The Copper Basin Railway


A Photo Essay


Michael Derrick

All Photos by the Author






The Copper Basin Railway (CBRY), based in Hayden, AZ, has been on my “to do” list for several years now.  The more I read about this busy copper hauling shortline and its legendary president, Mr. Jake Jacobson, I became more intrigued.  The allure of the desert scenery, which is completely the opposite of that in which this South Carolina native was raised, and the excitement of photographing the veteran EMDs of the CBRY in this environment danced through my head periodically for the last several years.


Enter 2006.  After a period of relative inactivity on the photography front following the birth of our daughter, I decided it was getting time to do something big.  Knowing that the Arizona desert has a relatively predictable weather pattern (it is a desert for a reason, you know!), a friend and I began planning a trip to the CBRY for February.  To say the least, the CBRY was far beyond our wildest expectations.  Not only were the trains running like gangbusters, but also the people were the most cordial I have ever encountered.  We were treated to a personal tour of the property by “Jake” himself, and marveled at our time spent with him.  A true gentleman and great railroader was found in Mr. Jacobson, and I will always remember the time he was gracious enough to spend with us.


The CBRY is welcoming to visitors—but it is IMPERATIVE that you first check in at the office.  As long as an employee is available to escort you, there is a very good chance you will be allowed to take photos on the property.  However, even with a signed release form, visitors are not allowed in the shop and yard area at Hayden unescorted.  I can’t say this enough—PLEASE play by the rules.  Companies this accommodating of railfans are becoming less and less the norm, and it is best to keep a good thing going.  Safe, professional conduct is expected of you around the property, as well.


Due to the unusually large selection of photos from this visit, I have elected to share the sights of the CBRY with you through a photo essay—a first here at  I hope you enjoy reading about what was truly an inspirational trip for me; one that solidifies why I do what I do.  Please enjoy this special feature on the CBRY!


n      Michael Derrick



The Ore Train


The CBRY ore train, symbol OT-1, is the most important train on the CBRY.  OT-1 shuttles copper ore between the ASARCO copper mine at Ray, AZ and the smelter at Hayden.  Running on a religious schedule between the two points, OT-1 typically makes 4 to 6 roundtrips between these two points daily.  However, there is a “down day” for maintenance on the cars, and this typically falls on a Thursday.


The schedule on this train is so rigorous that it will even sit at Hayden to leave on schedule.  For instance, the next run to Ray from Hayden was to depart at noon on the day of our visit.  At approximately 1150, the train pulled up to the yard office and awaited its scheduled departure time.  Essentially, the railroad and ASARCO work around the schedule of this train, so its performance is critical to the operation—hence the strict schedule that is maintained.


There are numerous locations to photograph OT-1 along its route.  Following are several views of OT-1 along its journey.

ASARCO Ray, AZ copper mine


OT-1 approaching Ray Junction with loads


OT-1 exiting Tunnel 2, just south of Ray Junction

OT-1 working hard with loads at Kearny, AZ



As you can see, good photo opportunities abound at Ray Junction and Kearny.  The shot at Tunnel 2 is a very popular photo location, though it does require some hiking and crossing an old two-wire cattle fence.  Numerous species of cacti are found in this area, as well.  Seeing a pattern yet?  No?  Hint: SHARP THINGS!  If you plan to venture far off the beaten path in the Arizona desert (read: off of the pavement or dirt road), proper clothing is a must.  Jeans and boots are the order of the day, even in the heat.  Speaking of the heat, that brings other hazards: rattlesnakes and other critters that like hot weather, as well as dehydration.  This is not the place to pull off the side of the road and dash through the brush to get your photos—at least, not during warm weather months for certain.  A cautious step is your best action at all times of year, be it to avoid a reptile or cactus spines.  With that caution in mind, let’s continue to follow OT-1 south to Hayden.

OT-1 at South Kearny



OT-1 approaching Hayden


OT-1 working upgrade at the south end of Hayden Yard


The Hayden Ore Dump


The following series of photos chronicle the process of OT-1 dumping ore at Hayden.  This operation is easily viewable from the parallel highway.  Note the operator, who releases the ore via dump handles on the side of the ore hoppers.  The hopper doors are pneumatic, and each car is emptied in a matter of a few seconds as OT-1 slowly rolls through the dumper.


Approaching the dump

The dust flies!


A view of the ore dumping process


OT-1 at Hayden Yard, with empties and ready to complete another cycle.  Note the Roustabout job coming down from the smelter just below the stack.


OT-1 at the busy Hayden Yard, with arrival of the Roustabout from the smelter and the Local power being readied for a trip to the UP interchange at Magma, AZ.


The “Local” and “Unit Train”


Two other trains you will hear on the CBRY are the “Local,” which travels from Hayden to the interchange with Union Pacific at Magma, AZ, and the “Unit Train” which carries acid tanks from Hayden to the mine at Ray.  Both typically depart Hayden in the late afternoon to early evening, and combined with the afternoon OT-1, make the late afternoon your best time for seeing the CBRY at its busiest between Hayden and Ray Junction.


Local power heads “up the hill” to the smelter at Hayden



Locomotive Assignments


The backbone of the CBRY’s locomotive fleet are 8 GP39/GP39-2s, though the 3 veteran ex Rock Island GP18s and 5 GP9s are still earning their keep.  While OT-1 is typically powered by 3 or 4 GP39s, the GP9s and GP18s have been known to make their way into the consist, and sometimes lead.  Power for the Local, Roustabout, and Unit Train can be a mix of anything on the roster.


The entire active roster was repainted within the last couple of years, so the paint on all locomotives is in very good shape.  Regardless of the locomotive consist on any of the trains, rest assured the classy copper-nosed units will be looking sharp.



Local arriving at the Hayden smelter



“Jake” Jacobson


No discussion of the CBRY would be complete without a tribute to its President and COO L.S. “Jake” Jacobson.  After spending time with Jake during our visit to the CBRY, it is no wonder the man is one of the most revered managers in the shortline industry.  An intense passion for his employees, dedication to safe operation of the railroad, fostering the business of his railroad and his neighbors’, and a down to Earth common sense approach to all of this are the key tributes that make Mr. Jacobson literally a legend in the industry. 


In fact, his dedication to safety resulted in an award created in his namesake: The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s (ASLRRA) “Jake Award.”  These awards are given to ASLRRA member railroads to recognize those with outstanding safety records.  When the “Jakes” were first awarded, there were only a handful of railroads that received them, known as the “Magnificent Seven.”  Today, hundreds of railroads are receiving Jake Awards, a tribute to the hard work toward safety by the ASLRRA and Mr. Jacobson.  You can learn more about ASLRRA and the Jake Awards by visiting 


I would like to thank Jake and all of the fine people at the Copper Basin Railway for their courtesy and professionalism in facilitating our visit.  It is through their cooperative spirit and passion for their work that you are able to enjoy this photo essay.


-         Michael Derrick

ShortlinesUSA Meets Jake



Jake Right at Home


Common Sense Approach to Safety



The Grand Finale—CBRY Local at Sundown