Durango Jim's Blog

A double-ender diesel switcher engine moves spare passenger cars on the Durango & Silverton right-of-way

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Durango, Colorado
 
Inside the lobby of the historic Strater Hotel, Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Since its establishment in the 1880s, Durango, Colorado has nestled itself into the narrows of the Upper Animas River Valley.  On our 1965 visit, the town had not yet expanded beyond its original borders.  Today, a regional shopping center featuring Wal-Mart and Home Depot greets travelers arriving from Aztec, New Mexico in the south. 
 
Durango is a year-round tourist destination.  To the chagrin of prospective homeowners, cash-buyers swooped in during the early 2000s.  Durango’s high prices now send the budget-minded to nearby Bayfield or Mancos.  During a recent visit to Canyon De Chelly, Arizona, we spoke with a Native American artist, selling his works there.  Each week, he commuted two hundred and forty miles, to work on construction jobs in Durango. 
 
Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy at "The Office" bar inside the historic Strater Hotel, Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)During the 1960s, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was in transition.  Construction gangs upgraded the gravel roadbed and then laid heavier rails.  Those improvements support the larger, more powerful locomotives seen on the rail line today.  As old as they appear, the current engines represent relatively modern designs, when compared to the originals.  The upgraded railroad helped carry the cities of Durango and Silverton through their transition from a mining, farming and ranching economy into today’s recreation and tourist-based economy.
 
With Durango’s gentrification came new residents who did not appreciate steam locomotives in nearby barns, puffing coal smoke into the night air.  A recent Durango Herald letter to the editor asked that the locomotivesThe color of coal smoke - Narrow Gauge Durango & Silverton Railroad Locomotive No. 481. The steam engine is "pulling the grade" over hand-laid tracks in the Upper Animas Valley, near Durango, Colorado - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) extinguish their fireboxes each night, so that nearby residents could sleep in peace and clean air.  Old wags pointed out that one could not restart a locomotive each day as if it were a diesel engine.  The general sentiment in the community was, “if you do not like coal smoke, move elsewhere”.
 
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Email James McGillis