Before the railroad, travelers on the
Santa Fe Trail had an alternative to the long main trail through
what would become La Junta CO and over Raton Pass. The other route
headed southwest from near Fort Dodge and across the Oklahoma panhandle
into New Mexico, rejoining the main trail near Wagon Mound.
The Cimarron Cutoff--so called because
it ran alongside the Cimarron River for many miles--had been established
in 1640, when French traders had wandered into Spanish Santa Fe,
but had been closed ten years later due to Spanish paranoia.
Not until Mexico threw off Spanish
rule in 1821 did the trail reopen. But troublesome Indians and the
lack of usable water--sometimes so severe that men cut the ears
from mules and drank the blood--caused the adoption of the longer
route in 1832.
Railroad promotors projected lines
on both routes, but only one railroad was actually built. The Atchison,
Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Road constructed its line on the northern
route. However, the Santa Fe did not ignore the Cimarron route.
The route, eventually called the Colmor Cutoff, was considered for
decades. The line ultimately constructed along this path came within
only a few miles of completion before the project was cut off.
The February 11, 1859, charter of
the Atchison and Topeka Railroad outlined a line "to such point
on the southern or western boundary of <Kansas>, in the direction
of Santa Fe, in the Territory of New Mexico, as may be convenient
and suitable, for the construction of such railroad..."
At a convention on October 17 of the
following year, the A&T was promoted with a map which showed
a line closely resembling the Cimarron Cutoff.
A decade later, the renamed Atchison,
Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Road was still interested in a southern
route to Santa Fe, though not necessarily on the old Cimarron line.
In 1870, John B. Ellinwood led a surveying party 80 miles southwestward
from Wichita, which would have placed them near present Kiowa. It
would also have placed them among the Kiowa Indians, which is why
they went armed to the teeth and with a military escourt.
Surveyor A. A. Robinson examined a
Cimarron line in 1872 before rails were laid up the Arkansas River
to the west line of the state.
There are a number of possible reasons
for not using the cutoff at that time:
The Arkansas Valley was better populated
and lead into land rich in timber, coal, and silver.
Several members of the Santa Fe's board
of directors felt that the line should continue westward to a connection
with the Central Pacific.
The New Mexican trade had been diverted
to the Kansas Pacific Railroad in Colorado. By building up the Arkansas
to Granada, the Santa Fe company could capture the trade just as
it had earlier taken the Kansas cattle trade from the KP.
A deadline existed for reaching the
border of Kansas. If it was not met, the Santa Fe would lose its
land grant. Time was short and the Arkansas Valley offered the shortest,
cheapest, and quickest means of beating the deadline.
Even had there been time aplenty, building
along the Cimarron might have lost the land grant. The act of Congress
that arranged for the land grant, penned in 1863 by the same man
who had written the railroad's charter, called for the railroad
to be built "to the western line of the state...." Most
variations of the Cimarron Cutoff exited Kansas to the south.
Surveys continued for a southern route
through 1874, but they left the Arkansas Valley from points west
of Dodge City. The Santa Fe was not a wealthy company. Economy dictated
that the southwestern line depart the already constructed line as
far west as possible, to minamumize construction.
Also, at that time the railroad had
an informal agreement with the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company.
To reach the Maxwell holdings, the railroad had to build a line
crossing the western part of the mountains that ran east-west along
the Colorado-New Mexico border
A line was eventually built over Raton
Pass. Robinson felt that this was the best line under the circumstances,
but purely from an engineering standpoint, there was a better one.
"The shortest and probably the
best," he wrote, "as far as distance and cost of construction
are concerned, is to leave the Arkansas Valley on the line I surveyed
in May 1872. We get a very easy line on this route, using grades
of 40 feet per mile to the Western Boundary of Kansas near the southwest
corner of that State; from that point southwestward to Wagon Mound
the country is more broken and would require from 60 to 75 feet
per mile--This portion of the route I have never surveyed or examined.
"This line is about 50 miles shorter
than our present constructed line. The comparative expense of operating
the two lines can only be deturmined by a survey and location. This
line has several attainable lines which could branch from the Arkansas
Valley line at several points between Dodge City and Aubrey, the
one leaving at Aubrey being the one farthest west which could have
any practical value. The main route would be the shortest and I
am quite confident the best."
Lines from west of Aubrey would have
had to climb Cimarron Pass.
In 1878, Lewis Kingman was working
on branches in Kansas when he was ordered to return to New Mexico.
The rail line had not yet opened, so he made his overland journey
by the most direct route, passing much to the south of previous
surveys. The notes of this trip were later lost, but Kingman must
have liked what he saw. A few years and promotions later he ordered
full surveys and construction into the Texas Panhandle.
