The sound was low, distant, and just on the threshold of hearing. The faint “chug-chug,” seemed to be growing louder, but sound echos in funny ways in the canyons of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The cold, biting wind of the winter’s day stole everyone’s breath, making it all that much harder to concentrate. Winter’s Cut would have to wait just a bit longer.
After a moment, though, the distinctive whistle of the steam locomotive dispelled all doubt. The low sound was indeed a train, and it was certainly heading our way. The chugging grew in loudness and intensity. The engine was struggling up the grade, and black smoke began to appear in the air. The chugging grew deeper and stronger, and soon you could feel it in your very bones. The black smoke continued to thicken and now obscured the sky.
Just like that Engine #486 came barreling out of “The Cut,” the name given to this narrow passage through the rock. The opportunity for Winter’s Cut was here! The whistle sounded again, amazingly loud this time, and there is nothing in the world quite like staring down an oncoming train. It could have easily been the late 1800’s all over again, as timeless as the sight was.
The train continued relentlessly down the track, now picking up speed on the level grade. The noise drowned out all thought, and the world coalesced into just the steam engine and its cars. Before you knew it, the train was receding into the distance, but not before Winter’s Cut was made.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad still plies this line, running much as it has more than one hundred years. It provides an extraordinary opportunity to step back in time, and experience the thrill of the nightly steam engines. And, of course, experience the thrill of Winter’s Cut.