Nestled in the Zuni Mountains along Route 66 just 15 miles from the Continental Divide sits Gallup, New Mexico, a small town founded in 1881. Known as New Mexico’s gateway to adventure, Gallup is home to an abundance of trails to explore, rich Native American heritage and vast railroad history.
The town started as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (A&P) and was named after David Gallup, a paymaster for A&P. In 1880, Gallup established a headquarters along the construction right-of-way of the southern transcontinental route, so workers started “going to Gallup” to get their pay, and a town was born.
Eventually, A&P was acquired by BNSF predecessors St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (the Frisco) and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF or Santa Fe). Gallup is now on BNSF’s Southern Transcon, one of the main arteries for movement of goods from the ports to the interior of the country.
“I was born and raised here. Without the railroad, Gallup just wouldn’t be what it is today,” Superintendent Operations James J. Orr said. “The people of Gallup have great respect for the railroad and its roots here.”
The town still proudly shares its railroad history through the Gallup Cultural Center, which was originally the Santa Fe Depot. The museum on the second floor features all things Gallup history, including its railroad history ties, and celebrates Native American culture. The building still serves as an Amtrak station for their Southwestern Chief line twice a day.
Gallup also used to be home to one of the many Harvey Houses across the nation. The Harvey Houses were a famous chain of hotels and restaurants built along Santa Fe’s rail lines. Fred Harvey designed the Harvey Houses to be a place where weary railroad passengers could eat and rest while trains stopped on a long journey.
Gallup’s Harvey House, The El Navajo Hotel, was designed by Mary Colter, a Fred Harvey Company architect, in 1916. The building was finished in 1923 and featured Pueblo Revival style in honor of the community’s strong Native American ties. The hotel was one of the largest in the Harvey system and was a training center for the Harvey girls. Unfortunately, the house closed in 1957 and was demolished that year.
Today, the majority of freight that runs through Gallup is intermodal, meaning containers are switched between ships, trains, and trucks on their journey, running in both directions from California to inland markets. Gallup also sees freight business with commodities such as sand, cement, coal, lumber, chemicals and even potable water.
Gallup is also home to a BNSF Certified Site, the Gallup Energy Logistics Park (GELP). The GELP is a rail-served industrial development on 2,500 acres of property. BNSF certification ensures a site is ready for rapid development.
BNSF’s Gallup employees are involved in the community, through career and safety presentations at area schools, volunteering with the Navajo Nation in the area and contributions to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“The crews here are some of the best people you will ever meet, and Gallup is a great diverse place to visit, enjoy good food and even raise a family,” Trainmaster Guillermo Mckinley said. “Gallup is tremendous, but my favorite part is the people. They are heartwarming, accepting, open and generous.”
In June, some of the Gallup team volunteered their time for a train ride with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Children from the area and their mentors or “bigs” got to ride on a restored vintage passenger car through the area to experience a little bit of history and see the landscape from a new perspective.
“At least one BNSF employee has been a big brother in our program in recent years,” Sarah Piano, senior director of Northern New Mexico for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region Agency, said. “BNSF has also done a couple of train rides with our donors, mentors and kids. A lot of those kids and mentors would never have that exposure or opportunity without BNSF and we’re really thankful for that.” Piano also said she’s grateful for the donations Big Brothers Big Sisters has received from the BNSF Railway Foundation.
“Gallup is a city full of surprises,” Bruce Armstrong, economic development manager for Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation, said.
“A lot of people just drive through, but as you explore Gallup you find something new all the time. Over the next hill is another reality,” Armstrong said. “Gallup is rich in railroad and Native American history. If you’re looking for a new cultural experience, you can find it here.”
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