Report on Southwest Tour by Wayne Parsons
The Southwest Tour was a combined effort of Wilderness Tours event coordinator Hank Brown and Motorcar Operators West event coordinator Doug Stivers. The tour ran on four railroads in New Mexico and Arizona from 22 March to 26 March 1998.
SANTA FE SOUTHERN
On Sunday 22 March approximately twenty three cars set-on at the historic station (mp 18) in Santa Fe, NM. The SANTA FE SOUTHERN is a short line 18 miles long pinched off the ATSF main line at our destination Lamy, NM. The group departs Santa Fe at 9:30 AM. The RR provides four flaggers who leap frog crossings enabling the speeders to cross safely and keep moving. Scenery along the route is mostly the suburbs of Santa Fe including one home that looked like Fred Flintstone's house set in a rocky hillside.
The Santa Fe Southern is struggling to keep up the track. A ribbon of new welded rail has been installed on the outside of many curves leaving the old sectional track on the inside. All the bridges are in good shape. The signals in town are in great shape including one that looks to have complicated electronics in a new control box.
We arrive in Lamy (mp 0)at noon to have lunch at the Legal Tender Saloon. This site has had a bar under one name or another since 1881. In its' rush west, the ATSF main line went south of the namesake city. The Lamy station served Santa Fe for many years until a branch line went north to the city. Sadly Amtrak signs promise passenger trains that no longer come.
The group departs at 1:30 PM and arrives back in Santa Fe at 3:45 PM for set-off. Along the way we see curious children and some horse back riders. Many people jog or ride bicycles along the right of way. They and we enjoy many far vistas of rolling hills and a few snow capped mountains. The group begins a 305 mile reposition to Hobbs, NM with most people arriving around 11:00 PM.
TEXAS & NEW MEXICO RR
On Monday 23 March twenty four cars set on at the Main Street crossing (mp 83.5) of the TEXAS & NEW MEXICO RR. The land here is flat; the track is straight. Departing at 8:00 AM we run north to Lovington paralleling route 18. There are many crossings; road traffic is light and seems accustomed to seeing rail activity. One major crossing is flagged, but otherwise it's slow and go. We pass oil wells, an oil loading facility with many sidings, a feed lot and finally a grain storage facility in Lovington. Here we turn our cars at Avenue D, back to just north of the crossing at mp 104.5, and rest for half an hour. North of here the track is abandoned. At 10:00 AM we return south to Hobbs taking the same ninety minutes to make the distance.
After a lunch break, we start south to Monahans at 12:15 PM. The scenery is sandy oil patch country. We pass one refinery with two gas burn-off flares close to the track and a chemical plant with many sidings. We stop for a potty break at Jal, NM (mp 42) just five miles from the Texas border. After crossing into Texas we go "in the hole" at Kermit and wait for the daily north bound "oil can" freight.
It's slightly delayed due to a track side fire started by carbon blown from the TX & NM RR locomotive. We back out onto the main line; a few miles south we find county fire trucks hosing down the track side brush. We reach Monahans at 5:30 PM. Two freight cars block the way (mp 1.5) into the UP yard. The hy-rail and one car begin ferrying people to a toilet.
High thin clouds reflect the red and orange sunset as the last car starts back north at 6:30 PM on an 82 mile night run. The sky is clear; the star field stretches all the way to the horizon. Jupiter is the brightest object in the heavens off to the southwest. Road traffic can be clearly seen at upcoming crossings. Slow and go is the rule.
The only problem occurs when an overloaded MT-14 breaks its' rear axle. The car is towed three miles at slow speed and set-off at Jal. There are a few other short stops for minor fixes and adjustments to equipment. We arrive back in Hobbs at 11:30 PM. At 206 miles this is my longest day on a railroad; an endurance test for operator and equipment. I can't wait to go again!
Tuesday is a day-long reposition of over 600 miles to Kearny, AZ north of Tucson. Several people arrive as late as 11:30 PM.
