Western Trips

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Doodlebug / Railroad in New Mexico

Short haul passenger railroad development took many forms during the first half of the 1900's. The railroad engine pictured in this article was named "The Doodlebug". It was also called the ATSF M190 and was operated on many short routes throughout the southwest by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad during it's time of service.

About the Doodlebug

doodlebug train m190
At & SF Railroad M190
The name "Doodlebug" was often used to describe any self propelled railroad car. They were considered motorcars. These were quite different from steam locomotives. Doodlebugs were gas/electric engines generally used on short distance routes. These were routes that the railroad was expected to serve but too short a distance to be economically feasible with regular steam locomotives. The Doodlebugs were self contained units that usually could provide room for mail and passengers although some designs had the engine pulling one or two rail cars.

Today, The Doodlebug, ATSF M190,  is on permanent display in Belen New Mexico. If your western trip takes you near Belen, which is just 33 miles south of Albuquerque along Interstate 25, it's well worth a stop to view this historic railroad engine. The train engine now on display in Belen's Doodlebug park has quite a history of service. During the 1930's and 1940's this particular train ran on a route between Albuquerque New Mexico and Belen to the south. It was considered a commuter route.The AT & SF M190 was built in 1932 by the Electro-Motive Corporation. This particular Doodlebug was essentially a baggage compartment train with a 900 HP gas engine. The M190 had the power to pull perhaps four passenger rail cars. In 1949 the engine was changed to diesel.

The AT & SF M190, during it's service life also served other cities and towns. During part of the 1950's and 1960's, the M190 was one of two trains on the Clovis to Carlsbad New Mexico run. I understand that this Doodlebug may also have seen service in El Paso during the 1960's before returning to Belen and retirement.

The Doodlebug Moves From Sacramento to Belen

atchison topeka and santa fe M190
One interesting story about this particular Doodlebug was how it found it's way to Belen New Mexico. After the M190 was retired from service in 1968, it found it's way to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento California.

It was at the museum rail yard that the old AT & SF M190 was parked awaiting restoration before display. Today, the California State Railroad Museum is probably one of the finest railroad museums in the world. They have fascinating displays of restored rail cars and locomotives under roof. If you have visited there you will know what I mean. If you have not, I would highly recommend a stop there if your travels take you to Sacramento.

When the old AT & SF Railroad M190 motorcar was discovered at the California museum, efforts were made between the governors of both states to return the historic rail motorcar to New Mexico for restoration and exhibit. When all was worked out for the return of the M190 in 2007, arrangements were made for the motorcar to be transported by flatbed train car to Belen. The M190 traveled down the San Joaquin Valley from Sacramento and over the Tehachapi Pass east of Bakersfield. From there it was straight across the Mojave Desert to Needles California and a pretty direct line from there to Belen.

It's appropriate that the AT & SF M190 be exhibited at Belen New Mexico where the motorcar saw so much service. Belen is also a terrific place regarding trains in general. Belen New Mexico is home of the old Belen Harvey House dining room which is now a terrific railroad museum.

In addition to this, the Belen Harvey House Museum has a fantastic model train display that covers three rooms near the rear of the building. Many great railroad artifacts are displayed including an old AT & SF switching panel, Harvey House memorabilia and uniforms from the Harvey Girls era.

The model railroad exhibit displays the Belen rail yard as it looked with the roundtables during the 1950's and 1960's. They also have a model of the New Mexico Rail Runner which is a one of kind exhibit. The Belen Model railroad Club has built an excellent exhibit and hit's definitely worth a visit. All of the Historic sites. including the Doodlebug Park, can be found on the "Walking Tour Map" available at the Harvey House Museum facing the rail yard.

Three other articles on Western Trips you'll find interesting are the Belen Harvey House Museum ... Donner Pass Train  and Some Great Stops Along TX and NM Route 66.

To reach Belen from Albuquerque, drive south on Interstate 25about 30 miles and take exit 195. Follow the I-25 Bypass to NM 314 W and follow that to Reinken St. This is the center of Belen and the Doodlebug and Harvey House Museum is about a half mile to the east. This is also the area of the busy Belen BNSF rail yard.


(Photos from author's private collection)