Belen's Train Yard & Harvey House (Part 2)

CHICAGO--Last week's post (Part 1) gave a very brief history of Belen and its railroad, Harvey Girls, & the Belen Harvey House. Tonight I am sitting in a small hotel room in downtown Chicago thinking back to a couple of days ago. MaryAnn and I took the Southwest Chief from the Alvarado Station to the Windy City.

Castaneda Crumbling

What really startled me on the train ride was our brief stop in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Not only is there a Harvey House there, but it is so large and beautiful! It was built to be a sister hotel to the Alvarado and is called the Castaneda Hotel. Privately owned, there seems to be no plans to renovate or even save this wonderful piece of history from crumbling. It really made me appreciate what we do have in nearby Belen, as well as how important Fred Harvey was to the Santa Fe Railroad. These hundred-year-old Harvey Houses of New Mexico are important and say nothing of being absolutely gorgeous!

The Alvarado Saves Belen HH

I was lamenting to Maurine McMillan, Director of the Harvey House Museum in Belen, about the destruction of the Alvarado 40 years ago. And how smart Belen was to save their Harvey House rather than have it go the way of the Alvarado. She told me that the Alvarado actually saved the Belen Harvey House. Nobody in Belen could bear the thought of seeing it destroyed after witnessing what happened to Albuquerque's iconic structure.

Belen Beckons
There are two ways to get to the Belen Harvey House. One way is to drive. If anyone in your party has trouble walking, this is probably the best option. It is only about a half an hour away. Here is one way to get there.

Take I-25 south to the first Belen exit. Follow that road, Main St., all the way to Reinken Ave. Turn left. Just before Reinken goes up the overpass above the train tracks turn to the right. There is a small sign. Zig-zag your way back to the tracks and there it is.

The only tricky thing is that the Harvey House does not face the street, it faces the it doesn't look like too much at first. Just park your car and walk around to the front.

What About Taking the RailRunner?
Hey, no problem...provided you can walk over half a mile. This will change after the first part of December, but right now although one can see the Harvey House not more than a couple hundred yards from the RailRunner platform, walking distance is 2/3 of a mile. However, here is a great map to help you find your way.


There is a difference between weekend and weekday schedules, but both of them have trains leaving downtown Albuquerque about 1:00 PM. Weekdays, you can return as early as 5:35 or as late as 7:40. Weekends the first train returns north at 3:58 and the last at 7:10.

The Museum

The Harvey House itself has been turned into a museum, with exhibits on the main floor as well as 8 rooms of displayed items upstairs. Also, there is a model railroad that mimics the actual countryside of New Mexico. But really, the building itself is the star of the show.

Museum hours are Tuesday - Saturday 12:30 to 3:30 and Sunday 1:00 to 3:00. They are closed Mondays. Open other hours by appointment. Call 505-861-0581.

Another Railroading Classic to See
Close by the Harvey House is another attraction for railroad buffs: La Marranita, also called the Doodlebug. La Marranita means "The Little Pig," but in an affectionate way. And like a doodlebug it scampered back and forth from Belen to Albuquerque starting in 1934. On April 9, 1968 the last passenger train pulled into Belen at 10:00 AM. The high school band played. Two short speeches later, the train pulled out at 10:15. "It was if the little train had proudly attended its own wake," remarked Dr. Richard Melzer in a touching piece published in the Valencia County News-Bulletin.

That small engine, the Doodlebug...La Marranita, has made its way back to Belen from a long stay of several decades on a California siding! It is on display a few blocks from the Harvey House. Ask them for directions. It is really a very short distance. And what a unique piece of New Mexico history.

Where to Eat
The Harvey House quit serving food on a regular basis in 1939. It did reopen its kitchen to feed the troop trains during WWII. However, across the street, in 1949 a small restaurant opened up in a converted house. It is still there, bigger and better. Pete's Cafe is a great place to eat before or after a tour of the rail yard. And believe me, it is directly across the street from the Harvey House. There is no way you can miss it.

It serves traditional New Mexican fare in a mildly upscale setting. I had green chile chicken enchiladas. It came with 2 large sopapillas. The chile was mild, but tasty. Your brother's kids from Kansas would eat it. And the cost is reasonable for a very nice place to eat: my meal was $8.50 plus tip.

Steps to Recovery

The last part of this story has to do with the Recovery Act. As was mentioned in the comments for Part 1 last week, Belen is building a pedestrian overpass over the Reinken Ave. overpass. This will cut a half a mile out of the walking distance between the RailRunner platform and the Harvey House. According to Tony Sylvester over at MRCOG, the project should be done "the first part of December." This pedestrian access is important because the Reinken Ave. overpass as it is currently configured is a real barrier to all but the hardy. Hopefully this will induce some Burqueños to ride the rails down to Belen just because it has become, not only an excursion into the history of railroading, but because it is a very pleasant day trip for a few hours in the afternoon.

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Comment by Ron Da Bomb on October 5, 2010 at 9:08am
I've always wanted to take the train somewhere. I've got some questions, if you don't mind. Did you get a sleeper or just coach seats? Are the seats comfy enough for a big man (that would be me)? Can you get off at a station to sightsee and catch another train later? Is there a dining car? If so, is the food good? Okay. That's enough. Great posts, by the way!
Comment by Dee Cohen on October 5, 2010 at 3:11pm
Thank you Johnny. Your descriptions of the town, the Harvey House etc are very nice. I'm looking forward to visiting there soon. You also have a (seemingly) effortless style of writing. That's hard work!
Enjoy your stay in Chicago. Dee
Comment by Johnny_Mango on October 5, 2010 at 4:37pm
Thank you. And Ron, the seats are actually huge...with loads of legroom. We sat in the coach. There are also sleepers and small sleepers called roomettes. They are pretty expensive and we were told by a person who was sleeping in the top bunk of a roomette that it was pretty darn claustrophobic. Anyway, there is a lounge car with some alcoholic beverages and snacks. The dining car serves decent food at fairly reasonable prices. The dining car steward comes by and you make reservations. And when you are called you sit with whomever came in just before you. It's pretty neat meeting all the people. To get off and on during a trip requires a special kind of excursion ticket or something. However, two ladies got kicked off the train for smoking, so there is always that. Not sure when or if they got back on.
Comment by Margaret Randall on October 6, 2010 at 7:37am
Four of us took the Railrunner to Belen yesterday, mainly to see the Harvey Girls Museum, which was truly wonderful. So much history there! And the model trains were fantastic. We hiked the distance from the train, which wasn't as bad as you make it sound. On the way we passed intense construction on the new overpass, which should be great. Ate at Pete's too; another interesting old building, though not as old as the Harvey House. Most amazing is the cost of the ticket from Albuquerque, $2 round trip if you get it on line! Can't beat that for a delightful outing.
Hope you and Mary Ann are having a great time in Chicago. We all missed the Sunday morning poet!


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