Photo by Jim Headley

Ever see a Zephyr fly? Thursday, one actually did in Maricopa.

Maricopa’s vintage California Zephyr streamline passenger car was moved down Casa Grande-Maricopa Highway to make room for the new State Route 347 overpass in the center of the city.

GoPro footage:

Shortly after 10 a.m., two large cranes carefully picked up the Zephyr and gently placed it onto a large semitrailer. It was chained down and driven about three blocks down the highway. Again, the cranes picked it up and placed it on its new rails, beside the former Rotary swimming pool.

The Maricopa Historical Society purchased the Zephyr from Pinal County for the sum of $1.

“They were interested in cooperating with us, the City and ADOT, so that this could be put here and be a community centerpiece going forward,” said Paul Shirk, president of the Society.

Funds for moving the Zephyr came from county funds garnered through the Arizona Department of Transportation’s purchase of the property where the railcar previously sat.

“Because of the overpass, we had to move the Zephyr,” Shirk said. “The county was the owner of the Zephyr at that time, so they put that fund up, so the citizens of Maricopa did not have to incur any expense to do this. Now we’re working with the City, and with the generous contribution of the land by John and Marylou Smith, the City can have a park here and we can have a place for the Zephyr.”

Moving a large train car might be a stressful operation, but Shirk disagreed.

“It was a blast. There is no tense, this is just fun.  Too many people say history is boring. Too much memorizing names and dates. We don’t do that. We tell a story in a fun way. Our meeting is every first Monday of the month over at the library. We spend a little time on business and then spend an hour-and-a-half on fun,” he said, adding, “We have a lot of history to tell.”

Shirk, who was a little teary-eyed when the car was lifted off its rails, said he arrived for the move at 5 a.m. and city personnel had everything organized and in place for the 10 a.m. move under Mike Riggs’ leadership.

“Everything just went according to plan. It just clicked,” Shirk said.

Riggs, assistant director of public works for Maricopa, has been putting together the Zephyr’s move over the past 30 days. He said the entire move went without a problem.

“It’s been a great experience,” Riggs said. “It’s great how the City all participated –  the police department and all the divisions jumped in to help. It has been an awesome 30 days.”

Riggs said the crane company that moved the Zephyr, Southwest Industrial Rigging, also moved it to Maricopa in 2001 and will “swing the bridge girders into place over the highway this weekend.”

Friday and Saturday night, the highway will be closed in that section from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the installation of the bridge girders.

“It was imperative that we move the Zephyr today,” Riggs said. “We have a great spot for the Zephyr to sit now for years to come.”

Mayor Christian Price said watching the Zephyr fly was truly an event.

“It was amazing to see it come off the track where it’s been sitting for the past decade plus,” said Price. “It was amazing to watch them thread the needle with that train between the two cranes.”

Price said Maricopa has great things ahead as the overpass takes shape to ease transportation.

“We have been working so hard for the past decade on trying to get through the recession and put things in place that will allow for quality of life. Now we are entering the next phase. That next phase is the explosion of Maricopa, from the standpoint of businesses, commercial and retail. That is what we are working towards,” Price said.

In its new home, near Maricopa Veterans Center, the Zephyr will “be a mainstay that represents Maricopa is welcoming to the community and to people who are visiting. We are going to welcome newcomers in and we’re going to make sure that we have a lot of good events for the people who live here,” Shirk said.

Mike Kemery of Maricopa’s VFW post was among veterans who turned out to watch the railcar move next door. He said the historical society was making its future parking around the Zephyr available to veterans for special events.

Rick Horst, Maricopa city manager, said moving the Zephyr in a safe and organized fashion represents the entire community’s structure.

“Many communities are so divided on so many issues. You just don’t sense that here,” Horst said. “That’s what makes this place feel like home. The future is whatever we want it to be. Our goal is to make sure we create a place where everyone can be successful, whether it is a single parent, a family, a business, a nonprofit, the educational system – whatever it is we want to create the environment that the true values of hard work will pay off in this community.”

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