On Saturday December 7, 1878 the first Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) railway engine crossed from Colorado into New Mexico Territory and the New Mexico and Southern Pacific, an ATSF subsidiary began building south toward Santa Fe.
It had been a race right to the finish, the ATSF barely making reaching the New Mexico Territory border from Kansas before the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached it from Denver.
The race began on October 30, 1868, when the ATSF railroad began laying track in Topeka, Kansas. The rail line headed west from there, following the already-established Santa Fe Trail to Raton Pass. Once into New Mexico, the track extended south to Las Vegas, then west through the Glorieta Pass. West of the pass, it moved away from the Trail and headed south to Albuquerque, which it reached in 1880. At Lamy, source of the limestone for Santa Fe’s Catholic cathedral, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific built a spur line north to Santa Fe, thus ensuring a connection to the Territorial capital.
With the railway came connections south and west, as well as east. The New Mexico and Southern Pacific line reached Albuquerque on April 5, 1880, then pushed south and west. It arrived in El Paso, TX in 1881, where it would connect to the Southern Pacific, which moved steadily west toward Arizona, reaching that boundary in late July 1881. In 1882, this southern route line would extend link Texas and California, forming, with the New Mexico and Southern Pacific’s routes in the rest of New Mexico, a network of rail throughout the Territory.
Fred Harvey was already providing food and lodging for ATSF’s passengers by the time ATSF tracks reached New Mexico, but the Territory was critical to the full development of his Harvey House concept. In 1883 the male waiters at Harvey’s Raton establishment became so unruly that he fired all of them and hired young women instead. The waitress experiment was so successful that Harvey got rid of the male waiters in all of his rail establishments and replaced them with young women, the iconic waitresses who would become known as the Harvey Girls. So, not only did rail come to New Mexico in early December 1878, but New Mexico would give rail the Harvey Girl, that image of feminine efficiency that has clung ever since to the legend of Fred Harvey and his railroad restaurant/hotels.
Sources: Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate, Roadside History of New Mexico, Mountain Press, Missoula, 1989; Richard W. Etulain, Beyond the Missouri, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2006; Corina A. Santisteven and Julia Moore, Eds., Taos, A topical history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; Marta Weigle, editor, Telling New Mexico, a new history, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2009; Victor Westphall, The Public Domain in New Mexico, 1854-1881,UNM Press, Albuquerque, 1965.