Durango Train Museum

By Eilene Lyon

While train history is a big part of this museum’s raison d’etre, the exhibits range far and wide. Nine years after the original roundhouse (where the steam locomotives idle at night) burned down in 1989, a portion of the replacement structure was set aside to house the museum. At least two locomotives are on display at any given time. You can also check out a unique narrow-gauge sleeper car and a caboose.

The engineer’s view of the locomotive boiler. The engines on display are not relics, but fully functional and currently not in service.
Interior of the caboose. It has bunks, observation platforms, and a stove/kitchen. It was built in 1886 and is 17 feet long. A sign indicates a couple slang terms are “bobber” and “crummy.” The railroad has two working cabooses that are 30 feet long.
There is also an extensive model train display, though it wasn’t running. The caboose is visible in the background.
Another large exhibit, somewhat surprising, surrounds the model train and caboose area. “Toy” soldiers from conflicts around the world and all branches of service.

I was surprised at the extensive collection of taxidermied native Colorado wildlife on display. (If that’s your thing, be sure to also visit the Wildlife Museum at the Durango Fish Hatchery). But even more astonished at the enormous aquarium filled with live cutthroat trout. Native trout have suffered for habitat loss and competition with introduced species preferred by anglers. Colorado Parks and Wildlife have been working at restoring these fish wherever practicable.

When you first enter the roundhouse museum, the view appears at first cluttered, but it is easy to navigate through all the exhibits. Here you can see a portion of the stuffed animals on display, including tom turkey, elk, moose, and black bear.
Native Colorado cutthroat trout in a live aquarium. A stuffed cinnamon-colored black bear visible in the background.
The Southern Rockies region is pocked with mines, and ore was a principal cargo for the train. There are several mineral displays. I loved this malachite specimen!

There are other forms of transportation on display besides trains. They include automobiles, boats, and even a reproduction of the first airplane to land in Durango.

This automobile from 1900 is also powered by steam, like the locomotives.
A beautiful 1923 Buick Roadmaster.
A 1919 Hupmobile.
The Mary Jane, a 1939 Century Sea Maid runabout built of Philippine mahogany, plied the waters of Electra Lake.
The Curtiss Model D, aka Curtiss Pusher, was the first plane to land in Durango, at the county fairgrounds. It was a challenge due to high elevation (6512 ft; 1985 m). This plane is a reproduction.

Curator Jeff Ellingson is a Durango native, long-time railroad employee, and accomplished watercolor artist (you can find his paintings in the museum and the depot). If you have any questions about the train, the exhibits, or Durango history, be sure to spend some time chatting with this walking encyclopedia! If that isn’t enough, the museum has an extensive library of books to consult.

There’s bound to be a display here to interest just about anyone. And admission is free!

Feature image: Locomotive and sleeper car in the D&SNGRR roundhouse museum.

39 thoughts on “Durango Train Museum

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  1. I enjoyed seeing these photos Eileen and you said you would be doing a follow-up to the original blog post which I also found interesting and passed it along to a train buff and I’ll pass along this post as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s an actual railroad engine! Oh man, that thing looks mean. I didn’t know that there were automobiles powered by steam. I would look so good driving that Buick Roadmaster, l just know it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds incredible. I love a museum that is able and willing to stretch beyond the boundaries of their topic to bring in more knowledge. This especially makes sense to me given that rail construction was bound to impact wildlife and that cars/planes contributed to the demise of passenger rail travel. How fun and interesting!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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