Gila Bend to Ajo

The Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad

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Just south of where the it branches from the Union Pacific mainline at Gila Bend, AZ, the Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad can be seen stretching to the horizon, beginning its 43-mile journey to Ajo. Picture was taken from the I-8 overpass. Photo by Paul McGuffin, April 2009.

In the early 1900s, the Phelps-Dodge Copper Company sought to connect their New Cornelia Copper Mine in Ajo (pronounced "AY-ho") with smelters in Tuscon, AZ. Since Tucson was located on Southern Pacific's Sunset Route, Phelps-Dodge decided to build a railroad line north out of Ajo to the nearest point on the Sunset Route at Gila Bend, some 30 miles away. Thus, on May 10, 1915, Phelps-Dodge incorporated their own railroad company, the Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad, to construct a 43-mile line between the copper mine at Ajo and a connection with the Southern Pacific at Gila Bend; the line was completed and opened to freight and passenger traffic on February 20, 1916.

The line saw considerable business, both freight- and passenger-wise for most of its life. However, as copper production at the New Cornelia mine declined in the 1970s and into the 80s, the railroad ceased being profitable, and the line was closed on April 12, 1985, bringing to an end over 71 years of service.

The TC&GB is one of only a few railroads in the United States that has sustained continuous passenger operations for over 70 years.

Both the freight and passenger depots of the TC&GB in Ajo still exist; the passenger station has been renovated into a local business.

The line was re-opened temporarily in 1995-1998 so the smelter in Ajo could be dismantled and removed; the tracks have remained dormant ever since.

I rode as a passenger on this line in the late 1970's, probably around 1979. Passengers would ride in the caboose of the regular daily freight train from Ajo to Gila Bend and back. It was a wonderful experience. For a while, we rode in the cupola. The conductor told us we could go outside on the balcony, then he showed us how to hold onto the railing and lean way out, in order to see along the train. It was quite an experience. We even had to duck when bushes were near. That sort of thing would be a liability nightmare these days, but back then we were just having fun. It is unfortunate that we did not take some pictures.

Dean
Phoenix, AZ
9/9/2009

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My dad, Ray Phillips was an engineer on this Railroad for many years. I have great memories from riding the Caboose on Saturday mornings. It was great fun and I was sad when the Caboose went to live in the Chandler Railroad Museum, but glad she got to go to a good home, where I can visit her.

Cathy Phillips Hutton
Ajo, AZ
2/10/2010

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It is not pronounced "Ay-ho".

EJ
AH-HO
11/30/2012

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Back in 1978, my Wife and I were married on the T.C.& G.B. caboose while on the north bound half of the trip. I remember Ray Phillips of course. Now I work as an Engineer for a Minnesota railroad.

Thomas Schuppert
Blackduck, MN
6/15/2013

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I used to haul ore to Ajo and then copper slag out in the mid-1980s. The line was already dead then; there were three or four locomotives rusting away in the yard in Ajo. I see on Google Earth that they are still there.

Craig
Klamath Falls, OR
12/1/2013

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Love the history! Just wanted to make one correction to the info. This railroad was owned and operated by the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company of Warren, AZ which developed Ajo and started the New Cornelia Copper Company. They were bought out by Phelps Dodge in September 1931.

Darren M
Bisbee, AZ
3/15/2014

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