About the Santa Fe Historical Society

A Branchline Comes of Age

Part Two

Originally appeared in SANTA FE MODELER, Volume 12, Number 1, First Quarter, 1989 (Text revised)

Late in the summer of 1897, president E. P. Ripley of the Santa Fe Railway received an inquiry from east coast financiers concerning a railroad project in eastern New Mexico. It seemed that once-powerful capitalist James John Hagerman had been soliciting funds to extend his Pecos Valley Railway. Hagerman had lost a fortune in the Pecos Valley and others were reluctant to follow his example. However, Hagerman's successful earlier career was something in his favor. Therefore the money men directed questions towards Mr. Ripley.

Some years before, the Santa Fe had purchased the Colorado Midland Railway from Mr. Hagerman. The purchase had later turned out to be a mistake, so Ripley may have hesitated to become involved. Nevertheless he requested data from James Dun, his chief engineer.

Dun reviewed Santa Fe survey reports in the area, finding that the Pecos River Valley had tempted the railroad for years. In 1878, the company's first charter in New Mexico had included a route southwards from Las Vegas and along the Pecos to Texas. Other Santa Fe charters and surveys over the years had called for various lines into the valley. None were used, but interest had continued. In the mid-1880s, surveyor Phillip Smith had run several lines radiating from the Roswell area. The latest examination had been made in 1891 by B. F. Booker from the Santa Fe's railhead at Panhandle, Texas, to Fort Sumner in New Mexico.

Dun also recalled surveys that had been made under his supervision while he had been employed by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. These had been for a planned railroad along the 35th parallel. The "Frisco" had not been able to build the line, but Dun had not forgotten the project. Hagerman's line appeared to be a step towards completion of the greater plan.

Dun's report to Ripley claimed that Hagerman's project was feasible. Ripley set to work, and in January of 1898, the Santa Fe, the Pullman Palace Car Company, and others agreed to back Hagerman.

Hagerman, who had experienced difficulty in paying his New York hotel bill, was overjoyed. The Pecos River Valley had been an oppressive weight for years.

The notion of irrigating the Pecos Valley had been conceived by retired lawman Pat Garrett, of Billy the Kid fame. Garrett enlisted other ranchers in the project but eventually left New Mexico. Charles B. Eddy assumed promotional duties. Garrett retained a minority interest in the corporation.

The financial trail led to Colorado Springs, where J. J. Hagerman had retired after a successful career in mining and railroading. Eddy was a born promoter and soon Hagerman, to his wife's alarm, was under an almost hypnotic spell. The siren song of the Pecos claimed the remainder of his life.

It claimed the bulk of his wealth as well. Much of it went towards land purchases and excavation of an extensive network of canals. Much more went into building the railroad. By 1891 the Pecos Valley Railway stretched from Pecos, a hamlet on the Texas and Pacific Railroad in Texas, to the town of Eddy, which would later be known as Carlsbad. After brief travail, the tracks reached Rowswell in 1894.

A nationwide depression took its toll in the Valley. Hagerman gave financial aid to settlers. Then a drought ended with a flood. Many of the Valley's improvements were destroyed and the railroad fell into bankruptcy. By then the partners had quarreled and Eddy had departed. The now almost penniless Hagerman probably recalled his wife's fears as he traveled to New York in search of funds.

The key to prosperity, he figured, was a northern connection for the railroad. Fruit was the Valley's principal crop. The market was in the north, but the railroad connected to southern markets. Therefore Hagerman tried to finance a connection with either the Rock Island or the Santa Fe. After months of rejection, he was glad to take Santa Fe money.

Since the Santa Fe was financing the new line, that company insisted on choosing the route. Hagerman wanted to build to Amarillo, but there was an alternative. The Santa Fe had long planned a line from Panhandle City to Washburn and beyond, passing south of Amarillo.

However, by 1898 the Santa Fe felt that it would not be wise "to leave out a live town like Amarillo if we can conveniently take it in." This "live town" had resulted not only from the energetic promotion of H. B, Sanborn but also from the location of Palo Duro Canyon. This great gash in the flat terrain cut the southern plains trade area from Washburn. The first railroad location reached after going around the head of the canyon was Amarillo, and the town's future looked bright. Santa Fe officials were undecided whether to take it in or to kill its trade by building south of the town. Then a town promoter's arrogance settled the matter.

