Living history: BNSF helps Philmont Scout Ranch take campers on an unforgettable adventure
Imagine: You’re backpacking through the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico when suddenly you come to a clearing that transports you to a 1910 railroad construction site. Next, a crew dressed in period clothing greets you. They use strange jargon, talking in railroad terms long gone.
If you’re a Scout, it’s one of many unique experiences you might encounter at Philmont Scout Ranch, one of the premier high-adventure bases for the Boy Scouts of America, located in Cimarron, New Mexico.
Every year, Scouts from all over the country visit the ranch to participate in various backpacking excursions. During their trek, crews stop at one of Philmont’s 36 staffed camps, including 15 “living history” sites that provide a hands-on opportunity to learn about the surrounding area’s history.
In 2014, the ranch introduced Metcalf Station, a history camp dedicated to railroad construction and the country’s westward expansion. Based on the Cimarron & Northwestern Railroad, a local logging railroad that connected to the mainline in Cimarron, this camp teaches Scouts about blacksmithing, telegraphy and track construction as well as the importance of teamwork.
"The minute the Scouts get there, they’re treated as the new section gang [those that build track]. They’re introduced to the camp so they get an idea of where they are in history as well as an orientation about where to camp, get water and dispose of waste,” David O’Neill, senior associate director of camping, said. “They get all of the camp procedures in a way that makes them feel like it’s that time period.”
Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the BNSF Railway Foundation, the program will be enhanced with the construction of a new train depot at Metcalf Station.
The building is modeled after a 1910 Santa Fe depot and will provide a respite from the hot New Mexico sun. Inside, there will be historical artifacts detailing the history of the railroad, complete with a fully functioning telegraph that served as the communications point for the logging railroad.
In addition to local railroad history, the depot will house artifacts from across the country that will resonate with campers and connect them to railroads in their home towns. The hope is that their trip to Metcalf will spark an interest and encourage them to get involved with their local railroad museums or programs back home.
“We are proud to support the efforts of the Philmont Scout Ranch to help educate young Scouts about the importance of the railroad, both historically and in the present day,” BNSF Executive Director Public Affairs Lindsay Mullins said.
The depot will also serve as a headquarters for the staff and the rainy-day location of the railroad jubilee campfire, an end-of- program day when campers gather around and listen to songs and stories, some written by the staff themselves, detailing railroad history.
Although the depot is nearly finished, the camp is currently closed due to COVID-19. Next summer, Metcalf Station will welcome around 6,000 campers.
“BNSF has been extremely supportive of the project from its beginning stages of just an idea in 2007,” O’Neill said. “Now, thanks to this gift, having that depot will bring us even closer to our final vision.”