Editor's note: Most of the information for this article was taken from the forthcoming book D&RGW 315: The Lives, Times, and Rebirth of an 1895 Steam Locomotive by the Durango Railroad Historical Society. The book is expected to be released in early 2010.One of Durango's most famous and revered citizens is celebrating a rare diamond anniversary Thursday, but few will likely be on hand to offer a toast or even a piece of cake.
Sixty years ago, Engine No. 315, which recently was restored to running condition by the Durango Railroad Historical Society, made its big-screen debut in the movie "Colorado Territory." The 1949 film basically was a Western remake of the 1941 classic "High Sierra," and both were directed by Raoul Walsh.
While "Colorado Territory" was not the first to be shot in Durango - that honor went to the 1917 silent film "Small Town Vamp" starring Jim Jarvis of Jarvis Suites fame - it was the first big-budget Hollywood production and also had the distinction of being the first movie to make its debut at a drive-in theater (although not in Durango).
Filmed in black and white, "Colorado Territory" starred Joel McCrea, Virginia Mayo and Dorothy Malone, but critics seemed to focus on the casting of McCrea, whom many agreed didn't live up to the similar Humphrey Bogart character in "High Sierra."
No. 315 played its role admirably, although several modifications were made; the number was changed to 15 and a diamond-shaped stack and extended cow-catcher were added for period authenticity.
The engine was retired in October 1949, just four months after the film was released, but it starred again in the Oscar-winning "Around the World in 80 Days" in 1956.
Legend has it that Durango, fairly or unfairly, got a reputation for gouging visiting filmmakers, and the industry made only two stops to the area in the 1960s for the 1962 filming of "How the West Was Won" and 1969's "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid."
In 1970, the D&RG pulled its trains out of the movie business altogether, and it wasn't until Charles Bradshaw purchased the railroad in 1981, renaming it the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge, that the old steam locomotives began to reappear on Hollywood sets.
The renaissance did not include No. 315, however, as the engine sat idle for more than 50 years until it was restored by the Durango Railroad Historical Society.
After a seven-year restoration project, No. 315 made a historic run in 2007 and now makes occasional appearances for special occasions.
Wide-eyed fans can catch a glimpse and maybe even a photo of the former, and possibly future, movie star at its temporary home in Silverton in the Old Engine House, although the locomotive soon will head out on the road for a publicity tour. But, sorry, folks - no autographs, please.