When the Santa Fe had abortively attempted construction to Canyon City back in 1891, R. E. Montgomery of Washburn had offered to donate half of his town site to the railroad. Now Hagerman asked for a renewal of the offer plus $20,000. It was a small price to pay to become the junction of rail lines in four directions. Montgomery, however, felt that the railroad had nowhere else to go. He would only give land for the right of way and for terminal facilities. Sanborn at Amarillo promised the $20,000 and the Santa Fe took the bait. The Santa Fe-affiliated Southern Kansas Railway of Texas leased operating rights over the Panhandle Railway to Washburn, then to Amarillo over the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway on April 20, 1898.

Southwest of Amarillo there was a choice of a direct route passing north of Canyon or of a longer line through that town. Landholders at Canyon and southwards threatened to deny water to the railroad if it missed Canyon, so the longer route was chosen.

Meanwhile, Hagerman created the Pecos Railway Construction and Land Company to reorganize and extend the Pecos Valley Railway. A block of securities was used as collateral for a loan of $750,000 from the Santa Fe and another block secured a bank loan of $200,000. Transportation of construction materials over the Santa Fe was paid for with bonds. More securities were placed on the open market.

On March 10, 1898, New Mexico granted a charter to the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railway. This company exchanged its securities for total control of the Pecos Valley Railway, but the majority of PV&NE securities went to the Construction Company. In payment for control of the new railroad the Construction Company had to perform specified tasks,, including building the line in New Mexico, supplying rolling stock, retiring the debts of the PV, and surrendering to the PV&NE all securities of the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway.

The Pecos and Northern Texas Railway had been created on March 19 in Texas to comply with a law requiring railroads in that state to be Texas corporations. In return for building the line in Texas, the Construction Company would receive the P&NT's securities, which would then go to the PV&NE.

This web of legal prestidigitation gave Hagerman and the Santa Fe control of the Construction Company, which owned the PV&NE, which in turn owned the P&NT and the PV. Within a year, sale of Construction Company securities on the open market would allow retirement of all loans.

The Santa Fe wanted someone on the ground to see that the railroad's loan would be properly applied in construction. Several men were considered before Santa Fe eyes fell upon a man already on the scene. Howard C. Phillips had been with the engineering department of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad before going west for his health. In 1898 he was working for Hagerman in Roswell. James Dun interviewed him, hired him, and immediately loaned him to the PV&NE as consulting engineer.

Traditionally, the Santa Fe cut new construction projects into short segments and awarded these to a variety of contractors. This permitted construction in several places at once and an earlier completion date. However, this was not done on the Amarillo -- Roswell line.

On April 14, the Construction Company hired Mallory, Cushing and Company to build the entire railroad. Work began on the eastern edge of Amarillo on the first of May, and a material yard was built just south of the Fort Worth and Denver City connection. Tracks were laid directly on un-graded soil and cars were moved about by mule power until locomotives arrived. About 35 cars of construction material arrived daily and the yard was in chaos. Phillips' investigation of the situation revealed that the material agent was perpetually drunk.

Phillips soon found another problem. The contractor did not have enough men at work. With urging, Mallory-Cushing subcontracted the first few miles out of Roswell to Mendenhall Construction Company. This included 25 miles of roadbed and 15 miles of track, including the Pecos River bridge. By mid-July, new PV&NE rolling stock began arriving at Amarillo. The locomotives could take water at the 50,000 gallon water tank that had recently been erected by Fairbanks, Morse and Company and puff southwards for 8-1/2 miles.

Two factors delayed the opening the railroad to Canyon. One reason was that a cut north of town broke into harder rock than expected. The other reason was the tie supplier. The logger had filled out his contract for oak ties by purchasing inferior wood from other suppliers. Mallory-Cushing accepted delivery without question, but Phillips and the Construction Company ordered the ties lifted from the roadbed and returned to the supplier. Several hundred cars enroute to Amarillo were halted and sent back. Gruff words passed between railroaders and foresters. Phillips traveled to the woods of Arkansas to investigate. In the end, the railroad used few oak ties and settled for the best pine ties to be had.