Kingman's principal man in the area,
Phillip Smith, spent a good part of the 1880s criss-crossing Texas
and New Mexico. Many of his lines, including the Belen Cutoff, were
eventually built. One of Smith's favorate lines was projected from
the end of a branch at Englewood KS to a main line connectiopn at
Springer NM. This line was not built. Another unbuilt Englewood
proposal passed further south and terminated at Tecolote, south
of Las Vegas. If any surveys were made of the Cimarron country during
this period, the record has not surfaced.
With the new century came renewed interest
in a southern main line. The principal project was a line through
Amarillo, Texas, that connected with the main line at Belen. Another
proposal was a jointly-operated Santa Fe-Rock Island route. Surveyors
under F. M. Jones set out late in 1902 to lay out a line from Dodge
City to Liberal on the Rock Island. The Rock Island would be used
well into New Mexico, connecting with existing surveys to Belen.
This quickly grew into an all-Santa Fe line from Dodge City to Belen
that generally ran parallel to the Rock Island. The business panic--and
probably rabid opposition from the Rock Island--put an end to the
project. Jones, however, was proud of the line and, even after completion
of the Belen Cutoff, interest continued.
With Jones busy on other projects,
chief engineer W. B. Storey gave the route notes to J. W. Stewart.
During 1910, Stewart made four reconnaissances between Dodge City
and Springer. All followed Jones' line south to the Camarron River.
Three turned westward, passing near Folsom on their various paths
to the terminal. The fourth line followed Jones' survey to the Beaver
River in Oklahoma before turning west. Storey liked the latter route
well enough to order a closer look.
For the first few miles out of Dodge
City, the survey used the abandoned right of way of the Dodge City,
Montezuma & Trinidad Railway. Officially, this short-lived company
had planned to short-haul coal from the Raton Pass area, but its
construction was actually rooted in Gray County, Kansas, politics.
The towns of Ingalls, Cimarron, and Montezuma were involved in a
struggle for the county seat. The fist two towns were on the Santa
Fe, but Montezuma was far from the sound of train whistles. The
millionare promotor of Ingalls proposed to build a railroad to Montezuma
if that town would drop from the contest. Ingalls and Cimarron continued
the protracted and bloody contest, but Montezuma got track from
Dodge City. Unfortunatly, the railroad was an impossible loser.
Ownership passed to the Rock Island briefly, but the rails were
removed in the 1890s, scarcely five years after they had been laid.
Stewart advocated splitting off a line
north of the Cimarron crossing so that farmers on both sides of
the valley could be served.
The Colorado & Southern was crossed
at Grenville NM and Gato, a few miles north of Springer, became
the mainline connection. However, citizens of Clayton, a C&S
station south of Grenville, demanded a survey through their town.
Stewart found the Clayton line to be much better, although, to avoid
some rough country immediately west of town, he advocated running
northward parallel to the C&S to Mount Dora before turning west.
Crossing the C&S that far south forced the mainline junction
southward to Colmor. Thus the project became known as the "Colmor
Jones' location was on a 0.4% maximum
grade, but in Oklahoma Stewart had to use 0.6%. As far as the future
site of Felt, the grade was so easy to obtain that no definite survey
was made at least as late as 1921. West of Felt, 0.6% was more difficult
to obtain and the final five miles into Clayton and beyond had to
be at 1%.
During the Colmor surveys, Stewart
took time to examine lines southward from Sulzbacher, near Las Vegas.
These were intended to provide a market for Raton coal in southeastern
New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. Stewart proposed that the survey
to Vaughn be appended to the Colmor project so the 3% grade in Glorieta
Canyon could be avoided. This suggestion was never followed.
Plans for constructing the entire cutoff
were shelved, but on November 17, 1911, the Santa Fe-controled Dodge
City & Cimarron Valley Railway was created. This company was
to aid in the development of land recently purchased by Santa Fe
interests in Kansas. Construction began in spring.
Due to cost, the heavy construction
Jones had laid out in the Arkansas and Cimarron Valleys was lessened
by increasing the ruling grade. If eventually the mainline was built,
the Santa Fe planned to come back and rebuild the original segment.
For the time being, this was to be
only an agricultural branch running parallel to the Rock Island
at about twenty miles distance. The Santa Fe Land Improvement Company
purchased 245,000 acres along the line initially. This was sold
only to genuine settlers, not speculators. This put the land immediately
The project also involved the construction
of a road. A strip of farm land lay between two forks of the Cimarron,
but crossing the river to reach the railroad would have been a major
problem. Therefore a crushed-rock road some six miles in length
was built northward from Elkhart through the sandy riverbed.
The 119.23 miles Dodge City-Elkhart
opened the first of July, 1913.
In 1917, F. M. Jones took a fresh look
at the unbuilt portion of the Colmor Cutoff. There was some oil
exitement and other developments in the area. Jones was unimpressed
by the drilling, but believed that other developments were sure
railroad bait. He advocated building to Clayton immediately before
another railroad took the area.
