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Train must whistle while it works, any time of day

Nick Breeden, engineer with Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, shows where he pulls the rope to blow the whistle on one of the steam locomotives on Aug. 26, while waiting for passengers at the Depot to find their seats on the train. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Dear Action Line: I’ve lived in Durango city limits for 12 years. I know that recently, you addressed the courthouse clock tower chime, with some liking the hourly strike and some not so much. Along that same line is why the train blows its horn as early as 6:15 a.m. and as late as 10:15 p.m. to midnight or later. It’s not the best timing for sleep obviously! Can you explain? – Loudon Horn III

Dear Loudon: People go to bed before 10:15? That’s crazy! How do you find time to binge-watch “1923” or “Emily in Paris” or “Mare of Easttown”? So are “Mare of Easttown” and “Mayor of Kingstown” related? Do people get those shows confused?

Full disclosure: Action Line does not binge-watch anything, wouldn’t recognize Emily in either Paris or Durango – even if she was hitchhiking on Camino del Rio – but has been dragged into watching “The Crown.” Is it just Action Line, or did “The Crown” lose its glitter in season 5?

OK, where were we? Oh yeah, the train whistle thing.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad General Manager Jeff Johnson said whistles at these hours are unusual, but do occur. Let’s start by pointing out that the railroad by law must blow its whistle when it crosses streets.

Now to specifics.

The Polar Express Train Ride, which runs every year from mid-November until the end of December, is likely responsible for the late whistles in that period. (The question came to Action Line on Dec. 29.) The Polar Express runs at night, and afterward the engines and cars must be repositioned on different tracks for servicing, for example. During this repositioning, cars must be pulled around a loop and taken over College Drive and sometimes over Seventh Street. This can happen as late as 10 to 10:30 p.m.

If whistles are heard after midnight, that is “extremely rare,” Johnson said. It might mean a train has been delayed for some reason.

Whistles early in the morning are also rare, but occur now and again, he said. You might have heard one this week when a “flanger” train was sent out to clear snow along the right-of-way. Flangers have wing attachments that spread heavy snow accumulations along the shoulder of the track, and also have blades that can drop below the top of the rails, removing snow and ice that could derail a car. Flanger trains clear the way for trains to follow, which at this time of year is the Cascade Canyon winter train.

The whistle and bell on a Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad steam locomotive are seen at the Depot on Aug. 26. For better or worse, there has never been an era when Durangoans didn’t hear train whistles. And no, it is not true that Action Line has been around longer than the train. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Other off-hour train moves, also rare, might take place when there’s a special train for a private charter or a film shoot such as for a major motion picture, Johnson said. Film shooting details are generally kept proprietary under contract terms, but let’s just say you might hear an early whistle in February. No more can be said, chiefly because Action Line doesn’t know more.

Living in Durango with a tourist train does mean some hardships for the locals. Coal smoke, the whistles, having to wave and smile at the passengers and all that. On the other side of the coin, the train brings jobs as well as tourists, who spend money and help a variety of businesses. Life is never black and white. In the Four Corners, life is often brick-red, chartreuse and sometimes turquoise. And even gray. Especially early in the morning or late in the evening.

Everygreen Valley

A couple of weeks ago Action Line answered a question about County Road 206, which springs from Perins Canyon Drive north of U.S. Highway 160 west of Durango. Is the last part of the dead-end road actually private? A former resident shed some light.

“I read with interest your column about CR 206, from whence it could be said this reader sprang,” said Davitt Armstrong, now an Arizonan. “It might be noted that beyond the sign pictured, the canyon was originally subdivided – very early in the ’70s, if not before – as “Every Green Valley.” We began building our home up there in 1977, and it was by golly almost finished when I retired and we sold in 2020.”

He said the access road in Every Green Valley has always been privately maintained, as it’s considered more of a shared driveway than a road constructed to county standards.

“The sign pictured is a new addition since we moved away,” he said. “I was, however, personally responsible for the signage pictured in the photo background: ‘Speed Limit 15; Neighborhood Watch; SLOW DOWN!; Dead End; Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be eaten.’ (That last I made up. The neighbors wouldn’t go for it.)”

But he was never one of those excitable residents yelling at interlopers to get off his road, right? “Well, maybe only once or twice …”

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. “The Crown” really needs to find a way to bring back Churchill (No. 1 on a random all-time rankings list of British PMs), or at least Harold Wilson (No. 3). Or, better yet, Sir Robert Peel (No. 6), who Action Line was once led to believe was a third-great grandfather but, alas, isn’t.