Once called “the most talked about train in America,” the California Zephyr Silver Horizon railcar has a rich history that visitors to its new location will soon be able to experience.
Previously owned by Pinal County and situated at the Amtrak station, the retired railcar was moved Jan. 10 just a short distance away to the site of the former community pool adjacent to the Maricopa Unified School District offices. The relocation came about after it was determined that ongoing construction of the State Route 347 overpass might cause issues with preserving the historical railcar.
A concerted effort by the Maricopa Historical Society, which purchased the Zephyr for $1 in 2017, and the City of Maricopa helped move the project forward.
“This makes so much sense to transfer the ownership to the nonprofit historical society,” says Pinal County District IV Supervisor Anthony Smith when the sale took place. “We are pleased to help keep alive this symbol of an era when Maricopa played an important role for rail travel in the United States.”
The Silver Horizon was built in 1948 and continued its service through 1970 when it was purchased by Amtrak. It was decommissioned in 1985. For its inaugural run, women on the train were given silver and orange orchids flown in from Hilo, Hawaii. Car hostesses were called Zephyrettes and were the railway’s version of flight attendants. A 2,532-mile trip from Chicago to San Francisco took 50 hours and 50 minutes.
In 2000, the retired railcar made its way to Maricopa and for a while operated as the Amtrak ticket station. Today, it sits on land donated to the City by John and Mary Lou Smith.
“We are extremely thankful to the Smith family for their generous donation of the land upon which the Zephyr now sits, for our partnership with the Maricopa Historical Society, and for the ability to preserve and display this part of Maricopa’s proud history for generations to come,” says City of Maricopa Mayor Christian Price.
Refurbishment of the railcar is in progress with a Zephyr Guild comprised of members of the historical society, businesses, volunteers and a variety of craftspeople taking part.
“We are looking forward to upgrading the car, building displays that can be interchanged, add a research library along with holding special events and open houses for the public to see the railcar,” says Paul Shirk, president of the Maricopa Historical society. “We wish to acknowledge and thank Supervisor Anthony Smith, Mayor Christian Price, City Manager Rick Horst and their staffs for the support and assistance in bringing this process to a successful conclusion.”