He made a major change in the route
west of Clayton. He believed that the gorge that Stewart had avoided
by diverting via Mount Dora was hardly impassable and a direct line
could be built.
During 1913, the Santa Fe had purchased
the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain & Pacific Railway. Jones considered
using a line of this company from near Raton to Des Moines on the
C&S as part of the cutoff.
In the end, however, Jones opposed
it. The line had heavy grades. Also, routing through Des Moines
would be longer than a direct line to Colmor. Since even connecting
with the C&S as far north as Grenville would still be longer,
the only alternative was a line directly east of Des Moines. That
line was topographically impossible.
Jones also felt that the railroad should
serve Boise City and Clayton and the area to the southwest. "The
territory is bound to be served," said Jones, "and, if
the Santa Fe don't do it, the Rock Island or El Paso & Southwestern
The Rocky Mouintain company had been
placed under Avery Turner's office in Amarillo and that gentleman
stepped forward with what he called the "Taos Cutoff."
This appendage of the Colmor line called for use of the Rocky Mountain
company's line from near Raton westward to Ute Park, then new track
beyond. The proposal went down narrow and deep canyons to Embudo,
where a linkage could be made with the Denver & Rio Grande.
After using that company's tracks briefly, the Chama River would
be followed beyond the Jemez Mountains. Then a generally southwest
course would bring a mainline junction at Baca, near the Continental
It would have taken much expensive
work to produce a poor line through an unproductive region. The
Taos Cutoff was forgotten.
In the face of the World War, any plans
to act on Jones' opinion of the Colmor Cutoff were also forgotten
Storey, now president, was still interested
in 1921 and asked his chief engineer C. F. W. Felt for a reevaluation.
Woodbury Howe was the field representative this time. Much of what
had already been said was repeated, but the only action taken was
construction of a line westward from Satanta. This was the line
north of the Cimarron that Stewart had suggested over a decade before.
In 1924, William Baker, county agent stationed at Boise City, published
a meticulous report of area agriculture that came to the notice
of Santa Fe officials. The impression was deep and railroad representatives
took another look.
On January 12 of the next year, the Elkhart & Santa Fe Railway
was formed to extend the Santa Fe branch. Citizens supplied the
right of way and the 39.6 miles to Boise City and the additional
19.22 miles to Felt opened December first. The difficult construction
beyond Felt was left for later.
Transcontinental traffic glutted the
mainlines during the mid to late Twenties. Then oil was discovered
in the Texas Panhandle and the southern route via Amarillo became
clogged. Much of the line in Texas was quickly doubletracked, but
the incident sparked renewed interest in the Colmor Cutoff.
By this time, new construction had
to be approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Late in 1929,
the Santa Fe filed for permission to complete the long-delayed project.
Testimony indicated that the line would save 69 miles and avoid
the heavy grades over Raton Pass. Also under consideration was a
new Santa Fe line connecting Amarillo with Las Animas, CO, which
would cross the Colmor Cutoff at Boise City. It was claimed that
the proposed lines would provide new markets for Raton coal in Kansas,
Oklahoma, and Texas. The I.C.C. was agreeable.
The railroad, however, placed a low
priority on the line and completed other projects before setting
to work on this one.
As westward construction commenced,
the Colorado & Southern decided that it did not want a Santa
Fe line close to its own west of Clayton. Therefore, the C&S
offered eighteen miles of trackage rights between Clayton and Mount
Dora. The Santa Fe agreed and readopted most of Stewart's survey
The C&S trackage spliced 23.62
miles from Felt with 35.64 miles to Farley NM, all of which opened
for business November 15, 1931.
Only 35 miles remained to be completed,
but they were the most difficult miles to build. In the face of
the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the final spurt was postponed.
As an indication of intent, the line
west of Boise City was assigned to the yet-untouched New Mexico
Division. The eastern part remained in Western Division time tables.
The Boise City-Amarillo line, which had opened May 15, 1931, was
part of the Plains Division. The line northwards to Las Animas,
which would open in 1937, owed allegiance to the Colorado Division.
Thus Boise City became a rare junction of four divisions.
The Colmor project slumbered, though
there was a slight disturbance during 1934-5. Transmission towers
were erected at Boise City and an experimental locomotive ran to
Farley. The engine was supposed to operate on electricity broadcast
through the air from the towers. No success came to the project
and the Farley line slept on.
Elsewhere, other technology was more
successful. Better locomotion and dispatching methods produced excess
capacity on the two main lines.
As the second World War began, the
heavy rails on the Farley line were needed elsewhere. On September
6, 1942, the incomplete line west of Boise City was abandoned, ending
the long history of a line that had been planned from the very earliest
days of the Santa Fe.