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Engine gets a face-lift

Famed model steam locomotive powered by local Scout troop

Eagle Scout candidate Jonathan Smith loves trains. They are his passion. He’s grown up around the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and today he even works for it.

Now, working for his achievement of Eagle Scout in Durango Troop 507, he gets to do something with his passion, and he learns about values along the way.

It just so happened that the set model Emma Sweeny – a famed locomotive that starred in the 1950 western classic “A Ticket to Tomahawk” and later in the TV series “Petticoat Junction” – rolled back into Durango a few years ago and needed someone just like Jonathan and his fellow Scouts to bring it back to life.

Both the actual steam engine and the model were filmed in the Durango vicinity in shots near Reservoir Hill, Molas Pass and Silverton.

“We’re always wanting to get young people involved,” said George Niederauer, president of the Durango Historical Railroad Society. “Most the time, it’s a group of us retired guys working on these locomotives.”

Ten Boy Scouts joined seven historical society members in Santa Rita Park, where the full-scale model locomotive sits under a pavilion. Together, they are replacing, restoring and painting parts, bringing the Emma Sweeny back to its original appearance, based on plans acquired from Twentieth Century Fox and a 16 mm copy of the film from Tom Artzberger of Pagosa Springs, according to the historical society.

Weylin Ryan soon will be taking over as scoutmaster, and he said a project like this does far more than just restore a piece of local history.

“They get practical hands-on experience,” Ryan said. “The experience of caring about something bigger than themselves. It’s a community service.”

If Jonathan earns his Eagle Scout rank, at 15 he’ll be the youngest Eagle Scout in the troop. Most Eagle Scouts are 18.

“He’s one of the youngest Eagle scouts we’ve had,” Scoutmaster Terry Stout said. “He’s well ahead of the game.”

Niederauer said he’s hoped for years to have this opportunity.

“To get a group of kids involved,” he said, “I’ve been trying for years to get something like this done. So we’re very happy.”


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