Max and Thelma Biegert
Max and Thelma Biegert are honored for their dedication to preserving the historic Grand Canyon Railway in Arizona, turning an abandoned and lifeless property into a viable line carrying tourists from Williams, Arizona, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
In the early 20th century, Grand Canyon Railway was the lifeline to Grand Canyon National Park. The line was originally projected to transport ore from the Anita mines 45 miles north of Williams in the late nineteenth century. In 1897, the Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railroad Company was incorporated. The railroad changed management and consolidated many times until, in 1901, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway took over and completed the track to the Grand Canyon.
The first train ran on September 17, 1901, connecting at Williams to the Santa Fe to give tourists a direct route from Chicago to the east and Los Angeles to the west. The company had to rely on tourism because ore and mining traffic proved to be unsustainable, though it also transported water, lumber, and cattle. Along with the Fred Harvey Company, Grand Canyon Railroad commissioned and built most of the historic structures that still exist along the South Rim.
As a result of competition from the automobile and the airplane, passenger service to Grand Canyon National Park stopped in 1968, and the line fell into disuse. But on September 17, 1989, two decades after it closed and exactly 88 years after the first passenger train ran, Max and Thelma Biegert reopened Grand Canyon Railway. Ten thousand people came to the platform to see the train off, with Governor Rose Mofford as the guest of honor. Using restored steam and vintage diesel engines along with classic coaches, Grand Canyon Railway carries more than 230,000 people to Grand Canyon National Park each year, dramatically relieving congestion in the park.