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Fall Willcox Wine Festival packs ‘em in

WILLCOX—Visitors traveled from all over to start the weekend in Willcox with wine.

This year’s Fall Wine Festival kicked off with several new activities, including a Railroad Park fund-raiser dinner Friday night, a Hallo-wine dance Saturday night and a new antique vendor space titled Vintage Village. Local wineries made their appearance, numbering 15 at this festival, and there were at least 40 different vendors selling everything from food to art. Also, the festival included the Four Peaks Brewery as a way to serve all of the festival attendees. As for entertainment, the Fall Festival boasted two stages with consistent live music.

“The people are friendly, and we like to come to the festival twice a year. They have the best wine in Arizona and the people are friendly, more friendly than in Napa Valley (California),” said festivalgoer Dennese Buffalo, who was visiting from Tucson.

The Range News spoke to Birds and Barrels Vineyards owner Chad Preston on Friday night regarding the benefit dinner and his view of the festival. Birds and Barrels is one of the newest additions to the Cochise-Graham Wine Council.

“We’ve only been open for a little over a year, and we had a really good harvest this year,” Preston said. “I think it looks great. This is our first time here and seeing everything, but I think the turnout is great. We have a lot of locals, we have a lot of people from the Phoenix area and the Tucson area, so I think it’s great.”

The festival spanned from Friday night, beginning with the benefit dinner, through Sunday afternoon when the festival came to a close.

The day Leo met Big Boy

WILLCOX—Young Leonardo Howell met Union Pacific’s Big Boy 4014 on Saturday morning in Willcox while his mother, Dominique Howell, captured a glimpse of his future on her cell phone as he got a once-in-a-lifetime gander at the big black boiler on steel wheels that once migrated across the nation as commonly as the buffalo.

Those great smoke-belching steam engines that criss-crossed the nation and tied the Pacific and Atlantic together on steel tracks are no longer a common sight.

The Union Pacific decided to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion by sending its historic Big Boy steam locomotive No. 4014 across the nation.

It took more than two years of restoration by the team that bears the name Union Pacific Steam Team. The No. 4014 is the only operating Big Boy locomotive.

Leonardo wants to be an engineer when he grows up. He has an inside track.

His mother’s boyfriend is Jacob Harbison, who is a train engineer working the tracks around Safford, Morenci and, as Leonardo said, “Clifton, too!”

Visiting with people waiting for the train to roll into Willcox, a stop that in the Old West days had characters like the Earps, Clantons, Billy the Kid, the 7th Cavalry, Edgar Rice Burroughs and so on, one could hear childhood remembrances of the trains they all witnessed.

One gentleman with a neatly trimmed, gray-peppered beard, a walking stick and a leash controlling a patient poodle told how as a kid growing up in Chicago, where his family lived a block from the train station on a second-floor flat, he would lie awake listening to the trains coming and going in the night.

There were a thousand stories told along the track just 10 minutes before Big Boy appeared on the horizon.

A thousand stories transcended into one shared memory of the Big Boy as it chugged into Willcox, blasting its whistle and spraying steam into clouds of thick mist announcing its arrival.

And the people oohed and aahed as Big Boy No. 4014 crawled to a snail’s pace and came to a precise resting stop that would have made a Las Vegas limo driver envious.

For 15 glorious minutes, the people surrounded the train, took selfies and marveled at the sheer size and mechanical beauty that only a mechanic’s mother could truly appreciate and love.

Or an engineer.

Or a kid with a dream.

When the time was up, Big Boy almost reverently built up steam as if to say not only goodbye, but give its personal steam blast salute to all those who rode the tracks before him and to all those who came to see him on this stop of memories.

As Big Boy No. 4014 chugged away, his boiler became a whisper as the cars with their yellow coats dressed for travel swooshed by with a whisper of their own.

“Remember the day you got to see Big Boy,” each passing car quietly swooshed and said.

“Remember the dream that was and dare to make a new one come true.”

“Remember the day Leo met Big Boy No. 4014,” winked the caboose as it disappeared into the horizon on its way to its next destination and its next memory to share.

For the Pacific Union Big Boy’s schedule and information, visit

https://www.up.com/heritage/steam/schedule/index.htm? fbclid=IwAR0YIwvecVwLM5ff3BlGexmR3xc5zx8o spYFjbdS4ajHQFhkmY3f9_GCtog