It’s a classic, and has a sunroof – The railroad in Durango | VailDaily.com
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It’s a classic, and has a sunroof – The railroad in Durango

Ray Ludwig, left, shop foreman with Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and Bill Melcher of Melcher Brothers Inc., secure straps to the metal frame of the Silver Vista before a crane lifts it onto a semitrailer in March 2006, at Melcher Brothers in Durango, Colo. For those longing for Durango of decades past, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has a fix in store: The railroad is replicating a classic passenger car that served Durangoans from 1947 to 1953. The Silver Vista, as it is called, was the only glass-topped gondola built in the history of narrow-gauge railroading, according to Al Harper, who owns the railroad with his wife, Carol. (AP Photo/Durango Herald, Jerry McBride)
AP | DURANGO HERALD

DURANGO – For those longing for Durango of decades past, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has a fix in store: The railroad is replicating a classic passenger car that served Durangoans from 1947 to 1953.The Silver Vista, as it is called, was the only glass-topped gondola built in the history of narrow-gauge railroading, according to Al Harper, who owns the railroad with his wife, Carol.”There’s nothing like it,” Al Harper said. “We’re really excited about it.”The glass top gave passengers a spectacular view and plenty of sun, Harper said.”It was very unique and very unusual,” he said. “You got this panorama in all directions as you were going up the railroad tracks.”

The gondola is scheduled to hit the tracks in early May.The car served the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad until it was destroyed by fire on Sept. 30, 1953, in Alamosa, according to narrow-gauge enthusiast Mark Evans, who runs the Web site “The Narrow Gauge Circle.”Ever since, it has been an object of fancy for rail fans, said local enthusiast Philip Walters, who volunteers for the Durango railroad.”The car has been well-known among rail fans for many years and sort of has its own notoriety because it was one of a kind,” Walters said. A Japanese Web site even offers a model of the Silver Vista.During the Silver Vista’s day, the railroad charged riders $3.45 plus a 58-cent upgrade for the luxury car, Walters said. Modern tourists will pay $119 for the first-class ride, and must be at least 16 years old. Walters plans to ride it for his birthday this summer.The new car should be more comfortable than the original was for mid-century tourists. The Silver Vista’s glass top could make the car uncomfortably hot on sunny days, Harper said. Modern glass will deflect heat from the new car.

A few more subtle changes will distinguish the re-creation. For safety reasons, it will have doors at both ends, instead of at one end, as was the case in the original.The new car also will sport three aisles of seats instead of the original four, reducing the number of passengers from 36 to 28. The change will enable first-class service, Harper said.Other than that, Harper promises the new car will be a faithful re-creation of the original. Railroad workers even managed to find seats in storage identical to the originals.”My wife and I don’t consider ourselves just the owners of the railroad,” Harper said. “We consider ourselves guardians of its history. Every year, we try to do something new that tries to present its history in its best light.”Replicating the old car will end up costing $250,000 to $300,000, Harper said. The 45-foot-long car will feature a bar and limited dining.Melcher Brothers Inc. of Durango built the car’s frame. Workers used old pictures and even a scale model to re-create the Silver Vista, co-owner Jim Melcher said.



“It was a gas,” Melcher said. “We like doing things like this that are different.”If all goes according to plan, the new Silver Vista should roll out to pomp and ceremony May 5, with service to Silverton the next day.”We’re going to be lucky to have it by then, but that is the target date,” said Ray Ludwig, the railroad’s car shop foreman.The project has required an enormous amount of research, Harper said, and the car “is really turning out just spectacular.”Vail, Colorado


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