RIDGWAY – Rail fans and history buffs will have plenty of opportunity to explore the railroad heritage of the San Juan Mountains with the upcoming Seventh Annual Ouray County Railroad Days and Narrow Gauge Symposium, presented by the Ridgway Railroad Museum on Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 11-14.
This educational event celebrates Ouray County’s world famous railroad history with a variety of events for everyone from the serious rail buff to new residents with an interest in the unique history of the area.
“Model railroading is still the number one hobby in the U.S., and one of the most commonly modeled and studied railroads is the Rio Grande Southern,” said Karl Schaeffer, president of the Ridgway Railroad Museum. Schaffer said that the world-famous RGS ran the 172 miles between Ridgway and Durango via Telluride, and that it was famous because of its unique innovations, such as the Galloping Goose engines, which were built in Ridgway. “The stack of books written about that railroad is over six feet tall,” he said.
The weekend kicks off on Thursday and Friday with guided hikes along the route of the Silverton Railroad, famous for the unusual engineering solutions, such as the Corkscrew Gulch turntable, that were employed to move trains through the severe terrain from Silverton to the railroad’s terminus near Ironton. Even though the Silverton Railroad was abandoned in 1922, there is still a lot to see, including the Corkscrew turntable and all the sidings and wyes. Thursday’s hike will explore the train’s route from the top of Red Mountain Pass to the Guston town site, and Friday’s hike will continue from Guston to the Albany town site below Ironton.
According to trip leader Don Paulson, these downhill hikes require some bushwhacking, so participants should wear long pants, bring lunch and weather gear and be in good shape. Meet at the Corkscrew Gulch four-wheel-drive trailhead, 7.8 miles south of Ouray on US Highway 550 by 10 a.m. Call Paulson at 970/325-0931 for information.
On Saturday, the Ridgway Railroad Museum (located at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 550 and Colo. Hwy. 62) hosts an open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will offer free rides on Rio Grande Southern Motor No. 1 in the morning on the half hour. Saturday will feature the Narrow Gauge Symposium at Ridgway Town Hall from 12:30-4 p.m. This interesting series of talks will include the move and restoration of Galloping Goose #4, rails through the Black Canyon, and the restoration of Denver & Rio Grande #315. At 7 p.m. there will be an Evening of History talk titled “The RGS and its Employees,” also at Ridgway Town Hall.
The weekend’s events will conclude on Sunday with guided tours of the routes of the Ouray branch of the Denver & Rio Grande and Rio Grande Southern railroads. These will be car caravans with short talks by museum staff at selected viewpoints. The RGS trip will leave the museum at 9:30 a.m. and return by 4 p.m., and the D&RG trip will leave at 10 a.m. Trips are limited to a maximum of eight cars, so pre-registration is encouraged, and participants will carpool.
Schaffer said that if past history holds true, people will come from all over the world – Australia, Germany, England, and other locales – for the Ridgway Railroad Days. “It’s remarkable the number of people who make vacations across the pond to come and do this,” Schaeffer said.
For more information about Ouray County Railroad Days, call 970/626-4239 or 970/626-4373.