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Wheels Museum coming to Albuquerque’s Railyards

by Neala Schwartzberg – Albuquerque Travel Examiner

How many people does it take to create a museum? Only one, if she’s Leba Freed.

Leba Freed is the energized whirlwind who is making Wheels happen, along with a superb Board of Directors and dozens of other people who share her vision. I’m sitting with her in the cavernous space which had been home to some of the artifacts of the Wheels Museum. Soon the last pieces will be moved to the new space in the Albuquerque Railyards and Leba’s dream will have taken one gigantic leap forward.

Albuquerque’s Railyards
The 27 acre site with 350,000 square feet of building space was owned by Burlington Railroad when Leba first saw it. Although taken over by wild dogs and homeless people, “it was so magnificent and so huge,” recalls Ms. Freed, “I couldn’t believe it was here in the middle of Albuquerque.” She knew instantly it would be the perfect home for the idea she had for Wheels.

The Railyards had been the biggest steam locomotive repair facility between Chicago and Los Angeles during the years of the Santa Fe railroad. “Twenty-five percent of the population of Albuquerque worked there,” says Ms. Freed. They had come from all over the country to add their skills to the mix. “It made Albuquerque into a city.”

Railyards – Photo by Ed CardonaIt took years of effort, but finally, in 2007 the City of Albuquerque acquired the property for $8.5 million (some of it raised by Wheels through fund-raising and grants) and the museum had a home.

But Leba wasn’t the only one who recognize the enormous potential of the vast and truly awesome space that is the Railyards. It’s also used as a movie location. “We work closely with movie companies,” says Leba, “they lease the space from us.”

The money goes right back into the Wheels museum. “We use it to rehabilitate spaces, put up fences, and start to make the space ready for the museum.”

When I asked her about her favorite artifacts, her first reply was the buildings and the site itself. “It is the industrial strength of the country, and American progress,” she says. “I fell madly in love with it.”

Wheels Museum
But she can also list many of the artifacts that she loves as well. Wheels has collected an amazing array of transportation related memorabilia, both large and small. Some of the standouts include steam locomotives, a 1942 Seagraves fire truck, a 1915 Model T down to model train set valued at $250,000. But it all has to have some connection to New Mexico transportation from the past to the future.

The goal is to show “the progress of society through moving.” says Leba. “I wanted to do something with New Mexico transportation,” says Freed. The name is both an apt summation, and an acronym – We Have Everything Everyone Loves Spinning – Wheels.

Leba expects to have everything moved into the Railyards by early summer. But she cautions that it will be some time until it’s open to the public. “At first we’ll probably just run tours for special groups and perhaps some fundraising tours,” says Ms. Freed, “so we can grow the museum.”

Leba will be giving a free talk on April 22nd at the Cherry Hills library about the Wheels museum. If you’d like Leba to speak to your group about her work and the Wheels, or iff you’d like to volunteer artifacts, oral history, especially of the southwest, call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269 or write her at leba4@aol.com.


New Lego exhibit at the Wheels Museum. View The New Mexico Lego Users Group has
partnered with WHEELS to have a beautiful Lego Train layout for children of all ages to enjoy. The exhibit will vary from season to season and we invite you to come see this new Lego train exhibit.

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.

Febuary 16, 11 am. Bob Bovee Long Steel Rails concert. This program for all ages presents songs and stories about the famous trains, rail workers, hobos, train wrecks and train robbers. Call or email Leba Freed for reservations at (505) 243-6269 or leba4@aol.com.

March 17, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at WHEELS. Movie, tours, train ride and food celebration.

April 1, 1 pm. Doug Figgs and Badger. Back by popular demand. By reservations only (505) 243- 6269. Doug’s show was sold out last year, so call early! Donation: $10.00.

April 8, 11 am. “Historic Albuquerque” Ronn Perea will present old Albuquerque anecdotes including delightful stories about our beloved Alvarado Hotel and the politicians, actors and entertainers who stayed there. This is a free event but, of course, donations are always appreciated.

April 22, Wheels Museum Day trip to Rancho De Chimayo Restaurante, El Santuario de Chimayo and the Santa Fe Plaza. Call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for more information. The museum is a 501C3 non-profit community organization whose mission is to create a transportation museum at the downtown Albuquerque Steam Locomotive Repair Shops.

May 19-May 23, Train trip to the Grand Canyon. Only a few spaces left.Scheduled through Amtrak Vacations, call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for reservations and more information.