Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge RR

Up at the crack of dawn, a quick cup of coffee, and we were off to Durango over Red Mountain Pass to catch the third and last train of the morning to Silverton. Yesterday was another day of doing tourist activities that we have never done or at least hadn't done in many years. Riding on the D&SNG was a first for both of us.
When we arrived, the Brakemen and Conductors were busily engaged in answering questions and chatting with the passengers.

And the staff was busy greeting each other as well. The guys in the denim overalls are the actual people who maintain the the right of way, the tracks, the cars and the locomotive. They do a great job.

This was the engineer of the second train to leave the station. I like his fireproof sleeves, engineer's cap and steely gaze. Actually, he wasn't gazing with steely eyes at anything, just giving me a good shot. All of these guys were very cooperative subjects and seemed to enjoy the attention of the public.

Here's the narrow gauge steam engine, No. 486, getting ready to pull out of the station and head north to Silverton.

I was curious when the engine was manufactured and there on the boiler was this plaque giving the place, date and number and the name of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The Siverton branch line was constructed in 1882, so this locomotive is rather new in comparison.
We crept through Durango and eventually got out into the Animas River valley. We followed this river all the way to Silverton. For awhile the road and the railroad line intersect, but then the highway goes up and over the pass and the railroad tracks follow the river into the wilderness.

I was expecting the train to pick up speed as we left town, but it never did gain any velocity. The train crawled along at around 20 mph, and if you're used to riding on European trains, it was agonizingly slow. And for good reasons; one, we were always gaining elevation and it was difficult for the old steam engine, and two, the rail bed is narrow and uneven, making the train pitch and yawl the entire time. I would imagine that if we attained any great speed we'd not stay on the tracks very long. But it all added to the adventure.

Nancy is obviously enjoying the ride.

Does this building look familiar? It should. This house sits in the village of Rockwood. If you have ever seen "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", (and that should include every human being on the planet) then you will recognize it as being in the scene where Paul Newman and Katherine Ross ride the bicycle to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head". Or so we were told.

The train enters the Animas River canyon. The picture below is what you see if you poke your head out the window. A drop of 600 feet straight down into the river below.

Here are the cars at the end of the train. We were in the second car behind the locomotive, and there were perhaps a dozen cars. When we arrived in Silverton, I was astonished at the number of passengers. There were hundreds, mostly middle aged to elderly. (And I might add that that the bulk of them sported accents from the South, and if you're not in the South, it gets mighty tiresome. )

We learned that the friction of the car wheels on the rails while rounding a curve causes the train to slow and creates of lot of wear on the wheels themselves. The train makes several stops along the way to Silverton. We stopped at Rockwood to pick up a bunch of passengers, and we stopped to take on water twice. (You think of a coal fired steam engine using coal, of course, but you forget it also uses plenty of water. As you ride along, steam from the boiler is released and rises, only to condense in the cool air and drip as rain on your arm out the window.) The train also stops to let passengers off. There is a luxury resort whose only access is by rail, and the train stops to let of hikers, backpackers and fishermen. The young fellow pictured below exited the train in the middle of this canyon, with only his fishing pole. I didn't see any pack or lunch bag or creel, just his rod. He must have caught one of the three trains heading in the other direction after his day of fishing was over. Nancy mused that due to the price of the tickets, this was either a very expensive fishing trip for him, or he was the son of the owner of the rail line.
We took the bus back to Durango and drove over Red Mountain Pass, home to Montrose, with only a short stop of three hours to wait for the Silverton Volunteer Fire Department to haul out the barely alive driver of a car who went off a 600 foot cliff. Remember kids, click on em' to enlarge em'.


Anonymous said...

You bring back wonderful memories. I rode the train the summer I was 18 and a nanny for the McHughs. I took a summer trip with them to see all the 14,000 ft peaks in Colorado, except one I think. I had my head out the window or stood in the vestibule the whole time, I was entirely consumed by the beauty and engineuity. By the time we got to Silverton my hair was full of cinders. Does that still happen? We spent the night in Silverton and then the bartender from the hotel drove us over Cinnamon or Engineer Pass early the next morning to Lake City. I think that's right Doug, do I have my towns and passes right? I'm glad you guys did it. For me, it was one of the most amazing things I'd ever done or seen, hadn't seen the Pont du Gard yet, but it still remains up there as a pretty wonderful memory. Love, Leslie

Anonymous said...

When I was in Grand Junction with Murz (way back when!) we were driving up into the mountains for an outdoor concert and Murz kept saying to me..."if you don't stay in your lane and slow down...we're going to die"! That mountain driving is a challenge (especially for "flatlanders". Do you know if the driver survived his plunge down the mountainside?

The railway ride seemed really makes you think of the past when that railway was the fast and easy way to travel!

Thanks for sharing your adventures...I've enjoyed them all! Take care. Luke