The only railroad running during the
week of our trip to Manassa was the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge
Railroad. Prior to Memorial Day, the trains from Alamosa, Durango, and Antonito,
Colorado keep an off-season schedule.
When the transcontinental rail link
was completed in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 the line bypassed Denver. The
Union Pacific chose the gentler grade to the north, through Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The following year they built a 106-mile spur south to Denver that was
completed June 24, 1870. Thereafter they aggressively developed an extensive
narrow gauge network throughout Colorado.I’d have to do a lot of hunting through John Morgan's journal to determine whether
or not he traveled the Durango to Silverton leg we took.
The narrow gauge train from Durango
to Silverton ran The High Line, and traveled half-way to Silverton and returned.
The single day adventure was great fun, the weather was beautiful, and I felt
it was an excellent example of the late 19th century Colorado trains
John Morgan rode.
The 45-mile extension of track,
originally called the Silverton Branch, was constructed by the Denver & Rio
Grande Railway in 1881-82. It followed the course of the Animas River.
Narrow gauge track in Colorado was laid at a width of 3 feet
between rails, instead of the 4 feet-8-1/2 inches of separation with standard
gauge rail. It was capable of making sharper curves, and thus more suited to
the mountainous terrain found in much of Colorado. The track weighed one half
that of standard gauge track at the time, and D&RG was able to operate
lighter, less expensive equipment on its narrow gauge lines.
An 1886 John Morgan Journal account of a similar train that was detained for days because of inclement weather and blocked railroad
tracks is posted here.