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Big progress in Silverton

By September 16, 2018Features

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

The Durango Railroad Historical Society has really been cranking out the restorations over the last few years. It moved Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge 2-8-0 #315 (Baldwin 1895) out of a Durango park and returned it to service as it appeared in 1940. Originally built as Florence & Cripple Creek #3, it went to the D&RG in 1917.

Since the restoration was completed in 2007, it has run occasionally on the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec, where it currently resides until 2022.

Although the Society is located in Durango, it now calls Silverton home for its equipment. A whole series of initiatives are under way. You can follow along on this map.

The Society has developed a close partnership with the San Juan County Historical Society, which owns the Silverton Northern engine house (at lower left on the map) to create a Railroad Historic Park in Silverton. The SN folded in 1942 but the building has survived. The two organizations are working together to restore the engine house, which will be home to #315 and the SN “Casey Jones” rail bus, owned by SJCHS.

The Casey Jones rail bus was built for the Sunnyside Mill and Mine in 1915. It has been displayed for years at the San Juan County Historical Society and will join 315 inside the rebuilt SN engine house.

On August 1 the San Juan County Historical Society received notice that it was awarded a $200,000 grant from the State Historical Fund for exterior restoration of the engine house. The total project budget is $274,862. SJCHS will bear the costs above the grant for this project, while DRHS will bear all costs for the railcars, display track and car shed and platform.

Phase I was the SN track reconstruction project during 2009–11, which including constructing about 1800 feet of track along three blocks of Cement Street with a connection to the D&S track on its Shenandoah Loop and a spur with a pair of tracks into the SN engine house. To put tracks into the engine house required renovating the engine and railcar pits, restoring the large doors, and repairing the front foundation. DRHS was awarded a grant of $179,655 from SHF for this project, which in the end cost $255,826.

Phase II was the Historic Structures Assessment of the SN Engine House during 2009–13 under a $10,000 grant from SHF to SJCHS.

Phase III is a two-year project with six tasks in its scope of work:

  Engineering design of reinforcing roof superstructure
  Restore foundation and sills
  Restore and reconstruct windows
  Restore superstructure supporting the roof
  Restore the roof, including replacing all corrugated sheet metal with new sheets
  Restore exterior walls, including repairing framing, insulating walls, and replacing bad corrugated sheet metal with salvaged roof sheets.

A future Phase IV is planned to restore the engine house interior walls, floors and substructure, ceiling, doors; add utilities; and create interpretive signs. In the meantime, SJCHS is restoring the SN oil shed and DRHS is constructing two display tracks and a car shed on a land easement from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Rolling stock
Besides infrastructure, there is considerable activity on the equipment front. DRHS purchased two gondolas from the Durango & Silverton, a stock car from Randy Babcock and other Rio Grande rolling stock from the Lindsay Ashby collection, stored at the Colorado Railroad Museum after Ashby lost the Georgetown Loop concession. All the pieces have either been restored or are in process. They are:

Drop bottom gondola #871, restored in 2012.

High side gondola 1400, restored in 2013

Single deck stock car 5627 and double deck stock car 5564, restored in 2016.

Bunk car 04432, restored in 2016

Flanger OT, restored in 2016


Refrigerator car 39, built into a farm shed, restored in 2018.

Rebuilt ice bunker inside reefer 39.

Flat car 6215, restored in 2018.

Almost finished.

Boxcar 3670, not yet restored.

The Emma Sweeny

There’s one more artifact in the collection and it requires some explanation. It’s the Emma Sweeny, a mostly-wood and fiberglass movie prop 4-6-0 that starred in the 1950 film Ticket to Tomahawk, filmed on the Silverton branch. The Emma is a replica of Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 #20 (Schenectady 1899), which was dolled up to pull the movie train. However, there are scenes where the locomotive is pulled over a trackless mountain pass by horses and that’s why the Emma was built.

Twentieth Century Fox sold the replica in 1960. Over the next two decades it passed through several private owners, ending up on display in Amador County, California in 1980. The county owned it until 2011, when the Society acquired it. The impetus was to replace #315 in the Santa Rita Park display pavilion. Accuracy was assured by the donation to the Society of Emma drawings and photos from the collection of Larry Jensen, author of the book The Movie Railroads.

The Emma Sweeny on display today.

Its restoration is approaching completion. By coincidence, so is the restoration of the real RGS #20 at the Strasburg Rail Road.

Bonus rolling stock:
In 2010 the San Juan County Historical Society acquired the body of Silverton Northern 4-wheel caboose #1005. It was built in 1880 as D&RG #17, has been restored and is displayed in town at the Mining Museum.

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