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“Scholle: A Portrait of a Railroad Community”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Many communities in east-central New Mexico are relatively new when compared to those in the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the state. When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway constructed the Belen Cutoff, it opened an area for settlement that included only a few villages and isolated ranches. In response to construction of the cutoff and other railroads, people came to work and live around the buildings and facilities required for train operations. Scholle is one of the communities that formed this way.

The steepest grade on the Belen Cutoff is in Abo Canyon, south of the Manzano Mountains between Belen and Mountainair. Climbing out of the canyon is difficult for eastbound freight trains, and the steam engines that ran on the cutoff until the 1950s often required water for their boilers after the ascent. As a result, the Santa Fe Railway established a watering station at the head of Abo Canyon and named it Scholle after a local resident. Because minerals in the water at Scholle made it unfit for steam engines, the railroad piped in good, clean water from the spring at Abo a few miles to the northeast.

Scholle’s history provides an insightful example of a small railroad community along the Belen Cutoff. In the late 1800s, a number of Hispano and Anglo families patented land in the area of La Salada, a spring that provided water and good grazing for livestock. Nearby, the Santa Fe Railway received land patents in 1906 where it constructed the Scholle watering station and siding. By 1908, Scholle had a post office and began to form a community for dozens of families, including the Brazils, Contrerases, Garcias, Kaysers, Sisneroses, Pohls, and others. Many of these families worked for the railroad maintaining the tracks on a section gang. Over the next few decades, the settlement grew in size to include a school, various stores, a hotel, ballroom, freight depot, station, as well as scales and loading pens for livestock.

Scholle served the outlying ranching communities and functioned as a small center for commerce and social activities for a number of years. Many ranching families and homesteaders lived around the settlement, and Scholle was the nearest school for their children. Local folks came to town for their mail, buying supplies, and perhaps most importantly, loading their livestock onto the railroad. People depended on one another to survive in an isolated area, and Scholle provided a central, close-knit community.

Scholle flourished until the end of World War II, when many people moved in search of better-paid employment. Some vitality remained during the late 1940s—the height of livestock traffic when the town shipped more local cattle than other place in New Mexico. Drought, hard times, and diesel engines soon followed, changing the dynamic of the region. The section gang at Scholle closed and the town dissipated. Scholle today has only a few residents. Like many other communities along the Belen Cutoff, the town now exists mostly in memory.