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Opinion columns can be submitted to letters@durangoherald.com . They are published at the prerogative of the opinion editor and may be edited. Opinion columns should be 600-650 words and should be accompanied by a head shot of the author and a one-line pertinent biographical description. (For example, “John Doe is president of the nonprofit Kidz ’n’ Horses,” or “Jane Doe is a Durango City Councilor.”) Please also include your full name and contact phone number.

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    Videos & Photos

    31352201Graduating seniors interact during the commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)Photo gallery: Montezuma-Cortez commencementOn Thursday, the Montezuma-Cortez school district bid farewell to the Class of 2024Graduating seniors interact during the commencement ceremony on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)22013135Montezuma-Cortez High School Principal Jennifer Boniface announces the graduating class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)23953600Darwin Whiteman Jr. leads the Class of 2024 in prayer. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)40246048Selwyn Whiteskunk of the Ute Mountain Tribal Council speaks to the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)39125119Student-selected speaker Toni Broughton speaks to the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)24823600Class valedictorian Easton Hartsoe gives his address. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)25623600Class salutatorian Anna Jensen gives her address. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)25793600Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)14661940Panther Stadium on Thursday night for the commencement of the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)23953600Class salutatorian Anna Jensen gives her address. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)25133600Panther Stadium on Thursday night for the commencement of the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)25953900Panther Stadium on Thursday night for the commencement of the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)24483600Graduating seniors interact during the commencement ceremony on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)24553600Graduates turn and wave to their families at the end of the ceremony. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)23953600Graduates toss their caps into the air at the end of the commencement ceremony. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)27944200Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)26943613Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)25443600Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)22353300Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)23953600Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)28583180Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)19853300
    On Thursday, the Montezuma-Cortez school district bid farewell to the Class of 2024
    30001883At the urging of the keynote speaker, Dolores graduates put on red noses to remind them not to take life too seriously.Sam Green/Special to The JournalPhoto gallery: Dolores High School commencementLasting roughly 75 minutes from start to applause-heavy finish, commencement concluded DHS’ 2023-24 school year and began with senior Layne Hedgren singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”Superintendent Dr. Reece Blincoe then welcomed all in attendance and spoke first to the soon-to-be graduates.At the urging of the keynote speaker, Dolores graduates put on red noses to remind them not to take life too seriously.Sam Green/Special to The Journal18833000Dylan Koskie is congratulated as he marches in for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal23703000Valedictorian Analisa Vega speaks at the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal30002286Class president Kayla Tallmadge gives her speech air the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal30002190Salutatorian Brooklyn Lee gives her speech for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal30002256Layne Hedgren sings the national anthem for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal24003000Keynote speaker Mrs. Karen Finch addresses the Dolores High School graduates Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal26682400A standing room only crowds filled the gym for the Dolores High School graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal15753000Dolores graduates toss their hats in the air as the end of the graduation Thursday evening.Sam Green/Special to The Journal30002575
    Lasting roughly 75 minutes from start to applause-heavy finish, commencement concluded DHS’ 2023-24 ...
    PHOTOS: Durango 9-R’s Title VI Native American Education program celebrates Class of 2024Graduates represent seven tribes, including Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo Diné, on SaturdayOrlando Griego, Durango School District 9-R's Title VI Program Manager, speaks to the Class of 2024 during the 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)16452400Dr. Lorien Chambers Schuldt, Chair and Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Fort Lewis College, speaks to the Class of 2024 during the 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at FLC's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)15552100Keynote speaker LaTitia Taylor, Education Director with the Southern Ute Education Department, talk to the Class of 2024 about persevering through challenging times during the 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)15112100The Class of 2024 lines up to receive their celebratory shawls and blankets during the Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)12772400Nola Burnite is fitted with her celebratory shawl and blanket during the Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)15932100The Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education program held its graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)17252100Kendra Jim is fitted with her celebratory shawl and blanket during the Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)14681800Kenji Lebbon is fitted with his celebratory shawl during the Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)15302100The Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education program held its graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)1476210018001468Kendra Jim is fitted with her celebratory shawl and blanket during the Durango School District 9-R Title VI Native American Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at Fort Lewis College's Student Union Ballroom. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)
