Thursday, September 20, 2007

Question Asked about "Railroad that used to run through the caverns"

Dear Ms. ____:

I received this information request from you recently and would like to answer it --

I was told that there was a railroad that use to run through the caverns from around 1904-1912. Does anyone have any knowledge of this? My grandmother was a young girl at that time and stated that the railroad went through the caverns. Any information would be appreciated. ____

From the 1957 book One Man's Dream: the Story of Jim White Discoverer and Explorer of the Carlsbad Caverns written by Ruth Caiar (the sister-in-law to Jim White, Jr.), I have copied this excerpt for you:

It was 1903 before Long was able to begin operation in the cave. He had filed a placer mining claim to the guano and other mineral rights for twenty acres around the entrance of the cave. When everything was in readiness, Long offered Jim a job as foreman. Jim accepted without hesitation for, not only would the job afford him the pleasure of being near the big cave, it might also offer the opportunity of interesting someone in its scenic beauty. Jim, as well as the other workmen, knew but little of guano mining, but they all learned fast and soon had things humming.

First they sunk a shaft not far from the cave entrance, and then they were ready for the actual mining. They shoveled the guano into gunny sacks, sewed them up and loaded them on to miniature flat cars which they themselves had built. The cars ran on rails constructed of two-by-fours, and were drawn to the bottom of the shaft by a whim that Jim had rigged up from an old wagon axle. Next they were loaded into a large iron bucket and hoisted to the surface by means of a gasoline winch. They were then loaded on wagons and hauled to the Carlsbad freight yard to be shipped west to California. This trip usually took two days since much of the thirty miles to Carlsbad consisted of mountainous country. Mules were used to pull the wagons since they seemed stronger and more sure footed than horses. It was in this manner that the first rough, trail-like road was built leading to the Caverns.

It is estimated that about one hundred thousand tons of guano were removed for the cave during the next twenty years, but it was probably not a very profitable operation for about seven different companies had a fling at it. Jim worked for all of them and, when operations were finally suspended in the early Twenties, he was kept on in the capacity of watchman.

These tracks and cars must be what your grandmother was referring to. If you are interested in reading more of this informative book, there is a link to it on-line at:

Just click the link on the September 18, 2007 post.

Please let me know if I might help you with other information. Note: the picture above is of the guano mining camp at the caverns in the early 1900's. Thanks for your interest in Caverns history.


Bob Hoff
CAVE Volunteer-in-the-Park
Retired CAVE Park Historian