The Durango - Silverton Railroad


| November/December 1967



The train in the middle

Courtesy of C. S. Gilson, 3641 Hermes Drive Salt Lake City, Utah 84117 The train in the middle of the street in Silverton.

C. S. Gilson

Salt Lake City, Utah 84117

We had looked forward for a long time to taking a real steam ride from Durango, Colorado to Silverton and back. The railroad is owned by the Denver and Rio Grande and tickets can be purchased right here in Salt Lake City or Denver. The tickets have to be confirmed by the Denver office as they sell about every seat on the train each day. Tickets cost about $6.00 for a round trip. It is wise to always get your ticket in advance as few fail to show up at Durango after having a reservation.

On the way there we stopped at many places of interest and no doubt missed as many as we visited. First we saw Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Mountain Meadows, St. George and Zion National Park. Staying at Kanab and working out of there for a day we visited the Grand Canyon (north rim) and Pipe Springs. Pipe Springs is an old Mormon fort built over three springs. Men were killed near the fort while trying to retrieve their stolen cattle from the Indians. The fort never had to stand siege but it proved a haven to those staying there or traveling on west. Then we visited Glen Canyon Dam, Navajo Reservation and stopped at several trading posts which are run by Indians. After leaving the land where the Indians now live we stopped for a short while at the four corners and a longer time at the Mesa Verde. This is a wonderful place and I would like to go back again and spend more time. It takes more time than we allotted for it. These people, the Ancient Ones, lived there for about 1300 years. It is an invigorating place and on a hot afternoon in the land around it, this high plateau proved to be very pleasant with a nice breeze. You can look in almost every direction for miles and as they were a peace-loving people they must have felt secure as it was almost impossible for a war-like tribe to plunder. This plateau is about 4500 feet above the surrounding country. Many of their utensils were left there as well as some grain they raised. The museum has many interesting items that just takes hours to see. A young woman's skull has an arrowhead in it which no doubt caused her death. No one knows why this happened. Among other game they hunted a small deer. It was our privilege to see three of them. The Ancient Ones were driven out by many years of drought but the deer managed to stay or come back. I could write a whole story on most of the places but would say Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Pipe Springs and the Mesa Verde were the most interesting. I started out to tell you about the Silverton train and had better get with it.

August 30, 1966 at 8:30 we boarded the train on car seven for Silverton. The conductor had a mike and could talk to everyone in all cars and told us what to look for along the way. He told us right off that by now we no doubt found it was not the California Zephyr and that if we were going some place we were on the wrong train. We were going for a ride and time didn't matter. You could go to the platform and take pictures and look at the sights. There is just one little hitch-cinders rain down on you all the time. Some soot rains down also as well and when you go by a stream it looks as if it is raining-it is-cinders. There was a concession at one end of a car but you must bring your own change as they explained they were running a railroad and not the Chase Manhattan Bank.

The river running along the way to Silverton was called 'Rio de Las Animas Perdidas' by early Spanish discoverers and means River of the Lost Souls. Legend has it that an exploring party perished in an attempt to cross the torrent waters. The track follows along the river part of the way but has to leave it in one place to get out of a box canyon. It follows an old stagecoach road and it appeared as if a ride on the Overland could have loosened your teeth in the early days. This railroad was used in producing the following movies: 'Around the World In 80 Days', 'Ticket to Tomahawk' and 'Denver and Rio Grande'. The narrow gauge is three feet wide and it is best to turn sharp turns. Sometimes it is 700 feet to the river below and it is best not to step off the train as often the mountain goes almost straight down beside you. It makes you wonder if there is anything holding up the rails because you can't see the support. Other times it is like going over flat country but that doesn't last very long. They will let you off any place and if you come out of the brush and wave they will stop and you can get on. Many did get on and go into Silverton to get supplies. If you go the other way you have to stay over night to get back. Some passengers have to stand as all seats were taken.

When we left Durango we had 472 passengers. There is a 2% grade to get out of the box canyon and the steepest grade is 3.8% with 24 degree curves. The engine can pull 315 tons and they about have their limit every trip. That engine surely snorts to get up the grades. The fireman has his job cut out for himself as he must shovel six tons of coal on the trip. It is about 6,000 feet at Durango and goes up to 9,302 feet elevation at Silverton. On the way up we stopped several times to take on water. They use between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons of water each trip. The water tanks are ideally situated as they fill from mountain streams which are higher than the tanks and just run over when full. During the summer two trains are run a day but approaching the School term tourists slack off and they were running just one at the end of August.