(Originally appeared in SANTA FE MODELER, Volume 12, Number
3, Third Quarter, 1989, published by the Santa Fe Modelers Organization.
If James Dun, chief engineer of the Santa Fe Railway System, experienced
dejavu on the day early in 1902 that he ordered F. M. Jones to survey
a railroad route across New Mexico, he was entirely justified. As
chief engineer of the Frisco fifteen years earlier, Dun had ordered
other men to survey the same path. He had been over the route himself.
He was aware that ever since the Southwest had been wrested from
Mexico, men had planned for a railroad to follow the 35th parallel.
Dun had witnessed a half-century of effort. Company after company
had raised the banner only to suffer the fate of ancient Babel.
Now after the economic upheaval of the 1890's, the western third
of the route was in Santa Fe hands while the Frisco held the eastern
third. A great gap separated the lines.
The Union Pacific and the Rock Island Systems were building into
the Southwest during the early Twentieth Century. These competing
lines were not burdened with excessive grades such as plagued the
Santa Fe's main line in northern New Mexico. The Santa Fe needed
its own low-grade line to remain competitive, and a proposed connection
from the Santa Fe-affiliated Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railway
near the Texas border to the Rio Grande near Albuquerque seemed
Dun knew the promise. But he felt that time was being wasted on
a project that would never be completed and so informed Jones. Nevertheless,
he issued orders to lay out a main line between Sabinal and Portales
via Abo Pass. Jones found Sabinal to be lacking as a base and established
his headquarters at Belen, a few miles up the Rio Grande. In March,
he requisitioned three surveying parties and placed over them men
who had had experience in eastern New Mexico. J. W. Stewart was
to survey from Sabinal to the summit of Abo Pass. From there, S.
A. Wallace was to find a path to the Pecos River near Fort Sumner.
H. T. McGee was to assemble his crew at Portales and to survey east
and west from there. Jones would earn bruises riding a buckboard
to oversee the work of all parties.
Stewart had the least ground to cover, but his ground was difficult.
After a basic line to Sabinal had been worked out, Jones directed
him to find a line from Abo to La Joya and up the Rio Puerco to
a connection with the existing main line.
Then Jones followed Wallace's location stakes to Willard. There,
the line turned south to avoid rough country to the east. Jones
followed the survey into Torrance, a small station on the El Paso
and Northeast ern Railroad. The surveyors had requested water at
the depot and been refused. On learning this, Jones telegraphed
Dun and requested that a few strings be pulled at EP&NE headquarters.
Jones then pursued the stakes with more urgency. He found Wallace
at the head of Yeso Arroyo. The crew had survived on pools of rain
water that had dried before Jones' passage. Leaving Wallace and
crew behind, Jones rode on to check on McGee.
McGee had surveyed southeastward from Portales to the Texas state
line. This had to do with a proposed line between the Pacific Ocean
and the Gulf of Mexico. Then he crossed the plains from Portales
to Fort Sumner. At Dun's suggestion, Jones now had him work out
Jones spent seventeen months making such journeys.
Resurveys were common. McGee tried several crossings of the Pecos.
Wallace looked for a more northerly route from Willard to avoid
the lone deviation through Torrance and the 1.4% grade on the Yeso.
Stewart tried several lines through the pass, one of which was called
the "long tunnel route" and another the "short tunnel
route." Jones favored a line crossing the Rio Grande at Belen
and climbing over the divide into the Rio Puerco valley. Jones even
avoided the Pass entirely by running a line from Abo down to Rincon,
which connected with a line across southern Arizona that other Santa
Fe men were examining. Dun, now taking an interest, had an unexpected
suggestion in May. He wanted a line from Abo to Santa Rosa that
would connect with the Rock Island.
An outgrowth of Santa Fe / Rock Island Cooperation in Oklahoma,
Santa Fe use of the Rock Island's line southwest of Hutchinson,
Kansas, was favored by both companies. Jones laid out a good line
to Santa Rosa via the Pintada Arroyo before another alter native
appeared. The Santa Fe Central Railway was, at that time, building
a line southwards from the city of Santa Fe that would pass through
both Willard and Torrance, The Santa Fe could lease operating rights
between those points and over the EP&NE to Santa Rosa. The Santa
Fe would only have to build between Belen and Willard. The decision
to construct this line came in September.
