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Colorado Narrow Gauge Circle Tour
Part 6: Durango to Silverton

The San Juan Extension turned north from Chama for 107 miles and found Animas City waiting for it in 1881. After a squabble with city fathers, the railway established a new townsite, named it Durango, and nearly everyone left Animas City (now a suburb of Durango). The D&RG pushed the line 45 miles further north to Silverton by 1882.

From here, three independent feeder railways were built to bring ore to interchange with the D&RG: the Silverton Railroad, Silverton Northern Railroad, and Silverton, Gladstone and Northern Railroad. The Rio Grande Southern Railroad also connected at Durango, bringing traffic from west and north of D&RG territory. Otto Mears built these feeder lines, but he didn’t own the RGS for long.

The San Juan Express ran from Alamosa to Durango via Antonito and Chama. It ran for 70 years making its last run in 1951. When Durango to Chama was abandoned in 1968, the Silverton branch was still a popular tourist attraction and the D&RGW ran the isolated line until 1981.

It had been looking for a buyer of the line for some time and in 1981, Charles Bradshaw bought the road and equipment. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has refurbished rolling stock and locomotives and runs 3 to 5 trains a day in summer season. A tragic fire took the Durango roundhouse and damaged some locomotives in 1989, but this was all rebuilt, giving D&SNG one of the best steam locomotive shops in North America.

Locomotives are rebuilt D&RGW K-28 and K-36 2–8–2 steamers. The “Rio Grande Gold” passenger cars look like the original wood coaches from the turn of the 20 th century, except for the colour which was deep red before 1923 and Pullman Green after 1923. The refurbished cars are actually metal clad with scribed siding to look like the original tongue-and-groove wood siding. Open excursion cars are built from standard gauge boxcars with the roof removed and sides cut down.

There are numerous original boxcars, gondolas, and MOW rolling stock in various states of disrepair parked along the line. The roundhouse has an interesting museum and major equipment under repair and rebuild.

The trip to Silverton and return takes 8 hours, counting 2 hours for lunch and shopping at Silverton. Following Rio de las Animas Perdidas ( River of Lost Souls), the track rises slowly until it is more than 600 feet above the river – the famous “High Line” that hugs the edge of the mountains. Photos from the train only hint at the feeling of great depth just feet from the train windows. Silverton has many historic buildings, but nearly all are souvenir shops or fast food outlets – not the authentic historic townsite that one might have hoped for.

Durango has better shopping and a more attractive downtown. Special entertainment, for example, the Bar D Ranch chuckwagon supper and cowboy music, is easy to find. Our 2004 trip coincided with RailFest, so we saw the restored Eureka and Pallisades 4–4–0 at the Durango Depot. Goose #5 from Delores was also around but we didn’t see it. Photos below are mostly from 1994, a few from 2004.

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Here are photos that you can't get while riding the train, taken from D&S official website.

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Websites of Interest
http://www.durangotrain.com/
http://bardchuckwagon.com/

Continue to Part Seven