Restoring the Cars on The Grand Canyon Railway | Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel

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Restoring the Cars on The Grand Canyon Railway

Restoring the Cars on The Grand Canyon Railway

How the 40 Cars of the Iconic Line Are Brought up to Speed

They’ve carted battle-bound U.S. troops during both world wars. They’ve ferried fans to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. One did duty as a chartered dining coach and was seized by the Mexican government.

Now, these and other cars on the Grand Canyon Railway have renewed purpose shuttling eager visitors to one of the Great Natural Wonders of the World.

The passenger cars make the daily trip from the railway’s base in Williams, Ariz., to the Grand Canyon’s spectacular South Rim. But before they embark on the initial 65-mile run to the canyon, they land here in the railway’s 28,000-square-foot car shop to be brought up to speed, so to speak.

“They come from all over, and they’re all challenging,” says car shop manager Karl Zicopoulos. “A particular railroad would outfit a car to their specifications. As our railway grew, we’d hunt down cars from all over the country. And they were all different.”

His and the crew’s job: To bring the cars up to the Grand Canyon Railway’s exacting standards. The 40 passenger cars that are presently in service range from standard coach models to four two-story observation dome cars and a new luxury dome car. In addition, each train carries at least one luxury parlor car.

Zicopoulos is showing off the railway’s latest acquisition: an observation dome car from an excursion railway in Canada. Before that, it made the Chicago-San Francisco run as part of Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

They’ve installed new bullet-proof glass in its dome, as mandated by federal regulations. (Not that potshots are anticipated on the Grand Canyon sojourns. “This is God’s Country,” quips Zicopoulos. “It’s in the cities where they have trouble. People dumping shopping carts from overpasses, that sort of thing.”)

Workers have redone the wiring and stripped out the asbestos. They’ve stained the new woodwork to match the car’s vintage Asian-styled mahogany finishes. Its 1950s-era seats have been sandblasted, polished and smartly re-upholstered in rich earth tones. The walls are carpeted in a complementary hue. One restroom has been refurbished and another added. They’ve built a horseshoe-shaped bar, where attendants will mix Bloody Marys on the ride up, and pour sparkling wine to toast the sunset on the return trip.

By the time the 54-seat rail car hits the rails in time for the busy summer tourist season, the crew will have logged more than 6,000 man-hours and about a million dollars readying it — re-christened the Desert View — for service.

Not only does this staff of 32 shop employees perform all the work, other than seat upholstery, they devise the color scheme and interior design, as well.

“I’ll get the guys in and we’ll take off our hard hats and put on our decorator hats,” Zicopoulos says. “Each car has a flavor. We try to keep that, so each car is different.”

Once the gussied-up Desert View hits the rails, it’ll be back in the car shop in a matter of 90 days or so for a thorough inspection.

“One thing about rail cars, maintenance is constant,” says Zicopoulos.

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