The Durango & Silverton’s Fall Photographers Special has been a Colorado railfan staple for years. Back in 2005, they introduced the annual Winter Photographers Specials, and this year, they introduced a spring train – the Presidential Photo Special. The train ran with all premium service cars (meaning, painted maroon and normally used for the Presidential, First, and Deluxe class services – intended to emulate what a business train might look like on the narrow gauge) on the Friday before the regular summer season trains started. From my point of view, it was just a chance to shoot a D&S train without the yellow cars, and to get some shots in the upper canyon early in the season. Plus I’d never ridden in the premium cars, and thought it might be a nice change. What follows are the results of the Presidential Special on Friday, 1-May-2009, as well as shots of the opening day trains on Saturday, 2-May-2009.
Presidential Photo Special – Friday, May 1, 2009
On 1-May-2009, the Durango & Silverton ran a “Presidential Photo Special”, consisting entirely of the road’s premium service maroon cars.
Power for the day will be K-28 #473.
473 is tied onto the day’s train in front of the Durango depot.
This is car B-3, the Nomad, which will be my accomodations for the day. Nomad, built in 1878 by Billmeyer & Small, is claimed by the DSNG to be the oldest car in daily service in the US.
Since many of you have no idea what the latest incarnation of the Nomad looks like inside, I thought I’d share a few. This is the rear compartment, looking back towards the open platform.
And this is looking the other way – from the platform door towards the front of the car.
Just ahead of the rear compartment is this small private room, which can be closed off from the rest of the car. On the other side of the wall on the right is the hallway to the front.
The aforementioned hallway towards the front of the car – definitely not designed for those of us with fine railfan physiques…
And, well, there’s just no better way to experience the Silverton branch than from the back platform.
After a brief stop at Rockwood to pick up a couple people, it was on towards Silverton. Here’s the train crawling out onto the High Line.
And another “on the go” shot just a bit up the canyon towards the High Bridge.
Since part of the appeal of this train was that it would be the first revenue train to Silverton for the year, we hurried to the upper parts of the line before starting the run-bys. The first one was near milepost 483, a bit below Needleton tank.
Just another angle from the first run-by.
The last one from the first run-by. The skies were a bit overcast and bright, but that would turn out to be a help for some shots.
Run-by #2 was at milepost 488.5, otherwise known as the Red Young Slide. This recurring snow slide was responsible for the death of engineer William “Red” Young back in 1897. (Black and white – saving the day on backlit shots since, well, photography was invented.)
The next run-by, at Whitehead Gulch (milepost 492.1), also done in black and white because of the hard backlight and bright sky.
This is the Twin Sisters Slide at milepost 493.6, and the site of run-by #4 for the day. According to the day’s agenda, this was the deepest slide on the line this last winter, requiring some bulldozing to open up.
Another shot at the Twin Sisters Slide zone.
One of the best “new” run-bys on this photo trip was at Cataract Falls (milepost 494.8). These falls only show up during runoff season, and are typically dry by June.
A color view of Cataract Falls.
Departing Cataract Canyon and heading up the river towards Silverton, just a few miles north.
And there it is – the first revenue train to reach Silverton for the 2009 season. Unlike the regular trains, though, we won’t be spending much time in town. Just a few minutes while everybody grabs a few photos and the crew inspects and turns the train.
Sitting at the depot with a few of the rugged San Juan mountains in the background.
While the train was in the station, I took a few minutes to go see the old Silverton Northern enginehouse. Here’s looking down the barrel of K-37 493, stored on the loop track at Silverton, with the SN enginehouse visible just above and to the right.
Thanks to the efforts of the San Juan County Historical Society and the Durango Railroad Historical Society, the old Silverton Northern enginehouse is the new home for D&RGW 315.
The old SN main ran to the left of the enginehouse, with tracks coming off into the two bays. Later this summer, rails will once again reappear here, as a grant from the Colorado Historical Society (and materials from the Galloping Goose Historical Society) will enable the two groups to rebuild a connection from the enginehouse to the D&S mainline.
Looking north up Cement Street, standing approximately on the Silverton Northern grade. Tracks will reappear here this summer, assuming all goes well.
With the train wyed, the crew backs towards the depot to load us all up again.
The engineer does a bit of lubrication while waiting for the water to blow out of the air reservoir behind him.
Okay, everybody back on board!
Stepping out over the raging Animas River just south of Silverton. While water levels really aren’t all that high, they’re higher than I’m used to, since I’m typically up here late in the season when the flow is down to a trickle.
As usual, I’m indecisive. Here’s a bonus Animas bridge shot.
Taking on “fake water” at Needleton. Of course Needleton tank has been dry since it was replaced with a tank car tank in 1973, but the real tank is much more photogenic.
Another view of the Needleton water stop.
473 charges south in good light at Bitter Root Mine with the Needle Mountains in the background.
