Clovis survived railroad office closing

By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist

O n Nov. 18, 1987, Santa Fe
Railroad spokesman Richard
Hall announced the division offices in Clovis and La Junta, Colo., would shut down and consolidate in Albuquerque during the latter half of 1988.
Sure enough, Clovis suffered a closure on June 27, 1989, but we lived through it. After 80 years of continuous train dispatching in Clovis, the railway company closed the division operation center.
The dispatching center at the railroad managed railroad traffic along 800 miles of track. It controlled the lines between Clovis and Belen, from Clovis to the Rustler Spring mines south of Carlsbad, and between El Paso and Belen.
The railroad had maintained a dispatch office here since 1909, but an administrative realignment would make the dispatch center in Clovis obsolete.
The shutdown resulted in 69 employees being transferred to Albuquerque, Carlsbad and, later, Topeka, Kan.
The approximate annual payroll of the jobs lost was $3.1 million, according to Hall.
It was a terrible jolt to Clovis.
No, it certainly can’t be compared to Cannon Air Force Base if it is closed, as the railroad traffic through though Clovis continued, but with less employees.
“The trains that come through Clovis are mostly transcontinental freights,” train master Lucky Mitchell said. “They run back and forth between Los Angeles and Chicago. A few use the Carlsbad line to service the potash mines down there.” (Remember this is late 1980s.)
At that time Santa Fe said they would continue to employ 400 area residents to perform routine maintenance and repairs, said Mitchell. The jobs at the dispatch center were among the last to be affected by the realignment. Reaction among the employees who were being transferred were mixed.
“I’m excited about moving to Albuquerque,” dispatcher Debbie Brown said. “But we’re all sad that we have to leave Clovis. The worst part is saying good-bye to all your friends.”
The railroad said the control of the track will now shift to a consolidated operations center in Albuquerque equipped with some of the most advanced routing equipment in the world, according to chief dispatcher Judy Hill.
The new center would manage most of Santa Fe’s track in the New Mexico region, including the major lines from La Junta to El Paso; from Amarillo to Belen; and from Belen to Sweetwater, Texas.
A mild recession was felt in the late 1980s, but City Manager Don Clifton said at that time, “the city of Clovis has experienced slow and steady growth over the last few years, and with the Cannon expansion (1,500 new military personnel expected in December of 1991) Clovis should grow further.”
“The loss of the railroad industry has been the greatest negative impact on our local economy,” said Joe B. Sisler, former president of Sunwest Bank, at the time. “At one time, they had a payroll of 2,000 people. How we’ve survived with that loss is amazing. It’s a tribute to the community that it has done so well — and nobody knew we were doing it.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com