Above: The crew of locomotive #478 dumps the ash from the pans in a reenactment photo shoot in Durango. All photos are © 2016 by Michael Polk.
Durango and Silverton: two names synonymous with the Rockies. Located in southwestern Colorado, an amazing narrow gauge railroad continues to haul passengers between the two namesake towns, passing by some of the most beautiful vistas in the United States.
Formerly built as a mining railroad in the 1880s, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad sees over 200,000 yearly visitors from all over the world. Today’s trip was no exception: with photographers from Switzerland and the United Kingdom on board. The date is February 14th, 2016 and during our Go West adventure, Delay In Block Productions participated in the railroad’s annual winter photographer’s special.
Today’s train consisted of Durango & Silverton’s #478 and eight coaches, set for a round trip between Durango and Teft Station Spur. On board, nearly one hundred other photographers eagerly waited to point there shutters at one of the most iconic steam trains in the United States. After the first set of runbys, we rode the train over the “high line.” This segment of the railroad is one of the most recognizable stretches of track in the country, with the raging rapids of the Animas River 400ft below.
The Durango & Silverton was constructed to serve the Denver & Rio Grande Western between the two namesake towns in the desolate southwestern portion of Colorado. For the first time, these settlements could easily be reached by the outside world. The rich mining communities blossomed with the arrival of the railroad, which spread commerce and culture to the region. The area continued to be prosperous with the expansion of the railroad for nearly eighty years.
Below: The winter photographers’ train rolls over the “high line” portion of the railroad.
The route was originally opened in 1882. The line was an extension of the D&RG 3 ft narrow gauge line from Antonito, Colorado, to Durango. The last train to operate into Durango from the east was on December 6, 1968. The States of New Mexico and Colorado purchased the 64 miles between Antonito and Chama, New Mexico in 1970. That portion is operated today as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. The trackage between Chama and Durango was removed by 1971.
The line from Durango to Silverton has run continuously since 1881. Although it is now a tourist and heritage line, it is one of the few places in the U.S. which has seen the continuous use of steam locomotives. In March 1981, the Denver & Rio Grande Western sold the line and the D&SNG was formed. Today, this amazing tourist line continues to inspire and captivate the imagination – to a time when life was a little more simple.
As we roll along our scenic railroad journey, the train crosses a span called “High Bridge.” Installed in 1894, the bridge is one of the architectural highlights along the railroad. In November of 2015, the line was out of service for three weeks due to thorough inspection and maintenance.
After a brief fuel stop at Tank Creek, passengers de-boarded at a location called “Tall Timber” for two more photo runbys. At Teft Spur, the train was turned and we were given another chance at another photo runby. We would also capture the train crossing the Animas River Bridge from the hillside. This wrought iron bridge was installed in 1911 and is still standing strong 105 years later.
Shooting the train at the bridge was quite the thrill, but we would stop again for another runby at the Tacoma Power Plant. Here, a small siding allowed for photographers to hop out and frame the train from a distance.
Our final runby location would be on the world famous high line, with #478 giving it all she had on the mountain grade. The rest of our time in Colorado would be spent trackside on Union Pacific’s Moffat Tunnel Subdivision, watching Amtrak’s California Zephyr at various locations along the famous stretch of railroad. We even visited the namesake tunnel that made this railroad so prosperous – the 6.2 mile long Moffat Tunnel. Watch the video about the excursion train below.