Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Train Depots / Vaughn New Mexico

vaughn new mexico train depot
Old AT & SF train depot, Vaughn New Mexico
Old historic train depots are found today all over New Mexico.  While traveling in New Mexico I came across a railroad station in the town of Vaughn which goes all the way back to the era of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and the famous Fred Harvey Company. Most people are well aware of the Fred Harvey Company and their highly popular Harvey Houses.

Many times we hear about the highly successful Harvey House hotels and eateries along the AT & SF routes such as the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon and the La Fonda in Santa Fe, but there were many more Harvey House eateries in much less popular tourist venues. One such site is the town of Vaughn New Mexico located about 100 miles southeast of Albuquerque. The railroad affiliated eatery in Vaughn happened to be the Las Chaves Harvey House. Today, Vaughn is not a town on the Interstate nor is it near any large metropolitan area but at one time this small town was not only home to a busy train depot but also the site of one of Fred Harvey's popular rail side restaurants. The Fred Harvey hotels and dining rooms made traveling on the AT & SF Railroad a much more comfortable experience.

atchison topeka and santa fe railroad sign
Santa Fe Railroad sign, Clovis New Mexico
The early importance of Vaughn New Mexico had much to do with cattle drives. At the time of the cattle drives in the 1880's, the town was a nameless site. The book, The Trains Stop Here: New Mexico's Railroad Legacy, by author Marci L. Riskin, tells the story of how the New Mexico Land and Livestock Company drove some twenty-thousand head of cattle from Texas to the Esatancia Valley to help supply the western forts. The trail is sometimes referred to as the Stinson Cattle Trail named after the manager of the livestock company. This was in 1882 and Vaughn New Mexico became a very important stopping off point.

Vaughn and the Belen Cutoff

Vaughn was also fortunate to be chosen as the division site for it's Belen Cutoff line. The Belen Cutoff essentially was a new route for the AT & SF with much lower grades than the main line which ran over Raton Pass on the Colorado- New Mexico border. Belen is located a short distance south of Albuquerque.The tracks to Vaughn from both the east and west were built at the same time. The rails from the west reached Vaughn in 1905 and from the east in 1907. The line ran from Texico on the New Mexico-Texas border next to Clovis New Mexico and ran west to Belen. The town of Vaughn today was given it's name at the time of the railroad entering the area and was named after a civil engineer named Major G.W. Vaughn. While the cattle drives are something from the past, today, Vaughn is at an intersection of the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads making it an active freight train town.

The Vaughn New Mexico Depot

at&sf steam locomotive
Old AT & SF steam locomotive
The old Train depot was built in 1908 in a Mission Revival architectural style and an accompanying Harvey House was constructed the same year in the same style.While the Harvey House was very popular in this barren desert area, unfortunately it was torn down after it's closing in 1936. Fortunately, for the history minded traveler today, the old railroad depot remains intact and remains a great representative of the big passenger railroad era. The Las Chaves Harvey House claims one place in railroad dining history due to the exploits of aviator Charles Lindbergh. The story is that Lindbergh's plane experienced trouble with it's engine while flying over New Mexico in 1928. Lindbergh had been working on a flying route to southern California for the first transcontinental air passenger flight. This was the project consisting of a part airplane/ part train route across the U.S. On this particular trip Lindbergh made a forced landing near Vaughn and reportedly ate all of his meals at the Las Chaves Harvey House while waiting for his plane to be repaired.

Two related articles from our sites that you'll find interesting are The Historic Lamy New Mexico Train Station and the La Castenada  Harvey House in Las Vegas New Mexico. The AT & SF steam locomotive shown above is a 2-8-0 model manufactured in the year 1900 at the Richmond Locomotive Works. This locomotive is on display at the Old Coal Mine Museum in Madrid New Mexico.

Another Western Trips link you'll enjoy is Texas Railroads, the Katy Railroad and Rock Island Depots in Waxahachie Texas.

Vaughn New Mexico is at an elevation of 5,965 feet. The town is located about 30 miles south of Interstate 40. You can reach Vaughn from the Interstate via either US Hwy 285 at the Clines Corner exit or by US Hwy 54 from Santa Rosa.

(Photos from author's private collection)




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1 comment:

  1. My grandfather, Ralph Elliott, was an auto mechanic in Vaughn, NM when Charles Lindburgh was forced down due to engine failure. He was flying a Curtiss Falcon Mailplane and the date was July 30,1928. A new engine was shipped in by train and my grandfather was recruited to install the new engine. So the claims of the Harvey House are most likly true. garyaburch@gmail.com

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