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Wisps of the Past: D&SNGRR Full Moon Ghost Crawl

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D&SNGRR has begun hosting ghost tours that explore the more elusive histories of the train.

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Some of the train cars are said to host haunts from their pasts.

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The Durango Train Museum serves as the last stop along the tour.

In the old train yard behind the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a very special coach sat for years, untouched and unrestored. It had been forgotten by most, but not all. Now, it serves as a cornerstone of the Full Moon Ghost Crawl, a haunted Durango Train Museum experience.

Nineteen years ago, Museum Curator Jeff Ellingson convinced CEO and Owner of the railroad, Al Harper, to move the car indoors in order to slow down the deterioration process of the unique coach.

Soon after, the history of the car was discovered by staff. Built in 1883 by the Rio Grande Railroad, Car 460 was occasionally a tourist coach, but later in its life served as part of a rescue train for travelers trapped in the mountains.

“It had a weird feeling to it, and I can’t put my finger on it,” Ellingson, an employee of 33 years, said about his first interactions with the car.

In 1937, Car 460 carried a crew of firemen to Marshal Pass for a rescue mission. One of the firemen had snuck his young girlfriend Kate, a local in Salida, Colorado, aboard.

In the midst of a violent dispute between the workers, the fireman was murdered, leaving Kate heartbroken and hysterical. So in love with him, and so distraught from the loss, Kate took her own life later that year. It is said that Kate haunts the car situated in the depot, occasionally welcoming guests with a slight eerie pat on the shoulder or back of the head. She is frequently seen by younger guests of the museum.  

The tragedy of Car 460 is only one of the many tales that Ellingson has committed to story as he guides Durangoans through the railroad’s history, one ghost story at a time.

The tales of the train, cars and depot often prove to be as elusive as the haunts that have stuck around. There’s a hidden history of the D&SNGRR.

“The stories—you really have to dig to get them,” Ellingson said.

On Halloween night, the D&SNGRR will host its third Full Moon Ghost Crawl. According to the tour’s web page, it “begins at the train depot and then proceeds across the railroad grounds to the Warehouse, Box Cars, Car Shop, Turntable, Roundhouse, and ends at the Museum,” allowing guests (whether they believe them or not) to indulge in the spine-chilling tales.

Ellingson believes that the tours are unique because the stories carry their own weight, without needing special effects or gimmicks. You won’t find smoke machines and noisemakers on a personal tour such as this.

“People’s imaginations can fill in the blanks. There’s no reason to change it, it’s already creepy the way it is,” Ellingson said.

He also agrees that maintaining a sense of authenticity is crucial to the tours. In a way, it’s more about educating people on the intriguing history than getting them spooked out of their minds. The full moon tours can be described as a “night of mystery,” Ellingson said, and he plans to continue them once Halloween has passed. D&SNGRR might consider hosting them more often in the future, but for now, they prefer to guide small, personal groups.

“So far, we feel like if you put it out there too much, it’s not special anymore,” Ellingson said.

Unfortunately, the Halloween tour has been sold out for weeks. But, who knows, maybe you’re willing to return next full moon to witness ghosts like Kate and the many others that haunt the railroad. That is if you’re brave enough.

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