About the Santa Fe Historical Society


By Bob Burton

(Originally appeared in SANTA FE MODELER, Volume 12, Number 3, Third Quarter, 1989, published by the Santa Fe Modelers Organization. Text revised.)

In 1996 I read a short version of this story, entitled “The 0.6% Solution: A Toonerville Becomes High Iron,” to the West Texas Historical Convention. I concluded the presentation thusly:

“I wish I had a neat conclusion to this story. The Santa Fe keeps tinkering with this line, constantly making minor changes, and periodically it is heavily rebuilt. The first heavy rebuilding came in 1924, then in 1927 a second track was laid between Pampa and Canyon, to help with the oil field traffic. Another rebuilding came in 1946, still another in 1962, and another in 1992. Not one cent of this was done with anyone's tax dollars. Today in the Panhandle, signals change and switches move by remote control, connected by microwave to a computer somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago. And as we sit here now--earth-moving machines are at work and Navajo track gangs are laying mile-long strips of #136 rail on concrete ties. When they are done, there will be a new main line between central Kansas and central New Mexico, right beside the one we've been talking about. So I can't conclude this story. Its not finished.”

The story of this modern refurbishment of the transcontinental main has been told by Fred Frailey in TRAINS magazine of October 2004 and April 2007. We might eventually see much more on this project.

The Belen Cutoff was more than a couple of hundred miles of new track in New Mexico. Officially, it stretched 1351.5 miles from Florence, Kansas, to Rio Piierco, New Mexico. About a thousand miles of this was old branch line trackage that needed total rebuilding. Yet even the entire Cutoff was only a fraction of president E. P. Ripley's main line improvement program.

Some double tracking had been done in the late 1880's on the approaches to Kansas City and Chicago. And in the final three years of the century, a second track was laid west of Emporia, creating two main tracks between Kansas City and Florence. Almost immediately, work began to double the main via Ottawa Junction, making three tracks on two routes to Emporia. As that job wound down in 1907, the stretch to Chicago was in the third year of its own improvement project. By 1912, the main line east of the Belen Cutoff had been completely double tracked except for the major bridges and a couple of segments in Missouri.

Beyond Belen, the Santa Fe planned a low-grade line west from Deming. On file was an Abo-Rincon survey to connect the Belen line with the proposed project. Another propounded connection via Roswell and El Paso had been embodied as the El Paso, Pecos Valley and Eastern Railway in 1901 when plans were afoot to build the Gulf Lines into the Pecos Valley. These abortive connections aside, the solo attempt to construct the Arizona line ended in 1908, when the Southern Pacific came in as a partner. The Santa Fe was unable to build its portion, but its line through Parker, Arizona, opened in 1910.

Meanwhile, F. M. Jones had been surveying along the old Atlantic and Pacific line. Double tracking began there in 1911 and continued sporadically for decades. The earliest benefits of this project included reduction of ruling grades east of Gallup from 1% to 0.6%. Also, the grades between Winslow and Needles that had reached 2.6% in the mountains became 1.8%.

Main lines were also being signaled. Hundreds of miles were newly protected by manual block towers during the first decade of the century. The first automatic signals had appeared in the form of Hall “banjo” signals between Kansas City and Holliday in 1892. Union Switch and Signal equipment first appeared in 1898, at a junction. Two years later it debuted in a road installation between Emporia and Plymouth. Continually improving versions of this equipment soon began appearing around the system.

In the center of all this improvement was the rebuilding of the old line through the Texas Panhandle. Yet even if it had not been part of the new transcontinental route, developments at trackside would have warranted its upgrading.

After some initial grumbling, cattlemen of West Texas defied Western legend by welcoming nesters. They had found that is was cheaper to feed cattle on small, fenced ranches than to graze them on endless prairies. Many ranchers had actually farmed far years, setting aside a couple of hundred acres to supply feed for the ranch's animal and human population. Some ranchers had even entered the cattle business only as a temporary measure. The three million acre XIT ranch, for example, had always been earmarked for farmland, but had been used for grazing until the railroad could relieve the remoteness. The White Deer Land Company was another such operation.

Some cattlemen sold parcels directly to settlers but others sold large tracts to professional real estate dealers. Farmers were recruited in the Midwest, particularly Iowa, where the sons of earlier settlers were hoping for land of their own. Generally, prospective buyers were assembled at Chicago or Kansas City every two weeks and loaded aboard special trains. Some land agents owned their own Pullmans. Most trains had a specific destination and were met by fleets of land company automobiles. Emigrants were given tours and put up at the land company's posh hotel. Hopefully, they would be impressed enough to buy.

