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Santa Fe More Than a Railroad Company

University of Arizona’s Special Collections
Theresa Salazar

The Southwest’s existing transportation network traces its origin to the early migration corridors of the Native peoples and the exploratory routes of 16th century Spanish conquistadors. Later, as missionaries, traders, prospectors, soldiers, and settlers followed in their footsteps, the paths were transformed into rugged wagon trails. Along these routes staging areas and supply depots sprung up. The early settlements of Santa Fe, New Mexico (1609), San Diego, California (1769) and the Old Pueblo, Tucson, Arizona (1776), were central to the organization and development of life on the frontier.

Western lore has romanticized many of the historic trails. The Old Spanish Trail, the Old Gila Trail, and the Old Santa Fe Trail were three of the west’s most infamous trails. The Spanish Trail was the northermost route across the west going through Colorado and Utah. The Gila Trail was the southernmost route running through Arizona and New Mexico. The middle trail, the Santa Fe Trail, was the most direct route and it was chosen by the Santa Fe Railway Company for their transcontinental rail line.

When the stampede to the California gold fields started in 1848, it became evident to the nation that an improved transportation network was needed. The transcontinental railroad was planned, and railroad construction began a furious schedule of expansion. Most of this expansion was a highly competitive venture made by railroad companies into remote areas of little settlement and mere promise of economic return. The gamble paid off after towns and cities located along the rail lines and the Southwest became populated.

Two rail companies, the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe (popularly known as the Santa Fe) and the Southern Pacific Company, were instrumental in building the rail transportation network throughout the Southwest.

The Santa Fe Railroad, after its infrastructure was in place, began to promote the settlement and economic development of the region. In the late 1800’s, in order to attract more passenger traffic to its line, the company started an aggressive campaign to promote tourism. This meant building hotels and restaurants for the comfort of their passengers. The company also commissioned ethnographers, artists and photographers to depict the Southwest’s scenic splendor and its unique Indian culture to entice travelers to visit and explore the area. The promotional slogan “Santa Fe Southwest” was coined in their advertisements. By 1910 they had an exclusive connection to the Grand Canyon, the greatest scenic attraction in the Southwest, and they used it as a major part of their promotional campaign.

The Santa Fe became more than a railroad company. It had wholly-owned and partially-owned subsidiaries in real estate, petroleum, lumber, hotels, restaurants, and car-ferry and stage-highway road services. Its most notable partner in the hotel and restaurant business was the Fred Harvey Company. The story of how Fred Harvey and his “Harvey Girls” helped civilize the west is a frontier legend. The Harvey Company went on to found an empire of eating establishments and hotels linked to the Santa Fe Railroad.

Just as the Santa Fe had commissioned artists to capture the mystique of the region, the Fred Harvey Company began its own collection of Indian artifacts and handmade crafts. The company, to some extent, imitated museum collectors, and by 1902 they had a permanent collection of Native arts and crafts displayed in the Indian Building in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That display was followed a few years later by one at the Hopi House, next to the Grand Canyon’s famous hotel, the El Tovar.

Some of the artists who worked for the Santa Fe were Maynard Dixon; Louis Akin, who toured Arizona in 1903; Thomas Moran; William R. Leigh, known as the “sagebrush Rembrandt”; and Taos artist E. Irving Couse. After purchasing the artist’s works, the railroad then proceeded to reproduce them on its promotional literature. Postcards, dining menus, picture books, and brochures were elaborately reproduced. Our selection of dining car menus highlights some of these artists.

Not to be outdone, the Southern Pacific Company had its own promotional campaign. They coined the slogans “Golden Empire” amd “Sunset Route” and used them on their train time schedules and brochures. The Southern Pacific Company offered cross country service from New York to New Orleans via steamship, with train connections on to San Francisco and Portland. The earliest Southern Pacific rail line closely followed the Old Gila Trail through El Paso, Texas and Yuma, Arizona. Our selection of train time schedules from both companies demonstrate the level of promotional competition and artistic flair they encouraged.


Do you have a few hours each month to help the Wheels Museum? Volunteers are needed so the Museum can be open more; run the model railroad trains, also help needed with events, marketing, fund raising. Call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269.

Saturday, September 30 and Sunday October 1, 2023. One of the nation’s largest operating steam locomotives, former Santa Fe 2926, will be on the move and park next to the Albuquerque Rail Yards on Saturday, September 30 through Sunday, October 1. WHEELS will have a booth at the site. Please come and visit us. For more information go to: www.2926.us

Saturday, October 21 2-4 pm. “The Great Wheels Museum Train Robbery!” Dr. Ronald Lah of the Wheels Museum with a group of local history reenactors will present the program. It will include:
Screening with discussion of the 1903 film, “The Great Train Robbery,” and the “Lawmen Train Cars” that were developed for rapid deployment after a robbery.

Discussion of the historic Socorro and San Marcia, New Mexico train robberies, and the accuracy of train robbery depictions in movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid.”

Reenactment of an Old West train robbery staged in and around the Wheels Museum’s train coach car.

Donors to the Wheels Museum Fundraiser are encouraged to take a seat in the train coach and present your donation when the "Train Robbers" go through the car. Visitors are encouraged to wear some period style Old West apparel like bowler and feathered hats and bonnets, pin-stipes, vests, and boots.

Only non-functional firearm props will be used in the re-enactment. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Saturday, October 28, 2-4 pm. Headset Dance Party. Dance wearing headsets to a great variety of musical choices. Admission Free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

Saturday, November 4, 11 am. “A History of Albuquerque Comedy or How I Got My Kicks on
Route 66.”
Ronn Perea. Ron's presentation will give you a unique insight into a part of Albuquerque
Culture and we promise you that you will laugh out loud throughout his talk. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Saturday, November 4, 2 pm. "Albuquerque History Challenge: Education and Fun" Roland Pentilla is an Albuquerque historian who frequently conducts downtown walking tours on behalf of the
Albuquerque Historical Society and Historic Albuquerque, Inc. Come to experience our own “Jeopardy” version of Albuquerque history complete with raffle prizes for the correct answers. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Saturday, November 25, 10 am. “Walter steps up to the plate”. Author Sue Houser discusses her book about twelve-year-old Walter wants to spend the summer of 1927 watching his beloved Chicago Cubs play baseball. Instead,Walter must leave everything he knows and loves to accompany his mother to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a place he has never been to live with relatives he has never met. Admission is Free: Donations gratefully accepted. Phone: (505) 243-6269 to RSVP.

Railyard Worker Commemorative Plaques. Honor a loved one who worked on the railroad, honor a WHEELS volunteer or honor the WHEELS Museum. WHEELS is now selling plaques with name plates for $100.00 per name.  Keep the memory of these people alive in perpetuity with a gorgeous wooden plaque with brass name plate. Thank those who made our city and state successful, built the railroad, continue to work to preserve our history and create our future. The plaques will be displayed in the Community Room at WHEELS.

Contact Paulette Miller Weir who is graciously supporting the project and has volunteered to orchestrate this work. Her phone number is (505) 227-3270.  Please send checks for $100.00 per name and a few other words such as dates of birth or death or job held to WHEELS Museum, PO Box 95438 Albuquerque, NM 97199 or contact Ms. Miller Weir for any questions.  We can also accept credit cars payment by calling WHEELS-6269.