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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Historic Rail Adventure

Today is the day we get to ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad!  Not dissuaded by the 40° chill, I'm excited to be up and on our way to town at just before 0700.

Greeting us on the street is K-28 #476, the locomotive that will be pulling us to Silverton. as it has countless others since 1923.
Passing through the historic station, we found our train ready for the 45.4 mile run to Silverton .
We were directed to board all the way at the end.
Beth steps back in time as she boards the Cinco Animas business car. Originally built as an immigrant sleeping car in 1883, it was upgraded to a business car in 1913.
Hot muffins awaited as we took our reserved seats. Fancy lighting fixtures adorn the ceiling and beds pull down from the overhead. We'll be all set for an overnight stay if the weather turns foul.

Wallpaper compliments the animals of the San Juan forest.
While we enjoy breakfast, the train is climbing high above above the Animas river.
The railroad climbs 2,796 feet from Durango to Silverton.
Eight cars made up our train. One of them is an open gondola for photographers. We are spoiled on the Cinco Animas since we can take photos from the rear platform and then duck back inside to get warmed up.
An avalanche took out lots of trees on this slope. The railroad runs a speeder up the line ahead of the train to insure the track is clear every morning. A speeder also follows trains to put out any fires from sparks scattered by the old coal powered steam locomotives.
As we gained elevation, snow began to fall. The conductor had just ducked into the car in front of us to warm up for a minute.

Our porter announced that snow had closed the road back to Durango. Folks that had intended to take a bus on the return trip will be accommodated on the train.
Friendly folks in the car took our photo.
Remains of old mines still dot the mountainside as we approached Silverton. These mines were the original reason for the railroad.
Everyone de-trained in Silverton. Here you can see one of the docents in the narration car helping passengers down the steps. The elevation is 9,318 feet above sea level.
Our engine would only be in town for a few minutes. It will head to the shops for grease, fuel, and a check-up before turning around and pulling us back down to Durango.
It was a thrill to get up close to the locomotive. Diesel locomotives are interesting, but steam engines hiss, chuff, and breath like they are living creatures.
Leaving the train behind, we had a little over two hours to explore the town.
First on the agenda was lunch. Our steward recommended the Bent Elbow.
A period bar and tin walls looked like the old west.
Live music on an upright piano added to the ambiance.

We met Mary and Marv from Minneapolis on the train and enjoyed getting to know them at lunch.
Beverages were warm and lunch was delicious.
After lunch we explored a little as the snow fell. We would like to return when we can see the mountains.
An old car with trundle seat looked like it belongs in front of Natalia's Restaurant.
KC Traders had interesting stones and the store next door had great hats. Beth picked unique earrings and I purchased my first cowboy hat.
This unique stone map of the US states is considerably fancier than the sticker map we had on the van.
It wasn't long before we were back on the Cinco Animas. The train was turned around on a Y track while we were off exploring. It was good that Beth packed our winter coats.
Heading back towards the canyon the engineer stopped so we could take on water.
The brakeman stood behind the train as a safety measure until the watering process was completed.
Here's the big wooden water tank as we rolled past.
Snow was starting to accumulate as we accelerated to 15 mph on the downhill slope.

Beth joined me on the rear platform for a few minutes, but didn't have a presidential address prepared.
Snow turned to drizzle as we lost altitude. As visibility improved we could see a waterfall cascading down the mountainside.

We experienced sunshine, rain, hail, and snow on the trip.
Wooden and steel bridges span the Animas river five times in the journey between Durango and Silverton.
Speeds are reduced to 10 mph as the train threads its way between the canyon wall and a cliff dropping down to the river.  An extra rail is added to curves here as a safety measure.
The smoke is much more white on the downhill run. Our 96 year old engine was fun to see and hear.
You can get a little feel of the precarious hand-hewn shelf where the trains run from this photo.
Rail transportation is the only way into this section of the San Juan National Forest.
Our railroad adventure seemed to fly by. We were

Cinco Animas from the side. These "Presidential" cars are the only ones that retain the maroon paint from the D&RGW. The tourist cars were painted yellow in the 1940's and remain that bright color today.
Here's one last look at the presidential platform and Bob, our wonderful porter. He and his wife live in "our" campground while working here in the summer.

The railroad trip exceeded my expectations. We both had a great time and would recommend it, especially if you can swing a trip in a presidential car.
The van was still in the parking lot upon our return. Our $7.50/week parking permit was a bargain. We'll use it again tomorrow morning when we come in for some grocery shopping and a tour of the railroad maintenance facilities.


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