Not seeking to slow down, Lawrence couple with connection to Santa Fe Railway spent retirement collecting antique railroad artifacts

photo by: Mike Yoder

Diane and Jack Kelly have enjoyed years of collecting artwork and memorabilia of the Santa Fe Railroad, Fred Harvey and the southwest. They hold a Mimbreño pattern plate created by Mary Colter who was both Santa Fe’s and Fred Harvey’s architect and designer. Mary Colter was tasked with designing a unique china for the new 1936 Santa Fe Super Chief train.

In a West Lawrence development where all the homes look the same, Jack and Diane Kelly boast a niche and expansive collection of artifacts from the Santa Fe Railway, which makes the inside of their home anything but ordinary.

Mimbreño dinner plates, used as dining car china, sit atop the kitchen soffits. In the living room, three large cases hold books about the Santa Fe Railway’s history, as well as railway travel passes. An easel in the dining room holds Santa Fe travel posters.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A turquoise “charger” plate, center, from a Super Chief passenger train, and two mimbreño dinner plates sit atop the kitchen soffits. At left is a 1943 Gerard Delano print of “At the Water Hole” and at right a 1956 Frederic Mizen print, “Navajo Children.”

Jack worked for the railroad for 35 years, and in that time, he and Diane lived in five states throughout the Midwest and Southwest. When Jack retired in 1990, and Diane retired from her job as a Realtor in Topeka two years later, the couple had already collected a few antiques related to the railway, and they decided to continue.

“I was used to going 100 miles an hour and suddenly I’m going half a mile an hour and I needed something to do,” Jack said. “I’d eaten these meals in those dining cars. I’d stayed in those hotels. I knew this history.”

The Kellys began going to antique shows and collecting artifacts, and it “snowballed” from there. Jack and Diane, now 88 and 85, respectively, showed their expansive collection to the Journal-World in June.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A living room bookcase displays shelves of Santa Fe’s china and other items. The china, top, is the California Poppy pattern.

In the entryway to their home, the Kellys have a painting of the Grand Canyon inscribed with the name “Ford Harvey.” Ford is the son of Fred Harvey, who operated the hotels and dining rooms along the Santa Fe system and provided the food and service in Santa Fe’s dining cars.

Diane wore a “Harvey Girls” T-shirt on the day of the visit, in reference to the young women who worked for the Harvey House restaurants along the railroad. (Judy Garland starred in a 1946 musical film, “The Harvey Girls,” about the famous servers.)

As the couple displayed their house, both took great care in describing the objects in their collection, often including stories of how they found one object in particular or what its use would have been back in the day. As Jack and Diane relayed the stories, their memories from a lifetime of traveling and learning bubbled to the surface.

Highlights from the collection

In the Kellys’ living room, a Santa Fe office clock is hung on the wall above a brass counter stool from the lunchroom of Harvey’s Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. Next to the office clock sits a framed 1934 menu from the lunchroom. Jack said he had eaten in that lunchroom, and noted that it was possible he had sat on that very stool.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A focal point in the living room is a Santa Fe Seth Thomas office clock that was acquired when Santa Fe began disposing of them. Beneath the clock is a brass counter stool from the lunchroom of the now-demolished Fred Harvey Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. Above the stool is a framed 1934 menu from that lunchroom. Adjacent to the menu is a 1938 E. Irving Couse Santa Fe calendar print, “The Arrow Maker.”

In the master bedroom, two Queen Anne tables serve as the bedside tables. One came from Harvey’s Gran Quivira Hotel in Clovis, N.M., and the second from his El Tovar Hotel, which is located on the rim of the Grand Canyon and is still in operation today.

photo by: Mike Yoder

This Queen Anne table in the Kelly master bedroom is one of two Queen Anne tables which saw service at the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon. The second table is from the Gran Quivera Hotel in Clovis, NM. The two tables were purchased at the Santa Fe Railway auction held in Topeka on the weekend of September 6-7, 1987.

In Jack’s office sits one of his most prized possessions: a large Santa Fe lounge car chair that was used on the Santa Fe de Luxe train. Jack purchased it from a Topeka antique dealer in 1988 and said it is acknowledged to be the only surviving Santa Fe de Luxe lounge chair.

The seat cushion, worn with use and age, is filled with horsehair.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A large Santa Fe lounge car chair that saw service on the short lived Santa Fe de-luxe train (1913-1918) sits in the corner of Jack’s office. It was purchased from a Topeka antique dealer in 1988. Above the lounge chair is red pencil hand colored print of a young woman that hung in the Fred Harvey Gran Quivira Hotel in Clovis, New Mexico.

One of Diane’s favorite acquisitions is a collection of Santa Fe calendars. The company commissioned artists to travel west and paint the scenery, and then Sante Fe would use those paintings on calendars, seeking to entice visitors. The couple have many full calendars, including one from 1912 meant to look like a rug, depicting passing trains.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Diane Kelly shows off a calendar published by the Santa Fe Railway. Santa Fe chose to display southwest artwork on travel posters and calendars as an enticement for travelers to visit the area. Diane’s husband, Jack Kelly, at left, retired from Santa Fe Railway in 1990 after a career of 35 years.

‘Visiting kids and collecting railroad things’

Jack and Diane said they had fun collecting the antiques in their retirement. Diane enjoyed meeting new people and said that their travels for antiques often connected with visits to their children.

The Kellys had kids on the East and West coasts, as well as the Midwest, “so there was visiting kids and collecting railroad things,” Diane said.

One of the Kellys’ sons, Mike Kelly, was with his parents when the Journal-World viewed the collection. He highlighted the important work his father did during his career, specifying Jack’s time working as a surveyor in Arizona during the Crookton line change.

The 44-mile stretch of railway between the towns of Williams and Crookton in Arizona was originally built in the late 1800s and was windy and had many elevation changes, Mike said, causing trains to slow down and use more fuel. Jack was part of a yearlong project to straighten out that line.

“They flattened it so the trains could go much faster. But more importantly, they can do it with much less fuel,” Mike said. “To me, that was green before green was a thing.”

Prior to the change, the trains could only go about 25 miles per hour. After, they were capable of going 100 miles per hour, Jack said. Mike called it the most significant project of his father’s career, and Jack agreed.

As Jack noted during the interview, he and Diane had been used to moving quickly. When the time came to pull the brakes and slow into retirement, it wasn’t long before the couple found their next adventure: traveling the country some more to collect antiques.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A Santa Fe silver flower vase and serving dish, used with dining service on the Santa Fe route.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A large oil painting depicting a sunrise from the Sierra Prieta summit looking toward Skull Valley, Arizona, is the focal point of the Kelly’s dining room. At right, an easel holds a collection of large Santa Fe travel posters as displayed at train stations and travel agencies.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Displayed above the Kelly’s bookcases is a 1905 Louis Akin chromolithograph painting – The El Tovar Hotel on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Santa Fe purchased the art from Akin and reproduced it to entice travelers to the El Tovar Hotel, which Santa Fe had built.


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