Parked up and abandoned: AT&SF No. 769



May 6th, 2021

About half way between Santa Fe and Albuquerque lies the small settlement of Madrid, New Mexico located on the Turquoise Trail. This quiet and sometimes eerie place has a population of just over 200 but occasionally draws in curious tourists from across the USA as they pass through the southern states to Arizona and California. Madrid and the area around it was once a hive of mining activity, firstly for lead but latterly for coal which came to define the place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Madrid--New-Mexico-Thomas-Rogers There is an eclectic mix of artistic ventures and follies at Madrid, New Mexico, following its abandonment in the 1950s. Photo by Thomas Rogers.

The railroad was also hugely important for this settlement and arrived courtesy of a spur from the mainline at Los Cerrillos on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Though the mainline still operates and carries Amtrak's Southwest Chief services, the spur to Madrid has long since been forgotten, but one telling reminder of the area's past remains in the form of a lonely locomotive. 777-DeGolyer-Library--Southern-Methodist-University-1946 Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe, Locomotive No. 777 with Tender in Dallas, Texas c.June 1946. Credit: DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University via Flickr.

In 1900, the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad churned out locomotive No. 266 from the Richmond Locomotive Works to work for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe subsidary. The 2-8-0 was one of 20 such examples and over the next few years, No. 266 swapped and changed both its own identity and that of its parts, namely the tender, as it worked a multitude of services in and around New Mexico and beyond. By the 1930s, the locomotive had become No. 769 and in 1950 was sold to the Albuquerque & Los Cerrillos Coal Company to work the spur down to Madrid along with two more 2-8-0 examples. Perhaps predicably, the subsequent decade was not kind to either the railroads or the coal industry and just nine years later, Madrid had effectively become a ghost town. Natural gas had become the preferred choice for home heating fuel and the AT&SF was busy going about replacing ageing steam locomotives with the more efficient diesel-electrics that could come to define the future of America's railroads. 786-DeGolyer-Library--Southern-Methodist-University-1937 Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe, Locomotive No. 786 with Tender in Dallas, Texas c.1937. Credit: DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University via Flickr.

What happened to No. 769 however is rather curious. In 1959, with Madrid effectively abandoned, the locomotive was pulled up to the entrance of the engine house and left there. It has remained there ever since, in the exact spot where it was parked after its final run. As time has moved on, No. 769 hasn't (yet) moved and though there was a considerable effort to cosmetically restore the locomotive in the 1970s, today rust, dust and grime have crept back, albeit far from the poor condition it was in prior to the remedial work 50 years ago. Madrid has similarly seen something of a resurgence and now hosts an eclectic array of art galleries and installations, alongside the Old Coal Mine Museum which proudly celebrates the area's past and hosts No. 769 as a static exhibition, still in the place that it was left all those years ago. Madrid--NM-769-Thomas-Rogers No. 769 in October 2019 photographed during a visit by a Trek America tourist excursion. Despite the resurgence in population from 0 to a mere 200 people, many still describe it as a ghost town. Photo by Thomas Rogers. Madrid--NM-769-Thomas-Rogers-Rear In this shot, the condition of the tender doesn't look too bad, but fundamental cracks have since been discovered on it. Other parts within the cab and boiler are recoverable and may well determine whether No. 769 sees service again in the future. Photo by Thomas Rogers.

But change is afoot for the decaying locomotive and plans were put in place to have it moved to a new home for restoration. Early in 2020 and through to this year, inspections were carried out to determine the viability of getting No. 769 back into running order. An estimated cost of $1.2 million has been suggested in order to do this with work to be carried out either at nearby Albuquerque or at the Santa Fe Southern Railway in Santa Fe. A GoFundMe has reportedly been set up to help fundraise this. Whilst both the preservation of No. 769 and the potential for it to run again are both incredibly exciting prospects, there has always been something hauntingly special about its current position as a poignant reminder of what Madrid once was and how profit, purpose and success can disappear overnight.

For more details, including some sources for information, please see https://www.themineshafttavern.com/engine-769

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