May 22, 2021 – 1st Train to Silverton
& Start of the tourist season
[Silverton, Colo.| May 2021 | By Kathryn R. Burke] The first train to Silverton arrived on time, which was a blessing— more about that in a minute.
Instead of chugging, huffing, puffing, and steaming into town, she slid rather quietly—she’s a diesel. (Are diesel’s a she? Steam locomotives are… not sure; can somebody help me out here?)
An hour or two behind her came the real train. A giant locomotive (the 493 and the biggest in the D&SNG fleet) sounded her melodic whistle as she rounded the canyon curves and crossed the tracks into town, blowing off some steam and smoke to announce her arrival. Leading the way was her cute little helper engine, the 18. Both locomotives have been converted to an oil-burner. Which is laudable, of course. No more hot coals dropping onto the tracks. Mitigate the fire danger.
But, still…these iron horses just aren’t the same. They don’t sound or smell right, somehow. Coal-fired, steam-engines are downright sexy, a romantic fallback to simpler times when trainmen got their orders on ‘flimsies’ (tissue-thin and hand-written), conductors swung big red lanterns to check the track, and too-hatted gentlemen assisted their hoop-skirted ladies up into the parlor car.
Today, it’s jeans and ball caps. (Better to climb up into the train, I guess.) Now, tracks are checked and needed repairs reported with digital devices. Which is a good thing, since the night before the first train made her Silverton passage, heavy rains (and some snow) had caused two rockslides—which took until well after midnight to clear. And, the not-so-sexy 7900 broke down, needing speedy repairs so she could keep her date with Silverton.
When the trains arrived, it was raining, then snowing–pretty common for First Train to Silverton. Undaunted, Miss Kitty made her annual greeting, fully costumed, and waving her parasol as the train chugged into town.
The rest of the town turned out too. This is a big day! Restaurants, which are closed all winter, open for the season to serve lunch to hungry travelers. Well… they usually do. This year, the town was without power for 8-10 hours, making cold coffee and candy bars the lunch of choice. (There was no choice.)
Shops open their doors to display summer season merchandise, although this year, they were using battery power, rather than electric power, to wait on customers and hand-write sales. “It’s not a big deal,” said one shop owner having just returned from the hardware store armed with flashlights. “This is Silverton, we’re tough!”
So, all-in-all, everything turned out fine. The tracks got repaired. The trains were (mostly) on time and did not spurt hot coals or start fires. We all got a little rain-wet, but nothing like some of the May blizzards they often strike on that auspicious day. The whistle still sounded, the band played, and people donned their costumes and posed with the train.The candy stores did a big business. The restauranters were philosophic. Power would be restored, Ovens would be lit. And another train would come the next day.
It was a good day