The "Chili Line"
Railroads loved colorful names for the routes and engines they
operated, it helped to attract riders. The Chili Line was named for the now
popular ristras (bunches of red chili peppers) hanging on the front
porches and walls of the houses along the route.
It was always General
Palmer's the intent for
the Denver & Rio Grande to reach Mexico. Even after court rulings with the
AT&SF limited the D&RG expansion to 90 miles south of Conejos,
a close neighbor of Antonito, the railroad continued
its effort to reach Santa Fe. Construction of the Chili line coincided with construction of
the branch line to Durango in 1880. Some records indicate there were more resources
allocated to the Chili line than the Durango route.
Espanola, New Mexico was the end of the line for the D&RG
Santa Fe, a scant 34 miles away, could not be accessed directly without General Palmer
forfeiting his exclusive rights to the rich ore districts in the Colorado
mountains. Therefore, a separate railroad was established in Santa Fe, to connect
Espanola and extend south to Albuquerque, NM.
The from Santa Fe was first named the
Texas, Santa Fe and Northern. In 1886 the TSF&N was in deep financial
trouble and was reorganized before completing construction to Espanola in
1887. Shortly after completion the railroad was again in foreclosure and then operated as the Santa Fe Southern until purchased by the Rio Grande & Santa
Fe (a wholly owned subsidiary of the D&RG) in 1896.
The D&RG eventually bought the line to Santa Fe and
incorporated it into the Espanola Branch in 1908. However, no great wealth was
ever freighted out of the route to Santa Fe. One of General Palmers grandest schemes
became a dud. The Espanola Branch was basically a low traffic passenger route with services to the
neighboring farming communities. During 60 years of operation the routine
changed very little. In 1941 the narrow gauge Chili Line was closed due to low
References: 18, 19, 20, 21, 49