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Railfest revives Old West spirit

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Locomotive No. 315 is one of several antique narrow-gauge engines that departed from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum on Saturday morning as throngs of train enthusiasts watched. The event, dubbed the Parade of Trains, is part of the 2013 True West Railfest, which continues through Monday.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The Durango Farmers Market was a bustling scene Saturday morning with a cooking competition and in-season Hatch chiles, but train whistles and cowboys and dance hall girls in period costumes were a not-so-subtle reminder that Silverton once was the bigger destination for locally grown meat and veggies.

As part of True West Railfest, three vintage trains made brief stops at the Farmers Market to pay tribute to the “good ol’ days” of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Durango sent so much food by rail to the thriving mining town of Silverton, said David Schranck, vice president and general manager of Rail Events Inc.

Vendors at the Durango Farmers Market also were given passes to ride the trains after the market ended, Schranck said. The trains went outside town to a park in north Animas Valley before returning to Durango.

Departing after the regular morning trains to Silverton, the three vintage trains were a spectacle of Gilded Age luxury, such as the Presidential Special, as well as scruffy ingenuity born of economic necessity.

Looking like a short school bus pulling a single rail car, the Galloping Goose was built from a limousine body and gear as part of a downsized rail system to run mail and passengers to Rocky Mountain towns where there might not have been sufficient passengers and cargo to justify full train service.

The Galloping Goose on display Saturday originally went into service in 1893 but now belongs to the Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores.

The Denver Rio Grande Western 315, originally built in 1895 and a prop in many movies, also made a return appearance to Durango from its current home in Silverton.

After weathering the elements in a park near Durango High School for 40 years, the Durango Historical Society restored the train in 2007 – “totally resurrected from a rust pot,” said Melvyn Matis, a local train enthusiast whose brother Lewis Matis was a conductor on the Galloping Goose.

R.W. Boyle, a historical re-enactor from New Castle who came as the infamous gunslinger, gambler and dentist John Henry “Doc” Holliday of the Old West, was impressed by the quality of preservation.

“If you look up and down this track, what you will see is wonder,” Boyle said. “You will see it in the children, and you will see it in the adults.”

His character, Doc Holliday, was more of a stagecoach and train traveler than a horseback rider.

“If I am on the horse, I went down to the livery stable,” Boyle said in character. “I never owned critters.”

Boyle described Holliday as a Southern gentleman whose penchant was more for gambling than senseless fighting. Holliday did go to Las Vegas, but it was the city in New Mexico and not the better-known one in Nevada. He never made it that far west, Boyle said.

To Holliday, this part of the country was the West.

Scott Perez, executive director of the La Plata Open Space Conservancy, came dressed as U.S. Marshal Braxton Drummond, also from the 1880s. His character was a fictional composite of many different U.S. Marshals because none of them stayed in the area for very long, Perez said.

Perez and Boyle were taking the Presidential train to a farm-to-table lunch at Cascade Canyon. They were happy to see so many people wearing the period costumes of dance-hall girls and cowboys, so much so that it was difficult to distinguish the entertainers from the paying customers.

“We hear all the time that Durango is no longer a Western town. I disagree,” Perez said. “I like to raft and bike, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up our culture.”


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