This is a place for discussions of historic preservation in Armory Park, and what benefits and challenges it presents. Local history is another subject addressed here and in web pages. I will publish articles here when it seems helpful; readers are invited to comment. To support the mission of this site, acceptable comments are those that contribute to reasonable historic preservation, better understanding of our history and serve the interests of Armory Park residents. Others may be invited to post here also. Please let me know if you want to do so.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Constant Weinzapfel - Armory Park's Locomotive Engineer

The Southern Pacific Railroad and railroad people built early Armory Park. I've been searching for history of the company and people who gave our neighborhood its start. 

The following paragraphs were extracted from a 2001 article in the Tucson Weekly. The subjects were Connie Weinzapfel and engine #1673, now located at the downtown train depot. If you want to read the entire article, click here: The Engine and the Engineer.

Connie Weinzapfel was born into a railroad family. His father, Michael Charles, or M.C., worked for the Illinois Central railroad company for seven years before moving west in 1911 for his wife's health. Over the next 39 years he would be both a fireman and engineer for Southern Pacific.

The couple resided in downtown's Armory Park neighborhood, an area predominately occupied by railroad households. The Weinzapfel family had lived nearby at the time of Connie's birth, and he would stay in the neighborhood his entire life, always fighting to preserve the area's historic integrity.

While in high school, Connie had a job delivering ice to homes and businesses, including those in downtown's infamous red light district. After he graduated, for a few years he worked at several downtown theaters, including as the assistant manager of the Fox, earning $25 a week. 

Then in 1937, Connie hired on with the railroad, a job he had long cherished. "As I grew up I always wanted to be what my father was," Connie told the Arizona Historical Society in 1984. "I said from the day I was born, or the first day I can remember, that I wanted to be a locomotive man."

Connie first had to learn how to "fire" a steam engine. Over 45 days of unpaid instruction in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, he was taught the trade. When his apprenticeship was up, he signed on as a paid fireman for the Southern Pacific Company on June 18, 1937.

Life for a railroad man in those days was not glamorous, or easy. Years later Connie remembered, "I spent 272 days in the first year out of town, away from my family. The second year was 243 days." Then he added, "That was one of the hardest things in the world. You couldn't plan anything with your family. You couldn't say, 'I'm going to be in for your birthday.' ... My wife was--I mean she carried a cross. It was wonderful, you know, to raise three kids like she did, because they could never plan on me. She had to do it all."

By 1943, Connie Weinzapfel had become a railroad engineer, just like he said he wanted to be. And why not, because according to Connie, "The second most sought-after, thought-of job in the United States was the locomotive engineer. President was first ... you wanted to be president or else you wanted to be a locomotive engineer."

He thought of retiring when he turned 65 in 1977, but by then his wife, Rilla, had cancer. He kept working to retain his medical coverage so she could receive treatment. Plus, as Connie always said, "I'm a crazy guy 'cause I love my job."

The engineer passed away on March 19, 1998, just one day before the 118th anniversary of the arrival of the railroad in Tucson. 

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