, it was approaching Peoria and passing by their high school. A couple miles ahead the eastbound lanes of Grand Avenue cross over the Peavine on a bridge. Near the foot of the bridge I remember there is a place to safely pull off the road and that's where I aimed for.

When we arrived there, I told my dad "I'll be right back!" and I trotted along the roadside to get as high up as I could for the next photo. Soon, the train was in sight and slowing down because they were leaving Track Warrant Contol territory and entering "Restricted Limits" and a lower speed limit. I managed to snap off some photos of the units and each of the cars as they rolled by. After I got my photos I made it back to the truck and resumed the pursuit.

I wasn't sure of the next destination so we headed along Grand Avenue towards the BNSF depot near 59th Avenue. I wanted to get back on the "sunny side" of the tracks for more photos and that location seemed as good as any. When we arrived it became apparent this was the probable destination, as people were milling about waiting for the arrival. I found a place to park south of the depot and got out to wait with them. I took a number of photos after the train pulled to a stop, the venerable Geeps just yards from where we were parked.

Only later did I find out this train was a "Make-a-Wish" special sponsored by the BNSF to give children-in-need a pleasant train ride up to Wickenburg and back.

5 July 05
Circus Train

My first catch of any Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Baily "Circus Train" occured very early in the morning of July 5th, 2005. I'd gotten word it was leaving town via the Peavine so I broke away for a hour or so and headed to the Wendy's at Peoria and Grand. There I met up with Brian and we caught the train rolling through just after midnight. We chased/paced it up to Grand and Thunderbird at MP 175...a good 6 miles north. The train continued up to Castle Hot Springs where the BNSF crew handed the train over to the Arizona & California for the trip west via Matthie. I think I got some video that night but no photos. The consist was the BNSF 7735, BNSF 734, and BNSF 987.

7 October 05
AAPRCO Special

By far the coolest passenger special I've seen on the Peavine was the 2005 American Association of Private Railcar Owners movement. Several weeks before hand I became aware of this trip. The AAPRCO annual convention had apparently been changed to Williams Arizona and in conjunction with that a roundtrip to Phoenix was scheduled. Thankfully it was a weekend day and I even prepared for the event ahead of time by finally buying a mobile scanner to mount in my truck. The morning of the trip I headed north hoping to catch the train somewhere above Congress (MP 123) and chase him back to El Mirage. Enroute, I catch a W/B Z train near Piedmont and before long I'm hearing radio communications I probably wouldn't have picked up with my handheld scanner. It's a beautiful October morning (well, late morning) and I decide to set up just south (RR west) of the Date siding. I have to wait for a while but it's a comfortable temperature so it's tolerable. In due course, I see the train a few miles out approaching Date and I get the video camera rolling. As cool as the bridge across Cottonwood Creek is, a westbound photo of a bridge crossing really isn't possible in the afternoon due to trees, at least from what I can tell. After a few minutes the train, led by three Amtrak P42 "Genesis" units, is in full view rounding the curve laid out in front of me and I get some nice photos of the eclectic mix of passenger varnish. I try to photograph each car (and there's almost two dozen) as they roll by but I miss good shots of a couple of them. Finally, today's chase is on.

Now understand, Date Creek Road is a mountainous, country dirt road but it's fairly well travelled. In many spots you can comfortably do 40 or 50mph but on the curves you have to really slow down. Then there is the washboard...and this road is bad in some spots...but that's where maintaining some speed can help dampen some of the shaking from the washboard. I catch up to the train somewhere around the old station of Hawkins and relish the sight of driving alongside some interesing looking passenger cars. I make it to the grade crossing (the ONLY grade crossing on Date Creek Road in fact) ahead of the train and get some nice photos. The next objective is Congress and I make it with plenty of time to set up the video for a nice approach and roll by at the MP 123 / Highway 74 crossing. Next stop for me is Wickenburg to get more roll by photos and video. From there it's an easy drive to Castle Hot Springs and then on to Beardsley for more photos and vid. As it turns out, the train has to wait at Beardsley for a meet with the Repo train.

I head up towards Sun City to catch the repo train and decide to wait at the Agua Fria River bridge to catch my first Amtrak-led train coming through the bridge. As the train rolls past and the Great Northern Dome/Observation car (repleat with lighted drumhead sign) recedes I breathe a sigh of relief that the chase is over...I have no intention of following the train any further.

The plan is for a fairly quick turn at Mobest after servicing. In the end, the train departs Mobest a lot later than I'd hoped for and it rolls through El Mirage in near darkness. I'd really hoped for video and photos of the eastbound rolling through the bridge and hitting the curve at El Mirage milepost 175, but it's not in the cards for today. Besides, I had a great time with this train for several hours in beautiful Arizona fall weather so I'm content.