On August 18, the PV&NE began operation of a mixed train "connecting with all trains at Amarillo and with all stages at Canyon City." A regular freight was quickly added. By month's end, Canyon's stock pens were loading cattle and within seventeen days 121 cars had been dispatched. The Santa Fe, long experienced in such things, sent construction material westward in stock cars, which carried revenue cargo eastward.

Construction continued, but in a poor fashion. On part of the line, tracks were laid on planking set on raw sod. Then a rail-mounted grading machine rolled over the rails, scooping dirt under the ties as it went along. Phillips did not like the results and recommended returning to older methods.

On September 15, four Hicks stock cars loaded with ties came to grief when a train broke in two on the 1% grade north of Canyon. At about the same time, a locomotive creeping along at 8 mph over rain-softened track dropped its tender off the rails.

Santa Fe officials were not happy and insisted on changes. On September 24, PV&NE chief engineer S., R. Ballard resigned. His replacement was M W. Wambaugh, a Santa Fe man. Two days later, Hagerman relieved Mallory-Cushing of track-laying duties and took the task upon himself. On October 12, general manager E. O. Faulkner resigned and superintendent D. H. Nichols, a former Frisco employee, assumed double duty. These changes brought on brief labor troubles.

In October it was found that Amarillo could only raise $15,000 of the promised $20,000. The PV&NE and the Santa Fe agreed to share the cost of constructing a permanent yard at Amarillo if expenses exceeded $15,000.

During October, 479 cars of stock were shipped over the incomplete line. The next ten days saw 261 more and another 90 cars were on order.

Meanwhile, construction continued in the rain. Using a primitive track layer, Hagerman's gang soon was capable of laying 2 to 2-1/2 miles a day. That rate did not last more than a couple of weeks, after which the crew could work only one or two days a week. The problem was not rain, but Mallory-Cushing. The track gang, once forty miles behind the graders, was now breathing down their necks.

Mallory, Cushing and Company had never put enough men to work. The roadbed was slowly and poorly prepared. In fact, much work was being left for the track gang to complete. At one place, a roadside ditch had been omitted, allowing a locomotive's burning coal to ignite several miles of grazing land.

In contrast, Mendenhall had worked since September 11 with few problems. The only delay to construction out of Roswell had been an outbreak of smallpox.

Rain changed to snow and December 15, the originally projected completion date, passed with the railroad far from finished.

Finally there was good news. The Construction Company had sold enough securities to repay the Santa Fe's loan. Now that he was no longer needed to oversee the Santa Fe's investment, Phillips lost no time in asking to be relieved of duty. Dun was impressed with his performance under bad conditions and did not want to lose the man. Dun invited him to his home for dinner and convinced him to stay with the Santa Fe. The remainder of the Amarillo-Roswell line, however, was built without Phillips' watchful eye.

February 11, 1899, dawned cold on the plains sixteen miles north of Roswell, just east of the Pecos River. Track men refused to work until the day warmed, so the last rail was not laid until 4:50 that afternoon. Mrs. Hagerman was provided a small hammer with which to tap the golden spike into a pre-bored hole in the final tie. The hole was too small and the spike would not go in. Mrs. Hagerman demanded a heavy spike maul and completed the task to the accompaniment of cheers.

The line opened for business on March first. In Texas 94.5 miles were owned by the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway, but were operated by the Pecos Valley and Northeastern Railway. The 113.2 miles of new line in New Mexico were part of the PV&NE proper.

The Southern Kansas Railway of Texas had leased the Panhandle Railway from the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, and purchase, which would come on January 1, 1900, was pending state approval. Between Washburn and Amarillo the Santa Fe affiliate used the rails of the FW&DC. The SK of T and the P&NT moved into the southern part of the FW&DC's Amarillo passenger station. Despite the FW&DC's cooperation, that company was not happy. The newcomer tapped the source of the cattle trade, thereby cutting the FW&DC's revenues.

