COAL: 1944 Willys MB – Chapter 16a, Do You Know The Way To Santa Fe?

Santa Fe Trail Sign

In 2021 I participated in a convoy held in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe trail.  This closed-loop convoy began at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico, and followed the route of the Santa Fe Trail from there to Santa Fe, where we participated in their July 4th celebration.  From Santa Fe we continued up to Taos and then back to Cimmaron, New Mexico.

The Santa Fe Trail Bicentennial Convoy (along with other convoys I didn’t participate in) is documented on Terry John’s YouTube channel; my daughter and I are featured in Part 10.

As 2021 was approaching, it looked like we might be getting a breather from COVID.  The Santa Fe Trail Bicentennial Convoy, June 30–July 7, had been advertised in the History in Motion magazine.  My daughter had been accepted to an archeological internship in Dixon, New Mexico, to begin on July 15th. This looked an excellent opportunity to exercise my Jeep and spend some time with my daughter.

Santa Fe Trail Map

The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route from St. Louis, Missouri to Santa Fe pioneered in 1821. It served as a vital commercial and military highway until the arrival of the railroad in 1880. At first an international trade route between the United States and Mexico, it was also the 1846 U.S. invasion route during the Mexican War. After the Mexican War, the trail helped open the region to U.S. economic development. The road is commemorated today as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, a highway route that roughly follows the trail’s path through the entire length of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico. (–Wikipedia)

This convoy covered the last portion of the trail, following its Mountain Route Branch.

F-150 & TrailerF-150 and trailer

We gathered at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM which straddles the trail.  The air conditioning in my tow vehicle (A 2001 Cherokee, scheduled to be Chapter 19) is a tad bit on the anemic side, so I rented an F-150 to tow my tandem axle trailer with the Jeep.

Muddy Jeep @ NRAMuddy Jeep

It had been raining for a couple of days before we arrived in New Mexico, and my Jeep got coated with mud…

Muddy JeepsMuddy Jeeps

…and mine wasn’t the only one!

Lined up and ready to rollSeventeen Historic Military Vehicles

On the morning of June 30th, we lined up to start our adventure.

My Jeep in Line

My Jeep was the last ¼-ton truck in line; the big iron was all behind me.

St James Hotel, Cimarron, NMSt. James Hotel; Cimarron, NM. (Wikepedia image)

Our first stop was Cimarron, NM.  Our convoy headquarters for that night was the St. James Hotel, first built in 1872 and restored to its former glory after a long period of disrepair in 1985.  After lunch we visited the National Scouting Museum and Villa Philmont at the Philmont Scout Ranch.

That evening we were treated to Jared’s Legend by Lantern Light walking tour, which featured tales of famous Old West characters and ghost stories of the St. James Hotel.

On our way out of Cimarron the next morning, we stopped at the Kit Carson Museum at Rayado.  We took side roads through Springer and Wagon Mound, both along the historic trail on our way to the Fort Union National Monument. From 1851–1891, this frontier army post served as a guardian of the trail.

Fort Union RuinsFort Union ruins

Santa Fe Trail Ruts, Fort Union, NMSanta Fe Trail ruts; Fort Union, NM

From Fort Union we continued to Las Vegas, NM.  Our convoy headquarters was the Historic Plaza Hotel.  Life became a little unsettled as a thunderstorm knocked the power out just before dinnertime, and it was not restored until early the next morning (in time for us to have breakfast).  In a harbinger of things to come, my Jeep had difficulty starting that morning of July 2nd.

Plaza Hotel Las Vegas, NMPlaza Hotel

En route to Santa Fe, we had lunch at the Pecos National Historic Park.  The park encompasses Native American ruins dating bake to 1100 AD, and a 17th-Century Spanish Mission.  When we stopped for gas shortly after leaving the park, which is at 7,000 feet above sea level, my Jeep again had difficulty starting.

Just after driving through Glorieta Pass, our convoy had spread out and we paused to allow the stragglers to catch up.  My Jeep stalled with an apparent case of vapor lock.  I poured water over the fuel pump and the line from the fuel pump to the carburetor.  It restarted and I made it to our hotel in Santa Fe.  That evening we had dinner plans at Santa Fe’s Museum Hill, and my daughter and I caught a ride with Peter and Jill in their 1990 BMY M923 6×6 truck.

Peter and Jills TruckPeter and Jill’s Truck

July 3rd was a rest day, and I spent it trying to troubleshoot my Jeep.  It didn’t seem to be running that hot, and was fine when we were moving at speed, but had issues when we slowed or stopped.  I had lots of spare parts, and swapped the generator; regulator; ignition coil; points, and carburetor in case one of those components was having trouble with the high temperature and thinner air. I also fashioned a heat shield to isolate (as much as possible) the fuel pump and carburetor from the engine block.

July 4th dawned just as hot.  We drove downtown and parked by the Masonic Lodge.  After a brief tour there we walked to the July 4th celebration and car show at Santa Fe’s central plaza, the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail.  Antique Cars and hot rods surrounded the plaza.  If I can ever figure out what happened with the photos I shot with my camera, I’ll add another subchapter.  Our destination that evening was Chimayo.  My Jeep made it halfway there before dying again.  After being towed by Peter and Jill for 15 miles, it cooled off enough to restart, and I made it to the AirBnB I had booked.

Rio Grande GorgeRio Grande Gorge

The next morning, my daughter rode with Peter and Jill as the rest of the convoy headed to Taos by way of the high road, Rio Grande Gorge and Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. I found an open auto repair shop and had my cooling system flushed before heading for Taos by way of the Rio Grande Gorge.  I was almost out of the gorge—a mere 200 ft of vertical elevation—when the Jeep died again.  I managed to find a sliver of cell phone signal, and contacted AAA for a tow into Taos.

July 6th was another rest day.  When the Jeep had stalled out the previous day I’d realized that my water pump was leaking.  While I had spares for the electrical and fuel systems (which over the years I’d had issues with) I did not have a spare water pump; both of those spares were home in my garage.  Needless to say, none of the local parts places had a spare so I decided that I’d have AAA tow me back to Raton the next day and meet the convoy with my tow vehicle as they rolled back into Cimarron.

The Historic Taos InnTaos Inn

Having decided that my Jeep had gone as far as it could, I decided to actually make it a rest / tourist day.  After touring the Kit Carson Home and Museum and the La Fonda de Taos Hotel, which dates back to 1820, I took a ride with Mike G in his ¼-ton M422 Mighty Mite truck to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge to take photos (which are MIA with the other 300+ photos from my camera).

Mike's Mighty MiteMike’s Mighty Mite

On July 7th, the remaining members of the convoy rolled out of Taos on their way to Cimarron via the unpaved Valle Vidal Road (Forest Road 1950).  The road, with elevations from 7,000 to over 12,000 feet, follows the Valle Vidal (Valley of Life), which was part of the original Mexican Maxwell Land Grant, as it crosses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  My daughter again road with Peter and Jill.

We wrapped up the convoy that night with a celebratory dinner at the St James Hotel.  The next day, as most of the convoy participants headed home, several of us headed to Antonito, Colorado for a ride on the scenic Cumbres & Toltec Railroad (next week’s chapter).