Centennial banquet held on rails

CNJ Staff Photo: Gabriel Monte Leo Delaloye, a BNSF Railway chef, prepares a cheese tray Friday in the railway’s Red River car.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

It’s been an adventurous month for Leo Delaloye, a chef with 17 years experience from Kansas. He has spent his time cooking in a kitchen zooming by the country at 45 to 65 mph.

Delaloye joined BNSF Railway about a month ago to work as a chef in the railway’s business cars.

“I’ve never had so much fun in the kitchen,” he said.

BNSF brought five of its business cars to Clovis for a banquet Friday and Saturday to honor the sponsors of Clovis’ centennial celebration, said Raymond Mondragon, ENMR-Plateau economic development manager. Mondragon chairs the Clovis 100th Anniversary Committee.

“This is their way of saying, ‘Thank you,’” Mondragon said.

He said BNSF has also given the committee $25,000 to help underwrite the cost of other centennial events.

The cars are used to hold the company’s special events and by working groups, said BNSF Government Affairs Director Roberto Mungia. Three are luxury cars for entertaining and two are support cars, one of which is the crew cab and the second the engine room.

Working groups are track analysts who board the train and inspect railroad tracks, BNSF lead attendant Maggie Zimmerman said. There are 31 presidential cars, which are stored in Topeka, Kan.

BNSF is a big part of Clovis’ history, said Phil Williams, who owns the railroad museum on First Street.

“The railroad helped establish the town,” he said.

The railroad selected Clovis as a division point when it built a new route west in 1907. Since then, Mondragon said, the railway company has been a major economic source for the city.

“They have had over 500 employees out of Clovis,” he said.

Friday’s and Saturday’s events were held in the Red River, Fox River and Valley View cars, said Zimmerman.

The Red River car is self-sufficient, she said. It holds a living room, a dining area, two sleeping quarters and a kitchen.

The Fox River car was built in 1955, then remodeled in 1992 for dances and banquets.

And the Valley View car holds the bartending room, which seats about 56 people.

The events were invitation only, Mondragon said, for about 180 people including state representatives. Since the cars can hold only 90 people, the events were held on two days.

For Friday’s banquet, Delaloye helped Executive Chef Josh Anthony prepare a cheese tray, tamales and beef tenderloins.

Delaloye said working for the railway company has given him an experience different from that at a traditional restaurant.

“It’s really cool to wake up in the morning and see the sunrise somewhere else,” he said.