These folks take riding the rails more literally than most.
A group of rail motorcar owners has spent the past few days riding their cars from Silverton to Rockwood, Hermosa and into the Animas Valley on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad line.
The cars – built for workaday tasks such as checking track for obstacles or damage – are loud, dirty and slow. But for the 14 or so members of the North American Railcar Operators Association on this trip, there’s nowhere they’d rather be.
“You get to see country that other people don’t see,” said Phillip Walters of Mancos, who’s serving as trip leader for this group. “The view from the motor car is unsurpassed on the railroad.”
Rail-car fans are something of a subspecies of the broader railroad fan genus that is native to the area. As NARCOA’s website says, the rail car group is “dedicated to the preservation and safe, legal operation of railroad equipment historically used for maintenance of way.”
Members may explain the difference between narrow- and standard-gauge rail lines. They may discuss how to convert a standard-gauge rail car to narrow gauge, or a third rail gauge used in Australia. They’re nice, welcoming people.
Steve Jaroscak, 43, of Louisville, said his father, Ed, lured him into the hobby. He said he values how it has drawn them together.
“When you restore these cars side by side with your father, it’s priceless,” he said.
Richard Reiff of Pueblo recently retired from a facility that tests modern railroad equipment. He often rides the rails with his wife, Pat Duffy.
Their rail car sports a skull-and-crossbones flag, Duffy said, “to remind us we’re all here to have a good time.”
The rail-car group took a five-hour ride Tuesday from Silverton to a railroad property in the Animas Valley. They didn’t continue into Durango to avoid the numerous street crossings.
The cars are started by hand crank. They burble like an idling Harley-Davidson, and grease is everywhere. Drivers guard against the constant worry of vehicles crossing onto the tracks.
NARCOA pays a fee to ride D&SNG’s rails. They also take pains to accommodate the railroad’s schedule, as Duffy said.
“We have to get in the hole (rail siding) and let the trains come by because if you hold up the train, oh boy, you’re in big trouble,” she said.
The NARCOA meet-up coincided with True West Railfest, the railroad’s annual celebration of rail history. Kyle Danielson, a D&SNG employee, acted as pilot for the group Tuesday. He seemed to enjoy the duty.
“These guys are a bundle of joy,” he said.
Not that the NARCOA members necessarily needed a guide. After all, there are only two ways to go.
“One thing,” Reiff said, “is you’ll never get lost on the track.”