Al-Harper-waving-by-Durango-and-Silverton-trainI fell in love with trains when my dad gave my brothers and me a Lionel train set when I was eight.

My favorite train memory is seeing my first steam engine when I was a small boy. I loved standing next to the drive wheels, which were taller than me.

You haven’t lived until you’ve ridden on the “High Line” aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It not only shows you what man’s ingenuity can produce, but also lets you witness firsthand the glory of all that God has made.

When I bought the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in 1998, my biggest challenge was convincing the employees that, “We have always done it this way,” is not necessarily the right way today.

The trick to running a successful railroad is to maintain the historical importance of a line, while using modern innovation, like train stories from children’s books, to attract a new audience of families with young children.

I learned everything I know from experience. Sometimes I feel I got a doctorate in mistakes!

I wish train passengers understood that every day is a new day in history. We must preserve the old and blend with the new. It is a motion picture, not a photograph.

Don’t get me started on tourist and scenic railroads owned by government and administrated by volunteer boards.

Steam rail adventures are so rare because they are so expensive to operate. It costs three to four times more to operate a steam locomotive versus a diesel locomotive.

The best Western ever is Dances With Wolves, although I love all John Wayne and Clint Eastwood Westerns.

Nobody can touch Louis L’Amour. His Westerns and characters have touched more people in books, movies and television than any other writer’s.

Jesse James interests me. Having been raised in Missouri, he was part bad guy, part legend and part hero.

My teenage daughter’s incurable formaldehyde poisoning has made me appreciate how precious every day of our lives is and that each moment is an experience you shouldn’t lose. My daughter missed her entire high school years. It can never be recaptured.  You just have to move on.

My daddy always told me to do your “highest sense of right” at home, at work and with all people.

Wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me I would never make it. Those people were great motivators.

Nobody knows that although I absolutely love trains, I know nothing about the technical side of how they work.

I’m working on a railroad-themed hotel in Durango, Colorado, and on more events to attract children to ride our historic railroads.

History has taught me that the past is the road map to the future.  If only our politicians understood that!

Gold diggers and dance hall girls will bring history to life for the whole family at this year’s Railfest, held August 14-17, in Durango, Colorado. Visit for more information on this True West-sponsored event.


Al Harper, Railroad Owner

Born in the farm country of southern Illinois and earning a finance postgraduate at University of Missouri in St. Louis, realtor Al Harper headed west to operate the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, on a line built in 1881, after he purchased the railroad in 1998. Through American Heritage Railways, Harper continues his commitment to history by also operating North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, established 1891, and coordinating rail events throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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