Completion after years of restoration work on the city’s Silver Horizon rail car is, well, on the horizon.
InMaricopa got a sneak peek on the progress of the car, commonly known as the “Zephyr,” Monday.
While volunteer crews continue their work on the restoration, there remains considerable work to do, and no official opening date of the car, which will become a museum, has been set, according to Paul Shirk, president of the Maricopa Historical Society.
The car is in Heritage Park, along Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway near Maricopa Unified School District headquarters. Quinn Konold, a spokesman for the city, said there is no timeline for completion of the city park around the Zephyr.
Among the attractions inside is a working model of Chicago’s rail system of yesteryear, including the railroad yard and elevated trains.
The model was donated to the Maricopa Historical Society by Herm Newberger, an elderly fan of railroads. Having the model from Chicago is especially meaningful because the Silver Horizon is among just seven domed observation cars from the legendary California Zephyr line that ran from Chicago to San Francisco from 1949-70.
Another model railroad inside is of an industrial scene, donated by a railroad club in Phoenix.
The model railroads are not the only attractions.
“Each room will have pictures and advertisements of what that room was like during its heyday,” Shirk said.
While the entire railcar is unique, its most prominent feature is the dome observation area at the top.
The observation dome has 16 new seats, along with air conditioning. The original seating was just too small, Shirk explained.
“When we had people up there testing out some of those frames, it just wasn’t comfortable,” he said of the original seats.
From the dome, visitors may view what is planned to be Heritage Park and surrounding area.
Adding to the rail car’s legacy was its use in a scene from the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor.”
It was moved to Maricopa in 2001 and used as a ticket office for the Amtrak station. When the ticket office was moved to a larger space, the Zephyr was moved to its current location, where it remains a city landmark.
After jumping through several hurdles, including the COVID-19 pandemic’s supply-chain issues, progress is looking good, however, according to Shirk.
Crews replaced its windows, removed ceiling panels to rewire the car and installed ductwork for the new air-conditioning system.
Shirk expects some historical figures to make a special appearance when the Zephyr finally makes its public debut.
“We’ll have a porter’s son who rode on that car, a Zephyrette who worked on that car. Wonderful stories,” he said.
“We are real close with our restoration, so know that we are working closely with the city on how the park develops and what their timeline is for that, then we will blend with that.”
Shirk explained that he hopes the visitor’s center and rail car will be good for those who visit, those who want to move to Maricopa, and those who already live here.
“We’re gonna make it fun. We’re gonna have information for current residents, for visitors, and for people who are interested, and wonder, ‘Should I move to Maricopa?’”
“When they come to the visitor center and look at the information in there, and see the park and the way the community comes together, I think it’s going to be very attractive for newcomers, and it’s going to make the people that are already here think, ‘I came to the right place. This is a neat community.’”
View a photo gallery of the progress by InMaricopa’s Bryan Mordt:
I can see the passion for some individuals on this project, however I think the majority of residents and Amtrak commuters would rather see the railcar be turned into a Diner Restaurant which is a traditional way to re-purpose these old railcars. Staging it next to the Amtrak Station would have been a pefect location and makes a lot more sense than where it sits today.
A Maricopa Railroad Diner is so obvious to me, it was my first thought when I saw the oddly placed railcar on the side of the road for the first time.
The city needs more places to sit down and eat and this would have been a unique and fun place to take the family repeatedly all year round, instead of a 5 minute walk through a museum. Just my opinion.