    Graduates represent seven tribes, including Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo Diné, on Saturday
    Anthony Benally of Kirtland, NM, completes the half marathon race with the time of 3:03:30.11 on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon races. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comMichael Grier of Flagstaff, AZ, runs down the final fifty meters of the men's marathon race on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon. Grier finished with the time of 3:01:44.68. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comJoel (left) and Owen (right) Aalberts of Santa Fe, NM, share a hug after completing the full marathon race on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comKari Porter (left) of Farmington, NM, and Cayleigh Beshears (right) of Wichita, KS, joined hands and crossed the finish line in unison on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon and half marathon races. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comD. Cox, age 12, of Aztec, NM, finishes the half marathon with the official time of 2:28:48.45 on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comRosanne McNeilly of Albuquerque, NM, raises her arms as her name is announced during the final twenty meters of the half marathon race on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comMarty Benally of Kirtland, NM, waves to the crowd as his name is announced down the final stretch to the finish line at the Shiprock Marathon races on Saturday, May 4, 2024. Benally finished with the official time of 2:20:13.08 in the men's half marathon race. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002415info@turkeyboyphotography.comSandy Willie of Shiprock, NM, finished the half marathon women's race with the official time of 3:19:51.07 on Saturday, May 4, 2024. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comKody Becenti, Farmington High School alumnas, crosses the finish line and completes the half marathon race on Saturday, May 4, 2024, with the official time of 1:51:09.72. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comYvonne Lee of Lukachukai, AZ, crosses the half marathon finish line dressed as Princess Leia of Star Wars on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon races. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comJeremy Curley of St. Michaels, AZ, comes down the final stretch to the finish line in full firefighting gear on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon races. Curley represented the Navajo Nation Fire Department, Window Rock. (Curtis Ray Benally/Tutkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comLaila Charley of Farmington, NM, and Navajo Preparatory School alumna, finishes the half marathon race in second place overall in the women's category on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at Shiprock Marathon races. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comAngela White of Tuba City, AZ, finishes in first place in the women's category with the official time of 1:41:52.24 in the half marathon competition at the Shiprock Marathon on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Shiprock. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comTanner Dugi of Page, AZ, comes to the finish line in first place in the men's category with the official time of 1:19:48.57 in the half marathon race at the Shiprock Marathon on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Shiprock. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photoigraphy)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comChristina Marin of Norwood, MA, is the overall winner in the women's category with the official time of 3:36:03.29 in the full marathon race at the Shiprock Marathon on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Shiprock. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002400info@turkeyboyphotography.comTimberlin Henderson of Fruitland, NM, finishes in first place in the men's marathon with the official time of 2:44:22 at the Shiprock Marathon on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Shiprock. (Curtis Ray Benally/Turkeyboy Photography)36002415info@turkeyboyphotography.comFruitland’s Timberlin Henderson wins men’s Shiprock MarathonMassachusetts resident Christina Marin wins women’s marathon; Farmington runners also shine
    Massachusetts resident Christina Marin wins women’s marathon; Farmington runners also shine
    Video: Purgatory Resort ‘Pond Skim’ event wows skiers, snowboardersSome touched down onto the water cleanly, while others crashed hard into the pond. But that was part of the fun0VideoYouTube48036021001765
    Some touched down onto the water cleanly, while others crashed hard into the pond. But that was part of the fun
