Long-read: The Golden Goose Syndrome and the Train

What we can learn from the Silverton depot bombing mystery

It was one of those late-summer days in the San Juan Mountains when the sky is so blue it almost hurts, when the iridescent leaves of the aspen are just taking on a tinge of yellow, when each morning dawns with a crisp hint of fall and a thin veneer of frost. San Juan County Sheriff Virgil Mason and local business owner Otto Smith sat at one of the outside tables at the Benson Hotel in Silverton late that morning, soaking up the sun’s warmth and enjoying the quiet. Mason wore his trademark aviator glasses and short-brimmed, felt hat to fend off the harsh September sun. Smith, under his head of thick, black hair, took long draws off a cigarette between sips of coffee. 

The year was 1975, a tumultuous time for the state, the community, and the nation. Perhaps Virgil and Otto chatted about how tourist numbers were up that summer by quite a bit, or about the fight to remove the billboards blocking the view on the highway south of town—someone had even burned one a few years earlier—or Leighton Roberts’ bid to build condominiums in the Jarvis Meadows on the extreme south end of the county, a development that would come to be known as Cascade Village.

Maybe Smith mentioned the recent layoffs at the Idarado mine or the closure of another big mine in Rico. And perhaps Mason threw in a comment about the breaching of the Sunnyside tailings pond earlier in the summer that sent grey sludge coursing through the entire length of the Animas River, turning it opaque grey for several days, smothering countless trout, and inciting outrage among the downstreamers. 

“Time for me to get to work,” said Smith, looking down-canyon toward the tracks on which the locomotive soon would pull the the tourist-laden orange cars into town and dump them off in front of his restaurant, High Noon. “Only a few more days to make hay.”

Mason reflexively turned to look southward as well, even though any view of the train coming up the gorge would be blocked by the buildings across the street. “Should be here by now,” he said. “Must be running late.” 

“Wouldn’t be the first ti—” Smith began, but was cut off by the sight of something like confetti rising over the rooftops and, a nano-second later, a sharp crack and a deep boom—the unmistakeable report of dynamite detonating, familiar in this old mining town. Wordlessly, Mason jumped up and lumbered to his patrol car, his ample gut hanging over his belt. He swung open the sedan’s door, flopped down into the driver’s seat, and tore through Silverton’s gravel streets toward the explosion, dreading what he might find. 

Seconds later, he arrived at the historic, unoccupied Denver & Rio Grande Western train depot. Dust still lingered in the air, pieces of wood littered the ground around the building, and the entire southern end of the building had been blown asunder. The roof on one corner was gone, and it sagged wildly on the rest of the long, narrow structure. A large timber sat on the railroad tracks. 

As Mason wordlessly surveyed the scene, Ron Pense drove up in the Town’s front-end loader to see about the commotion. Others showed up, too. And by the time the whistle from the day’s train alighted on the little old town, a dozen people milled about, curious and aghast. Mason ringed the area with police tape to keep evidence intact, while city workers hurriedly removed the timber from the tracks so the train could pass. 

Mason thanked the heavens that the Train had been late. Had it been on schedule, it would have passed the depot just as the explosives detonated, surely leaving casualties in its wake. The depot—which by then belonged to the San Juan County Historical Society and was being used only for storage—was the only victim of the crime. But the intended target, it seemed, was the train, itself. 

Sometime later that day, a nine year old from Silverton surveyed the scene and asked the question on everyone’s mind: “What’s anyone want to do a thing like that for?”

The question lingers to this day.

***

I became the Silverton newspaper guy about two decades after the bombing. The Silverton Standard & the Miner was still headquartered on Greene Street in a creaky old building that housed ancient linotypes and printing presses and heaps of lead type—words that literally had weight—along with giant volumes of the paper’s archives. One evening, while flipping through old issues, I stumbled upon the story about the bombing. The news dominated the first few editions after the bombing occurred, but then it petered out. I searched and searched for a conclusion or news of an arrest, but came up empty. 

The next day I headed up the street to my go-to gossip-gathering and research center, otherwise known as the offices of the San Juan County Courthouse. I asked Bev, first, and she sent me down the hall to Melody, the sheriff’s office dispatcher. Melody cackled her trademark cackle, rolled her office chair back to an old metal filing cabinet, opened a drawer, and whipped out the file from the three-decade-old case that had long gone cold and mostly forgotten. 