The railroad had a stake in productive land at trackside. Said chief engineer W. B. Storey, "I don't give a copper cent for the speculator...I want to see people come into this country that will put it in cultivation. We want to begin hauling trainloads of produce out and we will never do that until the farmer gets absolute possession of the country." The railroad was quite active in settlement. The land was advertised in timetables and elsewhere, and a special magazine, The Earth, was published.

To keep the settlers productive, the railroad tried to teach the Midwesterners how to farm the arid Southwest. Experts were hired to travel the area, passing along information and advice. Experimental farms were sponsored and irrigation wells tested. Occasional demonstration trains made the rounds.

During 1908, the Santa Fe moved 1,648 emigrant cars to the Llano Estacado, each carrying the goods of two or three families.

Population spread southwards from the railroad and demand for more transportation facilities grew. In fact,, a motor bus operated between Amarillo and Lubbock by 1905, years before the railroad connected those places. The railroad did come, following the survey stakes of men with familiar names: J. V. Key, Harry McGee, and F. M. Jones. Construction started southwards out of Canyon in 1906. Plainview was reached that winter, and Lubbock in 1910. After some indecision and a few political battles, the gulf Lines were connected to the Belen Cutoff at Texico in 1914 and a web of branches covered the South Plains.

Amidst this activity, the old railroad was rebuilt.

As built, the old lines followed the natural contours of the terrain: essentially a “hogback” railroad. However, to reduce grades, McGee laid out a line that did not dip so deeply into valleys nor rise so high on crests. The new line was built atop the old if possible, but in places a completely new roadbed in a different location was necessary.

The best example of this is just north of Canyon, where the Palo Duro is crossed. Here, a 4-1/2 mile relocation straightened the line and changed 1% grades to 0.6%. The old roadbed next to the modern steel bridge can be seen from the highway. It's about fifty feet lower than the new line. A couple of miles north, and it can't be seen without hiking, the old roadbed crosses to the other side of the present line, crosses back, and curves over gorges and through long cuts in the bluffs.

Starting at the New Mexico border and working eastward: About 3 miles of new line was used to cross Running Water Draw west of Bovina. Not only was the grade reduced, a curve was slightly eased from 2 degrees-30 minutes to 2 degrees.

Six new miles west of Friona crossed Frio Draw. Part of the old roadbed is probably buried under the highway. <East of Friona is something that looks like a roadbed but is not. It is a dike protecting the track from flooding of the Frio.> At Hereford, the Tierra Blanca crossing was relocated. Both of these reduced grade and curvature.

Just east of Pampa, the railroad left the plains to descend into Red Deer valley. The descent required about 7 miles of new line to reduce the grade. Six degree curves were reduced to 2 degrees. The line is remote, but the original line could be seen at Pampa and Hoover. Recent construction may have eliminated traces of it. <If you are on US 60 east of Pampa on a day without mirages, keep an eye towards the north. You may see something unusual. There is an object shining on the horizon. As you pass, it does not move in proper relationship with other objects on the horizon. If you want to know what it is, take the road to Hoover.>

The railroad followed Red Deer Creek to the Canadian River. Between Hoover and Canadian were nine relocations; all short, a mile or two, or less. Generally these are curve easements.

A major change was made immediately east of Canadian. The original line followed the south bank of the Canadian River for several miles before crossing on a trestle and following Clear Creek out of the valley. The new line crossed at Canadian, followed the river briefly, then proceeded directly to Glazier, reducing grade and curvature. The new bridge was a half-mile in length, consisting of four 260-foot steel truss spans on concrete piers with pile approaches. <The original steel bridge was replaced. >

There was a three mile relocation immediately east of Glazier next to the modern railroad.

A short distance west of Higgins was a four mile relocation. <The track moves away from the highway, and the highway moves over a few feet and runs atop the old roadbed. There is an abandoned cut at the west end of this segment.>

A ten mile change east of Higgins left the town of Goodwin, OK, without rail service. The Santa Fe laid out a new town on the revised railroad and offered to move all structures of the old town to the new. The offer was rejected. Today, little remains at either location.

