SPECIAL CHARTER on the Durango & Silverton


On February 11, 2007, the Durango & Silverton operated a special charter train, arranged by the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club.  This train would be special in that all of the equipment was to be lettered for the Denver & Rio Grande Western, the historic builder and operator of the line up through 1980. 

I found out about it via a friendly tip from an employee, so I scheduled a day of railroad photography in and near Durango.  Accordingly, I headed out of Farmington shortly after 6:00 AM.  The weather was abysmal, with a steady drizzle.  I hoped that it would be snowing in Durango-- photos would be better than in the rain.

When I arrived at 7:15, the train was making up on the yard lead, with the power (K-28 No. 478) already coupled.  It was still raining here, with some sleet mixed in.  I noticed some curious activity atop the locomotive.

Here's the power, wreathed in steam.

Note the workers up top.  They were removing the spark arrestor.  Evidently the sodden ground was deemed to be safe from sparks.  Someone from the charter group must have requested this.

Here she is, pulling out of the yard promptly at 7:30 AM.

I piled into the car and raced for the Animas River bridge, just north of downtown.  I needn't have hurried.  It took the train at least 10 minutes to get there.  This gave me plenty of time to plan out my shots.  Unfortunately the dim light pretty much ruined most of them-- the train blurred too much.

There was a D&S employee who showed up here.  He was ruefully observing the weather; he said that it always did this to him on his days off.  Just out to take pictures of the action.

Looking across the bridge as the train approaches from the southwest.

Here she is, stepping out onto the span.  It seemed to me that they were pushing the speed a lot more than normal.

The train was made up of the locomotive, three box cars, a flatcar, another box, three more flats (two carrying rail or other track parts), the caboose, combine car "Home Ranch", and coach "Animas".

I stopped at the 29th street crossing for another roll-by, but muffed the exposure and was rewarded with nearly-black film.  Oh well; time to head out of town.  I stopped three times for photos between Durango and Hermosa (not inclusive).  It was starting to snow more in the valley.

First run-by, just north of town in the reedy area near the river.  As I said, the train was running a little faster than usual.

Here's a look at the caboose, No. 0505, full of riders getting their money's worth.

Second run-by.

Third run-by.  At this point I encountered a second D&S employee, out for a day of chasing and photographing his handiwork.

Next hop was to Hermosa, where there is a railroad facility.  They park the MOW cars here and have some sheds and a water tank, as well as a whole bunch of junk scattered about.  There's a bridge over Hermosa Creek at the south end of the lot.

Another thru-the-bridge shot.  You can see the snow accumulating on the rails now.

Coming into Hermosa...

A closer look at No. 478.  A classic steamer at work!

The opposite side of the caboose.  You can really see the snow coming down.  That's an old coach in the background, converted to a storage shed.

Next I headed for a grade crossing just north of Hermosa, where the tracks have begun their ascent on the mountain.  The first significant grades are encountered here.  From the highway I could see the train, and it seemed to be struggling.  I was right.  Once I got set up on the semi-private road, I could hear the locomotive slipping badly.  It sounded something like chuff chuff chu-chu-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-chuff as the drivers lost footing on the wet and snowy rail.  This happened repeatedly; the train was stalled.  Finally,  the whistle sounded for a backup, and I heard the whole process start over.  This time they managed to maintain forward momentum, and before long the train crept into view.

Here she comes, at a tentative 3 mph.

I don't make the scenes, I just record 'em...

Sorry-- I just can't get enough of these shots of steam and snow...

Here she is, creeping across the grade crossing / driveway.

A better look at the tender.  Love that lettering!

Here's one of the flats, carrying rail.  Note the re-lettering on the sill.

The speeder following the train.  At this point it had caught up with it.  As I was standing trackside, I called up to the riders and razzed them about moving kinda slow.  They laughed and suggested that I push!  Then, when the speeder came into view, one gent on the platform observed that their helper had arrived.  Actually, it might have done some good! 

Next stop: a set of condos built up against the right-of-way, north of Honeyville (for those who know the area).  I parked and climbed up the fill, crossed the track, and climbed to a vantage point on top of the sidehill cut.  There was a bit of a wait (remember, the train was moving pretty slow earlier).  Finally it came into view, moving at a better clip now.

The front half of the train is visible as it comes around the curve.

Coming right at me...

A top view of the K-28.  It's still a pretty steep grade in this area...

and she's still working hard.

The tail end rolls past.  I suspect that the videographers in the charter cars weren't getting many clear views of their iron steed, thanks to the cold and humid conditions.

I skipped the highway overpass in favor of some less-common shots from County Road 250 (old US 550).  It's hard to get a decent photo of the train on the cliff due to the powerlines, but I managed one.  Then I plowed up the slushy road to the grade crossing for a few more views.

There she is, working along one of the less-photographed cliffs.  It's surprising to me, given how easily accessible this area is.  It must be due to the tall power lines that are built on the wrong side of the road...

Up at the grade crossing, the ground flattens out briefly.  No. 478 is crossing the meadow above Shalona Lake.

A good broadside view of the locomotive, showing the correctly-slanted lettering.  Rio Grande steamers had the slant towards the front on both sides of the tender.

Next up: Rockwood.  Fortunately the train stopped there, because it beat me badly (thanks to treacherous road conditions).  Here the train stopped, and the paying customers dismounted for photos.  This would be as far as I could chase the train, as the track moves into the Animas Gorge where there are no roads.


Another of the flatcars, No. 6503.

Part of the group of charter passengers, enjoying the sights and sounds.

The fireman, hosing down the running gear for some reason.

Opposite side of the train, stretched out at the Rockwood stop.

Having a little trouble with the cylinder?

Yup.  When they attempted to open the drain cock, the whole thing fell out!  This caused about a half-hour delay while they worked on the problem.

A look at the cab, with the proper D&RGW lettering applied for the occasion.

A third flat car, No. 6668, this one not carrying anything.  A sister car exists in Farmington, NM, serving as a private bridge over a ditch.

Even while stopped, the boiler requires fuel, and the fireman tossed the occasional shovelful into the firebox.  Here the flames are clearly visible.

An interesting detail of the pilot.  Note the sweeper panels, like a miniature plow, installed just ahead of the axle.  I hadn't noticed this before, and thought it made an interesting picture.  Note the toolboxes resting on the pilot-- these were being used by the mechanics working on the cylinder cock.

About 45 minutes after the special departed, the regular Cascade Canyon train made its appearance in Rockwood, behind K-36 No. 482.  Parlor car ALAMOSA was carrying the markers.


I couldn't wait around for the special to return in the afternoon, so I returned to town, shot a few photos around the yard, ate lunch, bought some windshield wipers that weren't falling apart (!!), and headed home.  It was a pretty good day.  One doesn't see steamers in authentic Rio Grande paint every day, especially pulling freight cars, and I was very glad I was able to get this event on film.


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2007, James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.