It was a thick folder, filled with official reports, scraps of paper with notes jotted on them, newspaper articles on moldering paper. It might have been ordered chronologically, but I’m not sure, and some of the notes lacked context. Flipping through the papers and photos was a bit disorienting, making me feel as if I were a time-traveling detective sent back to the age of disco to solve the case. 

Right on top of the pile was a mysterious bulletin, typewritten (from some sort of teletype, I assume), and issued by the Colorado State Patrol just hours after the explosion: BOL RED/WHT LATE MODEL FORD PU W/ RED/WHT CAMPER SHELL ARIZ UNKN. 2 NEGRO SUBJECTS 1 POSS A FEMALE. SUBJECTS WANTED FOR INVESTIGATION OF A BOMBING IN SILVERTON. 1 TALL NEGRO MALE SEEN FLEEING THE SCENE OF BOMBING JUST 3 MIN BEFORE, WEARING BLU TRENCH COAT AND WHT GLOVES.

It seemed like a promising lead, particularly the description of the vehicle, and gave me, the wanna-be detective, something to work off of. But as I flipped my way through the file, I found no other mention of these suspects, of the vehicle, and certainly nothing about a blue trench coat and white gloves. It was almost as if this purported eyewitness account were fabricated from thin air; perhaps the “witness” had been watching a Dirty Harry movie and got confused. Aside from this little tidbit, the other items in the file seemed legitimate and enabled me to get a sense of how the investigation unfolded in the hours after the bombing. 

Mason—who was well-liked but not known for his investigative chops—began his work just moments after the explosion. He immediately called in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Bob Perkins from the CBI arrived in Silverton less than three hours after the bombing, and agents from the Denver office of the ATF arrived a couple of hours after him, taking charge of the investigation. Undercover agents from the Denver & Rio Grande Western—then-owners of the railroad—joined the search, as well. 

Investigators discovered primer cord and fuses among the debris at the scene, leading them to believe that the bomber had removed the nitroglycerin from eight to ten sticks of dynamite and put it in a can to make the bomb. Three fuses were attached to the can, each with its own blasting cap, to account for duds. The perpetrator would have had to light the fuse by hand, giving them just three to four minutes before detonation. They wouldn’t have been able to get far before the explosion occurred. 

Also on that first day, Mason received a tip: A psychic from California called Mason’s office and told the dispatcher that she had “seen” the culprits. Three men, she said, one in his thirties and two in their twenties, were responsible for the bombing. The leader, the psychic said, was a “violent, violent man who hated the people of this locale.”

***

The Train first arrived in this part of the world in the early 1880s. The train opened up a thick artery connecting northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado to Denver, Chicago, the East Coast, and elevated the settler-colonialism project already underway to an industrial scale.

The pair of steel ribbons and the coal-eating, smoke-belching locomotives that rode on them rapidly transformed the entire region’s landscape, cultures, and economy. It enabled the white settlers’ encroachment onto and theft of Indigenous lands and resources. The locomotives sucked up water from rivers and streams and new coal mines were opened to feed the chugging beasts. Glades of tall, straight, and wise old ponderosas in northern New Mexico were sheared down en masse now that there was an easy way to haul them to market.

Towns and sawmills and cattle-loading chutes popped up along the tracks; subsistence farms and ranches morphed into commercial-sized operations. And in the high country, the miners got access to heavy equipment that would have been almost impossible to haul over the passes with mules and they could then send their ore by the railcar-load back down to Durango and the new San Juan & New York smelter built along the Animas River’s banks. Potential investors in the mines could travel in relative comfort to see future prospects. The mostly entrepreneurial mining trade transformed into an industrial-scale concern, funded by outside capital. The population of Silverton and surrounding towns ballooned into the thousands. 

The train was a literal lifeline for these communities and their industries for a good five decades or so until the automobile came on the scene, slowly driving the railroads into obsolescence. Following World War II, the D&RGW started dismantling what had been a spiderweb of rails reaching into nearly every corner of the Western United States.

For a brief moment in history it appeared as if the Durango-to-Silverton segment would suffer the same fate. But it was spared by the fact that it passed through unparalleled and mostly unspoiled scenery to end up in a little mining town that—thanks to a downturn in the primary industry—had remained historically intact during the 1950s, when surrounding towns were getting energy-boom-fueled makeovers. That turned out to be a big draw for tourists infected with a Hollywood-fueled, global fascination with the Wild West of American mythology. The train starred in movies such as Rio GrandeTicket to Tomahawk, and Across the Wide Missouri. It switched from hauling ore to carrying sightseers, from being a functional tool of the extraction economy into a living relic and tourist attraction, a conversion that was finalized when the rails between Durango and Alamosa were abandoned in 1969 and the Silverton Depot was donated to the San Juan County Historical Society, who planned to turn it into a museum.