To enter the North Canadian Valley, ten miles were changed west of Woodward. <The old roadbed can be seen south of the highway immediately east of the road to West Woodward Airport. In the next few eastward miles, it crosses the highway several times. >

All these relocations were completed by 1908. In 1910 the railroad undertook a similar project from Mooreland to Waynoka, including Curtis Hill. <After the 1910 project, this line was relocated again in 1924, and received a very heavy relocation in 1946. Several abandoned roadbeds run through the Cimmarron Valley.>

To cross the South Arkansas River at Alva, the new line was raised twenty feet above the old. The original line and depot were left for local freight service, but a new passenger station was built on the new line.

Just west of Wellington, the old line descended into a small valley and climbed out the other side. The Rock Island was crossed at the bottom of the valley and Santa Fe trains had to stop before crossing. Helpers were always needed in both directions to lift trains out of the dead stop at the foot of the hill. The new line eliminated the grades and crossing with a high fill.

The largest line change was also the most controversial. This concerned the straightening of the line between Panhandle and Hereford. Since 1898, the Santa Fe had operated over the old Panhandle Railway between Panhandle and Washburn, then by trackage rights over the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway to Amarillo. Southwards, the System ran on the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway to Canyon, where the line turned west toward Hereford. Early plans had called for a direct Washburn-Canyon line, but Amarillo's economic growth and liberal promotion had called for a change. Once Amarillo had been chosen, a direct line southwestward had been considered. The longer route via Canyon had been picked for its water supply and for the good favor of local ranchers.

It had long been generally assumed that eventually the direct Washburn-Canyon line would replace the Amarillo deviation. However, Amarillo's economic importance had continued to grow. In 1903, the Rock Island's east-west Choctaw Route to Tucumcari had built through town, creating a common junction for all three of the Panhandle's major railroads. As with the Santa Fe earlier, Amarillo had offered the Rock Island a cash inducement to come to town. The railroad eventually wrote off $2,947.13 as a bad debt, just as the Santa Fe had done with $5,000. It was the best money Amarillo never spent.

Woodbury Howe made a Panhandle-Amarillo survey and there was talk of a direct line to Hereford that would bypass Canyon. That town would still be served by the Plainview branch. These proposals stirred up a hornets nest. Since the takeover of the Panhandle Railway had been authorized by the state legislature, that body had to approve its abandonment. Many legislators bristled when the bill was introduced. The idea of taking up one railroad line serving one set of communities and replacing it with another line serving other communities was repugnant. The bill died in committee.

However, Amarilloians made up in spunk what they lacked in greenbacks. They convinced the committee to come to Amarillo for a look around. While the committee's special train toured the existing rail lines, a delegation opposing the bill gathered at the Canyon depot. The special stopped short of the depot and reversed to Amarillo.

After much wining and dining, the resurrected bill was placed before the full legislature. Opposition was rabid, but representatives from East Texas voted it into law over the governor's veto. It seemed that the Santa Fe had been building a voting block to support a consolidation in East Texas. This political power had been redirected.

Construction began between Panhandle and Amarillo over a right of way purchased by Amarillo citizens, but rumors flew that the line would never be allowed to operate. State law prohibited a railroad from owning parallel lines. When the new line was ready to open, the Santa Fe had a loophole. Amarilloians pitched in to dismantle the original line in one night. The new line opened the next morning, April 12, 1908, with no other Santa Fe line connecting its end points.

The Canyon City and North-Eastern Railway had been created by local interests on July 5,1907. It was planned to, if needed, construct a direct Canyon-Washburn line and extend over the abandoned Panhandle Railway grade to Yarnell on the Rock Island. More talk took this company to Silverton, Stamford, and Lubbock. However, plans to bypass Canyon with the Santa Fe main line came to naught and so did the local company.

At trackside, several stations without facilities received depots, such as Black, and many stations already so equipped received improvements. This was as much for the needs of traffic control as for the needs of growing towns. Hereford, Woodward, Waynoka, Canadian, and Amarillo were the first stations to receive masonry depots.

A standard county-seat depot opened at Hereford in 1909, but an early newspaper description of the proposed structure is of an Eastern Railway of New Mexico standard. Hereford was headquarters of the Panhandle Short Line Railroad, which contemplated building north to the Rock Island and south as far as it could. The company completed a roadbed to Dimmitt before the Santa Fe bought off the promoter. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to revive the project, most involving lease by the Santa Fe if rails were ever laid on the roadbed.

