Hub City on track for Railroad Heritage Day at the public library

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Young and old alike are preparing for this Saturday’s third annual Hub City Railroad Heritage Day.

Courtesy of Janis Marston: Mansion Players, from left, Alena Evans, Esmeralda Cernius, April Donk and Aita Holsteen have fun during “Train Days” practice at the Belen Library.

Belen’s celebration at the Belen Public Library is a lead-in to National Train Day, held May 11 in Albuquerque and other major passenger train depots across the United States. Amtrak started the national event in 2008 to promote the advantages of rail travel.

It’s celebrated on the Saturday closest to May 10, the day the Golden Spike was driven into the rails connecting the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit in Utah. The year was 1869; the railroads were the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific.

Eleven years later, it was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe that rolled into Belen the summer of 1880 and put the town on the map as one stop on the east-west route from Chicago to California. Train traffic increased in 1907 with the completion of the Belen Cutoff, officially making Belen the “Hub City.”

The icing on the cake came in 1910 when Fred Harvey built one of his fine dining establishments here, the Belen Harvey House.

Fast forward 113 years and the trains are still running here. It’s now the a freight-hauling BNSF railroad — short for Burlington Northern Santa Fe — and the Harvey House has become a museum. Discounting the Belen-to-Santa Fe Rail Runner commuter train, no more passenger trains roll through here.

The last one — the legendary streamliner the “Santa Fe Chief” — pulled out of Belen’s station on April 30, 1971.

“We really are the train center of the Southwest,” said Library Director Deborah Graham. “We were the hub for the Santa Fe. We are the hub for BNSF.”

With that as a historical background, Graham and company offer a wide fare Saturday. She brought in Debbie Woodward, art teacher at Gil Sanchez and La Promesa schools, to decorate the library with her students’ train art.

The Mansion Players will perform an original production, “Train Days,” that tells the story of how Belen was changed with the arrival of the trains.

Poets will read their works, Gair Linhart and the New Mexico Special Orchestra will provide music, and the BNSF Harvey Girls will be in uniform to re-tell the colorful history of the Harvey Girls.

All activities will be at the library. They are free and will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The orchestra will play throughout the day in the patio, beginning at 10.

The musical, multi-media show “Train Days” will be presented at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the large lecture hall. Readings and Harvey Girl talks will be scattered throughout the day.

“This is our heritage,” Graham says. “Come celebrate it.”