Despite the Rock Island plans, surveys continued for the entire
line. Hell's Canyon, near Albuquerque, was examined and rejected.
Jones preferred an eastern junction at Portales, but Dun insisted
on Texico due to problems with the other town's promoters. By repeated
revision, Jones and his subordinates eventually designed a line
with a 0.6% ruling grade except for a few minutes of 1.25% on the
west side of Abo Pass.
On October 30, 1902, the Santa Fe obtained a charter for the Eastern
Railway of New Mexico. The main line was to extend from Rio Puerco
station on the Santa Fe eastward to Texico. A branch was to follow
the Rio Puerco Valley down to the Rio Grande and proceed to Abo
Pass, another branch would head southeastward from what would later
be called Melrose to the state line via Portales.
W. M. Smith began to purchase the right-of-way to Willard. Belen
merchant John Becker helped in the task. Becker had supplied groceries
and other services during the survey and accomplished the difficult
task of winning praise from the surly P.M. Jones. The railroad named
a station for him.
Stewart remained in the pass, trying new lines. Harry McGee began
revising the existing railroad east of Texico. Wallace was despatched
to Dodge City to begin work on a line from there to the Rock Island
at Liberal. It seemed that the Santa Fe wished to bypass the grades
and curves of the Rock Island's line in Kansas. McGce joined him
under Jones' supervision when this line developed into something
that must have sent chills through Rock Island officials: A Santa
Fe line parallel to the Rock Island but with a better grade line.
Santa Fe stakes led southwestward from Dodge City. Soon, they were
running a few miles to the side of the Rock Island. Further along,
they moved closer until, for one hundred miles, the lines were virtually
side by side. South of Santa Rosa, the El Paso and Northeastern
was paralleled to Llano, where a connection was planned with the
proposed Belen-Texico line. In New Mexico, the Santa Fe survey called
for a ruling grade of 0.6% and for 0.4% elsewhere. The Rock Island
used a 1% grade.
It is likely that the Santa Fe never intended to build the line.
It would have cost too much to build. It also would have passed
through territory that could not support two lines of railroad.
Probably, the Santa Fe only wished to rattle the Rock Island's cage
enough to get concessions on trackage rights.
Meanwhile, contractor B. Lantry and Sons had been working out of
Belen under the eye of Jones' protege J. V. Key. By June of 1903,
almost half of the grade to Willard had been completed. A temporary
bridge was thrown across the Rio Grande and track was snaking eastward.
However, Wall Street entered one of its periodic declines and in
July the Santa Fe ordered Jones and Key to call off their forces
for the duration. The contractor, who had laid track to Sais at
the mouth of Abo Canyon, protested that not finishing the work would
throw him into financial difficulties. The Santa Fe loaned $20,000
to B. Lantry and Sons until construction would resume.
During the hiatus, it became evident that the entire Belen Cutoff
should be built rather than obtain permanent trackage rights over
the Rock Island.
A stumbling block in justifying construction of the entire Belen
Cutoff had been the need to completely rebuild several hundred miles
of railroad east of Texico. Now, the Panhandle of Texas was finally
being effectively developed. This meant that the Santa Fe's primitive
railroad through the Pan handle would need upgrading anyway to handle
the increased traffic. A new survey of the proposed route between
the Pacific and the Gulf would feed traffic into the Cutoff near
Texico. Earlier versions had planned to connect at Willard.
Finally, the ruling grade on the Santa Fe's new transcontinental
route would rarely exceed 0.6%, while the Rock Island's line used
There was now ample reason to build, but the Santa Fe wished to
spread out the cost of construction over several years by obtaining
temporary trackage rights. The Rock Island was willing to deal.
By June of 1904, the Rock Island was proposing to separate the
line west of Hutchinson, Kansas, from the rest of the System. The
line in Kansas would be raised to modern standards. Use of the line
would be charged to the two operating railroads at cost of maintenance.
The Santa Fe, with 70% of the tonnage, would pay 70% of the expenses.
The plan was clearly to the Rock Island's advantage. It would give
the Rock a high quality main line with the Santa Fe footing most
of the bill. Although the line would be separate, it would still
be Rock Island owned. Also, this was a plan for forever when the
Santa Fe wanted only a temporary deal. The Santa Fe refused.