    Officer injured by La Plata County Jail escapee sues county, jail and sheriff’s officeElias Buck is accused of shooting Farmington cop 11 days after escaping detention center16001076Capt. Ed Aber, head of the sheriff’s detentions division and La Plata County Jail, shows where Elias Buck escaped the jail by scaling a fence. The county and Sheriff’s Office are being accused of negligence by a Farmington police officer who Buck allegedly shot before he was recaptured. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)A Farmington police officer who was allegedly shot in the elbow by a fugitive who had escaped from the La Plata County Jail is suing the jail, county government and Sheriff’s Office. Joseph Barreto is accusing the county of negligence stemming from its operation of the jail in Durango, from which Elias Buck allegedly escaped on Dec. 27, 2021. Buck shot Barreto 11 days later while the officer tried to detain him, according to the lawsuit.In a notice of claims sent to the county in March 2022, Barreto’s attorney offered to settle the lawsuit for $3.5 million. He then filed a formal complaint in 6th Judicial District Court in December 2023, and the county filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last month.640423BuckArrest, escape, arrestBuck was being held at the La Plata County Jail in December 2021 on suspicion of auto theft when he allegedly scaled a fence behind the kitchen and escaped on foot the evening of Dec. 27. He was the second person to escape the jail that year.Buck remained on the lam for over a week. On Jan. 7, 2022, Barreto was on duty in Farmington and was responding to a call of a possible drunken driver when he allegedly encountered Buck. According to the lawsuit, Buck asked if he was being detained. When Barreto replied in the affirmative, Buck allegedly drew a handgun from his waistband and shot Barreto in the elbow. The incident was captured on Barreto’s body camera. 0VideoYouTube480360Buck allegedly fled the scene and was arrested seven days later in Phoenix. He was sentenced in March 2023 to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. State charges related the shooting were dropped to allow the federal case, which carried a longer sentence, to proceed. Allegations of negligenceIn the lawsuit, Barreto alleges that the county, the Sheriff’s Office and jail staff members breached a duty to provide a safe and secure jail facility and failed to maintain adequate surveillance and oversight of the inmates. It was that breach of duty that led to Barreto’s injury, he alleges. The officer has suffered permanent injuries “as a direct result of the (La Plata County Jail’s) negligence,” the complaint says.The county filed a motion to dismiss the case on multiple grounds. First, attorneys argued, the county did not have a specific duty of care to Baretto, who was injured as a result of Buck’s actions. To whatever extent it did have a duty of care to keep the jail secure, Buck’s subsequent actions were “unpredictable and unforeseeable” given that he was being held (and had not been convicted of) an alleged auto theft. Second, they argue that the county retains sovereign immunity. Generally, the government cannot be sued save for certain circumstances. Colorado law carves out several exceptions to this doctrine, including in circumstances when an injury occurs related to the operation of a correctional facility. 600503FBMD0a000a700100008b150000742e0000df320000cb37000058470000c26600008c6a00009f6f0000e6740000d0ad0000BarretoHowever county attorneys argue, citing case law, that Buck’s behavior in Farmington was too disconnected from any possible negligence in the jail’s operation for the county to be held responsible. “Mr. Buck’s actions in absconding from custody, concealing himself from law enforcement for 11 days, traveling across state lines, stealing a firearm, and firing at Plaintiff resulted in Plaintiff’s injuries – the alleged operation of the jail is too attenuated,” the motion reads. County spokesman Ted Holteen said he was limited in what he could say given the pending litigation.“La Plata County extends its deepest sympathies to Officer Joseph Barreto for the injuries he suffered,” Sheriff Sean Smith said in a written statement. “However, the County does not have a legal duty to an officer injured by the unforeseeable criminal actions of an escaped inmate, particularly one who had traveled across state lines and caused the injury many days after the escape occurred. While we have tremendous respect for law enforcement, we cannot be held liable for the spontaneous violent acts of a third party under these circumstances.”The Board of County Commissioners will hold an executive session Tuesday to discuss the matter.rschafir@durangoherald.com
    Elias Buck is accused of shooting Farmington cop 11 days after escaping detention center
    Firefighters douse car fire at Durango gas stationBlaze started in trunk of vehicle, which held two propane tanks30001782Durango Fire Protection District firefighters spray a foam and water mix on a car that caught fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station at Carbon Junction and South Camino del Rio near Walmart. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Firefighters responded to a car fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station near the Toyota dealership across from Walmart in Durango.Police and firefighters staged a significant response given the fire occurred at a gas station.0VideoYouTube480360The fire was reported about 10:15 a.m. at 1220 Carbon Junction.The blaze started in the trunk of a four-door sedan. The exact cause of the fire was not immediately known, but it did not appear to be suspicious in nature, said Tom Walsh, fire captain with the Durango Fire Protection District.30002174Two propane tanks were found in a car that caught fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station at Carbon Junction and South Camino del Rio near Walmart. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Two propane tanks were inside the trunk of the vehicle and became engulfed in flames. Still, Walsh said the fire does not appear to be suspicious. It may have started from faulty wiring, he said.Two occupants of the vehicle left the scene, according to police. But police believe they left the scene because one or both of them had active arrest warrants.30001923A Durango Fire Protection District firefighter looks over a car that caught fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station at Carbon Junction and South Camino del Rio near Walmart. