A 100-year-old monument with a forgotten history casts a shadow on the downtown neighborhood of Barelas.
The Barelas Rail Yard, operated by the Wheels Museum Inc., is undergoing a face-lift to its century-old 27 acre area.
Leba Freed, president of the board of directors for the non-profit museum, said she became involved because she believes in promoting Albuquerque and the city’s rich history.
The 350,000 square foot area is the last steam locomotive repair facility in the U.S., she said.
“All the other steam locomotive facilities have either been redeveloped or torn down. We have these magnificent buildings here that are iconic and historic,” she said. “This is the centerpiece that helped Albuquerque become a city.”
The staff and volunteers of the Wheels Museum have been able to fill a 20,000 square foot warehouse with rare exhibits that express the mood of an expanding city. The organized displays demonstrate the evolution of New Mexico through miniature railroads built to scale.
The members also completely restored old horse-drawn buggies and other old railroad equipment to create an accurate picture of Albuquerque’s past.
“It’s terribly hard work, but I feel that the goal is so important that I’m buoyed by that hope and that work and that passion, to do something good for New Mexico,” Freed said. “It’s been very slow and difficult, but I think that our history, our culture and our uniqueness is so important, the hope of the economic potential for tourism on this site becomes so enormous.”
D.J. Baca, a retired train conductor of 33 years, said he became involved with the museum 10 years ago, after he found old rail yard blueprints in a dumpster. Baca said he felt they were important to the history of the city.
“When the railroad hit, it went boom and it changed everything. It changed the whole Southwest. Now we are preserving the history of the rail yards and Barelas. At one time it was such a big employer of people in Albuquerque,” Baca said.
The rail yard was still open when Baca started in 1979, but by 1990 the area was completely empty.
Abbie Caplin, a museum volunteer, said the 27 acre area could affect the culture and economy of the state. She said she thinks people see Albuquerque as a place to go through instead of a destination point, because of the lack of a cultural center.
“If everyone could see the vision of making the rail yards a cultural center for people to come to, then it would be positive for Albuquerque. When people walk outside and see the magnificence of these structures it’s really magical,” she said.
The Wheels Museum will hold a silent auction and dinner fundraiser on June 14 to raise money to modernize the plumbing and electric wiring in the building.