DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
Except for a few customers and a ragtime pianist, Grumpy’s Saloon & Restaurant was quiet Saturday.
At 11:30 a.m., the bartender announced that the train was running an hour late.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad began service to Silverton on Saturday, with the train leaving Durango at 8:30 a.m., and news that the train wouldn’t be arriving at noon as planned traveled through town in minutes, as business owners and employees waited anxiously for the first customers of the summer season to flood in.
“Usually, the Visitors Center gets the call and calls the restaurants,” said Route 550 Gifts owner Gina Maria Rosato as she finished some last-minute preparations in her store. “The Pickle Barrel called me, and I called Outdoor World.”
Rosato keeps her gift shop open year-round, but runs a graphic design business on the side to get through the winter. As a local, she enjoys the energy and business that the trains bring to town during the summer.
“Not having mining anymore in Silverton, that’s our industry – tourism – so I welcome it,” she said.
Local restaurants not only welcome the train-driven tourism, they depend on it, said Grumpy’s Saloon & Restaurant owner George Foster.
“The restaurants are depending on the train,” Foster said. “If they say they’re not, they’re lying.”
Even when the train runs late or is unable to make the trip for some reason, people still plan vacations to Silverton and Durango based on the railroad and visit the towns, bringing much-needed business, Foster said.
“Everybody you ask is either coming from the train, has been on the train or is going to the train,” he said.
Foster’s business is so dependent on train riders’ tourist dollars that they keep a scanner in the back room to find out if the railroad is running on schedule, he said.
“If it’s your lifeblood, then you’re going to know what’s goin’ on with it,” Foster said.
Next door at Mobius Cafe, employee Julie Vann offered a refill to her only customer. Mobius stays busy during the winter and summer seasons, closing for a short break in between, Vann said, but the summer season is different because of the trains.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere,” she said. “You get a rush all at once.”
The rush was delayed Saturday because of some technical difficulties with an engine that wasn’t steaming well, said George Swift, an engineer on the helper engine. The D&SNGR sent a double-header to Silverton on Saturday, meaning two engines pulling one train.
Swift stood in a cloud of steam and dust as tourists poured from the train cars.
Passengers Barry and Debbie Row came from Denver to ride the train, have lunch and do some shopping in Silverton, they said.
Another passenger, Cheryl Cunningham, was in town all the way from England to ride the train with her husband and daughter. The Cunninghams, who hoped to enjoy lunch and a stroll through town before later heading to Mesa Verde, heard about the D&SNGR through work friends and a series of videos of the train posted on YouTube, they said.
With plenty to look at, the 3˝-hour ride passed quickly, they said.
Several passengers, including the Cunninghams, said they spotted a moose in Elk Park.
As for the terrain, there wasn’t much snowpack, and the river did not appear to be flooding, Swift said.
“There was absolutely no snow,” he said.
The D&SNGR held Narrow Gauge Days over the weekend, with country singer/songwriter and former mayor of Ouray William Dale Fries Jr. – better known by his stage name, “C.W. McCall” – performing Friday at the Durango train depot with the Bar D Wranglers.
The festive atmosphere continued Saturday as Silverton locals lined the streets to greet the train and welcome a new season of tourists.
When the train is late, sometimes that’s even better because “they come in so hungry!” said Barbara Cummings, who has spent 40 summers as an owner of the Shady Lady Restaurant. Wearing a Victorian-style green velvet dress and a large brimmed hat, Cummings greeted customers Saturday, promising them a hot sandwich or homemade mashed potatoes at the last brothel to operate in Silverton.
For Cummings, who loves spending summers in Silverton but moves away during the winter, her shop opened Saturday with the first train of the season and will close when the last train of the season leaves.
“The trains are what we survive on,” Foster said.