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)At least one of the owners of the vehicle was taken to Mercy Hospital with minor burns after he tried to access the trunk to extinguish the blaze, Walsh said.Police helped create a perimeter around the gas station to keep people at a distance in case the fire spread to the gas pumps. But firefighters were able to quickly douse the flames.shane@durangoherald.com1063797Firefighters responded to a car fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station near the Toyota dealership across from Walmart in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)30001845A Durango Fire Protection District firefighter looks over a car that caught fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station at Carbon Junction and South Camino del Rio near Walmart. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)30001739Durango Fire Protection District firefighters spray a foam and water mix on a car that caught fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station at Carbon Junction and South Camino del Rio near Walmart.30001857Two propane tanks were in a car that caught fire Wednesday at the Marathon gas station at Carbon Junction and South Camino del Rio near Walmart. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
    Blaze started in trunk of vehicle, which held two propane tanks
    Fort Lewis College students explore ways to have more civil political discourseMisinformed stereotypes among reasons for divisiveness33652379Fort Lewis College senior Esai Gomez engages active listening during Wednesday’s Community by Conversation event. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald) In a world that seems divided by political discourse, a Fort Lewis College political science professor and his students are examining how things became this way and methods for holding more civil debates. In a world where it seems political discourse has become completely divisive, a Fort Lewis College political science professor and his students are examining how things came to be this way.Students and community members gathered in groups Wednesday at the FLC Ballroom to discuss divisive issues. Each table included topics such as student loan debt relief, banning of books and environmental issues.Political science students, meanwhile, stood by to help participants understand how to engage in civil conversation about politics.The workshop was part of a Paul DeBell’s political psychology class.During the Community by Conversation event on Wednesday night at The Fort Lewis College Ballroom, students had community members gather in groups to discuss divisive issues. The students helped participants understand how to have a civil conversation about politics.This was part of the FLC’s political psychology class taught by Paul DeBell.“We believe that identifiable facts are the basis of important political conversations and effective policymaking,” said Wyatt Bair, vice president of the FLC Political Engagement Project (formerly the Political Science Club). “Good-faith negotiation between parties is essential to solving the issues that we care about, and that public interests should always come before personal interests or party interests.”DeBell and his students sought to demonstrate how a person’s reaction and body language when confronted with other’s political beliefs can create a vitriolic environment. DeBell said people often make assumptions about opposing political beliefs based on stereotypes. He referenced an article published in The Washington Post called “Democrats are gay, Republicans are rich: Our stereotypes of political parties are amazingly wrong.”According to the article, a survey was given to people with conservative views and those with liberal views. It found that people with conservative views believe that 30% of Democrats identify as members of the LGBTQ community. But in reality, only about 8% of Democrats identify with the LGBTQ community. By the same token, Democrats taking the survey estimated that 40% of Republicans make $250,000 or more per year. But that salary range applies to only 2.5% of conservatives.DeBell took it a step further by saying 74% of National Rifle Association members support background checks for gun owners, based on data from the Center for American Progress.“That’s pretty surprising,” he said. “I’ll bet a lot of us, if we saw somebody’s NRA sticker on their car, would make all sorts of presumptions about them, and what they believe in.”It is a perfect example, he said, of how people can find common ground, despite their political differences.“It’s really easy to focus on differences. Again, that’s profitable for a lot of people. Not for us, but for certain political elites, pundits and media,” DeBell said. “It’s really profitable to show the fight. But as we saw earlier, there’s a lot of research suggesting that we agree on many issues.”Students discussed methods such as active listening to help navigate political conversations.“There’s four main components to active listening, which are understanding, communicating, observing and correcting,” said FLC senior Esai Gomez.He said it is important to use listening skills to create a respectful environment.Near the end of the event, DeBell played a clip from Robb Willer’s TED Talk, “How to have better political conversations,” which led to a discussion about how both sides of the political spectrum endorse values. This opened discussion about how both sides of the political spectrum endorse values.0VideoYouTube480360For example, Willer’s findings indicate that liberals tend to endorse values like equality, fairness, care and protection from harm, while conservatives tend to favor values like loyalty, patriotism, respect for authority and moral purity.That was used to show how people will take their political perspective and use those inherent values in conversation rather than approaching a political opposite based on their values.Wednesday’s workshop was the first of multiple events to be hosted by DeBell, the Political Engagement Project and Restore the Balance. This was the first of multiple events that will be hosted by DeBell, Political Engagement Project and Restore The Balance. tbrown@durangoherald.com