Woodward had been the half-way division point between Wellington and Amarillo. That distance was cut in thirds in 1910 and the town received a brick passenger station in partial compensation for its loss, the railroad publicized branch surveys north and south of town, but there was an ulterior motive. Another company was surveying a Raton-Oklahoma City line via Woodward and the Santa Fe wished to confuse matters. A couple of years later, however, the Santa Fe had little objection to a Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) affiliate building through from Wichita Falls.

Waynoka was at a virtually perfect location for a division point. It was equidistant from Wellington and Canadian. It was at the foot of the 1% grade to Curtis. It was a few miles west of the Frisco junction at Avard that had opened March 1, 1904. A county seat-style depot was well in order, as were the reading room and other facilities.

Canadian became a division point and thus rated a county seat depot in 1908, but it almost needed one a year earlier. An inattentive employee accidentally set the old depot on fire. A couple of local young ladies, were loitering in the waiting room at the time. They rushed to a nearby restaurant and returned with a fire extinguisher to save the day.

No young ladies were present to save Canadian's newly erected roundhouse when it burned in October of 1908. Rebuilt by springtime, it burned again in May. Once again rebuilt, a wall was knocked out late in 1910 to accommodate the Santa Fe's compound prairie mallets. It met its final Wagnerian end in 1951.

When James Dun was chief engineer, Canyon had been earmarked for a division terminal. Dun's retirement, the new Panhandle-Amarillo line, and Amarillo's growing importance threw new light on the matter. Yet, there was a major problem: Amarillo had no surface water and deep wells could supply only a fraction of the need. The railroad had been supplying the temporary shops at Amarillo with trainloads of water from Canyon, where shallow wells amply supplemented three flowing streams.

Canyon was possibly too smug in its belief that the shops would move, due to the water problem. "Amarillo will have to show more water than just a few tears before the Santa Fe will make very great improvements there,” opined the Canyon City News. "To sensible people.. .the answer is plain—pipe it from Canyon City." The editor probably regretted his words, for in August of 1908, he reported that a company had been formed to follow his advice. The company's name and ownership were not mentioned, but the company's chief engineer was the Santa Fe's Harry McGee.

Two months later, in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, October 18, a fire of unknown origin, burned the bulk of the shops in Amarillo. On Monday, Canyon wired president Ripley with an offer of $50,000 plus all the land and water needed if the railroad would locate its shops in Canyon. The railroad made no comment and erected makeshift sheds at Amarillo and used some FW&DC facilities.

Working behind the scenes for Amarillo, were two of the Panhandle's most prominent citizens. Avery Turner had first been there when fierce Comanches ruled the plains. Later hired by the Santa Fe, he was the first man to ride a locomotive into New Mexico. Eventually, he was assistant superintendent of the old Southern Division that had operated the newly-built SK of T. Now, general manager of the Texas and Pecos Lines—and a property holder—he wanted the permanent shops for Amarillo.

That view was also held by Judge O. H. Nelson. As a livestock breeder in Burlingame, Kansas, he had shipped the first stock of the fledgling Santa Fe. Later, he shipped thousands of Herefords to Dodge City and drove them southwards to populate the Panhandle. Soon, Nelson and his partners were hired to place a human population along the SK of T. The failure of that enterprise led to Nelson leaving the firm and settling himself in Texas. Now, as founder and general manager of the Western Stock Yards corporation, he was directly responsible for the shipment of tremendous traffic over the railroad.

Amarillo got the shops. A concrete depot/Harvey House/division office opened in April of 1910—without any mention in the Canyon newspaper. All passengers stopped here to eat or change to trains to the south. Next to the depot was a garden that demonstrated what could be grown in the area.

Canyon had received a new depot in 1906 when the branch to Plainview was built. City Fathers complained that the depot's passenger facilities were inadequate, particularly since the West Texas State Normal College would soon open at Canyon. The matter went before the Texas Railroad Commission, which ruled for enlarged facilities. Either the 1898 depot was reactivated, or a new wooden structure was built, but Canyon had separate passenger and freight facilities until 1925.

Atop the reconditioned roadbed the railroad placed treated ties from the Albuquerque plant. Then old steel weighing 56 pounds to the yard was replaced with 75 to 90 pound rail.

