April 24, 2014

UTU member recalls good old days

PRESCOTT, Ariz. – John Stevenson can relate to the thousands of people who flock to the Peavine Trail each year to take in the imposing views of Granite Dells, the Daily Courier reports.

In a completely different era, Stevenson also spent plenty of time walking and riding through the scenic corridor. Only, for him, the trips were not recreational, and they occurred either alongside a train or on one.

Even though the Peavine route was a regular one for Stevenson in his years as a railroad brakeman on the route, he said the views were not lost on the crew.

“It was beautiful – especially when you got into the Granite Dells area,” said Stevenson, 73, now a retired railroad worker living in Clarkdale. “We had to get out sometimes and walk it. I remember walking alongside the train, looking at the views.”

(Stevenson is an Alumni Association member and retiree of Local 113, Winslow, Ariz.)

Some of those memories likely will be front and center this week when Stevenson and a group of several dozen of his former Peavine coworkers meet for a reunion at a restaurant in Prescott.

“It’s an annual get-together of all of the guys who worked on that railroad,” Stevenson said noting that the Peavine stretched from Phoenix to Williams. He expects about 40 former employees to gather for the event, including a number who still live in the Prescott area.

Stevenson, who retired in 1998 after working for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad for 44 years, began his career in 1954, when Prescott was still the major base for the line.

For a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stevenson was one of the 50 to 60 people who lived in Prescott and worked on the railroad.

He vividly remembers the day in 1960 when railroad officials announced that the company would build a new route that would bypass Prescott.

“We were pretty despondent,” Stevenson said of hearing the news. “We thought, ‘Prescott’s going to dry up.’ The town just went ballistic.”

Stevenson also recalled the event in one of several historic essays he wrote about his days working on the Peavine. “I felt bad that Prescott would probably become a ghost town, Whiskey Row would dry up, and Buckey O’Neill would ride off into the sunset,” he wrote.

By 1962, the new bypass route through the Drake area was complete, and the Prescott route became a “spur line,” which Stevenson said got less and less use. Ultimately in the 1980s, he said, “God intervened,” and a major storm washed out sections of the Prescott spur, leading the railroad to abandon the line.

Even so, Stevenson maintains that there is value in remembering the Peavine route’s heyday.

“When I was young, I used to love listening to the stories” from the older railroad workers, Stevenson said, noting that some of his early coworkers began their careers when Arizona was a still a territory.

“The Prescott portion of the Peavine was an important part of Yavapai County history,” Stevenson said, adding “there are very few people left” with personal experience working the route.

The Peavine reunion will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the China Buffet Restaurant at 201 Walker Road.

(This item appeared Aug. 9, 2010, in the Daily Courier. Additional information added by UTU editors.)