Standing along Second Street in the Barelas neighborhood are the stately skeletons of buildings comprising the once bustling Albuquerque Railyards. Towering above the streets below, these buildings vigilantly kept watch over the surrounding neighborhoods even as they fell into disrepair, with broken windows and the never-ending displays of graffiti.
Upon a second look, passersby get a glimpse of new life emerging from the rubble, too many years abandoned and left to rot away. The Railyards, saved from a destiny like their once neighboring Alvarado Hotel, survived to move Albuquerque and New Mexico into the future.
Bookends on the far north and far south sides of the yards pump in new life to the dormant yards: The Railyards Market and the WHEELS Museum. People are familiar with the summertime market, held from May to October, and across the railyards is an Albuquerque gem, the WHEELS Museum. The mission of the museum, housed in the storehouse built in 1915, is to collect, preserve, display, interpret and operate artifacts and infrastructure related to the transportation history of New Mexico and the exploration and development of the West.
WHEELS strives to preserve the railyard site, honor the people who have worked there and educate visitors about the history and future of transportation in a way which is quirky, unique and different from any other museum.
Beginning in 1999, the all-volunteer crew at WHEELS began collecting more than $3 million worth of artifacts and exhibits. The warehouse is full of oral histories, tools used by the workers and narratives telling the stories of the railyards specifically. The museum also houses displays of all forms of transportation used in New Mexico, from early carretas used along the Camino Real to race cars and jet airplanes. Model trains run the gamut from steam engines to the modern Amtrak. There are so many stories to tell of the people who worked at the yards, but the museum needs more funding to allow it to expand on the educational mission.
Steam engine 2926 wants to come home to the yard, but our turntable is inoperable. California museums want to bring rail cars for display, but there is nowhere to house them. To preserve the machine shop we need a new multimillion-dollar roof, but no money is available. The museum receives guests from across the country and they all say the same thing: this is wonderful, but you need more room. There are 27 acres of railyards property, but we need money to make the improvements to the infrastructure.
(Former) Gov. Bill Richardson recently expressed interest in helping the museum get what we need to improve the site so our operations can expand. This eclectic museum puts a smile on every visitor’s face and leaves them wanting to see and learn more. The solo fundraising efforts by the volunteers cannot keep up with the funding needs to keep the museum moving forward. To help expand rail heritage tourism and economic development in Albuquerque and New Mexico, we ask everyone to talk to legislators, mayors, the governor and anyone who can help provide funding to keep the railyards moving forward.
If not for the Albuquerque railyards, Albuquerque would not be the city of today, and the population would not have been able to develop the strong middle-class community it enjoys today.