Mining had always dominated Silverton’s economy and culture and its denizens clung to the industry like a lifeline, tenaciously resisting any perceived threats to its viability. In the early 1900s, when downstream farmers and Durango city officials tried to get Silverton-area mining firms to refrain from dumping mill tailings directly into the Animas River, Silverton newspaper editors balked. In strongly worded editorials they wrote that asking mines to implement even the most basic tailings-impoundment measures would be akin to “killing the Golden Goose,” downstream water quality be damned. 

I call this malady the Golden Goose Syndrome, which is the tendency to lionize and even fetishize a community’s main industry or business—be it mining in Silverton, coal mining in Wyoming, oil and gas in New Mexico, or industrial recreation in Moab—and attack those who try to hold those industries accountable, even as the “geese” peck at our eyes, poop poison into our streams, or set fire to our forests, so long as they continue to lay golden eggs. 

By the time of the depot bombing, mining was still the town’s Golden Goose. Yet tourism and, by extension, the Train, were quickly catching up, thanks in large part to the big egg laid by the train every summer’s day on Silverton’s streets, namely the nearly 100,000 passengers looking to buy lunch and souvenirs that arrived in 1975.

***

The frustration of the depot bombing investigators was apparent in the musty files. They’d get a solid lead, grab ahold, and follow it, only to see it dissolve.

Investigators determined that dynamite had gone missing from the Silverton City Shops—an indication of just how ubiquitous explosives were back then, and analysis of crime scene evidence showed that the stolen dynamite and fuses may have matched those used in the explosion. A town employee with motive—he had been arrested for stealing property from the D&RGW yard in Grand Junction—was given a polygraph test. But when he passed he was cleared as a suspect.

Durango police indicated in a note to Mason that, shortly after the bombing, “six hippies vacated a house near Durango” (hippies hadn’t been priced out of Durango, yet, and when one moved it apparently aroused suspicion). One of the “hippies” was tracked to Nucla and was subjected to the polygraph. He, too, passed. Three others were also given lie detector tests and all of them passed and taken off the suspect list. A week after the bombing, the Silverton Standard reported that 24 suspects, including a member of the Silverton Town Board, had been cleared. 

By the second week of the investigation, with no real leads or suspects, Mason was getting desperate. He wrote this in a letter to the Silverton StandardNow, a few words for the sickie who set the bomb at the depot … I personally think you are a creep, besides being a sick person and if I had my way when I catch you, I’d turn you over to the miners and the townspeople. So sickie, with law enforcement breaking their backs to get you and the reward offered for your arrest, look out. Your time is running out, believe me.

Not surprisingly, a “Mike from D.A.’s office” called shortly after the letter was run to chide Mason for writing the screed, noting that it could damage a case against anyone charged for the bombing. 

Other suspects emerged in the months following the bombing. (We have chosen to change the names of the suspects since no charges were ever filed). In October, about a month after the bombing, Henry Theodore Miller became a suspect when he was cited for storing dynamite in his car and for harassing and threatening hunters on national forest land near Bayfield. Miller’s dynamite fuses matched those recovered by investigators at the depot. Miller was arrested for questioning on November 25. The police file contains no record of his interrogation. Charges were never filed.

A few months later, an “FBI Informant” named Patti Mcrae implicated her ex-husband, William Arnold McRae, in the depot bombing. She filed an affidavit the following spring, which included the following: At the end of Sept, 1975 I received some dynamite and blasting caps from my husband, William McRae … William brought about 37 sticks of dynamite and a bunch of blasting caps to the trailer where I lived. He said he got the explosives from the mine (Buffalo Boy in Silverton). He said that when he took the explosives, Joe Barton, a fella he worked with, was with him … After he left the explosives at the trailer he stayed for a couple of days. He left and went back to Silverton. I’m not sure how he got back. Right around this time the depot in Silverton was blown up … William had recently given up heroin in favor of cocaine …

It was compelling testimony, but ended up leading nowhere, perhaps because of the jumbled time frame. William McRae was never even questioned about the crime, let alone arrested or charged for anything.

