General William Palmer's dream had been for his Denver & Rio Grande to grow into a narrow-gauge system stretching from Denver to Mexico City. The line south from Alamosa to Santa Fe was a stepping stone on the way to realizing that dream—but after the loss of Raton Pass to and the conflict at Royal Gorge with the Santa Fe, and the subsequent "Treaty of Boston" which effectively ceded northern New Mexico to the ATSF, the Rio Grande turned its attention to the rich mining territory in western Colorado, with the intended line to Santa Fe terminated at Espanola.

It took a third party to step in and complete the line the DRG had originally planned. After several financial reversals, the Texas, Santa Fe & Northern railroad company completed the line from Santa Fe to Espanola in January 1887. After a few more years the Denver & Rio Grande obtained control and the completed line officially became the Santa Fe Branch. Unofficially, though—well, with the sparse freight traffic on the line, one cargo that was worthy of notice and consistent enough to be depended upon was the chili peppers which were grown by the farmers along the line. Hence the Santa Fe Branch is better known to history as the "Chili Line".

From the pages of the Official Guide, June 1941

Denver & Rio Grande Western herald

The Chili Line

Denver & Rio Grande Western RR
June 16, 1940

15 Connecting Train Number 16
7 30P Dp 0.0 Denver, CO (MT) T C Ar 7 15A
11 25P
119.1 Pueblo, CO T C
3 50A
M 4 30A Ar 246.9 Alamosa, CO M Dp 9 40P
115 Connecting Train Number 116
7 00A Dp 246.9 Alamosa, CO M Ar M 8 30P
8 05A Ar 275.5 Antonito, CO T C Dp 7 25P
425 Train Number 426
Ex Su
Miles (Narrow Gauge Lines) Services
Ex Su
8 15A Dp 275.5 Antonito, CO (MT) T C Ar 5 15P
F 8 50A
287.0 Palmilla, NM

F 4 37P
F 9 12A
293.9 Volcano, NM

F 4 11P
F 9 40A
303.1 No Agua, NM

F 3 38P
10 05A
310.2 Tres Piedras, NM T
3 14P
10 40A
319.9 Servilleta, NM T
2 41P
11 30A
331.7 Taos Junction, NM

2 02P
12 01P
340.3 Barranca, NM

F 1 25P
12 45P
347.8 Embudo, NM T
12 45P
F 1 14P
355.8 Claro, NM

F12 19P
F 1 36P
362.0 Chamita, NM

F12 01P
2 00P
366.8 Espanola, NM T C
11 46A
F 2 23P
373.8 San Ildefonso, NM

F11 16A
F 2 29P
375.8 Otowi, NM

F11 11A
F 2 42P
379.3 Buckman, NM

F11 00A
F 3 17P
389.0 Jacona, NM

F10 32A
4 00P Ar 401.1 Santa Fe, NM (MT) T C Dp 10 00A

NB 18 stops, 8:15, 47.9 MPH

Trains 425 and 426 are mixed passenger and freight trains.

The Chili Line was never a great revenue producer, and while it was more direct (by 79 miles) than the Santa Fe's roundabout route via Lamy and La Junta, it suffered under the speed and capacity limitations imposed by its narrow gauge right-of-way. By 1941, a prospective passenger seeking to travel from the capital of New Mexico to the capital of Colorado could choose to embark upon the all-day and all-night odyssey shown above. Or, he could spend a full working day followed by time for dinner in Santa Fe, ride to Lamy in a new air-conditioned bus, board the eastbound California Limited at 7:40 p.m., spend the night, whether in coach or sleeper, in air-conditioned comfort—and arrive in Denver at about the same time as the traveler who had embarked on the Chili Line the previous morning. Not surprisingly, only the most rabid narrow-gauge fans sought out the Chili Line—and there weren't enough of them to keep it in business. The Chili Line closed for good in September of 1941.

See Time Magazine's article on the last run of the Chili Line at Time Online (opens in a new window).