All aboard te Rock Island Line

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

“Do yuh hear that whistle down the line?
I figure that it’s engine number forty nine,
She’s the only one that’ll sound that way.
On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe!”

That’s a song that won an Oscar, in a 1946 film starring Judy Garland. The movie? “The Harvey Girls.”
The “Harvey Girls?” When the U.S. railroads first went West, they didn’t offer any food service. Passengers had to provide for themselves.
(I imagine, it was kind of like the airlines, today, minus the Homeland Security restrictions.)
Then a fellow named Fred Harvey, who had some restaurant experience, conceived the idea of having restaurants at the train stations.
And like a good American entrepreneur, he sold that idea to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe folks and opened his first Harvey House at the station in Topeka, Kan. It was a success and he opened more.
But he soon decided that young women would be better at “waitressing” than the sometimes rowdy young men he’d been hiring.
So Harvey ran newspaper ads, recruiting young women “of good moral character” to work in his restaurants. The agreement: A six-month contract, $17.50 a month to start plus room, board and tips. At work, they’d wear their Harvey Girl “uniform.” It was a black dress with a big white apron; the “uniform” Judy Garland wore in the movie.
Harvey and the Santa Fe gave it everything they had. Refrigerator cars hauled in produce and fresh meat. Two Harvey Company dairies to provide fresh milk. Portions were large; and they cut their pies into fourths.
Harvey House Hotels followed the restaurants. And, of course, housing had to be built for the Harvey Girls.
Such accommodations were built in many railroad cities in New Mexico.
Visit to see photos of old Harvey Houses in 12 states, including New Mexico.
You’ll also find Harvey Houses listed at Albuqerque, Belen, Carlsbad, Clovis, Deming, Gallup,Lamy, Las Vegas, Raton, Rincon, Santa Fe, San Marcial, and Vaughn.
But not Tucumcari.
Why not? We got our first train, the Rock Island, on March 12, 1902.
And pretty soon we had a railroad station; still standing.
No, we didn’t have a Harvey House; or Harvey Girls.
But what we did have was the Golden State Limited; a combination of the Rock Island Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad that gave us four passenger trains a day, running from Chicago to Los Angeles.
And vice versa.
East to West: Chicago-Kansas City-Tucumcari-El Paso-Los Angeles!
West to East: Los Angeles-El Paso-Tucumcari-Kansas City-Chicago!
What’s more, we had a song about our railroad, too.
And from the likes of Johnny Cash. So, when you’re driving down Rock Island Road, you could be humming and remembering,

“The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road
The Rock Island Line is the road to ride
The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road
If you want to ride you gotta ride it like you find it
Get your ticket at the station for the Rock Island Line!”

Chelle Delaney is the associate publisher of the Quay County Sun. Contact her at 461-1952 or by e-mail: