This is only my subjective perception. I was only a tour member at the Durango & Silverton Scenic RR and at the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR. I know that my requirements are higher than the requirements of most enthusiasts.
It seems to be a good option, to stick to the mid-west of the US in September with the trip “Ultimate Western Steam Spectacular“ from Trains & Travel International.
The most interesting for me were the two days called “Durango & Silverton Adventure“ and the two called “Cumbres Railfan Adventure“. At first I tried to book through a Travel Agency in Berlin but it was too complicated and expensive.So I booked directly with the tour organiser in the United States for very reasonable 250 € per day.
On September 26th at 7:25am, the train was starting off to Silverton. We were 40 members, mostly between 55 and 75 and not in the best condition. For these, it was impossible to climb up even a small hill. It isn’t easy with a 40 member group to get the best position at every photo point. Most of the members never moved more than 10 meters from the middle of the track and were satisfied with standard shots.
To achieve an individual or original view of the line under these conditions was impossible. If I wanted to shoot a pair of trees, for example, I had to go without many other shots, even if we were coming back later to this point. I had to miss the workshop visit in Durango even though it was a major point in the programme.
Except for the fact that one of the group members caused huge damage to my photo equipment through his extraordinary egotism, that will probably not be paid for by his insurance, I wasn´t unsatisfied. I must make a special mention about the staff of the Durango & Silverton RR. They, very kindly, made explanations about things to the side of the tracks, they knew all of the photo points and, every time, they knew what the (standard) photographer wanted.
On September 29th, we were following the tourist trains by car. On this day, they were making a film about cowboys in Chama. There were many extras as cowboys and cattle loading in Chama. In the early afternoon a steam hauled stockcar train left Chama. This was the first time a steam hauled stockcar train had left Chama for 30 years! Unfortunately, we didn´t know about it, despite the good connections of the organiser. However, the group managed to get some pictures by a fluke. On September 30th we and some other guys were due to meet the group in Chama. This caused most of the members to insist that they get a single room, so the group had to stay overnight in Alamosa 2 hours from Chama. We and the other guys, however, easily found a room in Chama. The train was composed of 1 boxcar, 3 freezers, 1 boxcar,1 flatcar, 1 open car with pipes,1 flatcar, 1 open car, 2 boxcars, rebuilt into passenger cars with glassless windows, 1 boxcar and 3 caboose. The train was due to leave Chama at 8:00am. At this time, the early morning light had been shining for three quarters of an hour on the section between Chama and Cumbres. The tourist train was due to follow at 10am so the time was short. It made some run pasts but at the top of Windy Point, the train was overtaken. Here, more than at the Durango & Silverton RR, we had a lot of followers by car. Up to Osier, we had standard shots one after another. After the lunch break at Osier, the standard shots continued but on the famous Phantom Curve with its tunnels.
Rocky Horror Picture Show or “probably not“. I can´t entitle my last day on the tour any other way … Tour on the Cumbres & Toltec. It wasn´t hard to find a huge Motel 3 minutes from the train station but, nevertheless, the group was in Alamosa overnight again. Therefore, the train started from Antonito at 8:00am. Roundabout 10 kilometers from Antonito, the first trivial run past in the long and unspectacular straight line was made. At this point the sun was too high to make an interesting against-the-light shot or to play with the light. We should have started at 6:30am, when we were over 3 hours in front of the regular tourist train and it was in enough time to play with the early morning light. The priority of these tour members was a breakfast at the hotel!
On this day, the organiser of the tour wasn´t on the train. At first I thought he had gone to the next tour stop to organise. However, shortly after, I saw him making lineside shots by car on the dirt road for the whole day. I don’t know if he makes better pictures but he makes more than the group. On this day organisation fell to Arnie Sturm. That meant that run pasts weren´t announced. When I asked for concrete information from him, I got nothing. We didn´t know if the run pasts were to happen once or twice. I don´t just want to complain, therefore some examples: we made a stop at the Cascade Trestle. The guys getting out of the train, including myself, were the majority of the group. We made a photo line close to the bridge. Round about 5 meters behind the line, a small part of the group made a second line. In this second line, a tour member began to abuse the other members as “assholes” and so on. The position from the second line was the right one and all the others are stupid. This run past was made a second time so he also could make his small motion picture. I tried to talk to him later about it but this was impossible.
On another runpast, the space was too small for all group members and they chose to ignore the yellow birch trees below where they stood. There were only two options for me … not to take pictures from this trivial point or searching for a better view. Roundabout 50 meters behind the group I found a very good view with the yellow leaf trees and a big rock nose nearby the track. That’s the shot I was looking for. The trainmaster comes to me and said, ”We’ll make this shot here after the first shot as well”. I said, “There is only one mastershot here so I decided to take only this view”.
I thought I´m in good time in the right position for the second shot. The unbelievable happened! On the first run past the train wasn´t run over my position. The video guys were surely disappointed that the train was stopped in the middle of their shot. Afterwards, the other guys all came in my direction and set up in front of me. I could only take my picture with huge compromises. Afterwards, I saw on some of their pictures cropped rock noses or other mistakes. I think it would be better to take a good run past twice rather than two trivial shots. The list goes on without end.
Separation between different nationalities and between “gangs of mates” caused animosity and isn´t a good way to have a relaxing journey. I decided to leave the train at the next opportunity. I asked Arnie Sturm if he intended to make some runpasts after Cumbres. His answer: “probably not“. This slogan became the running gag for the rest of our journey. I left the train at Cumbres Pass and we followed the tourist and the charter trains to Chama by car. The train didn´t make any stops between Cascade Trestle and Chama! The charter train ran without any runpasts, in the best afternoon light towards Chama. I took three good shots between Cumbres and Chama only because I chose to follow by car. The charter train suffered a technical problem and arrived at Chama one hour late.
Also on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR the staff were very kind, professional and knew the good photo points. Safety first! It wasn’t allowed to leave the train during water stops and train crossings.
Never before have I been on a trip with so many egocentric, ruthless and ignorant people. The tour leader didn’t care at all what happened at the runpasts. The by-word was quantity instead of quality. The assembly of the train wasn’t changed on either line. If you like, you can read on the T&T website, check out “WE RECEIVE LETTERS“ and see the hymns about the tour. One guy said, this was the best tour that he had ever done. He took 1800 pictures on just the Durango & Silverton part. Quantity instead of quality!
Jörg M. Seifert