Joint SK of T and P&NT facilities grew at Amarillo, including a freight house and permanent yard. A new roundhouse replaced one that had burned in October.

SK of T's offices moved from Panhandle to Amarillo. On August 1, 1899, Santa Fe lines west of Wellington, Kansas, were designated as the recreated Panhandle Division. Two months later, the SK of T was separated from the new division and given independent, but not divisional, status as the Texas Lines. Amarillo was headquarters.

Amarillo's rail importance, it was felt, would only be temporary. All interested parties felt that the long-planned direct line between Washburn and Canyon would eventually be built. When that occurred, the shops and offices would be moved from Amarillo to another city. No one knew what city would emerge with the facilities, but an ample water supply weighed in Canyon's favor.

Decade-old Canyon was one of the only established settlements on the new line. As such it received one of the few full-sized depots. Most sidings, if anything, got only tiny telegraph offices. Little town development occurred, though a handful of points did become important.

LaPlata, the county seat of Deaf Smith County, had been missed by the railroad. After a vote, the town picked up its buildings, including the courthouse, and moved to Bluewater siding. The name was later changed to "Hereford" in honor of the cattle industry. Hereford's rail facilities included a telegraph office, stock pens, a section house, and a well. The railroad was awarded a portion of the receipts from town lot sales.

Before the Harvey House closed in 1904, trains stopped for meals at Bovina. The train usually had to make a protracted stop there anyway. Cattle habitually fed on spilled cotton seed at a warehouse siding. The main line was blocked in the process and railroaders had to drive the bovines away before the train could proceed. "Bull Town" was the common name for this place, but the official name was the Latin equivalent "Bovina."

Just to the west of the state line was Texico. This siding, due to a faulty government survey, lay on land that officially did not exist. This attracted a rough element and the resulting town was colorful to say the least. There was no way to enforce a claim on this land. It was not unusual for one man to build his house in another man's front yard or in the middle of the street. Houses frequently moved from place to place, sometimes in the dead of night with sleeping, unaware occupants inside.

Portales was the only established town in New Mexico east of Roswell and it received a depot similar to Canyon's. Thousands of years before Portales had come into being, a spring-fed lake near here had provided good hunting for ancient man. The lake had vanished and the spring rarely flowed in modern times, so a man peering into the darkness of the railroad's well was surprised to see water close to ground level. This inspired him to experiment with ground water irrigation, which would ultimately create agricultural prosperity for the region.

The halfway point between Portales and Roswell was Kenna, which was named for a Santa Fe vice president. This station was in the middle of a long waterless stretch and was an oasis. At an unknown time long before the railroad came, a spring had been roofed over and buried. How long the spring was lost, or who covered it, is unknown, but eventually it was rediscovered. The resulting Hidden Spring Ranch gave much business to the new railroad.

Further southwest, the rails crossed the unusual geological feature known as Railroad Mountain. This is a narrow, flat-topped ridge extending east-west for about twenty miles in an almost straight line. It resembles a giant railroad roadbed, hence the name.

Improvements to the shops and other facilities at Roswell were in service by fall.

On January 24, 1901, the Santa Fe purchased the PV&NE from Hagerman for $2,675,902. The federal government relieved him of the irrigation projects a couple of years later. In retirement at Roswell, Hagerman had plenty of time to ponder a lifetime of successes whose fruits had been lost in the muddy waters of the River. Perhaps someone told him of cattleman Charles Goodnight's name for the Pecos: "The Graveyard of Hope."

The Santa Fe moved the PV&NE offices, including the building, to Amarillo. A single set of officers ruled both the Texas Lines and the Pecos Lines. The PV&NE was still separately operated and was called the "Peavine" from its initials.

The Santa Fe now owned a branch line 639.74 miles long that stretched from Attica, Kansas, to Pecos, Texas. All of it was low traffic line through semi-arid, unpromising land. But there was hope. President Ripley was now asking James Dun about the possibility of connecting the Pecos Lines with the Santa Fe's main line near Albuquerque. This endeavor would become known as the Belen Cutoff.


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