Locomotive control stand finds new life in Arizona

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Tim Winters, under the watchful eye of Mary Winters, handles the controls of the G scale train at the Benson, Ariz,. visitors center.
Benson News-Sun
BENSON, Ariz. – The hand on the throttle could be yours if you follow Union Pacific's Sunset Corridor through southern Arizona, and stop by Benson's trackside visitors center.

There, an AAR control stand outfitted with EMD components invites would-be Casey Joneses to take a seat and drive a train. But while the locomotive controls and gauges are 1:1 scale, the train is garden size looping on 96 feet of track 8 feet up the interior wall of the center.

In lieu of a seat in the cab of the G scale UP SD70, a nose-mounted video camera sends the view ahead to a screen at the control stand.

City Director of Tourism Bob Nilson says he designed the setup and built the control cabinet after the San Pedro & Southwestern Railway gave him access to one of its 55-year-old ex-Santa Fe engines. The short line interchanges with UP near the visitors center.

"I took photos and measurements off their GP30," Nilson says during an interview interrupted by horn blasts from a passing UP freight. Scratch-built linkage and gearing connect the locomotive parts with the G scale controls, he adds.

A $6,000 grant from the Union Pacific Foundation underwrote the layout and part of the control stand. PowerRail Distribution of Duryea, Pa., donated the throttle and dynamic brake modules while the SA 26 and 26 C brake components were donated by Multi-Service Supply of Leetsdale, Pa.

"The railroad people have been very good to me," Nilson adds. The rest of the gauges and switches were purchased online.

A previous UP Foundation grant paid for steel logos of the five railroads that served Benson. Meanwhile the Benson Clean and Beautiful Committee raised funds for outside murals at the center depicting the city's railroad history.

The visitors center, built in 1999, sits on property bought from UP predecessor Southern Pacific. SP heading east from Tucson toward El Paso and New Orleans built through the area in 1880 on what would later be known as the North Line.

SP later acquired the El Paso & Southwestern, which dipped south to the Mexico border before turning east to reach El Paso on what became SP's South Line. The San Pedro & Southwestern serves two customers on a remnant of the EP&SW built as the Arizona & South Eastern Rail Road.

G-scale trains began operating at the visitors center in August 2016, and the control stand was ready in time for Santa trains in December. City staff and museum volunteers worked to create and install the Polar Express-theme display.

Among the visitors were Tim and Mary Winters of Clarksville, Tenn.

“My brother worked at the Benson train depot back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when it was still an active train station,” Tim told a reporter from the Benson News-Sun. “This is a neat activity for people who stop in here. I know the kids love doing this, but I’m sure you get your share adults as well.”

Nilson, an HO scale modeler with little time to for his home layout at the moment, says about 16,000 people visited the Benson center in 2016. His best guess is about a third would qualify as railfans.

The center grounds include a patio area with a gazebo and benches suitable for train watching.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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