"Here comes The Silverton up from Durango"
Durango Travel Blog› entry 5 of 10 › view all entries
Friday, July 19, 1996
Today, only our second of four days was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. And, it was. We would be taking the famous (at least here in
Gold was discovered in the Silverton area in 1860.
Finding gold and silver ore is one thing. Getting it out of the ground, turning it into useable metal, and getting it to market is another. A train is far and away the best way to move heavy equipment, supplies, and ore from one point to another. With the promise of gold and silver in the San Juans plans were made to build a route from
It was decided to build this mountainous spur as a narrow gauge. “Gauge” refers to the width between the track rails. Standard Gauge is 56 1/2". Narrow gauge is anything less than that. The advantage to a narrow gauge is that it can make sharper turns. That means less track and less expensive digging and blasting in the mountain to make a flat place to lay the track.
Our train was to depart at 8:30 AM.
We boarded and got our seats. When we bought our seats I had the option of getting a seat in an enclosed car or one that was covered but with open sides. I had sent away for a brochure and it warned and reminded that The Silverton is genuine honest to goodness coal fired stream powered train. That means that there will be smoke and ciders to get in your eyes.
At 8:30, two long whistles, just like the book said, signaled our departure. Very quickly I heard two long whistles, a short one, and then another long. The book said that meant we were approaching a road. And sure enough in a few moments our car passed through an intersection. The orderly part of my brain was very pleased.
We settled in and began to take in the sights as they passed. The first was the
We were fully enveloped by the San Juans by now, and everywhere we looked we saw something to grab our attention. There might be an occasional small animal or bird, a particularly gripping view, or even a deer. Our conductor mentioned that bear and mountain lion sightings are not uncommon. He also said that Grizzly Bear were believed to be extinct in
I had been diligent in following our trip with my book, keeping track of where we were at, so I could provide info to Margo, my folks, and the girls. I was really looking forward to a place called the High Line cut. A cut is the result of the all that expensive blasting and digging I mentioned earlier. They “cut” into the side of the mountain to create a place for the tracks to be laid. The High Line cut was the most difficult and expensive of the whole route. It was said to cost $100,000 per mile, in 1882 dollars to make. But, even more important to us riders the views of the canyon and train were spectacular. CW McCall’s song spoke of
“And you’re gonna get a shiver when you check out the river which is 400 feet straight down”
This was the part of the route he was talking about.
We made a couple of stops to take on water on the way up to Silverton. To make the steam that powers our train you need water and coal to make that water boil. We are traveling on 2.5% grade, which means that we gain for every 100 feet we travel forward; we have gained 2.5 feet in elevation. That does seem like much, but for anyone who has ever ridden a bike you know how much effort it takes to climb this. The last of these stops was at Needleton. This stop was strategically placed because just three miles up the steepest part of the climb happens. The grade increases to 3% and even to 4% for a stretch. The fireman, the guy who has to shovel coal into the firebox, hates this stretch.
Our trip was three quarters over at this point. The remainder of the trip was as before. Each bend had something new to show us. We crossed the