Denver & Rio Grande Western, Durango Division

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John Vandenberg’s Denver & Rio Grande Western, Durango Division

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The Durango Division of the Denver and Rio Grande Western is based on the heart of narrow gauge country in America, Durango Colorado. From Durango the railroad serves the 4 points of the compass, north to Silverton,south to Farmington, east to Chama, and west to Dolores via the Rio Grande Southern. Silverton is also served by the Silverton Northern which ran northeast from Silverton to serve the mills at Silverlake, Eureka, and Animas Forks.

The HOn3 version of the Durango Division is being built as a double deck railroad with the Durango yard splitting the two decks. So far about three quarter of the track is completed. All the track on the upper deck, Durango yard, Rio Grande Southern, and Silverton Northern is complete and basic scenery is in on most of the upper deck. A temporary staging yard is in place on the lower deck to represent Chama. The line to Farmington is now complete so long pipe trains are now part of the operations.

The railroad is run with limited time table-train order without a dispatcher. Once the lower deck is in, a formal timetable will be published and a dispatcher will be needed.

In the era modeled, 1948-1953, only a couple of time table trains were left, with most freights run as extras. Currently most trains show up on the
timetable.

A 3-1 fast clock is used for three eight hour sessions to make up a full day. The operating system is Digitrax with some Soundtraxx decoders.

Six operators are needed to fully operate the railroad. The jobs include Yard master, two yard goats, and three road crews which operate the way freights, the Rio Grande Southern, and Silverton Northern.
Layout at a Glance 
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Layout at a glance
  • HOn3
  • Prototype-Denver and Rio Grande Western, Rio Grande Southern, Silverton Northern
  • Location: southwest Colorado and southwestern New Mexico
  • Size: 800 square feet
  • Layout design: double deck point to point.
  • Command system-Digitrax
  • Locomotives-All steam, about half with Soundtraxx decoders
  • Scenery-About 25 percent finished, 100 percent roughed in hardshell
Jobs on the Layout 
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Jobs on the Layout
About the Layout Owner 
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About the Layout Owner
I have been a model railroader for almost 32 of my 46 years, and been modeling narrow gauge for 31 of those years. Trains are in my blood. My grandfather worked at Kansas City Union Station for 35 years as a ticket agent. He rode every passenger train out of Union Station with the exception of the Santa Fe’s Super Chief. He could not get a pass for it. My father worked for the Railway Express Agency for a few years and was a model railroader himself. That is until I became a toddler and learned to tear stuff up.

Like a lot of kids I loved to build models, mostly aircraft and ships. When I was bit older, my father let me “play” with his old trains. I began building my own railroad and not having a lot of money, I learned to scratch build early on. My interest in narrow gauge began when I picked up my first Narrow Gauge Gazette, which I still have, less its cover. The pictures of the D&RGW’s huge K-36 and K-37 outside frame engines hooked me. They are just cool!!! A few rides on the Cumbres and Toltec and the Durango and Silverton cemented my love of narrow gauge.

After High School I did a stint in the US Navy as a Plane Captain and Jet Mechanic on EA-6B Prowlers. I had the honor to serve in the One Hundred and Thirty Seventh Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron as an Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class. Navy life does not lend itself to model railroading, but I never lost interest and even built some rolling stock and even a structure or two.

After my stint in the Navy, I moved back to KC, my parents’ house, and began my first real railroad while going to Junior College. The railroad grew as my studies continued at Emporia State University.

A Bachelor of Science in Social Science (I have a BS in BS) led me to the School of Education in Emporia and I became a teacher, for a while. When that did not work out, I landed where I am today, the Shop Manager at a local Andersen Window Dealer. All the while I was building structures, cars, and tinkering with engines.

The Durango Division is my fourth layout. My other interests include military history, aviation, NASCAR, joking around, Kansas City, having fun, and Game of Thrones (the books and the series).

