Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

A trip back in time to the steam era

Trip Report:  20070923

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The Trip

We had planned our trip to travel on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for many months. The train travels in the Animas River canyon which is both steep and narrow. The DSNGRR runs old narrow gauge steam locomotives that were part of the Denver & Rio Grande line. Most of the locos have been in continuous service since their construction in 1923. We signed up for the photographer's special trip that allowed the passengers to get off the train and have the train do a "run by" thus allowing photos. Since this was a special trip, we only traveled down hill from Silverton and therefore had to take a bus from Durango to Silverton at 0700. Sadly, it was raining heavily nearly the entire trip resulting in flat lighting and totally soaked clothes. I am happy to report that my Canon 1DsM2 camera is claimed to be "weatherproof" and I concur with that claim. It rained heavily and all the equipment was wet in addition to the passengers. Many of the other photographers reported damaged or failed equipment due to the moisture. I was not one of them.

The photos below are what we saw.

The day was wet and cold, but they offered us coffee and doughnuts. I hate to admit, but the chocolate frosted doughnuts were pretty tasty. Here Kathleen snags some OJ for the road.

It was raining hard so most of the folks were crowded under the eaves of the Silverton station.

The train came by directly. Number 478 would be our ride for the day. It was one of 3 steam engines that were in service that day.

The mountains around Silverton are riddled with mines. Here are the ruins of a silver mine visible from the tracks.

We cross the Animas river for the first time of the day. It had been raining heavily all night; note the color of the water. It is carrying a full load of silt.

The Animas was running strong and in some places it was encroaching on the tracks. The tracks follow the river grade most of the way to Durango.

The heavy rains were spawning waterfalls in most of the side canyons.

We were offered many chances to get off the train for a "run by" where the train passes your position then backs up. Note the grade on the tracks.

Our engineers were actually quite young, but they were very competent.

These steam locos were fired from local coal. This soft coal is mined a few miles west of Durango and is effective, if just a bit dirty.

Our loco was built in 1923 and has been in continuous service since then.

We gave the camera to the engineer to get these shots. The cab is cramped and hot and a maze of pipes and valves.

Another view of the cab controls.

Note the control lever on the far right that uses teeth to insure that it does not move.

The overcast day proved problematic for good photos, but the scenery was awesome even if the photos were bland.

Kathleen quizzes the engineer about train operations.

Oncoming train from Durango. Number 486 was one of two trains that passed us while we waited at the siding

The rain continued and more waterfalls sprung up.

The aspens were starting to turn color. Sadly, the flat lighting did not show them with their typical vivid colors.

Each of the locos has a fire control "speeder" that follows it to address any cinder-caused fires along the track. With the heavy rain this was a non-issue, but rules are rules.

Number 481 passes us going up-grade while we were on the siding.

We were rolling again.

We crossed the Animas river many times.

As the rain continued, the flow from the side creeks got heavier.

This is one of the larger bridges on the route. This bridge was built in 1872 and is made of wrought iron and rivets.

This section of the Animas river canyon was steep and narrow resulting in high water flows and strong currents.

For one of the run-bys we stopped near a cliff that was climbable. So, I went up for a shot. This is looking down into the coal car. In addition to coal, the car also carries extra water for the locomotive. But, despite the 5,000 gallon capacity, we had to stop for water on the way back.

The trail rounds a very steep section of the canyon.

The smoke plume generated by these locomotives is substantial.

The engineer vents some excess steam to prevent overpressure in the boiler.

Suffering the heavy rain all day did have a happy ending. We spotted this rainbow just outside of Durango.

This was an excellent trip despite the rain and the cold. The views were spectacular and being able to view the train from outside was a great treat. If you are in the area, you should schedule this trip.

Zip Soaring in the Animas River Canyon

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