“Dad Had Charge of the Commissary There”
by Tom Seery
Randy Dunson’s grandparents came to New Mexico in the early twentieth century to homestead and work on the construction of the Belen Cutoff. He is the third generation of railroad employees in his family to work along the Cutoff. Over a period of thirty years, he studied railroad history and interviewed old-timers who told stories about the construction and early operation of the railroad. Here, Tom Seery, who lived as a boy in the main camp in Abo Canyon, discusses what life was like during the construction from 1903 to 1907.
~ ~ ~ ~ “L-S Con. Co’s Corral, Cam 2,” Unknown (Photographer)
We had a wood floor. I remember Dad had charge of the commissary and there was quite a camp. When I was a kid, they’d come in at night, feed the horses and get them ready, and then they’d eat and they’d go to bed. And they’d get up the next morning and feed the horses and get ready and then hitch ‘em up and take off. Each fella had a scraper and a team of horses that he handled. And that was the way they moved the dirt outta those cuts.
They had quite a gang there. They had a big cook tent and cooks and tables. Oh, yeah, they had to shoe those horses and take care of them and all. Yeah, I wouldn’t doubt if there was a blacksmith’s shop. And then outside of the cook tent, they had a duck farm probably as big as this divan is square, and a pool right in the center with steps comin’ up to it. They would buy their meat down in Albuquerque, put it on a rope, and pull it up. I can remember the coyotes and wolves fighting around there trying to get to that meat.
Well, I can’t remember too much about building the cuts, because they wouldn’t let me go up in there. I can remember them going out in the mornings and coming back at night. Oh, they must have had thirty-five, forty horses there at the tents, you know. They fed them in the tent, and they had to have the hay, and the grain, and the water, and they had a creek down there. The bank was about eight, nine feet higher at this time, and they’d get out and go down and take their animals down there and let them drink and bring ‘em back. “Railroad Workers Near the Sais Quarry,” Unknown (Photographer)
There was a young fella there that he wanted to kill a coyote or a wolf and send the hide back to his folks some place in the East. So one evening after they got the horses all put up for the night he’d saw a coyote across the canyon over there, and he shot it and he hit it. And it just started goin’ round and round. So he rushed in, got his coat on, and his hat and his gun, and he took off. He was goin’ over there to get it. Well, by the time he got over there, the coyote or the wolf, whatever it was, had run away. And he followed the blood, and he got lost. And he had sense enough to stay where he was until morning, so he could see again. So he did. And of course, everybody in camp was excited about him; he hadn’t got in. Anyway, he never did find the animal, and the next morning, here he come in. He stayed out all night. But it was pretty wild up there.
One morning there at Camp 2, we got up—‘course I didn’t, I was too young to know, I heard the folks babbling about it later—but there were two coyotes killed right by our wall, right outside the camp wall. Shot ‘em one morning, and I can remember the coyotes and wolves fighting over this platform. Tryin’ a get up there to get that fresh meat, ya know? “Lantry-Sharp’s Con. Co’s Camp 2, Abo,” Unknown (Photographer)
Another thing there was a little cow and she had a calf, and the little one was born and the wolves killed it. The next night, she come down through the camp there just bellowing and hollerin’ for the calf and everything else and that evening the men decided that they were gonna have to put a stop to that ‘cause, uh, between her and the wolves, nobody got any sleep. So I think there were about six men that had guns and that night they went up to where this little carcass was—that calf—and they just laid down waiting. I think they killed five or six wolves that night there and that put a stop to some of the noise. Finally the mother gave up because the bellowing and calling for the calf didn’t produce anything. So we got some sleep.