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Allen C. Harper
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum
Durango, Colorado

Why Do I Preserve History?

PHOTO: Yvonne Lashmett

The title question has no easy answer. My name is Allen Harper. My wife, Carol, and I are the owners of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum in Durango, Colorado. We spent the majority of our net worth purchasing the Railroad over ten years ago. Was it a good investment? Not financially. Most years, tax-wise, we make a small profit. However, it all goes back into capital expenditures for improved operations and restorations. I could triple my returns putting my funds in a savings account. So, why do you buy a 128-year-old railroad?

The truth is, I love history....living history. We are not just a museum. We are an operating business. Most important, my wife and I feel we are not just owners, but are also guardians of an American Treasure and it is our job to see that this railroad prospers for generations to come.

Now let me point out some philosophical perspectives that we adhere to:

1. The best way to preserve history is to make its presentation so interesting and exciting that people will pay a fair price to experience it.

2. The goal of our Railroad is that our riders/guests don't go home and just say it was "a neat old train", or that the "views from the train were spectacular." The goal is that our riders tell everyone they meet, "You have got to go do that!"

3. I value the riders/guests! All of our employees are trained to interact with our guests. They talk to the guests, relate historical facts, and encourage our guests to see, touch, feel, climb on, and photograph all that we have. It's been said, tell someone about history, and they soon forget; show them a picture, and they may retain a faint memory; but involve someone in the experience, and it will become a part of their life. At our Railroad, you are an 1882 passenger, complete with coal dust in your hair. In fact, you even have a choice to buy a ticket to ride in the steam locomotive or ride along with our Maintenance-of-Way track gang.

4. Reality! When we talk about history and create the experience, it must be real. We operate our railroad today with the same equipment we have had for 128 years. This is not an amusement park. It is real history....alive!

So why do I preserve history? Probably the #1 reason is fun! I am the little boy whose Lionel toy train grew up. But more importantly, it gives me a noble purpose in life. Carol and I hope that what we do for the Durango & Silverton Railroad today will continue for generations. What a great investment!


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