The California Zephyr being lifted into place in Maricopa in 2001. Photo courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

The Maricopa Historical Society is seeking public input to help determine the fate of one of their recently acquired icons – the California Zephyr railcar.

At their meeting on June 5 the historical society presented a history of the Zephyr, following it from its birth in 1949 through its service on the Burlington Northern route from Chicago to Los Angeles, its retirement in 1970, its temporary homes in Texas and Los Angeles, its short acting carrier in films such as “Pearl Harbor” and ultimately its arrival in Maricopa in 2001.

After the detailed presentation, however, discussion turned toward the icon’s future.

“Do we consider restoration, or do we go the museum route,” Maricopa Historical Society President Paul Shirk posited to the group.

Most in attendance agreed that a museum was the best option, though some suggested that a partial restoration of the railcars upper deck would be nice to give visitors a glimpse into the Zephyr’s glory days.

There are many steps to take before the Zephyr can become an operational museum, the most important of which will be the installation of air conditioning.

Other items on the to-do list include updates to the interior and exterior of the car, all of which the historical society hopes will be facilitated by the formation of a “Zephyr Guild” comprised of craftsmen, artisans and technicians who will help maintain the site.

A permanent home for the Zephyr was also discussed. Though mostly unaffected by the eventual construction of the State Route 347 overpass, its current location near the Amtrak station is questioned by some who doubt if it’s the appropriate location.

At this point, however, no alternative location has been proposed.

The historical society recently took ownership of the railcar after purchasing it from Pinal County for $1. For the past few years, the society was allowed access to host tours and open houses in the railcar.


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