Fairbanks-Morse 350-ton coaling towers were installed at division terminals in 1908. Water facilities were improved over several years. Multiple wells were drilled in several locations and even Panhandle, where once effort had been wasted on a hand-dug well, became a water station. Often, gas-powered pumps worked beside old Eclipse windmills. At Woodward the railroad tapped springs several miles upstream and across the river. Steel tanks, often with treatment plants, first appeared at terminals and new water stations. Then in 1912, began a program to replace old wooden tanks with the familiar 24 foot diamter steel tanks.

The Construction Department had begun local operation on the New Mexico segment December 18, 1907, surrendering to the Operating Department on July 1. Much work still needed to be done, particularly completion of trackside facilities. Ice docks opened at Belen, Clovis and Waynoka on March 1,1909. A small amount of transcontinental-traffic was routed over the line eighteen days later, to settle the roadbed. By September 9, it was thought safe to divert the major portion of the transcontinental traffic to the Belen Cutoff. As a result, for fiscal 1909 the SK of T posted net income of $429,646.70, the first ever profit in the company's history.

Stock at 144,033 tons was still the heaviest traffic, but other commodities were showingwell, too. Where in 1894 the SKofT had carried 100 tons of agricultural implements, in 1909, it carried 3,755—which was a little over half of the liquor trade. Fruit and vegetables amounted to 1,76 7 tons in 1905, which was up from nothing in 1894, but totaled 81,231 in 1909. Continued construction was indicated by 96,726 tons of railway materials and supplies.

The line west of Clovis had been temporarily assigned to the Rio Grande Division, but dispatching was done at Vaughn. Lines south and east of Clovis as far as Amarillo were operated by the ER of NM while the Santa Fe still operated the SK of T. The ER of NM and the SK of T had no divisional status but were operated by a common set of officers under Avery Turner as the Pecos Lines and the Texas Lines.

Motive power on the main line consisted of 885-class 2-8-2s west of Clovis and 1050-class 2-6-2s eastward. Branches were powered by ER of NM (PV&NE) power and small Santa Fe engines such as the 151-class Ten-Wheelers that were limited to twelve loads between Canyon and Plainview.

On New Year's Day of 1910, the Santa Fe inaugurated a new transcontinental passenger train, the Navajo, which was to provide "a faster and finer tourist car service than has any other road." Although created for the Belen Cutoff, it ran via La Junta until the Harvey Houses opened on the new route in the spring. Late in 1911, the Frisco began forwarding California Pullmans through Waynoka to St. Louis, Memphis, and Birmingham.

Creation of the Pecos and Plains Divisions came on November 15, 1910. Dispatchers at Clovis, who had been relocated from Vaughn, controlled track west to Belen and south to Pecos. The Plains Division dominated things to Waynoka, where the Panhandle Division took over to Wellington. Division offices were upstairs in the Amarillo depot. The old office building that had been moved in from Roswell was expanded to serve as headquarters of the Western Lines. A telegraph line was strung across the open prairie to La Junta for control of the northern half of the grand division.

In 1891, Santa Fe lines in the Panhandle had employed 67 people. By 1899, the P&NT had 227 and the SK of T, with no trainmen, had 70. A decade later, the totals were 1,290, which included the P&NT branch south of Canyon, and 1,092, now with trainmen. Some employees worked for both companies and are listed twice. By 1912, Amarillo alone accounted for 1,200 paychecks.

In 1911, new locomotives specifically designed for the Belen Cutoff appeared. These were notably ugly 2-6-6-2 Prairie Mallets whose strength was equal to any load and whose speed was equal to the tortoise of legend. As delivered, they did not perform well, but modifications and experience improved matters. Roundhouses needed enlarging for these giants, as did sidings for the longer trains they pulled. The Mallets also forced the long-delayed ballasting of the cutoff.

The P&NT connection with the Gulf Lines was taken by the Operating Department on November 1, 1911. This traffic used the Canyon junction until a better line connected at Texico, March 1, 1914.

The Eastern Railway of New Mexico was absorbed into the Santa Fe proper on February 1, 1912. As required by state law, the P&NT and SK of T remained as local corporations. The Pecos and Northern Texas Railway was leased by the other July 1, 1914, but there had been an important change the month before. The Southern Kansas Railway had disappeared February 15, 1899, and it was thought that its orphaned subsidiary, the Southern Kansas Railway of Texas, deserved its own name, one that would better describe its location and importance. It came on June 5: the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway. The threadbare branch line had come of age.

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