The Rock offered to split costs equally, then, after the Santa
Fe remained aloof, offered the use of the new Amarillo-Tucumcari
line. The more eager and insistent the Rock Island became, the more
reluc tant the Santa Fe became. Consideration was still given to
routing over the EP&NE and the SFC to temporarily avoid building
through the rough area be tween Llano and Willard. It was thought
best to purchase the Santa Fe Central to keep it out of enemy hands
and to allow unrestricted use of its rails as needed. Early in 1905,
the Santa Fe named a price and the little SFC named a larger one.
No more time was wasted dealing with the SFC. In April, construction
of the entire Belen Cutoff was authorized.
In May of 1905 when the Santa Fe announced its intent to build,
the Rock Island had news also. Instead of the Santa Fe using the
Rock Island, the latter company would use the former between Llano
and Belen. The Rock Island had been using the poorly built and difficult
to operate EP&NE to reach El Paso. The abandonment of this route
by the big company would have reduced the EP&NE to bankruptcy.
Perhaps that is why the owners of the EP&NE sold the company
in July to the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad.
As it turned out, the Rock Island continued to route traffic over
the EP&SW and did not use the Santa Fe. F. M. Jones, for all
his ability as a location engineer, was a poor construction engineer.
Therefore, Dun sent Jones to other tasks and placed the construction
project into the hands of J. V. Key and A. J. Hemstreet. The contract
was awarded to Lantry-Sliarp Contracting Company, the corporate
descen-dent of B. Lantry and Sons.
Key picked up work where he had laid off two years before; at the
end of track at Sais. In the Canyon above, Lantry-Sharp's steam
shovels bit cuts one-hundred feet deep into solid rock. One cut
was 7,000 feet long. Work was slow due to a labor shortage and too
frequent rockslides. Dun often complained about the lack of progress.
The Abo River was crossed seven times on bridges ranging from 216
to 500 feet in length. Some of the unreinforced concrete piers for
these bridges rose 135 feet from the bedrock with 35 feet underground.
The Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company took the task of installing
steel girders atop Lantry-Sharp's piers. The usual falsework method
was impractical here because of the cost of building falsework to
such heights and because of the constant danger that it would be
washed away by cloudbursts.
The solution to the problem lay in building a derrick on a flat
car. The car's 64-foot boom could lift one-hundred feet of bridge
steel with ease. Then the car could be rolled onto the bridge and
the girder could be lowered into place. The new method was faster
and simpler than the old. Rails were laid to each bridge in turn
to aid construction. Track laying began at Sais on August 21 and
did not reach Scholle, 5.6 miles beyond, until March 17.
With construction creeping through the Canyon, Dun ordered Key
to ship construction materials over the Santa Fe Central to Willard
and to lay track westward from there. That work began in August
of 1905 and by the end of the year, track was in Abo station. Both
railheads met near there on March 31.
Rail laying had begun on the waterless stretch east of Willard
in December. Rail laying westward from the EP&SW crossing had
begun two months earlier. An overhead crossing was made of the EP&SW
at Llano. The concrete arch allowed ample room for future double
tracks on both lines. The high fill was composed of dirt from eight
miles to the west, where Lantry-Sharp steam-shoveled a forty-foot
deep, 9,000-foot long cut. Rails west of Llano met on March 23,
Dun was pleased with Key's work. He raised Key's salary and allowed
him to spend lime with his family. But to his dismay, Dun found
that Key and other railroaders were spending time in Llano's saloons.
The rail road issued repremands and took legal action that closed
saloons within three miles of railroad construction camps. That
solved the problem at Llano but created one at Texico, which lost
its saloons, too. The thirsty citizens of Texico promptly voted
to bar railroaders from using the municipal well. Hemstreet had
to bore his own.
Hemstreet had charge of construction east of Llano. The land was
basically flat and offered little challenge. Track laying began
at Texico on October 9, 1905. By February, rails had reached the
Pecos River. The Pecos was not crossed for three months, partially
due to a flash flood that washed away much of the temporary trestle.
Meanwhile, Dun concerned himself with the problem of supplying
fuel to the new line. The coal field at Raton could not easily supply
the need. Raton coal had to be taken over the old roller-coaster
main line to Belen, then hoisted over Abo. The distance and grades
were prohibitive. The alternative was to ship over the FW&DC
to Amarillo, then westward. This route was also round-about and
was not Santa Fe controlled.
