1996 >> April >> The SANTA FE Trip of 86  

The SANTA FE Trip of ’86
by Tommy Bolack

Reprinted from "Crown Jewels of the Wire", April 1996, page 16

In 1986 the Santa Fe Railroad contracted removal of a telegraph line from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico, wherein I had dealt with the contractor to collect the crossarms and insulators. The 5,000 crossarms from a prior wrecked-out Gallup-Winslow, Arizona line along with these, would provide a good supply of fence posts for many years to come. The common insulators were to be stockpiled for a future museum display called “Aqua Mound”.

The Las Vegas to Lamy section of the Santa Fe line was double arm and loaded with CD 145’s, CD 152’s, CD 154’s and clear types. This line, second oldest in the State of New Mexico, was the original mainline through Glorietta Pass, built around 1879. Although I had never collected from that line, 20 years have gone by since I had seen numerous CD 126’s, which have since disappeared. They have apparently been collected as many clear, plastic and rubber now adorn the crossarms.

Loading crossarms from the Gallup to Sante Fe line on the truck.

Bad weather in weeks prior had forced the wrecking crew away from Glorietta to removing wire from Santa Fe-Lamy Spur, a single arm line. I had remembered seeing many CD 126’s on that line also in the 1960’s near the Santa Fe area. Owing to the lack of a roadway and rough terrain, I had decided not to collect crossarms (6 pin) on this section but cleared with the contractor, allowing me to pick off any glass I wanted. As they planned felling these poles with chain saws, I felt I had better try to retrieve any good glass while the poles were still standing.

In the early 1980’s, I had devised a special stick by which I could spin off insulators from the ground providing the wire had been removed. (Tommy, pictured above, waiting to catch a jade Am. Tel. & Tel. Co. toll snatched from the Rattlesnake line south of Shiprock, NM.) It was adjustable for skirt thickness and was successful in retrieving over 98% of those attempted. Of course, climbers were always carried just in case a super rare jewel had extra affection for its pin.

The nasty weather of previous weeks gave way to sunshine the last week of December 1986 and loaded up with three-wheeler, snatcher stick, paper and boxes, I headed out at 5:30 a.m. to Santa Fe with high hopes. The three hour ride gave time to reflect on the disappointment of the Glorietta main line and lowered expectations on what I may find today -- a handful of CD 126’s and a new piece for the collection? Or nothing??

This December morning in Santa Fe found a breezy 15 degrees and four inches of snow with sunny and crystal clear skies. Dressed for the Arctic, I headed south from Santa Fe upon the “Big Red” Honda. This railroad line remained well hidden in the Pinon-Juniper growth with only an occasional trail paralleling or roadway crossing it. The three-wheeler was perfect as the snow and terrain would have left only foot or horse travel as an option. At times, the track itself was the path. However, with few trains using this spur, I felt comfortable using it when needed.

"Snatchers" working a stubborn CD 145 H.G.Co. Petticoat from
 the Santa Fe RR to Winslow, AZ line. "Big Red" Honda
 three-wheeler with a barren crossarm on board awaits the snatchings.

Traveling south for three miles revealed nothing but 42’s, spirals, clear glass and plastic. It was becoming apparent that my expectations were to be realized even though I was enjoying some beautiful country. Even the new snow, in its beauty, dashed hopes of finding anything upon the ground.

Mile 4 went by and still no luck — WHAT — up ahead nearly 5 poles, there “shined” the shape and color of a CD 126 as clean as the day it was formed over 100 years ago. The early morning sun glistened unusually bright and the rescued piece revealed the cracks that made that piece shine so brightly. Another mile down line found no more as the terrain became more difficult, not to mention the increasing wind and clouds beginning to roll in. With snow in the forecast, it seemed I was going for a dry run.

Murphy’s Law works both ways! As I was about to call off the search, up ahead shined not 1 or 2, but 5 - CD 126’s on one pole! Needless to say, these mint “teasers” picked up hopes immediately as I had apparently found where previous collectors had “left off”. From then on the CD 126, CD 126.4 and CD 127 came up at times in groups of 4 or 5 and somehow I lost my concern for the threatening weather as my attention became undivided. Never since 1967, with the removal of the Narrow Gauge Railroad in southern Colorado, had I seen so many insulators of this age and condition still in the air!

This line ran in a north-south direction on the west side of the track and due to the prevailing westerly winds, no coal or diesel smoke had come into contact with these insulators, making them extremely shiny. The galvanized wire had not even left any trace of oxidation upon them!

The good luck continued as it began snowing around 3:30 p.m.. However, I was determined to search as much of that 20 mile line as possible. The wet glass continued to glisten as beautifully as it did in the sunshine. As the weather closed in, I was content to have run nearly two-thirds of the distance to a point where finds had significantly diminished. The snow made it difficult to locate my chase vehicle which was ahead at a crossing. The wind also reduced visibility. Thankfully, connection was made just in time as being overloaded with glass, wet boxes were quickly giving out!

Cold, tired and wet I packed myself with the jewels and with stiff fingers looked over and counted the plunder on the way home which, because of the weather, took five hours. The yield: 250-CD 126’s; 35-CD 126.4’s one of which was a light electric blue; 25-CD 127’s; and a CD 151 ice with purple wisps. Both the blue and 151 were additions to the collection. It was so cold I had not even noticed the purple wisps until the ride home! That five hour trip sure did not seem that long as I sorted the jewels and checked embossings.

Arriving home around 10:00 p.m. ended a most enjoyable day although it did not seem that long until the next day with sore neck and legs. The window to gather had closed for awhile as that storm dumped over 12 inches of snow on the area. One gets a feeling of touching the past as this line was the communication thread to New Mexico for over 80 years. Somehow the thrill of finding any 100+ year old piece here would compare with unearthing threadless in the east. For the most part, the “snatcher” is retired - I will certainly miss the old lines however the memories of enjoyable times remain.

We certainly have a unique hobby - as fun and enjoyment may be had over finding a $5 or a $5,000 piece. Rewards do not always come quickly but come to those who keep on trying. Best of luck and good collecting.

Tommy Bolack in his insulator gladiator garb stands next to a newly built "Aqua Mound". The mound is about 14 feet in diameter and over 6 feet in height. It is all insulators. Tommy suggests that he should sell chances to guess how many are in the mound--the winner gets one hour to dig through the pile (without breaking any) to find the cobalt EC&M buried within. Or, maybe he should sell the insulators at 10¢ each and who ever sees the EC&M first gets it for a dime! Atop the pile is "Renee" a protective friend who goes everywhere with Tommy as he rides his Honda three wheeler.

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