A small blow-down before taking off from Bitter Root
At Tall Timber, we find a previously unknown red car. Turns out this is one of the railroad’s new projects – a pair of cars indefinitely leased to the Tall Timber resort and converted into premium transportation for their soaring guests.
A little more mountain-goating than usual resulted in this high angle shot of the special on the High Line. (Thanks to the other Nathan and Daren for finding this spot…)
Sitting on the High Line, after crew shots, waiting to pull ahead and load everyone back up.
Conductor Rich Millard calls everybody back from the run-by, and is probably wishing we’d all hurry the heck up. It’s been a long day, with the crew pushing 10 hours on duty at this point and at least an hour yet to go.
At Rockwood, William and I got off the train with Nathan Zachman in order to chase the train back into Durango. We just barely made it to the Shalona crossing ahead of 473 (and at least two of us exited NZ’s Tahoe while it was still moving).
Riding back to Durango in style on the back of the Nomad.
473 crosses the Hermosa bridge in rapidly-failing evening light
Rounding one of the few corners between Hermosa and the north end of Durango
Highballin’ out of Home Ranch
And heading into north Durango, passing over the two newly-installed switches that will be used to construct a new wye at this location.
Back in Durango, crossing over the Animas just about a mile out of the yard.
Today’s train crew (from left to right) – Mike May, Fireman; Bill Colley, Engineer; Rich Millard, Conductor; Mike Nichols, Brakeman; George Swift, Brakeman.
Today’s car attendants (from left to right) – Dot Bodiroga from the Cinco Animas, Theresa Cashio from the Alamosa, Sally Haynes from the San Juan, and J Leigh Mestas from the Nomad.
And last but not least, the volunteer guides (from left to right) – Gary Miller, Charlotte Miller, Yvonne Lashmett (D&S event coordinator), Dennis Berkey, and Kenny Smith-Olin.
D&S Opening Day – Saturday, May 2, 2009
Saturday, 2-May-2009, marked the start of the D&S’s regular summer season. Presumably because of Fort Lewis College’s commencement ceremony that weekend, they ran two sections of the regular train. The first section, powered by 473, left at 0815h, and the second section followed along with an 0830h departure.
Honestly, Saturday didn’t feel much like the start of summer. It was cold and raining most of the morning. Here, the first section makes it way through the rain at Home Ranch.
Bringing up the rear is DSNG B-7, Al Harper’s private car.
Just another shot along US 550 between Home Ranch and Hermosa. Remember, trains didn’t just run in sunny, photogenic weather. However, the people on the train must have thought we were nuts to be standing in the downpour with our cameras.
Having crossed the flat stretch north of Durango, 473 starts the climb towards the High Line at Hermosa. As you can see, noticable amounts of steam are leaking from the conductor’s side cylinder.
Given the tight 15 minute headway, the second section wasn’t far behind. Power for it was K-36 482, along with three regular coaches, a regular open car, the concession car, and three premium coaches.
Here’s the second section, starting the climb at Hermosa.
Making our way up the hill after 482 passed Hermosa, we heard 473 call in and report they were slowing, on account of not being able to see through the steam leak. Sure enough, this shot at the US 550 overpass confirmed that 473 was leaking badly on the conductor’s side.
Coming into Rockwood, we thought we’d get a decent reflection shot off the pond. Unfortunately, it just showed how bad the leak had gotten. The crew had called in earlier to say they’d be putting a man on the front pilot past Tank Creek as a lookout for rocks, since the crew in the cab couldn’t reliably see through the plume.
At Rockwood, the train pauses while the crew gets out to have a look at exactly what the problem might be. 473 did the same thing on Dave Gross’s freight charter back in February, so I suspect it’s the same problem rearing its head again.
After some inspection without any real answers, 473 eases out of Rockwood, steam still coming from places it shouldn’t.
Having lost so much time, Brakeman Swift drops a fusee at the end of Rockwood to warn and delay the second section, maintaining a safe gap between them.
Not five minutes after 473’s departure, 482 comes into Rockwood
482 pulls up to the burning fusee, and while they wait on it to burn down, the crew does a quick once-over of their own train.
Just a shot of 482 with the low-hanging clouds in the background.
Normally you can’t really get this view at Rockwood (lest you get squashed…), but with the fusee burning and the conductor about five feet to my left, I figured I could safely do this. I just liked how the the flags are offset by the otherwise dreary frame.
Once the fifteen minutes provided by the fusee expired, the second section followed the first through the cut, leaving behind the accessible part of the D&S. These would be the first two regularly scheduled trains to reach Silverton, and provided some great shots, despite being a little wet and cold as a result.
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 40D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM, Sigma 18-50mm, or a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS/USM.
This work is copyright 2021 by Nathan D. Holmes, but all text and images are licensed and reusable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically you’re welcome to use any of this as long as it’s not for commercial purposes, you credit me as the source, and you share any derivative works under the same license. I’d encourage others to consider similar licenses for their works.