***

“As one ponders the bombing of the old depot in Silverton last week the senselessness of the act grows. Who was the target? What could possibly be the cause?” my father, Ian Thompson, wrote in a Durango Herald editorial. “Even if the railroad were the target, the reason for such an act is difficult to discern. The old steam train, a national historical artifact, carries thousands of happy families between Durango and Silverton each summer. Nothing more menacing than backpacks and candybars ride as freight in its occasional baggage cars.”

But to many a Silverton resident, The Train carried something far more menacing than mere backpacks. It injected a new type of economy into the town and thereby threatened the old ways. Though I hate the terms and the dichotomy implied by them, it facilitated the invasion of the New West just as the railroads had enabled an Old West encroachment in times of yore.

Townsfolk who had once enjoyed the trappings of a strong, stable mining economy were reduced to peddling hamburgers or tchotchkes to a limited crowd of people that got off the train, spent a couple hours walking around, and then left again. It felt undignified and desperate to hawk a false version of history. The pay was lousy, the tourist season only a few months long, and the people’s labor produced nothing. The train’s growing economic dominance spurred the rise of summer-only, train passenger-oriented businesses, and the fall of locals-oriented year-round businesses such as grocery stores and insurance agents.

“Today, downtown Silverton is all but dead as a year-round community center, and one has only to look at the names over the boarded-up doors and dark windows on a winter night to know that The Train is the instrument of death,” wrote George Sibley in the November 1975 edition of Mountain Gazette.

Silverton Town Board members in 1975 complained about the air pollution caused by the train’s engines, and about the garbage strewn about in the streets after the train left each day. Meanwhile, down in Durango, residents of the then predominantly Latino South Side were blanketed nightly with coal smoke, since the locomotives’ boilers were kept hot around-the-clock in the railyard. Residents sacrificed health and comfort for a train whose sole purpose was to deliver tourists to chintzy rubber-tomahawk shops like cattle to the slaughter.

Yet nothing was actually done about it because, just as was the case 75 years earlier with the mines and water pollution, any attempts to get the train to clean up its act might have risked killing the new Golden Goose of the region: The tourism industry and the Durango and Silverton Train. 

Clearly not everyone was happy about that. Just a few years earlier Colorado activists and elected officials had teamed up to keep the Olympic Games from coming to the state, after Colorado had won its bid to do so, due to fears of environmental harm and the influx of tourists it would bring. They succeeded in killing that goose just as it was about to hatch. Many Silvertonians were similarly worried about the effects of tourism and commercialization and the train’s new golden goose status. “Among the miners, still the core of what remains of the Silverton community,” Sibley wrote, “there is an attitude ranging from bare tolerance to outright disgust toward The Train.”

Could someone have taken that disgust to an extreme? Seeing no action on town officials’ part, could they have decided to act themselves by making a very noticeable statement of protest? In other words, was the depot bombing a political act? 

Blowing something up to make a statement may seem far-fetched today, but in 1975 it wasn’t uncommon. Activists bombed the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Pine Ridge, the Weather Underground bombed Kennecott Mining Corp’s Salt Lake City office, late that year a federal building in downtown Denver was bombed, and a pair of 1974 bombings in Boulder that left several dead were believed to be politically motivated.

Nor was the bombing the first or last time that year the train had been targeted. Only three days earlier, a rock was intentionally rolled onto a D&RGW pop car near Hermosa, injuring its driver. And the last train of the season, traveling from Durango just days after the bombing, was delayed because someone greased the tracks near Shalona, as if preparing it for one of those cheesy Western train robberies.

And yet, to this day observers and investigators refuse even to entertain the notion that this could have been a politically motivated act. A decade or so ago, Fritz Klinke, who was president of the San Juan County Historical Society when the bombing took place, wrote about the motive on an online narrow gauge railroad forum: “Bored, something to do, wanted to see the explosion—it was never determined that there was an overt act against anyone or the train. Today there would be an immediate jump in conclusion to the terrorist connection, or a political/radical act, but it was generally agreed that it was an act of plain old vandalism.”

Maybe so. But maybe it was a statement of protest against the incursion of industrial tourism that the train represented, and maybe even it was an attempt to fend off the Golden Goose Syndrome. If so, it failed miserably. 

***

That The Train—now known as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad—has become one of the region’s most revered golden geese became apparent in often ugly ways in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 416 Fire that erupted in the late spring of 2018. 

