It had been 20 years since my first and only previous visit to Durango. In those days under the ownership of Charles Bradshaw, the Durango and Silverton Railroad was a different place than it is today. Under Mr. Bradshaw there were only steam loco's on the railroad and it did not matter who you were, and especially if you had an interest in railroads, no one was allowed on the property except to get on and off the train. I would suggest, because the railroad was so sanitized back then, it is one reason why I chose not to return and, to travel to other countries to see steam traction in operation. One county I visited was Zimbabwe and the (still) active steam shops in Bulawayo.
Bulawayo is also where Travis Wheeler who now works on the D&SNGRR served a short apprenticeship just before I arrived in July 2001. Travis today is a fitter / mechanic in the Durango shops he also holds a firing and drivers ticket.
Since 1998, Mr Harper has owned the railroad. Since the disastrous forest fires of 2002 diesels have appeared, the K37's are finished and access, although still very strictly controlled is now possible.
And so it was that I went to Durango to see the railroad and to visit with Travis in late September 2006
My visit was a road trip on my motorcycle as well as destination Durango. The outbound leg via Pendleton, Oregon, Salt Lake City and Price, Utah then on to Moab, Utah where I finally got to see the Arches National Park.
Upon arrival at the Durango shops I was greeted with this sight of one of the diesels in use as the yard switcher.
An overall view of the machine shop showing a second diesel with one truck removed for traction motor overhaul and new tires. The diesels came from steel mills in Ohio and Ontario, Canada.
Freshly tired drivers from a K28 wait to be profiled on the wheel lathe
K36 481 was cold. It had been failed a couple of days before with a blown superheater element. It was in the final stages of reassembly. All the K36 are suffering from serious corrosion at the base of the smokebox doors
One of two K37 remaining on the railroad. Neither has run in many years and, it was stated they would not operate on the railroad again. This one 493, is in better external condition than 498. 493 is on display in the Silverton yard.
The rusting hulk of 498 at the back of the Durango yard
There are many original box, flat and caboose in Durango and at many other locations along the line.
Freshly shopped passenger car
Inside the car shop
K28 #473 is drawn out of the roundhouse service road by foreman Larry Beam to make room for the K36 arriving back on shed.
Coupler fitted to the shovel of the front end loader
K28 #473 sitting in the afternoon sun in the Yellow and Olive Green paint scheme first used in the early 1950's for a movie role. She would be lit up the next day to provide power for a photo excursion
K36 480 pulls into town at the end of the day.
L to R roundhouse maintenance crew, Will White, Travis Wheeler and Steve "Outback" Carr greet the loco to discuss any service issues with the loco crew. "Outback" is the Australian member of the team.
Each loco is equipped with a hand held digital pyrometer to check bearing temperatures. The driver is required to report in writing any bearing temperature over 200F at the end of each run for investigation by the roundhouse crew that evening.
After handing over the loco to the service crew, 480 sits on the disposal road.
The road crew then uses the diesel to switch the coaches ready for morning. This allows the roundhouse crew to take possession of the loco probably an hour earlier at the end each day. This of course helps the maintenance staff complete all the required running repair tasks for the day. It also helps cut down on the drifting smoke from the yard to the residential neighborhoods to the south.
The issue of drifting smoke is growing in seriousness with the EPA and third party consultants now involved. Hard to believe when the railroad has been in continuous operation since 1881.
It is though, the reality of trying to operate any kind of machinery in the 21st century. One can only speculate as to what the end result will be after all the experts have had their say. Buying a house next to an airport then complaining about the noise draws comparison......
Fireman's view of K36 480 on the disposal road.
Note the water cooling ring around the top edge of the stack. Fitted after the forest fires of 2002.
Turning 480 to place her in the roundhouse for servicing and, to get the stack under a smoke scrubber,
482 having dropped off its passengers at Durango depot draws its train around the balloon loop before dropping the consist and backing on to the disposal road.
The Silver Vista observation car is new for 2006.
It was built on site and replaces the original lost in a car shop fire in Alamosa in the early 1950's
Most trains run with a Parlor car on the rear. There were also two in the museum
Travis and Will changing brake shoes on 482
"Outback" setting the butterfly doors in the vice off 480 to effect repairs to the gear teeth.
The doors were removed with the loco hot. Not an easy task
Wood placed in the cab of 481 ready for lighting up.
The scrap wood is taken from car shop restoration projects
Lighting up 481
It takes approx 2.5 hours to warm the boiler before pressure is raised.
Center drop gondola cars acquired from the East Broad Top Railroad in 1982
The cars are used for ballast and are based at Hermosa
481 on helper duty backs down on to 482 at Hermosa. Hermosa is the track maintenance depot for the D&SNGRR. The truck to the right is delivering a load of ties.
Engineer Joe Dailey gives 5 blasts of the whistle to call in the brakeman after performing the class 3 air brake test
481 and 482 pounding towards Rockwood
C16 #315 is being restored to operating condition in a park just south of town by the Durango Railroad Historical Society www.drhs315.org. The tender is virtually new. The wooden cab is new. The boiler work is complete. Final assembly is now taking place. It is hoped that the loco will be allowed to run to Silverton in May 2007 and that it will also visit the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad.
New air compressors including one from China
480 drifts into town in a timeless image except for the modern car on the right
Sausage & Onions, Mushrooms and Tomatoes on the shovel of 480
Back to work. Travis and Will dropping one of three warm journal boxes on 482 for investigation and replacement of the grease cake.
Raising the freshly packed journal box back into position
Eric Paul machining wheel tire profiles
The various tire profiles hanging on the wall behind the tracer lathe
K28 #473, currently the only operational K28 hauling a photo charter
473 in the hole at Rockwood to pick up passengers and let a service train past
Travis Wheeler playing "hobo"
First service train of the day. It will pass the photo charter at Rockwood
There is a second museum in Durango.
This one belongs to Mr. Andy Saez (pronounced "size") a former ATSF manager
The office looks like the dispatcher just went off duty for the last time that morning!
This exhibit includes a Northern Pacific headlight from the South Tacoma shops. It was purchased for 7 dollars in 1955. Most of the builders plates came from Bakersfield, California depot about the same time.
Mr. Saez is also an accomplished photographer.
He showed me some of his work from the 1950's
D&SNGRR night watchman Mike Mahaffey, lives in this former stage coach stop built in 1875 about 37 miles east of Durango.
This is Mike's "back yard"
The return trip was via Silverton, Grand Junction, Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks then west.
Dick Cheney was in town (Jackson) we did not meet!
Grand Teton National Park
Coulter Lake, Grand Teton National Park
Last stop on the trip was the beautifully restored Milwaukee Road depot in Cle Elum, Washington for lunch.
The left side is a museum, the center portion, located in the former staff Beanery is now an excellent Cafe.
Thanks to Travis Wheeler, Joe Dailey, Larry Beam, Mike Mahaffey, Eric Paul, Will White, Steve "Outback" Carr, Andy Saez and all the D&SNGRR staff that I met for such an enjoyable visit.