Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.


Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.



The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.



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During the latter part of the 1960s, the Durango & Silverton was registered as a National Historic Landmark and awarded designation as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In 1969, the D&RGW abandoned the tracks south of Durango, isolating the line and leaving its future in question. Hollywood continued its fascination with the area and the railroad with the filming of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As the railroad prepared to celebrate its 100th birthday, Charles E. Bradshaw Jr. purchased the Silverton branch and with the restoration process complete, Engine No. 481 returned to service after 20 years in retirement.

During the 1980s, major track reconstruction occurred. Nearly 10,000 railroad ties were fitted and replaced. Then Locomotives Nos. 497 and 480 were restored and returned to service. No. 497 was the only K-37 to run on the line. The D&SNGRR continued to expand the scenic tourist railroad industry by weatherizing engines and coaches for winter use. A third train to Silverton was added to the schedule along with an alternative fourth train to Cascade Canyon, and the innovative RailCamp was built for use in the summer. In 1985 the D&SNGRR purchased the Silverton Depot and returned it to service. By 1986 there were four trains running to Silverton with a fifth running to Cascade Canyon.

The Durango & Silverton continues to provide year-round train service, operating a historic steam train with rolling stock indigenous to the line. The locomotives used to pull today’s train remain 100-percent coal-fired and steam-operated. The locomotives are 1923-25 vintage. Open gondola cars provide a panoramic view of the mountains. Concession cars are available on every train.

The Durango & Silverton is now owned and operated by American Heritage Railways, so if you would like to take an adventure that dates back to the past two centuries, consider a trip on this or another modern-day railway. The sights are majestic, the food delicious and the other passengers may include seniors reliving their childhood memories with you.

Sources and Resources

In the 1940s and ’50s, steam locomotives were part of America’s culture. I remember hearing trains coming through the city with their whistles and bells clanging. Now as a senior, my friends and I often revisit memories of those days. Senior travel options today allow us to relive those days through rail tours.

My wife and I joined friends to get a glimpse of the Old West by rail. You can take a flight into Denver, CO, and from there go on train rides across the state. Colorado was the territory that brought in gold and silver miners during the gold rush era, and they relied on rail transportation. The Durango & Silverton Railroad winds through 2 million acres of the Animas River Canyon and the San Juan National Forest.

The Durango & Silverton is a narrow-gauge heritage railroad. This means the tracks are 36 inches apart. The Durango & Silverton operates some 45 miles of track between Durango and Silverton. Durango was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879. The railroad arrived in Durango on Aug. 5, 1881, and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of that same year. By July 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed and the train began hauling both freight and passengers through acres of prairie. This railroad line was envisioned to haul silver and gold ore from southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to emerging cities. It is estimated over $300 million in precious metals has been transported over this route, but passengers soon realized


it was the view that was truly breathtaking.

Throughout the years, the railroad faced many challenges, including mud slides, floods, snow, avalanches, war and financial instability. When the U.S. government entered World War I, it assumed operation of the railroad. Shortly after resuming control of railroad operations, the D&RGW reorganized due to financial difficulties. Illness plagued the town of Silverton; many inhabitants suffered the devastating effects of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

With the start of World War II, the government requisitioned narrow-gauge equipment to use in Alaska. The smelter in Durango reopened to process uranium for use in the war. It continued to process uranium instead of silver into the late 1940s due to the Cold War. By 1947, the Silverton branch was in danger of being abandoned. About this time, Hollywood discovered Durango and the railroad. Over the next 10 years, several movies were filmed in the area to showcase the Durango & Silverton railway, including Ticket to Tomahawk, Across the Wide Missouri, Denver and Rio Grande, Viva Zapata and Around the World in 80 Days.


Thomas W. Miller, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor emeritus and senior research scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut; retired service chief from the VA Medical Center; and tenured professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky.