As a Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad fireman shovels coal into his steam engines firebox, the modern worlds electric lights and paved highways fade away into the gritty, coal-fired memories of the railways early days.
Shovel in hand, Charles Franz is dressed in classic blue-jean overalls and an old conductors hat stained with coal dust. An oil can sits nearby to lubricate the engine.
In fact, the only real trace that its the 21st century is Franzs protective eyewear and the curses he utters because the train is late to leave.
One rule about trains: Theyre never late. Every worker carries a pocket watch that are all synced at the start of the day. But Aug. 3 is not a normal day. A rock pile fell along the tracks near Silverton and sent the railroad into chaos.
People waiting to board the train stand on the platform, and railroad workers bustle around looking strained.
Franz fidgets with the knobs in the locomotive, monitoring the water-pressure gauge that is steadily decreasing because the train has been sitting idle for 20 minutes, which only serves to provoke another line of profanities.
While Franz may seem a little obsessive about the water pressure, his attentive monitoring keeps the train in motion. He is the heart of the train, and the coal and water are its blood.
Before the train finally is ready to depart, Franz frantically starts shoveling scoops of coal into the engine. Each scoop weighs about 25 pounds, and every time he opens the butterfly doors that contain the firebox, 190 degrees of heat comes shooting out, hitting him head-on.
The ride is just starting, and Franz will continue to shovel coal into the train that needs constant feeding to make the trek to Cascade Wye. The train normally goes to Silverton, but a rockslide temporarily stopped all rides to the mountain town.
Another fireman, Isaac Randolph, said he needs to feed the firebox of his engine four scoops every 15 seconds when the train is ascending a steep incline.
The train will use 5 tons of coal in a round trip to Silverton, all of which is shoveled in by the fireman.
One would think Franz and Randolph were forced into the job, but thats far from the case.
I love it, Randolph said.
It takes more than brawn and stamina to be a fireman.
Its a lot more mental than physical because youre monitoring the heat and the water boiler, Randolph said. I have to anticipate the coming turns and steep inclines.
Its an art form and a balancing act. Every scoop and large piece of coal is carefully placed in the furnace to keep the water temperature up and the boiler running, but there has to be the right amount of coals or the fire will burn out.
Its a labor of love, as D&SNG Marketing Manager Andrea Seid calls it.
Randolph grew up around trains and always had a love for them. He got his first job at D&SNG when he was 16 years old, performing track maintenance.
But his ultimate dream is to be an engineer, the other worker in the locomotive in charge of the brakes and handling the train.
Franz also wants to be an engineer. It wouldnt be his first time, though.
He started working with trains six years ago at the Napa Valley Wine Train, where he was an engineer on a modern oil-run machine. It took some time to adjust and learn the inner workings of the 1920s engines of D&SNG. The railroad makes its own parts now to keep the trains in pristine, historic condition.
Franz and Randolph started out as brakemen, the starting position for a railroad worker who want to climb the ladder. They attended a week of classroom training to learn the ins and outs of how the train functions.
Then they were promoted to student firemen and spent six to 10 weeks taking tests, observing and practicing with a fireman before they were let loose on their own.
Its only one more step to engineer, but there is more classroom work and three progressive tests before becoming student engineers.
Randolph has been a fireman for three years and is just starting the tests to become an engineer. Like each days climb up the mountain, it has been a long but gratifying journey to the top.