Photo Gallery

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The Barto Ore Complex is located on the Silverton Northern between Silver Lake and Eureka. This fictional structure came from an earlier layout, and like most structures is scratch built.
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Eureka on the Silverton Northern looking toward the Sunny Side Mill. The foundations for this huge prototype mill can still be seen today in Eureka, Colorado.
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A look at where the refinery in Farmington will be located. The small prototype refinery supplied gasoline and other petroleum products for a number of dealers and industries in the Southwest along the D&RGW and RGS.
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Here is the “old smelter” that was located across the Animas River from Durango. The Rio Grande Southern main line runs through the Smelter instead of by it as the prototype did on its way from Dolores, CO to Durango, CO.
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The main isle of the Durango Division. On the upper level is the Silverton Northern as it heads up to Silver Lake, Eureka, and finally Animas Forks. To the left on the lower level is Farmington and on the Right is the main line through Gato on its way to Chama. The Rio Grande Southern is runs on the middle level on its way to Dolores.
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Carbon Junction is located a few miles south of Durango and is where the Farmington Branch splits off the main line.
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A look at the Durango engine service facility. In the background you can see your Prairie Rail Committee members from left to right is John Vandenberg, Bert Overholtzerhouser, Bill (wild man) Hurt, and Howey Gellesspee. While Howey is not a committee member, he is a hell of a nice guy, I think.
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Another look at Carbon Junction
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Looking South in Silverton
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To pay homage to my Standard Gauge Brothers, I included a section of Duel Gauge track in Aztec. The Farmington Branch was originally built as a Standard Gauge branch out of Durango and was converted to narrow Gauge in 1923.
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A view of the Silverton Northern engine house. The structure still stands today and is used to house the recently rebuilt D&RGW 315.
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A nice view of the Depot at Silverton. However nice it is, it is one of the few structures the owner did not build.
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One of the great views on the railroad. This trestle is located on the Silverton Northern just outside Silverton. This simple bridge crosses over the Animas River on a 7% grade and is in the middle of a 18” curve. Makes for great operations when SN #10, a 10 ton Benson Shay, pushes up cars with her cylinders facing you.
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Looking south down the Durango Yard. The D&RGW’s narrow Gauge revolved around Durango. To the North is Silverton, to the east is Doloros, Farmington was to the south, and Chama to the east.
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One of the big K series 2-8-2’s has been serviced and has beep hostled onto the engine ready track. I tried to model this part of Durango to the scale foot.
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A great, though distorted, of Durango. Durango spans the width of the room and is about 23’ long. It is built to be worked from both sides and two duck-under’s provide access. As per the prototype it is divided into four distinct yards. The south yard was the arrival/departure tracks. The middle yard was the passenger yard. The north yard was where the car classification was done. And the roundhouse, turntable, engine service, and car shops round out the rest of Durango.
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The newest structure on the layout is this Fine Scale Miniatures kit. They should change their name to Fine Scale Scratch Building. I have not yet come up with a name for it, although I am thinking of “Peckerwood Coal” I am open to suggestions for another name.
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Looking up the 7% grade from Silverton to Eureka on the Silverton Northern. The Silverton Northern had about 7 miles of 7% grade between Eureka and Animas Forks. This part of the Silverton Northern only lasted a few years as it was closed a good portion of the year due to snow and snow slides.
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Again, looking south in Durango. The north yard can be seen as well as the passenger station.
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This is a good look at the car shops in the Durango yard. Keith Robinson can be seen taking a pic for this website. Guess which one it is.
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Looks like engine 475 is in need of a bit of maintenance in this view toward the turntable and roundhouse.
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Here we are looking at the back side of the car shops. I like to say that the Durango car shop is a working car shop. Bad order cars are placed on the north side of the shop. When they are “rebuilt” with Blackstone trucks and it is ready to operate, I place it on the south side of the car shop ready to be picked up and sent to its destination.
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A great view of Silverton Northern shay #12. It is a 10 ton Benson Shay that has new motor and the smallest decoder I could find in it. There are times when it is the best running engine on the entire railroad, and other times when it won’t run a foot without problems.
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Another great view of “Peckerwood Coal”.
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A nice view of the Barto Ore Complex. I began scratchbuildng this structure over 25 years ago and it has continued to grow over the years. The latest edition is the cut stone walls that hold the structure to the slope of the hill.
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In the panorama view of the Barto Ore Complex, we can see about ¼ of the Silverton Northern. On the far left we can see the Silver Lake spur and mill. To the far right we can see Eureka almost all the way to the Gold Prince.
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Silverton Northern number 34 is spotting cars at the Gold Prince. The foundations of the Gold Prince Mine can still be explored today.
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Looking north at Farmington we can see the mainline from Chama on the right. The bare concrete pad by the water tower is where the station will be located.
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The Silver Lake Mill was located just outside Silverton. I have mocked up the structures in styrene and gave them a coat of brown paint to see how they will look before I build the scale model of it.
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Goose 7 ready to depart Dolores on its morning trip to Durango.
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Blackstone models C-19 D&RGW 345 is pulling the San Juan passenger train across a bridge on its way to Chama. The westbound San Juan will meet the Eastbound at Gato. Please excuse the speaker on top of the tender. I tried to fit it in before the session, but did not get the chance.
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Another shot of D&RGW 345 crossing the bridge near Chama.

Map and Directions to the Layout

You can click on the “show directions” tab to print directions from the host hotel to the layout. Or you can download them in Apple Maps or Google Maps on your portable device.