To view most of the photographs with this article click on the camera above. Photos appear in South to North order.
Durango & Silverton
Narrow Gauge Railroad
When I first visited the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in 2001 there were plenty of photographs taken but I neglected to ride the train. That mistake nagged for seven years until May of 2008 when a seven hour trip behind one of their dirt burners corrected it. You can have a virtual ride too. I hope you enjoy the photos.
Durango lies in the San Juan Mountains about 350 road miles west of Denver, Colorado. The road trip will take you over four mountain passes greater than 10,000 feet in elevation. You should consider winter driving conditions, even in May! The drive from Ouray (pronounced Your-ay) over Red Mountain pass is 11,018 feet high with switchbacks and steep drop-offs without guard rails. The distance from Ouray to Silverton is just 26 miles but the trip took a nervous hour and a half. Departing Ouray around noon the snow started and increased in intensity while climbing to higher elevations.
The rental car was new and equipped with summer tires. A computer readout on the dash very handily indicated outside air temperature. It was nerve racking to watch the temperature drop through freezing as the road conditions deteriorated. Speed was down to 5 miles per hour in places with that same computer blinking "INSUFFICIENT TRACTION" as the front wheels spun in the snow and slush. The original drive plan had hoped to avoid such weather, but... no such luck. The days following were all summer sunshine and warm.
A Brief Railroad History
The Durango & Silverton currently has 3 business cars in operation, one being named "General Palmer". That name is a good place to start a very brief history of the D&S.
William Jackson Palmer was born in 1836 becoming involved in American railroads at an early age that was interrupted by the Civil War. Serving with the Union Army he became a general and continued to carry the title afterwards. On a trip to the United Kingdom he discovered narrow gauge railroading and took advantage of this form of rail transport by using it in America to his advantage. Drifting west to Denver, Colorado, he founded his own railway, the three foot gauge Denver & Rio Grande Western. By 1879 the railroad expanded to what eventually became known as the "Narrow Gauge Circle" (actually more square shaped). Three foot tracks ran north from Ouray to Montrose. East to Salida. South to Alamosa and Antonito. West to Chama and Durango then turned north once more to reach Silverton. This left a gap between Ouray and Silverton which never did see narrow gauge rails due to the height of Red Mountain, as mentioned earlier, which blocked the way. Today U.S. Highway 550 crests the mountain at an elevation of 11,018 feet.
However, the Rio Grande Southern managed to build a three foot line north from Durango to Ridgeway over Lizzard Head Pass at 10,222 feet elevation. (Ridgeway lies between Ouray and Montrose)
In the late 1950s to the mid-1960s the narrow gauge was done and lines were shut-down. But... one section remained, the tracks between Durango and Silverton. Although cut-off from the connection to the east through Chama and Alamosa in 1969 the D&S portion remained intact. This remaining route was purchased by Charles E. Bradshaw, Jr. and restoration of equipment and route was undertaken. Through washouts and a roundhouse fire the railroad has managed to prosper yet still operate original D&RGW coal-fired steam locomotives, passenger equipment, and structures on this historic line.
The Durango & Silverton is now owned by Allen and Carol Harper and operated by American Heritage Railways of Coral Gables, Florida.
D&S Steam Locomotive Roster
These cars are typically used to make up a train but more may be added to accommodate the passenger load as required.
17 May 2008 - Lots of Track
24 May 2008 - Durango & Silverton Railroad Trims Schedule; Gas Prices Blamed
Cinders & Smoke, A Mile by Mile Guide for the Durango & Silverton
Narrow Gauge Railroad
Doris B. Osterwald
2000 (33rd printing!)
Western Guideways Ltd. PO Box 343 Hugo Colorado 80821
Thunder of Their Passing, The
Robert D. Turner
288 pages - 11 x 9 1/2 inches
Over 500 colour and b/w photos and maps
Sono Nis Press
ISBN 1-55039-129-1 paper bound
ISBN 1-55039-130-5 cloth bound
Pick up your free copy of this Durango & Silverton tourist magazine at the Durango depot.
Associated Web Sites
Wikipedia - San Juan Mountains
Wikipedia - William Jackson Palmer
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The Narrow Gauge Circle - 1
The Narrow Gauge Circle - 2
Nomad Private Railroad Car Scrapbook Album
D&RGW Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotive Photos
Rio Grande Southern