Dun wanted some sort of cutoff that would depart the main line
near Las Vegas and encounter the Belen Cutoff at either Llano or
Fort Sumner. Another possibility was to build a line from Clovis
to Tucumcari and to use the newly-built Dawson Railway to French.
These lines would not only have supplied fuel to the railroad, but
also would have opened domestic markets in the Pecos Valley and
on the Llano Estacado of Texas to Raton Coal.
However, surveys for these lines were not undertaken until 1910.
In 1901, the Santa Fe had purchased the Cerrillos Coal Company.
The mine at Madrid could be reached at a reasonable distance via
Water was also Dun's concern. Numerous test wells were drilled
and at places the grade across ravines was left without an opening
so that lakes could form. Of principal concern, was the stretch
east of Willard. After much experimenting, Dun gave up hope of finding
usable water here and began making plans for a Willard-Ricardo pipeline.
More satisfactory were the depots de signed by M. H. Church. Dun
loved the romance of Spanish names and architecture, and these concrete
structures with arches and broad tile roofs tickled his fancy. The
second floors of the depots provided living space in the small structures,
while in the large depots this floor was used for divisional offices.
The large depots were slated for Belen, Llano, and Melrose. In January
of 1906, Dun asked contractors for four bids. They were to submit
bids for twelve concrete depots and also for the same depots if
built of wood. Bids were also requested for eighteen depots of concrete
or of wood. The six extra depots may have been intended to replace
old facilities east of Texico. However, Nelson and McLeod won the
contract for twelve concrete depots. Time was taking its toll on
the aging James Dun. With health failing, Dun resigned as chief
engineer on September 1, 1906, though he remained with the Santa
Fe as a consultant. The new chief engineer was William B. Storey,
Storey's hand was felt immediately. Since Belen was so close to
Albuquerque, he felt that the former place did not need a large
shop complex. It was eliminated from plans.
Belen's new depot was struck also. The new line was to be temporarily
operated as part of the Rio Grande Division, and Storey saw no need
to build a division headquarters at Belen until the line was separated.
The roundhouse at Llano, now renamed "Vaughn," was reduced
in size and shorn of such extravagances as traveling cranes.
Melrose was the hardest hit. Dun had planned division points every
110 miles between Wellington and Belen. These fell at Waynoka, Canadian,
Canyon, Melrose, and Vaughn.
Melrose's divisional office depot was complete and the roundhouse
walls had risen six feet when Storey decided to move the division
point to Clovis. This place was planned as a double divisional facility,
serving not only the Belen Cutoff, but also the projected line from
Dun's pipeline was postponed and Storey planned for trainloads
of water to empty their cargos into reservoirs at selected locations.
Hemstreet's tracklayers working from Vaughn and Fort Sumner met
at Duoro on March 20, 1907. Rails now connected Belen and Texico,
but the line was far from complete. Temporary tracks had been laid
around incomplete cuts and fills. Most of the track was still unballasted,
but gravel pits had opened in Abo Canyon and near the Pecos River
to fill the need. Sidings had not been built. Fences and other roadside
structures were not finished. Several bits of main track needed
construction as well.
One of these was a line south from Clovis to Cameo on the Pecos
Valley Line. The Pecos' junction was to be removed from Texico.
The flat land offered little resistance to constructing the new
line, but the citizenry of Texico offered mush resistance to removing
the old line.
One summer's evening in 1908, railroad forces began to take up
the old line. It was too late in the day for enraged citizens to
get an injunction. The next day was the fourth of July and courts
would be closed. The following day was Sunday. By the time the courts
would open on Monday, it would be too late.
Texico citizens telegraphed Avery Turner, general manager of the
Pecos Lines. He was not in his office. He was somewhere out on the
railroad and could not be located. A telegram was sent to the governor
of New Mexico. He was not in his office. He was with Mr. Turner.
An armed mob of 150 citizens confronted the railroaders, but nothing
happened. The matter was fought in the courts for months, but the
line was already gone.
On the western end, rails were laid over Belen Mesa to a connection
with the Santa Fe's western main line at Rio Puerco station. The
Eastern Railway of New Mexico's line passed south of a ridge that
the Santa Fe's old line climbed over. East of the ridge, a connection
was made between Dalies on the new line and Sandia on the old. Routing
trains over this connection saved a little effort and eventually
the original Rio Puerco-Sandia line was abandoned.
