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Durango & Silverton Railroad Museum Keeps Evolving

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A locomotive at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad museum (credit: CBS)

A locomotive at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad museum (credit: CBS)

DURANGO, Colo. (CBS4) – The experience of a winter ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad hasn’t changed much since CBS4 sent a crew there 15 years ago in 1996.

Tourists can still take a winter trip into Cascade Canyon on the train, but since CBS4 was there, a new museum has opened up near the roundhouse at the depot in downtown Durango. It’s a perfect place to start an excursion into the San Juan Mountains.

“Right inside the building, that’s where the fire started,” museum curator Jeff Ellingson said.

The fire in 1989 may have burned down the roundhouse, but it sparked something more.

“When the roundhouse was rebuilt, Mr. Bradshaw, who owned the railroad at the time, doubled the size of the original structure,” Ellingson said.

The additional space paved the way for a new experience for the visitors.

“Folks will buy their tickets and walk over here and get a sense of the history of what this railroad is all about.”

Railroad passes were made from the silver of the mines in the area.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, if you’ve got one of those, you could ride for life.’ But they were only good for one year.”

The displays include passenger cars, artifacts, a model railroad, and of course, locomotives.

“The museum has been evolving for the last 12 years. We keep adding to our archives and collections … there will probably always be one of our operating locomotives stored in the museum so people can come in here and get a first-hand look at them.”

If looking at the displays in the museum isn’t quite enough, the railroad also offers tours of the yards and shops, giving visitors a behind-the-scenes look in what it takes to keep the railroad running.

“Every 10 years our engines have to be torn down and rebuilt,” said Steve Jackson, Chief Mechanical Officer. “Because if it doesn’t happen here, it’s never going to happen out there.”

The passenger cars receive similar care. Each car gets a thorough inspection once a year.

“As soon as these guys get done doing 50 cars, a year has gone by and it’s time to start over,” Ellingson said.

It’s work that’s done in very few other places, leaving the visitor with a sense of what it was like working on the railroad.

“Our heads are full of old-school technology and it’s not very applicable anywhere else in the world, but it’s still going on here,” Ellingson said.

Additional Resources

Make reservations for any time of the year calling toll free at (888) TRAIN- 07, or go to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad website — durangotrain.com — for information about schedules, fares, special package deals and more.

The museum is open on days the train is running. There’s also a train museum on the other end in Silverton.

Get there by taking U.S. Highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass through Pagosa Springs to Durango. The train depot is right in the heart of downtown. Those planning to visit the area can contact the Durango Area Tourism Office at (800) 463-8726. Or check out the website at Durango.org.

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