County officials and federal land managers probably could have stopped the railroad from running due to extreme wildfire danger, but they chose not to, most likely because they didn’t want to mess up the goose’s egg-laying abilities.

That’s in spite of the fact that it had been one of the driest winters on record, followed by a downright hot spring, and the forest was a tinder box. A coal locomotive’s smokestack is essentially a big spark dispenser, as anyone knows who has ridden on the open car of the train and had a cinder fly into their eye. The embers spew from the stack and flutter off into the surrounding trees, grass, or even buildings. Sooner or later, a cinder will ignite the grass or wood, and a fire will be born.

Over the years countless wildfires sprouted along the D&RGW tracks, some of them causing serious damage. In 1904 a cinder from the locomotive ignited a lumberyard in Silverton, destroying it, and around the same time another one burned the trestle near Rockwood. The same bridge burned again the following year. In December 1906—yes, December—sparks from the railroad’s locomotives ignited dry grass along the tracks in the Animas Valley north of Durango. The inferno spread rapidly, engulfing several pastures and haystacks. Four-hundred tons of hay, several outbuildings, and a couple of barns burned in the blaze, and the hotel at Trimble Hot Springs escaped the flames—barely.

In June 1909, the train going over Lizard Head Pass to Telluride threw off what the Telluride Journal referred to as “showers of live cinders” that lit the snowshed on fire, causing a dramatic blaze. Snowsheds and tunnels and even train-cars frequently burned up thanks to cinders and sparks, sometimes resulting in loss of life. Acres and acres of grassland burned out on the Great Plains in Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. Colorado even has a whole set of statutes on the books concerning trains and fires, including this language: “Every railroad company operating its line of road, or any part thereof, within this state shall be liable for all damages by fires that are set out or caused by operating any such line of road, or any part thereof, in this state, whether negligently or otherwise.”

Since the train uses the same coal-fired technology of those days, the fire-starting-potential is also about the same, in spite of cinder catchers installed on the stacks. The 1989 Fourth of July Fire in the Animas Canyon about ten miles downstream from Silverton burned 50 acres before it was doused. It was the 226th fire started by the train that year, alone. Others that grew large enough to warrant names include: the 1994 Mitchell Lakes Fire, the 1997 West Needles Fire, the 2002 Schaaf II Fire, and the Goblin Fire, which in 2012 burned about 1,000 acres in the West Needles. Hundreds more have gone unreported and unnamed.

On the morning of June 1, 2018, after one of the trains had passed by on the way up the Shalona grade—the same segment of tracks that had been greased many years before—a blaze broke out along the tracks. The relatively inexperienced right of way crew on duty—the veteran crew had been laid off earlier that year — couldn’t contain the flames. The helicopter that normally followed the train didn’t arrive. 

A stiff breeze whipped the flames into a fury and the conflagration raced up the hillside through the bitterly dry grass. The fire went on to char nearly 54,000 acres of forest. Hermosa Mountain, at times, looked like an erupting volcano, with billows of smoke and flame spewing into the clear blue sky. The region was blanketed by lung-searing smoke, forcing people indoors and even out of town. Highway 550 was shut down, causing severe economic harm throughout Silverton. The vegetation that tethered the earth was lost, making slopes vulnerable to catastrophic erosion. And when the rains came and helped douse the flames, it sent rivers of mud and rock and timber down the mountainsides and into homes and businesses.

And so, in the summer of 2018, critics demanded that the railroad be held to account. Property owners who were in the path of the flames or the debris flows filed a lawsuit against the railroad. And a year after the flames erupted the federal government finally laid the blame for the fire on the train, and filed a lawsuit of its own seeking reimbursement for suppression costs. 

The reaction on social media and in the newspaper comment sections was swift and ugly. The most vehement defenders of the railroad, train trolls, insisted that the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, and the feds, and even the newspaper reporters who wrote about the lawsuits, posed an existential threat to the railroad—they risked killing the Golden Goose and therefore the entire regional economy. Durango will be a “ghost town” without the train, one commenter said. Historian Duane Smith told the Denver Post: “Without that train, Durango would just be an isolated college town.” 

Other comments were less measured: “Kalif@ckedupia!” “Idiot!” “… people that don’t like trains have no soul…perhaps more to be pitied than scorned…” “… maybe you should find a different place to live.” Some train trolls even demanded a list of the lawsuits’ plaintiffs so they could seek retribution. It was an echo—gone vicious and viral—of that ancient claim that the mining industry had to be allowed to sully the waters unfettered, otherwise they’d stop laying the golden eggs.

