The abandoned Santa Fe Railroad steam engine repair facilities in downtown Albuquerque, N.M., have hosted many sci-fi movie shoots. Crave pays a visit.
Cathedral of industry
Near the main tracks in downtown Albuquerque, N.M., sits the Santa Fe Railway steam locomotive repair shops. This once-bustling facility hosted hundreds of workers who kept the engines in good repair. Today, the area is abandoned and hosts movie shoots instead of repair work. The largest building is the 165,000-square-foot machine shop, a grand structure with paned windows that stretch upward, giving the space the sense and scale of a church.
Plenty of bits and pieces of railroad repair history sit around unused in the Santa Fe Railway "Back Shops" in Albuquerque. This pully was used for an elevator apparatus in the machine shop. The machine shop has high ceilings to accommodate lifting steam engines up for movement and repair.
No ordinary flooring would do for the Santa Fe Railway locomotive repair shops. What at first glance look like regular bricks turn out to be bricks cut from wood. They were easy to replace, but they also helped to keep the din down from all the heavy-duty machinery and tools used to repair the steam locomotives. A regular brick floor would have been deafening.
Overhead cranes lift a steam locomotive in the machine shop at the Santa Fe Railway locomotive repair facility in Albuquerque in 1943. The shops were at peak production in the 1940s, but were closed down in 1970.
Workers at the Santa Fe Railway shops in Albuquerque attend to the fire box of a steam engine in 1943. Today, the shops are abandoned and host the occasional tour and movie shoot. Back when the facility was in operation, workers would handle everything from repairs to complete overhauls of steam engines.
Since the Santa Fe Railway locomotive repair shops closed in 1970, the abandoned buildings have attracted curiosity seekers, graffiti makers, and plenty of Hollywood film shoots. The massive machine shop has been a particularly popular set. The list of film productions here includes "The Avengers," Terminator Salvation," "Breaking Bad," and "Transformers."
The Santa Fe Railway repair facilities in Albuquerque are often referred to as the "Back Shops." A tour group hosted by the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society stands at the far east end of the machine shop. Light coming through the broken panes of glass lend a cathedral effect to the space.
The blacksmith shop at the steam locomotive repair facilities in Albuquerque featured a huge forge. Unlike vehicles of today, where you can get replacement parts in bulk, steam engines often required custom fabrication work. This forge helped workers keep the locomotives in good repair.
At its peak, the Santa Fe Railway repair shops had about 1,500 workers, making it one of the largest employers in Albuquerque for many years. Patching up steam locomotives was hard, dirty work. Employees had use of a large washroom, the ceiling of which is now decaying. Employee lockers stand open since the facility shut down in 1970.
A view out the wide door of the tank shop building at the railroad repair shops in Albuquerque shows a set of old railroad cars waiting patiently outside. The whole facility covers more than 27 acres. Construction was completed in the mid-1920s. As the use of steam engines declined, so did the usefulness of the repair shops.
Some of the larger shop buildings in the Santa Fe Railway locomotive repair facility in Albuquerque featured massive overhead cranes capable of lifting whole engines up off the ground for moving them and completing repair work. The cranes still sit near the ceilings in the abandoned buildings.
This wheel is part of a huge transfer table along the back of the machine shop at the Santa Fe Railroad steam engine repair facility in Albuquerque. Near this spot, two whole steam engines are buried in the ground, used as filler for the foundation of the machine shop. That could be a fun surprise for archeologists some day.