Erik Nelsen Jr., left, drives a spike as Michael Real holds the tie
in place and Josh Bensik stands by Monday as track is laid to
connect the Silverton Northern engine house to the Durango &
Silverton Narrow Gauge tracks.
By Mark Esper
Jerry Hoffer was back at the old Silverton Northern Railroad engine house Monday, amazed at how much progress was being made by a crew laying track.
“These guys know what they’re doing,” Hoffer said.
Some 1,700 feet of track is being placed along the east side of Cement Street to connect the old engine house to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge tracks.
It’s part of a $240,000 project involving the San Juan County Historical Society, which owns the engine house, the Durango Railroad Historical Society, and other groups and railfans.
Work has been going on through much of the summer and fall to restore the engine house, prepare the new railroad grade and build a new shed to house old mining equipment stored at the engine house site.
The engine house will eventually house the restored Engine #315, which is now wintering in Chama, N.M., the Casey Jones railbus and other rail stock.
Hoffer was badly injured on the project earlier this fall, when he fell from an old box car.
Durango Railroad Historical Society President George Neiderauer said the new stretch of track being placed down Cement Street won’t result in any significant increase in rail traffic.
“The main purpose is historical preservation and display, but at the same time to create a living museum, where we can pull equipment out,” Neiderauer said. He said Engine #315, which is actually owned by the City of Durango, will probably be operated only a few days a year, around Railfest and other special events.
“It will be very limited that we run that engine,” Neiderauer said. “We want to preserve it and get as long a life as we can out of it.”
Neiderauer noted that the Durango Railroad Historical Society originally agreed to restore the #315 and have it stored in a park in Durango, as it had been for years.
“But we found that just a roof won’t be enough to protect it,” Neiderauer said. “It needs to be inside. The San Juan County Historical Society offered us space” in the Silverton Northern Engine House built in 1912.
“We looked for years and could never find a place to put it (in Durango),” Neiderauer said. “This started off basically as an idea to store it for the winter, then put it on display, but we don’t know where that place is going to be.
“It developed into a long-range idea of turning this into a railroad historical park up here,” Neiderauer.
Eventually, interpretive signs, more displays and other features will make the engine house area “a great educational place,” he said.
“We appreciate having a place. We were looking at big bucks to find a place in Durango,” Neiderauer said. “Now we have it in an historical building. It’s a win-win.”
Maisel Construction has hired a crew from the D&SNGRR to lay the track.
“It will get ballasted in the spring,” Hoffer said. He also noted some minor changes to the original plan. The track now lays to the east of Cement Street, with a shallow ditch separating it from the street.
The new railroad grade is also wide enough to accommodate a walking path along side it. Hoffer noted long-term plans to develop the site as a railroading museum.
“Between the town, the railroad and the historical society, we need to come up with a master plan,” Hoffer said. “It has the potential to be a really big draw for people.”
In the meantime, Hoffer can only be very pleased at the first significant railroad construction project in town in some years.
“We’re going as far as we can before the weather gets bad on us,” Hoffer said. “That’s likely to be any day now.”