Hiway House S-16's in Arizona

Hiway House S-16's

Hiway House

Still Active in Arizona

History of the Hiway House S-16's in Arizona

          It was 1959, Del Webb owned the New York Yankees, was in talks to buy the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and was a year away from opening the first of his planned communities in Sun City, Arizona. One of the many other projects on his plate at the time was the expansion of the recently acquired Hiway House Motel chain. Webb purchased land and built a sprawling new motel in Phoenix and one in Tucson on a similarly large parcel of land. He wanted these motels to be uniquely different from other nearby motels. Instead of a concrete courtyard, the new Hiway House motel and convention centers in Phoenix and Tucson had acres of grass, hundreds of trees and shrubs, eighteen hole pitch and putt golf courses, multiple pools and extensive flower gardens.

Hiway House in Phoenix

Del Webb's HiWay House in Phoenix Arizona

Hiway House in Tucson

Del Webb's HiWay House in Tucson Arizona

          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.

          The Allan Herschell Company had purchased the assets of the Miniature Train Company in November of 1956. P.A. Sturtevant, the founder of MTC and inventor of the torque wrench, had previously rejected suggestions that his successful G-16 train be modified with sheet metal to have the appearance of a frontier looking steam locomotive. He reportedly felt that a frontier styled train with Blomberg trucks just wasn’t a look that he thought would sell. After the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, NY purchased MTC, the western craze was in full swing and they didn’t hesitate to design sheet metal around the proven G-16 drive train. It utilized the same Wisconsin V-4 engine, transmission, fluid clutch and Blomberg style trucks as its popular older sister the G-16. One of the advertising slogans even read “1865 outside, G-16 guts inside”.

S16 Advertisement

Advertisement for the Allan Herschell S-16

S16 Advertisement

Early Advertisement for the Allan Herschell S-16

          The Allan Herschell Company debuted the S-16 at the annual National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches sales convention at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago in Nov. of 1958. The S-16 seemed like the perfect “vehicle” for Webb’s motels and an order was placed for an S-16 and two coaches for both the Phoenix and Tucson locations. 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.


Allan Herschell Catalog Showing the New S-16

          The engine for the Phoenix location (builders No. 59-1873) was shipped from New York on September 25, 1959 and the Tucson ocation engine (builders No. 60-1875) was shipped four months later on January 15, 1960. The Phoenix engine arrived in Arizona a few days later and the “Hiway House Express” was an instant hit and not just with the kids. The track wound its way around the flower gardens,swimming pools, 18 hole pitch and putt golf course and barbecue cabanas of the sprawling and manicured grounds of the motel in central Phoenix. Reportedly, Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, several of his star players, the cast of Gunsmoke, and numerous notables from the entertainment and sports fields who stayed at the hotel rode and some operated the train. The motel hosted conventions at the time and photographs of adults filling the train outnumber those of children…

S16 Arriving

S-16 Arriving at the Hiway House in Phoenix

S16 Rides

Adult Passengers Enjoying a Ride on the S-16

          The motel promoted the train rides on billboards and in print media. The children’s menu at its restaurant advertised the train on the back cover and stated “So big we have our own railroad”. Non-guests of the motel visited and paid just for the train rides.


Del Webb's Phoenix Hiway House Advertisement

          The Tucson engine was also named the “Hiway House Express” and was immediately popular with guests at that location. It also ran through the parking lot and then circled the spacious inner grounds of the hotel. It too reportedly had its share of notable celebrity passengers.

Tucson Hiway House

Post Card Advertising the Hiway House in Tucson

          The Allan Herschell Company S-16 had a short, but successful run. Initial sales were brisk with 9 trains sold in 1959 and 10 trains sold in both 1960 and in 1961. In 1962, 7 trains were sold; that number fell to 2 trains in 1963 and three trains in 1964. The trains were easy to operate and as dependable as the venerable MTC G-16. The S-16 wasn’t without a few operational and design challenges, especially in the early years, but each was overcome to the satisfaction of the owners and operators.

          By 1962, the shift of emphasis in park trains was on the larger gauge (24 inch), longer and wider cars and the ability to carry more passengers per trip. The Allan Herschell Company was developing its S-24 "Iron Horse" model to do battle with the C.P. Huntington of Chance Industries and began marketing the "Iron Horse" in late 1962; construction began in 1963. Although S-16 trains were still technically for sale for several more years, the last one was sold in September of 1964. Forty-one of the trains were built during its six years of production.


Advertising the New Allan Herschell Iron Horse

          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.


1961 Phoenix Hiway House

          The motel was purchased by the State of Arizona and converted to use as a women’s prison. A 10 foot block wall topped with razor wire surrounded the old motel. The track and crossing signals were removed, but the train and the section of track upon which it sat remained in front of the administration office for many years. Exposure to the elements, vandals and thieves took its toll on the S-16. In 1995, the State of Arizona decided to sell the train in a surplus property auction.

S-16 in the 1970's

Former Phoenix Hiway House S-16 in the 1970's

Auction Notice

State Surplus Auction Notice

          My brother David and I had met Malcolm Mackey the owner of the original Tucson Del Webb engine in 1993 or 94 at an open house he had at his Flagstaff and Middle Verde Railroad. We had the opportunity to ride behind and even operate his S-16 locomotive and I was hooked. Malcolm, David and I attended the State of Arizona Surplus Property auction in September of 1995 and with Malcolm’s considerable assistance I purchased the train. She was a mess. Anything that could have been abused or mistreated by the last motel operator or two had been and numerous items had been stolen or vandalized by others. She was a mess, but a beautiful mess to me.

Former Tucson Hiway House S-16

Malcolm Mackey's Restored S-16 From the Tucson Hiway House

Phoenix Hiway House S-16

Former Phoenix Hiway House S-16 in 1995

          The Tucson Hiway House had a similar history to the Phoenix location after being sold by Del Webb. It changed hands several times with the most notable ownership groups being Travelodge and the Hilton Inn Motor Hotel group. The train had last operated sometime in the late 1960’s, but remained on static display on the property. In 1974, the hotel was planning to build several tennis courts and wanted the train and the track removed. Malcolm Mackey became aware that the train was for sale and quickly consummated a deal for its purchase and moved the train to Flagstaff for restoration. Malcolm spent several years tracking down blue prints, Service Bulletins and parts suppliers. His restored engine began operation on his Flagstaff and Middle Verde Railroad on October 22, 1988.


Former Tucson Hiway House S-16 in the 1970's

          Malcolm was a huge help in the restoration of the Phoenix Hiway House engine as he had already “been there and done that”. The restored Phoenix engine made its first run on December 15, 2002. After more than 50 years since construction, both of the original Hiway House Motel trains are still bringing smiles to the faces of their Arizona passengers.


Former Phoenix HiWay House S-16 Now Runs at the A&P RR

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