Madrid, New Mexico: Coal Mining and Company Town

We drove from Los Cerrillos, down Highway 14 it’s only a few short miles to Madrid, New Mexico. But a world away.

A company town, an old coal mining town. The coal trail isn’t as picturesque sounding as turquoise I suppose. Madrid, New Mexico is full of tiny wooden shacks — the picture that brought us here:

From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States
From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States

So Madrid as it is now was completely unexpected.

I have no current pictures of them because this town was full up, no parking, no where to stop until we had almost driven the length of it. That quintessentially western kind of hippie counter culture, biker, tourist boom town. Either brightly painted or left/made to look properly old and weathered and ghost towny. More pronounced than Bisbee because it is nowhere near as substantial — and this town had all but died. Maybe it’s better to compare it to Tombstone, the bones of an old town twisted and touristed and made subject to a variety of interpretations of authenticity. I’m not saying it doesn’t succeed in many ways, though Los Cerrillos is more my kind of place. With trips down here for company and live music.

We spent most of our time here with its ghosts, alone for the most part in the museum backing off the Mine Shaft Tavern. So-called, because it has this:

Madrid, New Mexico

It is, however, also the original Red Pony in Longmire, which made my mother very happy. Other things filmed here (and a longer list for the Turquoise Trail as a whole — somewhere along here we passed the ‘private movie ranch’): Easy Rider (1969), The McMasters (1970), Flap Aka: The Last Warrior (1970), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Greasers Palace (1972), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Convoy (1978)… I’ll stop there, with this hilarious poster:

Madrid

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad once came through here, and from the tavern you go into what was once the engine repair room and is now a theatre, with an old engine presiding. It stares in at you through the faded velvet curtains.

Madrid

We walked through, out into the yard full of old equipment towards a larger shed:

Madrid

Madrid

Into wide open spaces crammed full of things, and more things. Some displays. I bring you Edison himself:

Madrid

He had attempted a gold extraction project in the mountains, but that failed. He did build a successful electric power plant at Madrid, though, to power both his failed gold experiment and the town. Every town had electricity by the 1920s, before Santa Fe, and they boasted the first lighted baseball park in the West.

The Madrid Miners, there is some very cool stuff on the baseball team.

Madrid

Some amazing old machines.

Madrid

Pictures of the old mine and equipment:

Madrid

This was a company town. From the town’s merchant’s association website, a kind of amalgam of beneficent yet autocratic rule, possibly a lurking hidden fear of strikes and unrest, a mandatory and worker-funded town pride:

in 1919 Oscar Joseph Huber was hired by Mr. Kaseman, of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company, as full time superintendent of mines. Under his capable leadership Madrid became a model for other mining towns to follow. Elementary and High Schools, a fully equipped hospital, a Company Store and an Employee’s Club were some of the benefits of line in Madrid during the 20’s and 30’s. Believing that idleness was an enemy to a stable community, Mr. Huber formed the Employee’s Club, requiring miners to donate from .50 to $1.00 per month for community causes. They were also required to participate in town events such as the Fourth of July celebration and the now famous Christmas Light Display.

In the Museum they describe Madrid as the “Town of Lights” & “Toyland”, as every Christmas the ballpark was converted, a miniature train and Children’s Ferris Wheel erected.

Beginning in the early 1920’s, Madrid miners lit up the winter sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. The power was provided by the company’s own coal fed generators. The displays were the product of both Madrid and Northern New Mexico artisans and laborers. Madrid’s Christmas celebrations ended with W.W.II and the mines closed in the 1950’s.

It is hard to imagine planes diverting their flights to allow passengers to marvel at the light show from above, and promotion of Madrid’s celebrations in LA, Miami, Chicago.

The museum display states:

The last coal sublease, Johnny Ochoa & John Taber’s one care “wagon mine,” was abandoned in 1961.

A view of the Ferris Wheel now from on board the old engine:

Madrid

And the engine itself — so cool to see after riding the steam train from Chama…The engine:

Madrid

The controls (!):

Madrid

The blowdown lever — this expels water, creating the great spout from the side of the train and subsequent rainbows that we saw in the trip from Chama to Antonito.

Madrid

There were awesome engines of another kind:

Madrid

Madrid

It was good to find it so vibrant now, though this isn’t entirely my kind of scene. Way too many people. And I keep bumping into hard questions raised by sentences like this:

In the early 1970’s Joe Huber (Oscar’s son), then owner of the entire town site, rented a few of the miner’s cabins to rugged individuals, artists and craftsmen eager to make a home in the mountains of New Mexico.

Of course, the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company had put the whole town up for sale in 1954. I hate the idea of one company, one person owning a town. But I am glad this is no longer true:

Madrid

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