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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bringing Home the Memories!

I have to ask if this is a real train or not. It is a picture, which is posted below, of a scale model of what looks like a Southern Pacific design of a diesel engine pulling a passenger consist. The train pulls passengers around the property of this hotel:
I grew up just a few blocks from this hotel. We passed it often when visiting an aunt in Scottsdale, when going to Papago Park, or when going up or down Van Buren for one reason or another.
When the Ramada Inn at 3801 East Van Buren installed a streetcar trolley to deliver guests to their rooms, the HiWay House at 3148 East Van Buren, which advertised itself as the "King-Sized Playground of the Southwest," invested in a large-scaled train. They named it the Arizona Pacific Railroad and it pulled its visitors of all ages on a locomotive tour of the grounds as seen on this map of the hotel.
And what grounds. HiWay House was an extreme example of the frenzied competition among Van Buren Street motels.
The hotel was a Del Webb Construction Company project and Van Buren's largest hotel complex; besides its private locomotive and passenger consist, the HiWay House Hotel had its own business complex and convention center. In December of 1956 the “Web Spinner”, an internal communications tool of the Del Webb Construction Company, the HiWay House is mentioned as still being under construction. In the November of 1956 issue it was mentioned as being scheduled for opening in December of 1956. I am not sure exactly when it opened its doors, but it was shortly before the picture on the post card posted below.

The trains were not inexpensive. At a time when a new Chevrolet was $2200, the average house $18,000 and average annual wage $5500, Webb paid $13,700 for each of the Arizona trains FOB North Tonawanda, New York. Rail, ties, ballast, other track components, crossing signals and labor brought the overall cost of each railroad to close to $20,000 - and he already owned the land.

The hotel had two engines that pulled the train: the one shown in this post card
and a replica of a steam locomotive. At the time, the public had an insatiable appetite for the American Western. Seven of the top ten TV shows and eleven of the top twenty were westerns. Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Have Gun will Travel, The Rifleman, Maverick, Tales of Wells Fargo and Wyatt Earp were all in the top ten most popular shows on television. Webb was looking to ride the wave of the popularity of the American western and provide a fun and entertaining way for motel guests to enjoy and view his spacious motel grounds. So, he also purchased this locomotive:

The Hiway House in Phoenix changed ownership and names several times in the mid-sixties and seventies, but the train stayed and continued carrying guests around the property. The name on the side of the engine changed as often as hotel ownership. The Hiway House Express was at various times the Ramada Inn Express, International Hotel Express and Sleepy Bear Express (Travelodge) among others. The interstate highway system bypassed the area and by the mid-seventies the area was in significant decline.

In the mid-'90s, the HiWay House became the Big House, when the state of Arizona purchased the property and turned it into a women's prison, which operated until the end of the 1990s.
This post card was published by Petley Studios from Phoenix, Arizona. Bob (Robert Teeple) Petley was born on November 11, 1912, in Akron, Ohio and passed away on July 7, 2006. He began his publishing career when he issued twelve black & white comic cards in 1946. he started his postcard company, Petley Studios, Inc., which would later become the nations largest publisher and distributor of scenic color postcards with dealers in Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, southwestern Colorado, and eastern California. He went on to become the largest publisher of photochrome postcards depicting Southwest views and roadside Americana. Some artist signed cards depicting Western themes were also produced. Most of his postcards seem to have been printed by Dexter Press. This firm was sold to Bruce Finchum in 1984. The above information about Petley comes from the Metropolitan Postcard Club's website.

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If you know anything about the history of the cards, the trains or the locations, please add them.