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Shameless Self-Promotion

October 15, 2012 1 comment

No new post today from Santa Fe (though there is lots a-cookin’; maybe more on that later). Just wanted to plug a blog post I wrote for Bloomberg View, the op-ed section of the Bloomberg media empire. If you are a fan of history or trains, you might enjoy it.

Amtrak Chugs Along Despite Decades of Political Battles

Thanks for reading the post and the History Nerd.

Still Ridin’ the Rails

March 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Come with me on a ride back through time, when iron horses chugged across the Wild West, outlaws terrorized the trains riding the rails, and the coming of the railway meant life or death for many Southwest towns.

Or, take a slow, short jaunt into the outskirts of Santa Fe. Like the one I took this weekend on the Santa Fe Southern Railway.

On the railroad again...

To kick off a new season of train-based tourist traps—uh, trips—the SFSR offered half-priced rides on its routes into Lamy and the Galisteo Basin. (The railway also still brings some freight into the city.) Being a cheapskate as well as a History Nerd, I jumped all over this deal, taking the ride into the basin. I am also something of a train aficionado (though not to say expert, not by a long shot), and I’ve written about some of my past railway experiences here and here. This ride promised to be a short trek back into time as well as physical trip into the Santa Fe environs.

The railway came to Santa Fe in 1880, though just barely. The main route of the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe passed some 15 miles to the south of the capital on its way from Las Vegas (our Las Vegas, not the other one) to Albuquerque. Concerned Santa Feans, worried about being shut off from civilization and commerce (there is, of course, a huge difference) begged for and got a spur line that ran from Galisteo Junction (now Lamy, named for the French bishop of some renown/infamy in these parts) to their city. Today, Lamy’s stucco train station is an Amtrak stop, and Santa Fe’s station is…basically non-existent.

Inside, quite the festive atmosphere.

On its tourist runs, the SFSR uses a modern diesel pulling several coaches from the 1920s—though they were used back east, in New Jersey, rather than out here. Our tour guide said that he’s also in charge of reupholstering the seats when they wear out, and he’s counted 17 layers of fabric on some. He offered some historical tidbits along the way, and of course no telling of Santa Fe history in the days of the first railroads would be complete without mentioning Billy the Kid and Governor Lew Wallace. I don’t think either man had a direct connection to the trains; perhaps they rode on the line at some point. But the tourists sure do like hearing about Billy the Kid! And the New York accent of the folks behind  me was just one sign that many of the day’s riders were tourists. I doubt many locals would take this trip, certainly not at full price, as the scenery is, in all honesty, not very compelling for these parts. And the history, too, is a little thin.

I learned the most when we reached our destination, the Galisteo Basin. Another tour guide joined us on the one open, flatbed car and talked a little about the ancient history of the region. Archaeological artifacts about 7,000 years old have been found there. So have parrot beaks, a sign that the Native American of the region once traded with peoples much farther to the south, exchanging  turquoise and other minerals mined in the nearby Cerrillos Hills. And it’s thought that some Anasazi Indians left their grand city of Chaco Canyon and settled in the basin some 800 years ago. They and later inhabitants built several thriving pueblos in the region, though few traces of them remain today. (More on all this can be found here).

No trip back into New Mexico history would be complete without mentioning the state’s role in the movie biz. Tour guide #1 recounted some of the films shot nearby, including Young Guns 1 and 2 and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. The railway’s wooden trestle, which gave me pause when we passed over it  (will this thing hold?), was featured in the latter–I think; I was spacing out a bit at that point.

And some art along the way.

Or not spacing, exactly, but ruminating on the role trains have played in our history. They were once the largest employers of Americans. They gave us our system of time zones. And they created the wealth of some of the robber barons of the past—with government help, of course. Yes, when some people like to champion our rugged-individualism brand of capitalism, they overlook that it was the granting of government land to the railways that helped create that wealth—and then help timber interests, mine owners, and ranchers make money, too. At times, capitalism needs a dose of government intervention to thrive, and the railroads are a prime example of it. Though some would argue that not all the land grants were good for the country as whole, an idea explored in great detail at Landgrant.org.

Today, of course, we have the perennial attempt by conservatives to shut down Amtrak. And some New Mexicans grumble about the cost of our commuter line, the Rail Runner, which I love. The fact is, some people still need the trains to get from point A to point B, or to move their goods efficiently. Riding the rails is not just a pleasant Sunday excursion. Forget nostalgia—we need trains, modernized trains, to be a part our transportation network. If the SFSR’s trips can convince folks of that, then I’m all for them.