    Misinformed stereotypes among reasons for divisiveness
    Last coal-fired engine departs Durango train station, marking end of an eraSaturday was bittersweet for crews who sent No. 481 on its final ride before it’s converted for oil use29112001 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Conductor Johnathan Rooney, left, and railroad engineer Isaac Randolph place new flags on steam Engine No. 481 on Saturday ahead of its last coal-fueled outing. The 99-year-old locomotive will be converted to use oil as a fuel source for producing steam. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Saturday marked the bittersweet end of an era for Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad with the last departure of the railroad’s sole remaining coal-burning locomotive, Engine No. 481.The last coal engine left the rail yard for Cascade Canyon Silverton at 9:15 a.m. It was carrying about 185 passengers, many of whom were none the wiser to the historic moment unfolding.A small group of railroad workers, volunteers and longtime fans of D&SNG gathered on the platform to wave at passengers as the train rolled out and to embrace the memorable scent of burning coal for the last time.15002166 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Fireman Jonathan Neuer shovels coal into the firebox of steam Engine No. 481 on Saturday before the locomotive pulled out of the depot for its last coal-fueled trip to Cascade Canyon and back. The locomotive will be converted to burn oil, which is a cleaner and less labor-intensive fuel source than coal. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)D&SNG General Manager Jeff Johnson said the railroad has used coal-burning engines since 1891. Engine No. 481 was built in 1925 for the Denver & Rio Grande Western (the previous name of D&SNG between 1881 and 1981) as part of a 10-engine order.The old-school fuel resource is as significant to the railroad’s history as the railroad is to the history of Durango. Al Harper, owner of D&SNG, has long held that the railroad would never give up coal.On Saturday, Harper said he “hates” retiring the historic coal engines, but he is excited about getting the railroad on the right track for the future.“What’s most important is that the railroad is really healthy. And I think that we’ve adjusted and we’re set so that we’ll be here for generations to come regardless,” he said. “And that’s more important than coal or oil. It’s important that (D&SNG) is here forever.”30002100 Several tons of coal sit in a rail car behind the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad coal-burning steam Engine No. 481 on Saturday. The locomotive will be taken into the shop and converted to burn oil instead of coal. It is the last of the railroad’s coal engines to be converted to oil, a process that started in 2020 in the aftermath of the 416 Fire of 2018. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Johnson said the railroad began converting its coal trains to oil-burning engines in 2020 in the long aftermath of the 416 Fire of 2018.The fire started on June 1, 2018, and burned about 54,000 acres north of Durango for two months before it was contained on July 31, 2018. The railroad was found liable for the fire and agreed to a $20 million settlement in a federal lawsuit in 2022.0VideoYouTube480360Johnson said a number of factors were at play in the conversion to oil engines.Fire risks are one reason. The railroad has already stopped deploying coal engines during the busy summer tourist season and has reserved Engine No. 481 for the wintertime. Coal sources are also waning, not just in La Plata County but across the country, and “we saw the handwriting on the wall,” he said.Railroad crew members said on Saturday coal is a fickle fuel source. It’s high maintenance, dirty and corrosive. It creates thick, black pillars of smoke whenever it is burned in abundance.A round trip from Durango to Silverton requires burning between 5 and 6 tons of coal. The same trip requires about 900 gallons of oil, Johnson said.Southside Durango residents have complained for decades about the soot from the railroad’s coal-fired operation. But despite coal’s shortcomings, it remains a symbol of nostalgia for the men and women at D&SNG.55513892 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad crew members pose in front of steam Engine No. 481 on Saturday minutes before the locomotive left the rail yard for its last coal-fueled trip to Cascade Canyon. The train’s departure marked the bittersweet end of an era for railroad workers, owner Al Harper and longtime fans of D&SNG. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)For many railroad workers, it represents fond childhood memories and a source of bragging rights.D&SNG Engineer Isaac Randolph said there are few places left in the world where one can honestly claim he or she shovels coal for steam engines for a living.He has worked for the railroad for 19 years and like others he is sad the last coal engine is getting converted to burn oil.