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All Aboard!

Jimmy Magahern | Sep 3, 2013, 9:29 a.m.

As the mayor of tiny Williams, Arizona, the last town in the country to let go of its section of historic Route 66 during the completion of Interstate 40 and a place that rigorously retains its Old Town America heritage, John Moore gets to play cowboy every day.

“I grew up in the Midwest, but I always fancied the Western culture,” says Moore, who tried for a stint to take Scottsdale up on its “West Most Western Town” promise. “I remember 30 years ago you could ride your horse up to the tavern north of Scottsdale, tie your horse up to a hitching post and go in and have a burger,” he recollects. “That’s all gone away now. But up in Williams, we still have that feel, we still have that quality of life.”

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On the Grand Canyon Railway, which circles daily from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon twice a day from late May through Labor Day, passengers experience entertainment including a staged Wild West robbery.

In Moore’s town, population 3,023, even the kids still love cowboys. “To the younger generation, the cowboy is Woody in ‘Toy Story,’ and the new movie of ‘The Lone Ranger,’” he says. But it’s even a bigger thing with the grandparents. “To us, it’s Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and the cowboy shows. You’re reminded of when you were a youngster going down to the theater on Saturday afternoon and watching Hopalong Cassidy.”

When even Williams becomes too city-fied for Moore (all those city council meetings on street paving), he has one last escape:

“If I ever get to feeling down, I go on the train.”

For Moore—and for a growing population of travelers today who are rediscovering the unique enjoyment of riding the rails—the train is a timeless timekeeper, a steely step back in time that’s forever orbiting the present. On the Grand Canyon Railway, the train that circles daily from Williams to the Grand Canyon—twice a day from late May through Labor Day—Moore has a lifelong pass as the train’s Marshal John B. Goodmore, passing through the cars, greeting tourists, and wearing pretty much the same outfit he dons daily: a white cowboy hat, red damask waistcoat and a long dark coat, with a badge.

“I’ve been doing the train ride since it started, back on Sept. 17, 1989,” says Moore, who remains part of a group of stunt people and actors who provide re-enacted train robberies and movie-style gunfights along the railway’s tracks. The first gathering of what’s now called the Cataract Creek Gang occurred when then-governor Rose Mofford, inaugurating the reopened railway’s first passenger train to the Grand Canyon in 20 years, got pranked by her staff. As a joke, the governor’s office called up Moore, then in training as Williams’ police chief, to see if he and his officers could stage a robbery along the way.

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Amtrack has recently experienced a surprising surge in popularity. Last year more than 31 million travelers rode on the once derided national rail service—an all-time record.

“Gov. Mofford loved it, and she suggested it would be fun to see a Wild West show or a train robbery as a regular part of the ride,” he says. “Eventually it became a daily occurrence.”

Moore says he’d like to think the Western entertainment that he and his ragtag crew provide along the ride, which also includes different musicians and storytellers in each of the cars, is part of the appeal that has drawn more than 2.5 million passengers to Grand Canyon Railway since that day in ‘89. But the actors are always upstaged by the destination.

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