Chama to Durango

In DRGW days Chama was the away from home terminal for crews from Durango and Alamosa, and a helper base for the eastbound 4 percent climb to Cumbres. It was a small town where ranching and lumbering were the major occupations, and it was multi-cultural with Anglos, Hispanics and Apaches living and working in reasonable harmony. The occasional visitors were typically either hunters, fishermen, railfans, or perhaps a lost tourist. It had the kind of charm that appealled primarily to folks who enjoyed getting off the beaten track.

Hotel and motel accomodations in those days were best described as basic. The crews stayed at either the Shamrock (now the "Hotel and Shops") or Fosters. Since railroaders came and went at all hours of the night and day, the Shamrock simply had a blackboard near the front door listing all the rooms, with a key on a hook if it was vacant. To check in you chaulked your name in a box and took the key. It was all very informal.

You could eat at Fosters Hotel or Kellys Cafe. At Kellys a young girl named Vera Alcon was learning the restaurant trade, and in later years Viva Vera's New Mexican Kitchen would become a Chama icon. Sadly, when Vera passed away her children had no interest in continuing the business and it now sits vacant and weed grown. Shopping was done at the Chama Merchantile which was a traditional old general store. Both Kellys and Chama Mercantile have since burned down.

Only a few years earlier Chama had been a somewhat busier place, with two movie theatres, a meat market, and other stores. But the lumber industry was shrinking, the Air Force Station at El Vado had closed, and better highways allowed residents to do their major shopping in Espanola or Santa Fe.

But when trains were in town the rail yard was a busy place. In the early 60's trains would typically leave Alamosa and Durango twice a week, and arrive Chama within hours of each other. The crews would spend the night. Since most trains had two engines, this meant four engines being serviced at the roundhouse. In the winter if a spreader train was run over the pass it might mean six engines. The long trains from Durango to Alamosa were typically divided in the yard into three cuts to be shuttled up the four percent to Cumbres over two days. During the peak of the gas boom in the 50's a helper and crew had been stationed at Chama, but that disappearred about 1959. Additional eastbound loads were switched out of the lumber mill west of town and from the Gramps crude oil loading rack. Typically Chama hummed with railroad activity for four days each week, and the two hotels and the restaurants were busy. The other three days were very quiet.

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