Can you smell the smoke and cinder,
Feel the squeal of the engine’s brake,
Hear the music of the whistle
That a steam locomotive makes
Some say they’ll never miss her
Funnel sparking rolling up the grade
A time that’s lost forever
But for some lives on today.
The Basque word “urango” means, “water town”. We know it as Durango Colorado. The water is the Animas River (river of souls). It originates somewhere north of Purgatory, no lie, flowing southeast of Silverton through the Animas Canyon past Durango then on to the San Juan River near Farmington New Mexico a 126 mile journey.
Durango owes its’ existence to the D&RG, Durango and Rio Grande Railroad, which organized the town in 1881. The railroad, set on a narrow gauge track, served the San Juan mining district. The depot, a roundhouse, maintenance shop and yard were located in Durango.
Today Old Town Durango is “old town” fashionable, trendy and tourist orientated but still hanging on to a late 1800’s charm and façade. There’s boutiques galore, nice places to eat, shop, take the kids or if you’re an oldster like me people watch while sipping on a 100 octane cup of Starbucks. Hippychick’s coffee as a friend of mine likes to call it. Grandma’s buying a railroad cap and whistle for the grandson. There’s a late 20’s early 30’s couple with two kids taking pictures of the cherubs on top a bronze horse.
Coming out of the ice cream shop is an old time, whip thin, geezer cowboy with a denim shirt, faded Levi’s and worn chafed boots. On this head is a battered straw Stetson Plainsmen with a Carlsbad crease, a Gus hat. He walks slowly under the overhang his toes pointed inwards from hanging on a horse and flops himself down on a bench slowly pulling the spoon from the ice cream cup. He’s doing what I’m doing, people watching.
From the doorway of a shop a few doors up comes this twenty something dark eyed beauty, cowgirl for the day, with a devil may care attitude strutting her stuff in an undersized halter top, skin tight Levi’s and high boots over the top of the jeans. She could be any cowboys dream here on the Durango street or Wall Street for that matter.
As she walks by he lifts his head shyly and smiles. She tilts her head back and walks by pretending not to see him. His smile slowly fades as he lowers his head and stirs the melting ice cream with his spoon. I’m thinking, what would it have hurt that pretty young thing to give that old boy a little smile or even a wink…probably would have made his day. She goes down to the next shop and turns to enter but not before checking out that ol’boy. My-oh-my regardless of age the world just doesn’t change. “The boys watch the girls while the girls watch the boys who watch the girls go by”.
Unconsciously I’ve consumed the cup of Hippychick’s coffee while watching the endless parade go by. It’s time to move on.
The depots just down the street. It’s the heart of the town; D&RG’s the economic steam of Durango the tourists the coal that stokes the boiler and keeps the big wheels turning. For a place with such a vaulted position in town the depot is a conspicuously unpretentious place, almost nondescript. Just a turn of the century rail station serving the traveling needs of the general public…could be in anywhere America with the Stars and Strips flying outside. Except this isn’t just any old station with any old train and rolling stock in anywhere U.S.A.
C.W. McCall defined it best:
She was born one morning on a San Juan summer back in 18-an’-80-1
She was the beautiful daughter of the D&RG and she weighed about a thousand ton
Well it’s a 45 miles thru the Animas Canyon so they set her on a narrow gauge
She drunk a whole lotta water and she ate allota coal and they call her the
Silverton (Silverton train)
The inside of the station is much like the outside, turn of the century. In the center is the ticket booth with a steel bar upper cage to keep the robbers out. To the left are the general offices and a coffee shop. To the right’s a manager’s office and a gift shop. Behind the cage are the bathrooms. Passenger seating is along the well-worn wooden benches with an up right backrest. Nothing fancy, just 1800’s small town railroad utilitarian.
Next to the manager’s office is a sign, Group Excursions, that’s for me. Standing on the threshold I peek inside. There’s two gals having a conversation. The one setting at the desk I assume is the manager the other a customer. They both turn and look at me. “I’m next, just need a little information” looking at both of them. The younger one standing turns out to be the manger. I hand her an old COG business card. I had’t bothered to up date it by crossing out the part that says “Southwest Assistant Regional Area Director” hoping that it would add gravitas as I look like a pot bellied old greezer wearing somebodies else’s oversized pants, riding overpants. She smiles and looks at the card. Good, I’m thinking, at least she hasn’t shown me the door yet.
