Flagstaff statue pays homage to the men who built the railroads

To many today, the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, one of the last of the 19th century, seems like ancient history.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The city of Flagstaff owes much to the railroad.

On Aug. 1, 1892, the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad began serving Flagstaff. The railroad, by then part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, was chartered in 1866 by President Andrew Johnson and tasked with building a road from Missouri to California.

The workers who laid tracks across the country were known as Gandy Dancers. The name is sometimes attributed to a Gandy Tool Co. that manufactured the tools used to build railroads, though the existence of such a company has been debated.

Nevertheless, workers used song to keep their rhythm when laying tracks

The city today may be better known for the Lowell Observatory (where the sort-of-but-not-really-planet of Pluto was discovered). But, to honor the workers’ impact on the local community, the City of Flagstaffs Public Art Program in 2000 erected the Gandy Dancer statue created by Clyde “Ross” Morgan.

The statue is located in downtown Flagstaff next to the older of two train depots in town. The edifice, built in 1889, was used as a freight depot once a new depot opened 37 years later.

Just down the tracks is the Tudor Revival train depot, which the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway built in 1926. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief still serves the station.

The city acquired the structure in 1992, and today, the city’s visitors center also calls the station home.

Flagstaff still sees upwards of 80 trains per day on the line is currently operated by BNSF Railway. The train depot is an ideal location to watch trains.

About Todd DeFeo 741 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.