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After a disastrous season with wildfires during last years drought, Colorado's Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been buying up narrow gauge diesels from across the country to suppliment it's steamers. During the height of the fire season, the D&S had to suspend operations under mounting public pressure and threat of a forced shutdown. For a month during its peak ridership period the railroad was dormant. Severe wildfires raged just a few miles outside town and the railroads steamers were setting more fires as they climbed the grade from Hermosa to Rockwood. Although none of the blazes grew into wildfires, they had every possibility of doing so.
The D&S, a proud steam-only railroad for decades, found itself under siege for continuing to run steam, even as the National Forest Service had shut down the nearby Cumbres and Toltec. In the months leading up to the shutdown, the railroad purchased a GE 45-tonner from the shutdown Arkansas Limestone Railroad. It was repainted, repaired, and put into service pulling a fire suppression train behind the main train. Dubbed "Hot Shot 1" (after a type of forest fire fighter) the diesel allayed some fears by towing a large tanker of water and a fire team. Still, this was not enough to douse the alarm. Multiple wildfires raged within miles and the brush alongside the track was kindling in the making.
When the shutdown came, trains still ran. A diesel railbus the railroad had acquired several years before ran excursions from Silverton to Needleton, and Hot Shot 1 pulled trains from Rockwood to Cascade Canyon. Apparently the D&S learned the value of the diesel, as after regular operations resumed the railroad continued to buy diesels. Late in the summer the D&S started negotiating with Kovalchick Salvage to buy the three clones of M-7 that have been stored in the Locomotive Shop since 1993. The locomotives are GE 45-tonners, a derivative of the common 44-tonner design, but with only one traction motor per truck rather than the two per on a 44-tonner. The axles are coupled via a large roller chain. The four came from an Algoma Steel plant in Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan. The unit that became M-7 was deemed the best of the lot and so was restored to service and painted by Rockhill Trolley Museum Volunteers. Of the other three, two turned over when they arrived, the fourth would not. The three languished in the shops since then, as the EBT had no need for more than one diesel of that size.
Negotiations proceeded through most of August until an agreement was reached and the sale was made in early September. On September 16, M-7 with some work to get them rolling, brought out the locomotives one at a time and spotted them at the Meadow Street crossing to be craned onto road trailers for transport to Colorado. The next day a crane moved the locomotives and they were on their way. Two pair of spare trucks for these locomotives that came to the EBT with them were not sold as part of the deal and remain in the Car Shop
The D&S has since purchased an additional 87 ton diesel directly from Algoma Steel in Sault Sainte Marie. The larger diesel made its debut May 10th 2003 as "Big Al" #7. Two reasons are likely for this unit being restored first. The 87 ton unit is large enough to haul a significant train up the D&S's steep Hermosa to Rockwood grade which the 45-tonners are not. Secondly, the diesels from the EBT are not in as good a condition. They have been idle for over a decade and M-7 was the pick of the litter. When they were acquired the D&S was talking of installing multiple unit controls so that they could be used in tandem. Whether this will still happen with the 87 ton unit in place is unclear. As of this writing the units are not yet in service and await their turn in the shop. Additionally, reports have indicated that only two of the three may be returned to service, the third possibly being used as a parts supply.