Now the old Golden Goose Syndrome-induced outcry is echoing again in Silverton, this time related to a recent reversal on the policy of allowing off-highway vehicles to buzz through the town’s neighborhoods.  

For many years, beginning in the early 2000s, motorized-vehicle advocates tried to get the Town of Silverton to allow unlicensed OHVs to travel on town streets. The state bans the vehicles on all state highways, but lets counties and municipalities choose to allow them on roads in their jurisdictions. San Juan County opened up most of its roads to the vehicles, but Silverton’s streets remained off-limits. Finally, several years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis that began in 2008, the Town of Silverton agreed to a trial-opening of the streets in hopes of jump-starting the flagging economy. 

Since then, the beefier, faster, generally louder side-by-side/UTV-type vehicles have gained in popularity and proliferated. Silverton’s streets have been overrun and local law enforcement overwhelmed by the things. The vehicles’ incessant and nearly inescapable drone fills the air all summer long. Attempts by residents and officials to move them off of the streets have been met with vicious attacks on social media, threats of boycotts of their businesses, and so forth. 

Nevertheless, in an impromptu decision earlier this week, the Silverton Town Board voted 4-3 to ban the vehicles from town streets. They’ll still be allowed outside town limits on county roads. But that doesn’t matter to those infected with Golden Goose Syndrome, who insist that Silverton’s economy will now dry up and blow away. 

But remember the mining firms that refused to clean up their mill tailings? In the mid-1930s the Colorado Supreme Court finally ordered them to do just that by building simple impoundment structures that would keep the nasty stuff out of the streams. Before long all of the major mines had impoundment systems of some sort and none of them were intentionally dumping tailings or other waste directly into the rivers. Not one mining company went out of business due to the cost of impoundment and the golden eggs just kept on coming like before. 

Meanwhile, last year that coal-smoke belching golden goose known as The Train ended up going into a coma of sorts, at least as far as Silverton was concerned, when it stopped making its way up the Animas River Gorge altogether, first due to COVID-19 and then thanks to a bridge getting washed out along the way. Did it kill Silverton? Not at all. In fact, the town had one of its busiest summers in years. This year the Train will return and the OHVs will be pushed to the edges of town. And I’d be willing to bet the place will be even more crowded than last year.

***

I was just a week away from my fifth birthday when someone bombed the Silverton Depot, but I must confess that I don’t remember hearing about it at the time. It’s odd, because like all Durango kids, I was enamored with the train: the hulking locomotive, the lonely whistle, the distinctive yellow orange cars, the steel tracks, and the creosote-smell ties that got gooey and sticky on hot days. I relished in the feel of the nickels and pennies after the train flattened them into shiny disks, the concentration required to balance on one rail as if it were the high beam, counting the rails as we walked along the tracks from fishing spot to fishing spot. 

Back then there was a chain of dilapidated old freight and ore and cattle cars lined up along the tracks adjacent to what is now called Narrow Gauge Avenue. My friends and I used to climb around on those old rail cars and I vividly remember the giant splinters I would get in my fingers and palms and how they looked worse than they actually hurt and how I’d get all dizzy when a friend would yank them out of me. 

About fifteen years ago, the railroad decided to remove the old train cars. I’m sure it made a lot of folks happy since it opened up some new parking spaces and removed what some might have considered blight. I, however, was bummed. I saw them as a symbol of a Durango of old, a Durango that was a little rougher, a lot more working class, and a heck of a lot less glitzy. The cars represented, in other words, the Durango of my childhood, and getting rid of them was confirmation that the Durango of old was no more. We had to get rid of the old industrial Golden Goose to make way for the new one, the one that feeds on tourism and recreation and amenities. Now all I have left of that old Durango are memories, memories that often involve, in one way or another, that steam-belching locomotive and the long row of cars strung out behind it:

… the precise feel that day in mid-summer when I put my ear to the track behind the fish hatchery to see if a train was coming, and when it wasn’t how we set out across the bridge, our eyes glued to the ties so as not to step into the void in-between, and the sickening sound of the whistle behind us, and knowing we’d never across in time. And the way my brother guided us over the edge, down to the top of the stone pillar, and how we huddled there laughing in fear as, below us, the cold rushing water of the Animas River flowed by, and above us the locomotive and cars and the clacking and the hissing and the clacking and hissing.