On November 1,1902, the Santa Fe had signed a contract to construct
the ER of NM in exchange for that company's securities. A new but
similar contract had been executed on October 16, 1905, and another
on the twenty-third of the next June. The ultimate contract was
signed November 30,1906. The final agreement required the Santa
Fe to also surrender the securities of the Pecos Valley and Northeastern
Railway. The PV&NE was conveyed to the ER of NM on March 19,
1907. This virtually doubled the size of the company and extended
its operations over two companies, the Pecos River Railway and the
Pecos and Northern Texas Railway, into Texas.
The Santa Fe's Construction Department began operating scheduled
trains on December 18, 1907, but the line was still incomplete.
Wall Street had just begun another of its ill spells and, in February
of 1908, the Santa Fe stopped all construction. There was still
much to do on July first, when the Santa Fe's Operating Department
took command of the railroad west of Clovis. Remaining work was
to be completed by the division engineer. The Belen-Rio Puerco line
was presently attached to the Albuquerque Division. Belen-Clovis
was temporarily part of the Rio Grande Division, but dispatching
was done upstairs at Vaughn. Lines east and south of Clovis were
operated by the ER of NM's own operating staff, which had been inherited
from the PV&NE.
The ER of NM owned considerable land. Legend claims that it was
granted by the Territorial legislature with the stipulation that
the land be settled with a productive, literate. English-speaking
population that would aid the statehood cause.
The Santa Fe Land and Townsite Company was quite active on the
Llano Estacado, the large plateau extending eastward from the Pecos
River. The company did not neglect its customers once a sale was
made. Settlers were instructed in dry land farming techniques and
in shallow well irrigation.
When Curry County organized, the Santa Fe paid the advances on
property taxes to aid the fledgling government. A standing offer
of ten acres of land was pledged to any denominational college that
would locate in a Santa Fe town. La Land did receive a college under
those terms, but it eventually closed.
It is something of a wonder that Melrose grew as large as it did.
In the fall of 1905, the infant town was composed mostly of dugouts
and sod houses. Lumber was arriving, but the first winter was such
that the construction material was burned for heat. More lumber
raised the population above ground, and concrete, stone, and steel
structures began rising at the railroad terminal. Then the terminal
was moved elsewhere, leaving half built structures haunting the
site like ruins of an ancient civilization, fire destroyed the town
in 1914, forcing a retreat into earth structures. The rebuilt town
was again burned in 1917.
The new division point of Clovis was built on land purchased from
Clayton Reed. Reed was plowing his corn field when a stranger appeared
and offered to buy the farm for the railroad. Reed discussed the
matter with his family that night. He was in Texico the next day,
planning to ask $1,000 for each quarter section. The railroad offered
$2,500 before he could open his mouth. Clovis became the new junction
for the Pecos branch, and terminal for the projected main line to
the Gulf. The town also became a prosperous county seat. Rival hotels
would send hacks to meet all trains. One day, the drivers began
discussing the relative merits of their respective employers. The
debate ended in frontier fashion with a bullet-torn body on the
Rambunctious Texico had never been a permanent city. The inability
to obtain title to property crippled the location. When the Capitol
Syndicate founded Farwell just across the Texas line, many Texicans
moved their portable houses onto land they could call their own.
Syndicate lawyers managed to obtain the junction with the new Gulf
line, but lost the Roswell junction. They tried to have Texico's
new concrete depot jacked up and moved a few feet into Farwell,
but settled for having their platform extended into Texas.
West of the bluffs of the Llano Estacado lay Fort Sumner, one of
the most historically interesting stations on the line. This had
been an Apache reservation before the Civil War. Texas cattleman
smelled government dollars and began trailing cattle to feed the
Indians. This led to the establishment of ranches in the Pecos Valley
and to rustling that was violently put down. The most famous rustler
of the Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid, was killed in the community
which grew up at the old fort.
On to Willard, the depots were few and wide-spread. The most important
towns, Vaughn and Willard, had been established on other railroads
before the Santa Fe was built.
Stations were frequent through the mountains to Belen, probably
mainly for operating reasons, but scattered through the area were
tiny communities, some of which dated back to the Spanish era.
The line was shaping up, but it was a main line to no where until
several hundred miles of old branch line east of Texico could be
rebuilt to main line standards.