I tell her who we are, what we are, where we’ll be staying and approximately how many may come to the rally and that the Silverton Train ride may be of interest to some in the group. If not a group then Reta and I would most certainly be coming up. She gives me the particulars and asks, “will you be riding up?”. Most certainly, I answer. She indicates that parking is at a premium and can be expensive, however since we’re on bikes they may be able to provide cordoned off parking for our use. Wonderful! She hands me her business card.
Jamie’s a nice personable gal well suited for her position. Great soft skills, forward thinking, definitely a business person with a touch of the small town persona. It all works well. We talk she gives me an overview of the operation and tells me about the museum. I’m off to shoot photos and check out the museum on the other side of the tracks.
The place is much larger than it looks peering in through the front door. It’s a train museum with an eclectic personality. Almost immediately I’m in love again, the new love of my life again, Reta’s going to hate me again, if only I could bring her home. No, no, that would make four loves of my life under one roof. I can hear it now, “find a good lawyer!” I can hear Ray Charles crooning in the back of my mind, “it’s cheaper to keep her” that being the first love of my life. The ’41 Indian Scout in full military regalia will just have to stay here. But ain’t she beautiful!
Walking thru the museum I see an interesting sign so I ask the guy sitting at an old oak desk about it. We talk and somehow I end up showing him photos of risqué fuselage art off some old B-17s, Betty Boop, Ms. Carry, and Cash & Carrie. Photos I’d recently taken at the Pima Air Museum. He asks me if I’d like to see some locomotive cab art. Sure, you bet. “Follow me, watch your head” and we’re off to the rear track yard. As we’re walking he tells me the story. Seems, somehow, the D&RG had acquired three switching yard locomotives all non-operable. Over a span of two years they were able to hobble together a working yard locomotive. Since it was made of different makes, models and years of salvaged parts and was designated as Engine number nine, it became know as Franken-nine hence the cab art work. “Life’s like a box of chocolates”.
It’s late afternoon time to head back to Cortez. Call me anything, but don’t call me late for dinner.
There’s more to Water Town than meets the eye.
When the train pulled into the station
He rolled up his sleeves, rosined up his bow
He fiddle upside down, Orange Blossom Special
If you want to make a living you’ve got to put on a good show
He was always there, playing for the miners
Devil’s Dream was a tune they all understood
Then he’d go back to Oklahoma
Wait till the trains was a runnin’ and the weather was good
Now the Indians, all dress like cowboys
All the cowboys are puttin’ leather and turquoise on
And all the music is sold by lawyers
And the fools who fiddle in the middle of the stations are gone
When you smell the smoke and the cinder
Slick you hair back, open up your case
Play a little Cherokee Fiddle, just play for the whiskey, boys
Good whiskey never lets you lose your place
Jack Daniels, never lets you lose your place
“Cherokee Fiddle” a song make famous by Johnny Lee, written by Michael Martin Murphy is based on a true story about a Cherokee/Choctaw busker from Oklahoma known as Scooter, 1919 – 1997. Scooter busked at both the Durango and Silverton Depots of the D&RG Line…Some folks say they’ll never miss (him)
Fiddle screeched like the engine breaks
Cherokee Fiddle, gone forever
Like the music that the whistle on an old locomotive makes
“So when you smell the smoke and cinder slick back your hair and open up your case”
It’s been a great ride just wish I’d had more time. Up the road is the Million Dollar Highway running through the town of Ouray in a nestled valley. The surrounding mountain peaks are up in nosebleed country 10,798 and 12,103 feet in elevation. It conjures up places like the Dolomite Mountain Range in the Italian Alps or the never ending, switchback, hairpins of the infamous Stelvio Pass. For most of us it’s just a pipe dream unless you pull a rabbit out of your hat like Darrell Anderson and Brain Snowberg did in 2012 and went “Over the Pond”…but then again, who knows.
Over the Pond, OtP, is now an official COG event sending two riders on, “their ride of a lifetime”. The brew misters and keepers of “the pint” are Ted Adcock, OtP-USA and Hans-ove Grotz of Sweden, OtP EU. This year you’ll ride the passes and mountains of Southern Colorado, but next year maybe you’ll spend sometime measuring the distances in kilometers and the mountain and pass elevations in meters. It came true for Darrell and Brain, so why not you?
Slide show: http://s1326.photobucket.com/user/propertyalchemist/slideshow/Water%20Town?sort=6