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“The Railroad Made It, And The Railroad Destroyed It”

by Bill Pohl

Shawn Kelley is an anthropologist and oral historian who has talked with all kinds of people throughout the Southwest. As part of the Abo Canyon Second Track Project, Shawn has interviewed over 60 people about their communities and life experiences along the Belen Cutoff.

Employees of the Santa Fe Railway frequently established settlements around their section housing, resulting in many small towns along the Belen Cutoff. Scholle, a small village along Abo Pass in central New Mexico, is a good example of this trend and reflects the impacts of homesteaders, ranchers, and employment with the railroad. Bill Pohl’s grandfather, Gustave Pohl, moved to Scholle in the early 1900s. Gustave worked on the original construction of the railroad, established the first store, and in 1917 was killed by a train in Abo Canyon. The Pohl family homesteaded in Scholle and operated the post office for many years; today, Bill is one of the last long-time residents. Here, he reflects on the history of local ranching, the railroad, and the consequences of changes in train operation and maintenance for small villages along the Belen Cutoff.

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The railroad is what made this country. It revolutionized the world, especially the United States, and every part of it, everywhere it went. Well, the people that were here before the railroad came, undoubtedly it made the world smaller for them, but it did give them a market for their livestock, and of course this country was all sheep and cattle. Here around Scholle, it was an update for the cattle industry, because it gave them a ready-made market and they’re next door to ’em, you know. In 1948, the record for Scholle of shipping cattle was beyond any that had ever been matched anywhere, even including Magdalena. See, Magdalena was a shipping center for all western parts of the state of New Mexico. But Scholle outdid ’em percentage-wise in 1948 for cattle shipped out of here to the market. I don’t remember the numbers, but I do remember the article in one of the little papers printed in Mountainair.

Like I said about the cattle business, they came here from all over—Chupadero, down around Bingham, from Manzano, all those little villages and everything up here at Abo—they all came to Scholle to ship their cattle. It was also the mail headquarters. There was a mail car that run from here down to Rayo and back. All those places down there, Bishops and Longs and all those people down there, got their mail here, but it was taken to ’em out there on a weekly basis. So those people, you’d hardly ever see ’em once or twice, three times a year. Probably the only time you see ’em is when it’s shippin’ time or somethin’ like that. Of course when I started workin’ here in ’43 and ’44, why, I got contracts to take ’em cow feed. I had an old Model A and I would haul cake and salt and stuff out to these ranches, and alfalfa hay when we could get it. From there, that’s kind of when we got to where everything was closer, because those guys was at the point they could buy a vehicle, and they come to town maybe once a month then.

The community of Scholle as a whole pretty well was self-sufficient, but everybody helped everybody. And then of course at one time, the railroad employed twice as many people as they needed for the job, except they only worked ’em half a day. They had different families, you know, and one group would work ’til noon, then they’d bring another group and they’d work until quittin’ time. Yeah, little section gangs. That way, the railroad distributed that money to where everybody had money to buy bread with—that was one of the things that was done here. I know Kayser was doin’ it and I’m sure that somebody was before that. But that was one of the things that the railroad did to help spread that little bit of money around, to where everybody could have something and have a pair of shoes. So that was something that was done with the community, and it was no fix or nothin’—everybody got a turn, and every family had a member that worked for the railroad. I think the last group we had here on the section was 11 people, and they were basically from all over the neighborhood, but there was nobody brought in from outside, except the foremen.

It goes back to the railroad, because the railroad was the father of all this. So that’s what created the town of Scholle, and that’s what held it together. As soon as they had no more use for a local section gang, the town dissipated. And so that’s the short and sweet of the whole thing; the railroad made it, and the railroad destroyed it. Common everyday improvement, and a new way of doin’ has killed all these little towns, and consequently set those people out on the street lookin’ for a job. The progress of our country today has actually been the father of our unemployment, there’s no other way about it.