The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

It all began In Silverton, Colorado--the last stop on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. I set up my Wisner 4x5” Technical Field mahogany and brass view camera, and waited for the train. A few minutes later, a beautiful 1925 locomotive, spewing steam and smoke, pulling passenger cars from the 1880’s, hissed to a stop next to me.

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The engineer looked out of his cab at me and said, “I like your camera.” There was only one response: “I like your train!” Thus began my friendship with engineer Mike Nichols and my fascination with The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Being close to a working steam locomotive is an exhilarating experience--they are like fire-breathing dragons, with intense power. I knew right away that I wanted to create photographs that showed how much work and effort it takes to make the train run, and not just make pretty images of a train going around a mountain. Photography can have a great power, and I wanted to show the behind–the-scenes view of a present-day, working steam railroad. I also wanted to show the trains and machines as art unto themselves. The heart of the railroad is in the roundhouse and the workshops, where much of the work gets done. That was where I wanted to be.

The railroad and large-format photography have a lot in common. Both are done manually, and the cars are made from wood and metal, like my view camera. Every so often a worker would come over and look at it, and say something like, “How does that thing work?” If I started showing him the swings and tilts, I would soon have a small crowd of workers around me.

The machinery is fascinating. Most of the machines are large, and can cut through metal with ease. They stand proudly with locomotive wheels and parts at their feet, waiting to be worked on. Since the age of building steam locomotives has long past, parts are no longer available. If a part is needed the workers must manufacture it themselves.

There were numerous challenges with this project, one of which was the long exposures necessary inside the workshops. Many images were made in the one-to-five minute range, with some as long as ten minutes. I have been using TMax 100 and 400 film since their inception. I firmly believe in the basics, and using the same film and developer combination (D-76 1:1) for a long time makes one familiar with the look and feel of the materials. I have now used my 4x5” camera for twenty-five years, and it has almost become a part of me.

The roundhouse and workshops are sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, but I always felt a sense of history, of trains and workers long gone, of a past that no longer exists. I realized that what I was trying to photograph was this feeling, and not just the locomotives or cars or machines.

Brian Killigrew’s original prints of the railroad will premier at The Open Shutter Gallery, in Durango, Colorado. The opening is on July 27th, and the show will run through September 19th. The Open Shutter Gallery can be reached at:, or (970) 382-8355.

The Durango and Silverton can be reached at:, or (970) 247-2733.

All images and Text © 2012 Brian Killigrew.

Brian Killigrew