Retirement is just one long trestle away for Tim Tennant, who will say goodbye in November 2024 to one of his great loves – the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, now in its 35th year and voted the No. 1 scenic train by USA Today readers in 2016, ’19 and ’20.
Tennant, 65, and his wife Judy, who have been Rio Rancho residents for more than 18 years, plan to head to their native Wisconsin, where Tim’s love for trains got its roots — er, rails. There, they’ll be closer to their children and grandchildren. He’s already packed up his toy trains, so this move to Wisconsin sounds serious.
Tennant’s father worked for the Chicago Northwestern, “a fireman and engineer for 40 years,” he said, and his grandfather had been an engineer on a steam locomotive.
Tennant is the president and CEO of the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad — a national historic landmark headquartered in Chama in Northern New Mexico — wishing and hoping today’s young generation would become interested in trains and railroads like so many past generations.
“It was kind of a love based on the environment I grew up in,” he said, referring to his early days near Green Bay. With his father, he said, “I was able to ride trains here and there.”
Tennant estimated that of the 2,100 or so members of Friends, and of 300 or so that reside in New Mexico, the median age is well beyond 50. And maybe that’s the perfect age range for the annual “Moonlight & Wine Train” on July 29, which features a prime rib and salmon dinner with all the trimmings, wine and cheese tasting, and the return from dinner in the Osier dining hall to Chama under a full moon and star-filled night sky.
Tennant is sad to see the demographics, namely the age range, of train lovers “is aging.”
“We don’t seem to find the younger generation who are as, maybe, as interested, or don’t have the time or interest or have families,” he surmised.
Join the club, C&TSRR: Memberships in numerous other organizations and civic clubs are aging and decreasing, too: stamp clubs, coin clubs, Elks and Lions clubs, VFWs and American Legions.
We can’t fault the media, COVID or a political party for that, eh?
“Financially, we do great,” he said, and ridership and membership are up. He said ridership was about 26,000 last year, when the season was shortened because of wildfires in northern New Mexico.
One problem is that in Chama, the New Mexico end of the 64-mile tracks — which required only nine months to construct back in 1880, and required construction of two tunnels, crossing over a 10,015-foot mountain pass and skirting a 600-foot gorge — there’s not a lot of lodging nor eateries, and last summer there wasn’t enough water. Nor is there a lot to do there.
At the other end, Antonito, Colorado, isn’t exactly a boom town, either, but there’s an alligator ranch and Alamosa north of it, to mention a couple other attractions, “But it’s a destination – there’s things to do,” Tennant said.
Now, he said, “We’re trying to reach out on social media and trying to attract that cross-section (potential riders in their 30s and 40s). I would say our membership is status quo; we’re not tailing off.”
He’s also hopeful that the resurgence going on in Albuquerque — the rebuild of AT&SF locomotive 2926, which recently attracted hundreds to see its short run along the tracks from its “home” near Eighth Street to a brewery on Fourth Street on recent Saturday, as well as the growth of the Wheels Museum, frequent events at the Railyards and even the efforts to get the old turntable functional again — may help.
Another narrow-gauge railroad within 200 miles of the City of Vision, the Durango & Silverton, is another way to go for anyone interested in railroading and returning, in a way, to the past. In the metro area, other than seeing the Chicago-bound and Los Angeles-bound Southwest Chief passing through Sandoval County, the Rail Runner Express can satisfy urges to sit back and watch the scenery go by without having to find a place to park when you get to Santa Fe.
Tennant is also playing a role in the rebirth of the Santa Fe Southern, now the Sky Railway, taking tourists and others about 18 miles from Santa Fe to Lamy and back.
Other “train nuts,” or “trainiacs” led to some sellouts on the rails in late August, when the 2023 National Narrow-Gauge Railroad Convention is held in Denver, a reasonable drive to Antonito, if not Chama, a 309-mile jaunt.
If you’re interested in events, including the popular Moonlight & Wine Train, and rates for the C&TSRR, about three miles from Rio Rancho, visit the cumbrestoltec.com. The season runs through October 21.