Sometimes, late at night at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, you may hear what sounds like a legless man dragging himself along behind you across the rail yard.
The poor fellow following you may be “Legs,” one of the otherworldly inhabitants said to haunt the depot.
If you don’t have occasion to frequent the rail yard – especially in the darkness of night – here’s your chance: Tuesday night – Halloween – Jeff Ellingson, D&SNG Train Museum curator, will lead brave, mature (this is an 18-and-older tour) souls on the Full Moon Ghost Crawl through the yard and into the museum. The Crawl, which started this year, will take participants on a trip back in time; the railroad depot has been a Durango mainstay since 1882.
“The Ghost Crawl is a number of these stories,” Ellingson said. “I take people through the yard at night and there’s been a lot of tragedy in the rail yard. ... It’s a dangerous place to work in general. We have lost people that are very intelligent and level-headed and not foolish and don’t take chances, and yet, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and they got killed by the train.”
I asked if some of them are still here.
“Yes,” Ellingson said, his voice dropping an octave.
‘Legs’Not to give too much of the Ghost Crawl away, the story of “Legs” is one that hits close because his accident and ultimate demise happened on the tracks behind The Durango Herald building a little more than 100 years ago.
In their book, Ghost Tracks: Haunting Tales from Along the Rails, authors Elizabeth Green and Suzy Garrison Meyer say that the unlucky brakeman has been heard “dragging himself through the sand and the gravel in the yard” and pleading: “Where are they? My legs. I need my legs.”
And what happened to “Legs” is tragic – his story is one that is passed down in Durango.
“You know, when I was a kid – I grew up in Durango – in my neighborhood, there were Rio Grande guys, the old-timers. And they used to tell me a story – I used to think they were just trying to scare me – but they were telling me a story about this fella that, he was a brakeman and he was riding into town on top of a boxcar,” Ellingson said. “It was winter, it was snowing. And he was supposed to be up there, tightening and untightening the handbrake on a boxcar. He fell. He slipped on the ice on top of the train and fell down in between the cars and the train ran over him and cut off his legs.”
Ellingson said the man bled to death before the other workers could get him to Mercy hospital.
The Ghost CrawlThat’s not to say that just by taking part in the Ghost Crawl, which takes a little over an hour, you’re guaranteed to get an eyeful of “Legs” or the other apparitions who may call the railroad home.
In fact, Ellingson said, “I don’t want to preach to people that, ‘Hey, we have ghosts.’ I want to let them make up their own minds about that. You can say, ‘Pfft – I don’t believe it,’ or, ‘Man, you’re right. There’s something going on here.’”
And for participants – the tour is capped at 30 people – learning a little about the history of the area and the tough life those who came before us lived is worth the price of admission.
“I don’t want people to come and expect to see ghosts,” he said, adding that the true stories he tells are frontier-type railroad stories – no special effects, no smoke and mirrors or “hokey stuff.”
Ellingson lays out the historical context and lets participants be the judge – and, hopefully, witness something they may find hard to explain.
“I love history; that’s my thing,” he said. “These human stories – all of this stuff that we have in here is about people, really, and the artifacts ... they just start the conversation of: Who had those? Who did that belong to? Who designed that locomotive? Who ran that locomotive? Who was there before me?
“Those engines all had generations of men, and they all had lives, they all had families and they all died of something, and they lived – just like you and me right now. Life doesn’t really change all that much – not the human part of it. People are people. They lived in different times, and had different challenges, but it’s kind of the same stuff. That’s what we want to talk about in the Ghost Crawl is yeah, these people struggled ... it’s powerful.”
If you miss the Halloween Crawl, don’t worry – this isn’t the end of the tour.
“We want to tweak it a little bit. We want to see how we can grow it,” said Christian Robbins, director of marketing for the railroad. “Because we only had a few nights, we sold it all out. It’s hugely popular.”
And the thing to remember, Robbins said, is that this isn’t a gag – it’s all about stories.
“This is authentic,” he said. “We share the stories we have, the stories of what people have seen.”