Overhaul: A Social History of the Albuquerque Locomotive Repair Shops

On Sunday, September 19, 2021, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint spoke on their book: Overhaul: A Social History of the Albuquerque Locomotive Repair Shops. The AT&SF shops were the city and state’s largest employer from the 1880s-1950s. Its payroll drove the Albuquerque economy. The program was live-streamed on the AHS Facebook page with a question and answer session following the presentation.

Overhaul Book Cover

Overhaul: A Social History of the Albuquerque Locomotive Repair Shops by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint is based on research that draws from a wide variety of historic sources, including interviews with former shopworkers and their descendants, memoirs, contemporaneous travelers’ accounts, land titles and property records, census and city directory data, maps and plats, contemporaneous photographs, Achison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s (AT&SF’s) business records and payrolls, as well as monographs and articles by professional historians on subjects related to locomotive repair work and events in late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Albuquerque. The result is an engaging and thorough account of the Shops and the people who worked there, and their decisive role in the formation and development of Albuquerque.

For many decades steam locomotives and steam marine engines drove the vast majority of transportation in the United States and around the world. If steam engines didn’t run because of a lack of parts or skilled machinists, neither did the nation’s trade and commerce. By 1881, the red sandstone walls of the first buildings of the Albuquerque Locomotive Repair Shops already housed the daily labor of keeping AT&SF’s steam engines in repair. For the better part of seventy-five years thereafter, the Shops were the city’s and state’s largest employer, and its payroll was the driver of the local economy. During the decade following World War II, it was the rapid conversion of U.S. railroads to diesel-electric power that doomed the Shops and sent the surrounding neighborhoods into serious decline.

Photo of Richard and Shirley FlintAfter nearly forty years of research and publication on the Coronado expedition into northwest Mexico and the American Southwest and related subjects, Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint are widely recognized as leading authorities on the expedition and its context and aftermath. Beginning in 1980 from curiosity over an old footnote, the Flints have followed a whole series of resulting questions to dozens of archives in Spain, Mexico, and elsewhere, as well as to archaeological sites in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, and Florida. They have immersed themselves in the language, culture, and thought of Early Modern Spain and early colonial Mexico. That immersion has recently culminated in the publication of a major new book on the Coronado expedition, A Most Splendid Company: The Coronado Expedition in Global Perspective.

A chance meeting in 2016 with Leba Freed, president of Wheels Museum on the grounds of the former AT&SF Locomotive Repair Shops in Albuquerque, led the Flints to take a break from the history of the Spanish colonial period, with the intention of writing a history of the Albuquerque Shops. That book was published by UNM Press in April of this year.

The Flints live in Albuquerque and are Research Associates at the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico and at Archaeology Southwest in Tucson. They are also happy to claim Sevilla, Spain, as their segunda patria. Their award-winning publications include Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539-1542, Great Cruelties Have Been Reported: The 1544 Investigation of the Coronado Expedition, No Settlement, No Conquest: A History of the Coronado Entrada, and No Mere Shadows: Faces of Widowhood in Early Colonial Mexico, as well as several edited volumes and dozens of chapters and journal articles.