15 October 05

29 March 06
Geometry Train

By far the most frequent "special" I've seen is a Track Geometry train. The BNSF Track Geometry cars #'s 80 & 81 are usually pulled by a single unit but I've seen two units on several occasions. On this occasion, GP38-2 in Heritage 1 paint rolled through Sun City after dark so I didn't get any photos. I had no idea what kind of train was coming; I'd only heard on the scanner the BNSF 2635 West so I knew I had to check out a Geep leading a train coming down from the mainline. I wasn't disappointed...

7 June 06
Geometry Train

8 June 06
Employee Special Roundtrip PHX-CHS-PHX

8 June 06
O-PHXNEE (outbound departure)

10 July 06
Circus Train

15 August 06
Geometry Train - BNSF 875 Leading - only heard on detector

6 October 06
Inbound MAW train at Ash Fork / Little Hell Canyon

7 October 06

9 January 07
Geometry Train

25 April 07
Geometry Train

18 May 07
Thomas the Tank Engine at Williams

2 July 07
Circus Train

13 September 07
Geometry Train

3 November 07

31 January 08
Super Bowl Special O-TOPELZ

10 March 08
Geometry Train

22/23 April 08
O-ELZELZ Shippers Special

25 Jun 08
Geometry Train

14 August 08
7-car special

I got wind of this one as it departed Mobest Yard in downtown Phoenix. I've gotten pretty good at estimating the time a train should be getting close to my location so after the appropriate time I headed out the door. I went up to the local QT where I typically do my U-turn on Grand Avenue when I want to set up for a photo of an eastbound train coming through the Agua Fria River bridge. Today was no exception - my timing was impeccable. No sooner had I turned back onto Grand Avenue and waited a minute or so did I spot in my rear view mirror the top of the ES44DC leading the train. I positioned myself at the bridge so I could get my first photos. I gotta wonder what people must think of this apparent nut sitting on the top of his truck with a camera alongside busy Grand Avenue. But you know what? I'm not really concerned what they think. Soon as the train passed by I hopped back in the truck and got back on Grand. I love watching trains negotiate the curve at MP 175 in El Mirage and today was no exception...and it was a passenger train to boot. I had pretty good luck with the numerous traffic lights between Thunderbird and Bell Rd but up by the Wal Mart (Lizard Acres) I got zapped. Not to fret, the train was holding at Beardsley for an approaching westbound Z train. Skies up north were heavy with monsoon build up and I decided I'd follow the train for a bit towards Wickenburg after the meet with the Z train.

After getting a coffee (yes, even at 4pm in the middle of August in Arizona I drink coffee) and watching the Z pass, I relocated to the dirt at East Beardsley to watch the special pull out. I even set up the vid camera to capture it since I didn't have time at the bridge. Within a minute or two DS-13 was issuing a track warrant to the 7512 East and the engineer wastes no time in hitting the high iron.

After getting back on Grand Avenue I make an effort to play catch up. By now it's fairly obvious that Wickenburg is probably in shadow but I'm not sure about Castle Hot Springs...maybe I'll get lucky for some last moments of sunshine 15 miles up the tracks. I pass the train somewhere before Wittmann (MP 158) and start thinking about the next photo. The monsoon clouds to the north are as dark as they can be but the tracks are still bathed in warm afternoon light. I decide on the small wooden bridge across a wash near Circle City, and the way the sky looks, this shot will likely be my last one with sunlight for this train. A moment after I stop, the train zips past and I get some shots of the 7512 and the seven individual stop: Castle Hot Springs.

From the outset I'd been thinking of a shot from the highway overpass at Castle Hot Springs. The cloudy skies made that less attractive and when I arrived the sky became a moot point. The eastbound Repo train was sitting on the siding thus blocking the main as seen from what would be the sunny side of the tracks. I head over the tracks and up to the east end where I find the power set for the Repo train. I'm delighted to count eleven units leading the train today. I like to try to catch the Repo train whenever I can since it often has a decent power lashup. The special is still way back towards the west switch and it seems like it's taking longer than usual for it to make the trip...maybe they're taking it easy since they are alongside another train. After about 10 minutes the train starts blowing for the east switch and I take out the vid camera for the roll by.

Despite the skies, I decided to go the last ten miles to Wickenburg proper for a shot by the depot. But first I'll catch the train crossing the Hassayampa River bridge as I really like the view from US60. Not the best lighting conditions today but at least it'll look cool watching the train roll through the bridge.

15 May 12
ATSF 3751 Special

Steam trip on the "upper" Peavine from Matthie to Williams. I first caught the train at Aguila on the A&C. Didn't see it again until after it went through the wye at Matthie and crossed under the Route 93 bridge. Caught it again at Congress where it stopped for passengers heading north to Williams. I did not catch the return trip via Matthie a few days later...