COPPER BASIN RAILWAY
On Wednesday 25 March twenty three cars set-on at the Tilberry Street crossing (mp 993) of the COPPER BASIN RAILWAY. The terrific combination of curves and grades here made this the training area for Southern Pacific engineers when SP operated this track. Today CBRwy is a freight operation that primarily hauls ore from two copper mines to the smelter in nearby Hayden. The railway is in the black and has a profit sharing plan with all 53 employees.
CBRwy is mostly recovered from a 1993 flood. We saw ample evidence, including a track gang working on a bridge, of ongoing repairs and upgrades. The rail is in gauge; it's the best we traveled on this tour.
Leaving Kearny we run west. After passing through one tunnel we see one of the two mines. After another tunnel we are in the canyon. The mountain sides are covered with little grasses and large cactuses of every kind. Scattered on the hills and right down to the tracks are yellow, orange and purple wild flowers . The distant horizon is mountains of sedimentary rock rising from what was once an ocean floor.
At 11:00 AM we stop at the town site of Cockrin (mp 974.5). CBRwy General Manager Jake Jacobson acts as our tour guide. Today only the building foundations remain; in the distance we see four bee hive shaped coke ovens. Rolling again we begin to parallel the Gila river. We traverse two steel bridges and two more tunnels to emerge into the farming country west of the canyon. We stop at mile post 959 for lunch and a potty break.
After lunch we continue west almost to Florence. The wind kicks up creating dust clouds that obscure the distant mountains. At 1:40 PM we turn the cars on a crossing at mile post 951. Back in the canyon, and protected from the wind, we make several photo stops. Near the bridge next to the longest tunnel Jacobson is again our tour guide. We walk to the remains of a two room stone structure. According to Jake this was a border guard post between Mexico and the U.S. prior to the 1853 Gadsden Purchase of land south of the Gila River.
The group arrives back at the set-on point at 5:15 PM with one car in tow due to a lost axle bushing key. This Copper Basin Railway day had the best track, best scenery and best weather of the tour.
SAN PEDRO & SOUTHWESTERN RAILROAD
The evening is spent repositioning 125 miles to Bisbee, AZ. On Thursday 26 March nineteen cars set-on at the SAN PEDRO & SOUTHWESTERN RAILROAD depot (mp 1.3). The weather is drizzling rain off and on. Our 10:00 AM departure is moved up to 9:25 AM to accommodate locomotive movement for the tourist train.
We run south ahead of the train. The area has been through several waves of human habitation. First came the Spaniards to establish a Presidio in 1775. Next came silver miners who worked the Tombstone area. More recently in this century farming has left the area with little more than short grasses, sage brush, and cottonwood trees for flora. Gone are the cactus and wild flowers of yesterday. However, the country has its' own beauty punctuated by the celery stalk green of the fresh cottonwood leaves.
Our first stop is for a photo run by at the mile post 11.5 trestle. The second stop is Fairbank (mp 18.8) settled around 1882 as a railroad supply point.
Today the former post office and general store is occupied by a cat and snake. The small rattle snake is visible on the floor through the front door glass. The white cat gains entrance using a wood stump to vault into a hole in the adobe wall. What truce the cat and snake have arranged is unknown.
Turn around and lunch is at Charleston Road (mp 26.1) at 11:50 AM. The day is cold, but clears and warms a bit as we eat. We wait while the tourist train engines switch around using a siding and head back north. Originally the motorcar tour would have gone another 23 miles south to Naco, AZ. However the San Pedro & Southwestern has filed for abandonment past our lunch point. The track is blocked with a locked derail.
Just as we start our engines at 1:15 PM a cold blowing rain mixed with hail hits us. One car won't start due to a broken starter. I take the MT-14L into tow and the occupants into my enclosed car. We return to Fairbanks for a potty stop. The weather discourages any more stops. We set-off at the depot around 3:45 PM.
My thanks to all the event coordinators and the railroad officials who made this tour possible. Thank you for hosting us!