On April 20, 1922 the project began and was completed a few
months later. The railroad, however, did not remove the original
narrow-gauge line and instead simply built its replacement next to it.
The three-foot route remained in use for another year until being closed
on April 1, 1923. For more than 30 years the Magma Arizona Railroad
continued the conveyor belt-like process of shipping finished copper to
the SP (along with various other small freight commodities which usually
consisted of local passengers and mail from the few small communities
located along the line that included Thompson, Queen, and Superior) and
returning with raw ore which the Class I would deliver at the
interchange. In general, daily train operations were not particularly
difficult due to the railroad's low-grade main line that essentially ran
across the desert floor.
Because of this, the steam locomotive fleet consisted mostly of medium-sized power, which included three total units: #5 was a 2-8-0 Consolidation built by the American Locomotive Company in October of 1922, the only new steamer the railroad ever owned; #6 was a 2-6-0 Mogul purchased second-hand from shortline El Paso & Southwestern Railroad and originally built in 1907 by the Burnham, Williams & Company; finally there was #7, a 2-8-2 Mikado that was acquired secondhand from the Tremont & Gulf Railroad in 1954, the largest on the roster that was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1917. Today, all three locomotives amazingly survive. The railroad kept them in storage through the 1960s in the event of a power shortage. However, #6 was the first to go, retired on January 7, 1961. Today, the 2-6-0 is on display at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale.
A few years later 2-8-0 #5 was acquired by the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern for tourist service. She remained in service until the OP&E's shutdown in 1981 and was on display at a nearby depot until 1995 when the locomotive was acquired by Galveston Railroad Museum in Galveston, Texas. There, she has been on display ever since as #555. Finally, 2-8-2 #7 became most famous for her 1962 role in MGM's movie, How The West Was Won. The Mikado occasionally saw service through the 1960s, with the last call to duty occurring in 1971. Three years later she was purchased by the Texas State Railroad in 1974 and has remained there ever since. While steam was still in use the Magma Arizona Railroad first began using diesels on August 22, 1958 and came to own six in all; three Baldwins (S8 #8, S12 #9, and DRS-6-6-1500 #10) and three Alco RS3s (#1-3).
In 1968 the Magma Copper Company closed its smelter at Superior
with raw ore sent south to another plant at San Manuel. The railroad
remained in use for another thirty years until its parent was purchased
by Broken Hill Proprietary Company of Australia in 1996. They saw no
need for continued rail use and closed the MAA in 1997. Today, the
Arizona operation is owned by Resolution Copper of London and talks have
been ongoing of resuming rail operations due to a massive amount of new
copper ore discovered just east of Superior. If this was to be mined
it is quite like that the Magma Arizona Railroad would be revived to
ship this ore to the Union Pacific and nearby smelters for refinement.
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Magma Arizona Railroad