BUILT IN 1880 TO HAUL SILVER pulled from mines in the San Juan Mountains, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers riders a trip to the past. The narrow-gauge railroad takes a scenic ride from Chama, New Mexico, through canyons and alpine meadows to Antonito, Colorado. The locomotive is even a movie star, featured in films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in 1989, and 2014’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. Rich Casford, risk officer at the railroad and team member for more than 20 years, has many highlights of riding the rails.
THE NUMBER ONE THING I think about when I’m riding the line is how they built this railroad in 1880. Everything had to be carried on mules and in wagons. It’s remarkable how strong the people really were. They had no fear.
When we have big trains, we add a helper locomotive. That’s called a doubleheader. We have people who like to chase the train along NM 17 and take pictures of it. It’s very rare in 2023 to see a doubleheader steam locomotive train.
The railroads across the United States actually made the country what we are today. When they built the transcontinental railroad, they kicked off from Omaha, on the east, and Sacramento, on the west, and built toward each other. Building that railroad tied the country together.
Our railroad, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, was part of the Denver and Río Grande Western Railroad, built by William Jackson Palmer. His goal was to build from Denver all the way to Mexico City.
I like the trip in the spring, watching Mother Nature come back to life, the meadows particularly. If you get up there in May, the meadows are just starting to blossom, and by mid-June they’re emerald green. In the fall, it’s spectacular with the aspens. The sky is blue, and you are completely isolated from modern times. Even your cellphone does not work.
A couple of years ago, we had a French movie company here, and I took them out on the train. Their translator turned to me and said, “This is like a John Wayne movie.” I told them, “This is the West; nothing has changed since 1880.” We have so many beautiful, wide-open spaces.
All aboard for these railroad museums.
Belen Harvey House Museum. Learn more about railroad restaurants and the man who pioneered them, Fred Harvey, through exhibits and historical photographs at this museum. It includes a section on the famed Harvey Girls, who worked in the restaurants. harveyhousemuseum.org
Las Cruces Railroad Museum. Located inside the city’s historic Santa Fe Railway depot, this museum engages visitors with kid-friendly offerings and exhibits delving into train history. lascruces.gov/1624/Railroad-Museum
Tucumcari Railroad Museum. Housed in a Union Station depot built in 1926, this museum focuses on train history in eastern New Mexico. tucumcarirailroadmuseum.org