Recollections of Warren Harkey, a friend and lifelong resident of New Mexico, USA

Thought you might find this amusing.  It concern’s my father’s career.

Southern Pacific depot at Ancho New Mexico

The application for our future home was made under the terms of the Homestead act, which was filed 10/05/1936.  I was born in August 1937 and vaguely remember living in the back of the depot
at Ancho, New Mexico.  Remember crawling around trying to find the what was making a
dripping sound on the bottom of the icebox we had there.  Pop got ice
from the railroad cars to put in the icebox.

Don’t know when we moved to the house Pop built.  No AC power, just
kerosene lamps.  I remember watching Pop working in the office at the
depot with headphones on and typing instructions to the incoming train
which were attached to loops with a handle and the engineer slowed down
and reached out and grabbed the loop and removed the note, better known
as “orders” and pitched the loop back down.  All communication in and
out were by landline Morse code!  I wanted to learn it but never made it!

Rural Railroad Station Manager at work


Until the 1950s, train movements were coordinated primarily by telegraphed messages. Orders conveyed by the dots and dashes of Morse code directed trains to use specified routes to avoid collisions and kept dispatchers up to the minute on train locations. There were no radios, so depot telegraphers delivered the orders to train crews as written or typed messages grabbed by train drivers ( “engineers”) as the train passed the station.

Locomotive tender water tank being filled, this had to be done every 20 or 30 miles
Coal would be loaded into the tender (always directly coupled to the locomotive) at the beginning of every trip
Locomotive fireman had to shovel coal from tender into firebox continuously during a trip-he might become an engineer (train driver) after several years

All engines were steam engines, so water had to be available every few
miles.  I remember the water from Bonito lake was piped to Coyote
(between Ancho and Carrizozo) by gravity and huge steam driven pumps at
Coyote forced the water up to Ancho and Luna and I don’t remember if it
went further. Coyote had dual steam plants and dual pumps to make sure
the trains could keep going.  The steam plants were huge!, everything
was fueled by coal which came in by rail also.  Every station had water
available for the steam engines.

The pumps were manned 24 hrs/day and Uncle Elbert Brown worked there. 
Pop took us down to visit with Elbert and I got a tour of the place-very
impressive.  A large water storage facility was there also just in
case.  Just after the war, in 1945 or 6 trains switched to diesel and
hundreds were out of a job.  The water from Bonito was diverted to
Alamogordo.  Pop’s job moved to Carrizozo and he had a longer commute. 
Ancho, Luna and Coyote died🙁.

Categories: History, Science and Biography | Leave a comment

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