“My parents would sometimes surprise me with a trip to Silverton. That’s really the biggest thing I remember, is just the smell of the coal smoke,” he said.He said the scent of coal smoke is nostalgic to him and many other workers at D&SNG.30002166 Al Harper, right, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and his son John Harper, general manager, stand in front steam engine No. 481 on Saturday. The locomotive’s trip that morning marked its last before it is converted into an oil-burning engine. It is the last of the railroad’s engines to burn coal instead of oil. The conversion makes for a pivotal point in the railroad’s history. (Jerry McBride/ Durango Herald)“That’s probably the thing that a lot of us are going to miss the most. Getting into the yard in the morning and just … getting the smell of the coal smoke,” he said.He said coal burning itself is an art form because every coal engine is different. It’s not as easy as just shoveling coal into the firebox.The way coal is patterned or loaded into the firebox and the way it steams takes skill to pull off. Sometimes, an engine won’t steam as effectively as it should and excessive smoke is produced as a result, which makes for a frustrating day on the tracks, he said.D&SNG Fireman Jonathan Neuer, whose job on Engine No. 481 is to fuel the engine’s firebox with coal, said shoveling coal is like performing a dance, moving coal into the firebox by shoveling it through a window or doorway into the right places as the train barrels forward.“The engine, you also have to fire it in a certain way to keep (coal) heavier in some areas and lighter in others. Heavier along the sides and in the back than in the front and in the middle,” he said. “You need to know the railroad.”The train engine needs a heavier fire to create enough steam to climb up Hermosa Hill, for example, he said. And coal requires energy to properly ignite, which means it needs to be loaded into the engine in time to ignite before the train reaches a hill.“We’re losing history, for sure. But it’s a practical consideration,” he said. “The coal burners are a lot more work. They’re more challenging. Compared to the oil burners, they have a certain romance about them. That will be sad to see go.”Neuer was among the last coal firemen trained by the railroad, he said. He finds coal engines more interesting to work with than oil engines because of the extra skill and labor they require.30002000 Smoke billows from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad coal-burning steam Engine 481 on Saturday. The locomotive is the last of the railroad’s steam engines to be converted from coal-fueled to oil-fueled. Despite being dirty, corrosive and a risk for wildfires, train crews said it was a sad moment for the railroad. They said they will miss the nostalgic scent of burning coal. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)“Nowhere in the country runs as many steam engines as hard and as far as we do. This is a special place,” he said. “I’m just glad that I got to experience it while it was still here.”One railroad volunteer said he wishes D&SNG hung onto the last coal train for one more year when it and many of the other engines would have turned 100 years old.Johnson said D&SNG has played a big role in his life. He started working for the railroad 43 years ago just after graduating high school. He still remembers the first time he was there for lighting a coal fire in Engine 481 after he accepted a job.But to the casual observer, there isn’t much of a noticeable difference between a coal engine and an oil engine. Regardless of the fuel source, the railroad is still operating steam engines, he said.cburney@durangoherald.com30001840 Isaac Randolph, an engineer with Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, backs up the coal-fired Engine No. 481 on Saturday in preparation for its last ride using coal. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)jm@durangoherald.com30002000 Smoke billows from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad coal burning steam engine 481 on Saturday. The locomotive is the last of the railroad’s steam engines to be converted from coal-fueled to oil-fueled. Despite being dirty, corrosive and a risk for wildfires, train crews said it was a sad moment for the railroad. They said they will miss the nostalgic scent of burning coal. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
    Saturday was bittersweet for crews who sent No. 481 on its final ride before it’s converted for oil use
    Photos: Fort Lewis Skyhawks’ season ends in South Central Region basketball tournament semifinalsFort Lewis falls 85-80 against Colorado Mesa on Sunday in Canyon, TexasMalik Whitaker of Fort Lewis College puts up a shot against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Fort Lewis College competes against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Sekou Dembele of Fort Lewis College puts up a shot against Trevor Baskin Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)30002000Isaiah Thompson of Fort Lewis College looks to move the ball inside against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Isaiah Thompson of Fort Lewis College dribbles against Trevor Baskin of Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Isaiah Thompson of Fort Lewis College looks to attack the basket against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&; M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Obi Agbim of Fort Lewis College throws down a dunk against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)30002000Obi Agbim of Fort Lewis College fires a 3-pointer against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Junior Garbrah of Fort Lewis College fires a deep shot against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Fort Lewis College competes against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Obi Agbim of Fort Lewis College shoots the ball against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Obi Agbim Fort Lewis College attacks the rim against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Fort Lewis College competes against Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)20003000Fort Lewis College Skyhawks coach Bob Pietrack talks to his team on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)2000300030002000Isaiah Thompson of Fort Lewis College dribbles against Trevor Baskin of Colorado Mesa University on Sunday, March 17, 2024 during the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament at West Texas A&M University's First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas. (Joe Garcia III/Special to the Herald)
    Fort Lewis falls 85-80 against Colorado Mesa on Sunday in Canyon, Texas