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Train Museum – A diverse Treasure Trove

 

Winter/Spring 20-21

By John Peel

A 1913 Curtiss airplane. Maps, an intricate model railroad. A 1919 Hupmobile. Tools, minerals, military uniforms and toy soldiers. A baggage car used in filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Even mounted animals, real fish, a boat and a dollhouse.

If you can’t find something up your alley at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, you’re not looking very hard.

railroad musem car

The 23-year-old museum has something for everyone—from train buffs and historians to tourists passing through and longtime locals who’ve somehow missed it.

“Our mission,” explains museum curator Jeff Ellingson, “is to tell the story of the interaction between the railroad and the town of Durango. You can’t talk about one without talking about the other.”

There’s a story behind every artifact. Many items include signage with condensed histories, but the best way to learn is to take a tour from the knowledgeable staff. There are several yard/museum tours per day during the summer, and large groups (schools, for instance) can arrange for a tour of just the museum.

Big-idea man Allen Harper was just taking over as owner of the train when he envisioned the museum. The plan formulated in January 1998, and Ellingson, already a 14-year train employee, volunteered to put the museum pieces together. They cleared out space in the new roundhouse, which was built in 1989 after a devastating fire left the 1881 roundhouse in cinders. The museum officially opened on Mother’s Day 1998.

For several years the museum shared the roundhouse with the railroad’s events staff, which hosted Christmas parties and other gatherings. Ellingson would have to push museum artifacts to the side to make room for events. But the man had a plan.

museum curator

“Secretly I started scheming,” he says. “If I collected enough stuff it would be impossible to move it.”

Now, the 12,000-square-foot roundhouse is all museum. The high ceiling makes it possible to hang the Curtiss, meticulously constructed for the museum by local artist Dave Claussen in 2013. It’s a virtual lookalike (strap on an engine and it’ll fly, Ellingson says) of the Curtiss brought by the railroad in a crate to the Colorado-New Mexico state fair in September 1913. The plane was assembled, then flown from the fairgrounds despite wet and muddy conditions. It was the first-ever Durango-based flight.

The 100-yard walk from the depot to the museum is more than worth the effort, and an average 70,000 visitors make that stroll each year.

Admission is free.

durango/silverton railroad museum

More information:

For more on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum, visit durangotrain.com

Yard tours: A one-hour yard and roundhouse tour, which includes a guided look at the museum, machine and car shops, and more, is $12 ($6 if you have a train ticket).

 

 

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