After months of planning and restoration by the Town of Patagonia and the Sky Islands Tourist Assn. (SITA), the Southern Pacific caboose on the east side of Doc Mock Park will open for business as the Sky Islands Welcome Center in early October. Plans are still coming together, and funds still being raised, for an outdoor covered “train stop” that will complete the project.
Visitors to the area will be able to pick up brochures and receive recommendations from volunteers who will staff the Center. Once the train stop is built, they can sit in its shade as they plan their visit the area.
The train stop will mimic the structures traditionally found at smaller stops along rail lines. In the historic town of Crittenden, north of Patagonia, a similar shelter protected waiting riders from the elements as early as the 1880s.
Seating at the stop will include ‘Walter’s Bench,’ which sat for years in front of the former Center on the corner of Third and McKeown Avenues. The bench was painted and donated in honor of Walter Andrew, late husband of Patagonian Judith Andrew, and the founder of the PRT.
The 1940 caboose was donated by Peter Robbins, an area resident who reached out to Mayor Andy Wood to see if the Town had a use for it. When it was determined that it would make a good visitor’s center, it was moved from Casa Grande to its location through funding by South32.
The exterior has been painted the original colors. In addition to getting electricity and water to the caboose, the Town installed the concrete pad and walkways and is retrofitting steps to aid access.
Volunteer Tom Shore has spent many hours restoring the interior, which originally featured a work desk, two upholstered seats, a heating/cookstove, a lavatory and a cot where the two crew members slept.
The caboose and train stop will be owned by the Town of Patagonia and managed and staffed by SITA. Town Manager Ron Robinson and his crew took on the project enthusiastically, reported SITA President Linda Shore.
“I am incredibly impressed with the support the Town has given us. It’s cool to see how it has evolved in the last months,” she said. “They were very creative in finding thrifty solutions to challenges along the way,“
Southern Pacific train cars of this vintage ran through Patagonia on the Nogales branch of the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad. The branch started in Fairbank, now a ghost town on the San Pedro River along SR82. From there, lines connected through Tombstone to Bisbee, and to Benson, Tucson and beyond.
These routes were very active, shipping ore, cattle, and transporting soldiers, but the lines were abandoned by the middle of the 20th century. After 1929, Patagonia was the end of the line from Fairbank. The last train passed through Patagonia in the early 1960s.
On Nov. 12, the community will be invited to a dedication of the improvements that have been made to Doc Mock Park. There is a lot to celebrate. Besides the Welcome Center, an Arizona Trail informational kiosk is being created and will be installed between the Gazebo and the Caboose by the AZ Trail Assn. In addition, the community will dedicate the Doc Mock Park Community Forest, in which over 76 native trees, donated by residents, were planted by Borderlands Earth Care Youth and Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center kids.
All that will remain is the building of the train stop. Anyone wishing to donate funds for that project, or volunteer at the Center, is encouraged to contact Linda Shore or JoAnn Wales at firstname.lastname@example.org