It’s full steam ahead for Red Mountain High welders
January 7, 2018
Photos and story by Laurie Struna
Red Mountain High welding students joined forces with Mesa’s Save Our Train committee and community volunteers for a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity — to restore Pioneer Park’s Engine #2355.
Teacher Dan Hurst seized the opportunity to make Mesa’s history come alive for his students, bridging lessons in history, welding and service learning.
“Having grown up in Mesa, the old steam engine is reminiscent of a time when orange blossoms scented the entire state, temperatures weren’t as hot, and the clear blue sky was endless,” Hurst said. “The engine is an iconic piece of history.”
A blast from the past
The treasured, Baldwin-built 1912 locomotive was donated to the city by the Southern Pacific Railroad 60 years ago. Battling age and harsh Arizona summers, the train deteriorated, leaving its future uncertain. It was placed behind wrought-iron fencing in 1993 and nearly sold for scrap metal in 2008. Nearly a decade ago, the committee rallied to raise the funds needed to save the train, coinciding with the 2012 voter-approved revitalization of Pioneer Park. The Mesa exhibit is one of two T-31 engines that survived destruction.
Senior welding student Nicodemus Phaklides shares that the locomotive project provided a first-class hands-on environment to showcase his talents and skills in a meaningful way.
“Rehabilitating a piece of history, and giving new life to the historic engine, was no small undertaking,” he said. “The train holds important memories for Mr. Hurst, and he’s shared a lot of fun stories about it in class, including a possible first kiss by the train.”
Students collaborate with community volunteers
After a specialty crew completed the abatement work, removing asbestos and lead paint, Red Mountain’s welders joined forces with volunteers for the nearly yearlong project. Students researched, problem solved and manufactured parts so another generation will have the opportunity to enjoy #2355.
Caleb Berkshire grew up watching his dad weld, and the freshman says his family is proud of his and his peers’ work on the train.
“During the week in the Red Mountain shop, we cut metal like butter to produce replacement parts for the train,” Berkshire said. “On Saturdays, welding teams load the rig and head to the train to work on site.”
The revitalized train features an elevated platform, new lighting, stairs leading to the cab and a raised walkway ideal for “selfies,” along with a restored bell, whistle and front and rear headlamps.
“It’s not every day students get the opportunity to go out and weld on crazy heavy metal,” said junior Hayden Atwater. “It’s been a really cool project.”
The Pioneer Park train’s grand unveiling is set for spring 2018.
Welding is one of several programs of study offered through the Mesa Public Schools Career and Technical Education department. Learn more at mpsaz.org/cte.