Oil aboard!

The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is about to start burning the midnight – and midday – oil. The 139-year-old railroad will be rolling out its first retrofitted oil-burning steam engine in mid-February. Also known as Locomotive No. 493, the engine will make its debut during the railroad’s winter photography weekend, Feb. 15-16.

“The rebuild, restoration, conversion and return to service of No. 493 represents another important milestone in the ongoing evolution of D&SNGRR,” railroad co-founder and CEO Al Harper said in a news release.

In addition to helping allay fears of cinder-ignited wildfires in the wake of the 416 Fire, the addition of No. 493 is hoped to provide greater flexibility in the train’s fleet with regards to drought and maintenance. As an added bonus, oil-burning engines also stay cleaner and do not require a night watchman, as with coal-fired ones.

The 92.5-ton locomotive runs on recycled oil and carries a 2,250-gallon tank enabling it to easily make the 90.8-mile round trip between Durango and Silverton. Originally constructed in 1902, the No. 493 serviced the Crested Butte, Monarch and Farmington branches of the Denver & Rio Grande. In 1928, it was converted to a narrow-gauge. Its most recent overhaul represented 7,500 hours of labor, with crews taking cues from the Southern Pacific No. 18, which was on loan in Durango. Perhaps most time consuming was the firebox, which necessitated creation and installation of nearly 600 custom bolts.

The end result, railroad officials said, is a “true marvel” of railroad engineering.

Next down the line? D&SNGRR has already begun work on converting its second coal engine, No. 473, to oil.

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