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Verde Canyon Caboose & Fermin


If you have the good fortune to ride the Verde Canyon Railroad from Clarkdale to Perkinsville, and the even better fortune to do it in the Caboose, you’ll likely cross paths with Fermin (pronounced, Fair•meen). He is the knowledgeable, self-proclaimed ex-hippie, caboose butler with whom you’ll spend four solid hours. He’ll point out caves and rock formations and mineral deposits and the house he used to live in until his father-in-law kicked him out and sold the homestead out from under him and even the dirt road he drove down to get there, until you’ll want to scream, “For the love of god, can we have a little peace and quiet around here.”

But you won’t.

You’ll just climb the ladder up into the cupola so you can enjoy a few minutes of serenity, but only a few—Fermin can climb too!

Of course you are happy that he is there, straddling the ladders and pointing out where the same Bald Eagle couple rear their young every year. We’re too late to see them—they generally leave the nest in April.

I should point out that this is a Luxury Caboose ride, where finger food is warmed in “silver” chafing dishes and champagne is served in glass glasses. If you’re wondering how I managed to find myself in this situation, then you don’t know me very well. I am blessed with marvelous good fortune—and a generous sister who invited me to join her family on this fun-filled excursion.

The most important thing to remember about being in a caboose is that when you step out of it there is nothing behind you—nothing but track and wilderness. I suffer from acrophobia, combined with a less common condition characterized by the urge to throw oneself off perfectly good (and safe) standing spots—the back of a caboose for instance. So I always make sure there’s something to hold onto. I don’t know if there’s a name for this disorder, but I’m apparently not be the only one with it. I couldn’t help noticing that there are plenty of things to hold onto on the outside of trains.

Because I announced this affliction at the start of our ride, I wasn’t allowed to leave the caboose without my sister or one of my nieces in attendance. That’s how we all ended up on the very last two feet of a quarter-mile-long train when it entered a surprisingly deep tunnel. To say that it was pitch dark would be a waste of a sentence. The only sounds came from the wheels rolling over the seams on the track and the shifting of the car as it took the gentle curve inside the tunnel. It was like being on an amusement ride—before the thrilling part.

The switchman hands off vital provisions to Fermin

Traveling at a maximum 12mph, it took a couple hours to get to Perkinsville (population: 2?). Just beyond a necessarily long white-painted, black-lettered wood sign announcing the ghost ranch, there was an abandoned bunk house and the remains of the former depot. Also standing, and apparently occupied (by 2?), is the old station master’s house.

There the double engines disconnected, switched onto a parallel track, and backed up to the caboose for the return ride to Clarkdale. On the pass Jason, the switchman, handed Fermin a bag of what would turn out to be ice cream sandwiches. We watched from our private platform as the engines switched tracks and headed straight for us. There’s something not quite right about seeing a more-than-100-ton locomotive approaching. I resisted the urge to throw myself in front of it.

The return ride gave us an opportunity to really take in the amazing scenery. Thanks to the summer rains, the desert was lush and the Verde River was flowing. Of course the rain also stirred up the silt in the river bed, making it a milk-chocolate brown instead of green, as the name would imply. The prickly pears were in abundance. The ocotillo stalks glowed, covered with tiny leaves and topped with red flowers. The sky was turquoise and the canyon magnificent. All of this appreciation of the landscape was of course under the watchful gaze of Fermin.

My sister and I slipped out the back door to have a private discussion regarding the appropriate gratuity for an attentive caboose butler. Alas, we were discovered by the attentive butler, who was suddenly standing behind us, pointing out black walnut trees. We gave in and returned to our caboose, where Fermin was busy showing everyone his rocks. I should clarify here that Fermin had a fine collection of samples of the area’s geology: sandstone, limestone, copper ore, and the waste from mining it.

We rolled back into the depot just before 5pm, having had an enjoyable (and educational) afternoon. I took some measurements and promised to make pajamas for everyone, even Fermin.

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If you want to have a similar experience, go here.

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