Who we Are

"We re all guardians of history. The best way to preserve history is to make its presentation so interesting and exciting that people will pay a fair price for the experience."
-Allen C. Harper, Cheif Executive Officer-Chairman. American Heritage Railways

Our Story

The preservation of history is an endeavor no less important to the future of this nation than the preservation of life itself. History defines and documents the very character of our country. It portrays our greatest social and technological triumphs, as well as reminds us of our failures so that they may not be repeated. Most important, history absolutely points out to us the true source of America’s greatness: the ideas, inventions, courage, ethics, and morality of the men and women living in our atmosphere of freedom.

American Heritage Railways is committed to:
• Excellent Customer Service
• Proven Expertise in Tourist Rail Marketing and Merchandising
• Community Partnerships
• Operational Safety
• Exceptional Track & Equipment

History may be a compilation of words, objects, and processes, but it translates to the human character traits of strength, morality, and the ability to achieve greatness. America’s greatest era still lies ahead for future generations, but the road to that future can only be read by reading the map of our past: our history.

American Heritage Railways (AHR) is a heritage tourism company based on the preservation of railroad history. Its current operations reach nearly 1,500,000 rail passengers annually through three directly owned railroads and through the licensing of special events at over 50 additional railroads.

Historically, railroads own significant land holdings. AHR is no different, and thus has extensive real estate expertise generating substantial revenues from its in-town holdings as well as miles of right-of-way. Access crossings, fiber optics, and development opportunities are regular business for the company. The greatest in scope will be the development of hotels at each of the company owned railroads.

American Heritage Railways is a unique company with a tremendous future grounded on the historic past. Its assets include American railroad treasures, extensive land holdings, and valuable intellectual properties. The long range profit potential of the company is just being realized as people see that our history is the roadmap to our future. American Heritage Railways truly presents our history in a way so interesting and exciting that our guests will - and do - pay a fair price for a great experience.

LEADERSHIP TEAM

Allen Harper

CEO: American Heritage Railways

Under his leadership, and in collaboration with his wife and co-owner Carol, American Heritage Railways  owns and operates the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, CO; the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad™ in Bryson City, North Carolina; and Rail Events, Inc., which coordinates licensed special events from major entertainment brands, event promotions, merchandising, and related activities for over 50 railroad and museum operators throughout the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. Leveraging their combined professional backgrounds in the commercial real estate, retail, restaurant, and travel and hospitality sectors, the Harpers completed the acquisition of Silverton’s historic Grand Imperial Hotel, originally founded in 1882, and subsequently renovated and reopened the well-known property in May of 2016. With their guidance, the Harpers have built American Heritage Railways into the country’s foremost tourist railroad organization.

John Harper

VP/GM: American Heritage Railways

John leads AHR sales initiatives, company growth/diversification, risk management and overall operations,  including oversight of the railroads, branded entertainment, hotels, real estate, retail and future acquisitions for AHR.  John joined the AHR family workforce in 2005 while attending Durango High School as a second shift locomotive laborer. From locomotive labor, he transitioned to retail, warehousing, track/bridge inspection and maintenance, train operations, coach maintenance and eventually into sr. management. John graduated from Fort Lewis College with a focus in the School of Business Administration, Tourism and Hospitality and Political Science. John currently serves as a board member on the FLC School of Business. John also holds certifications as a Firefighter, Emergency Medical Responder, Hazmat Ops and Awareness tech, Wildland/Urban interface Firefighter and Engineer.

Cathy Swarts

CFO: American Heritage Railways

Cathy has over 34 years of experience in many areas of business including marketing, human resources, accounting and finance. She’s worked in various roles as an Accountant, Controller and Finance Director gaining experience in payroll, tax preparation, AR/AP, general ledger, inventories and asset management, debt financing, bond compliance and budget development. Cathy has worked both in the profit and non-profit world in a wide variety of industries and currently serves as the Chief Financial Officer for American Heritage Railways. She started with the company as CFO for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (DSNGRR) in 2006 and was transitioned to the role of CFO for AHR in 2018. Cathy manages the Accounting department for all of AHR and its subsidiaries and is involved in some areas of the retail and international expansion of Rail Events Inc. and Rail Events Productions. Cathy is heavily involved in setting strategic financial goals for AHR and serves on the Executive Team to assist in executing those goals as well as the company mission and values.

James Harper

President/GM: American Heritage Railways Hotels

Jim leads the hospitality division of American Heritage Railways Hotels and manages daily operations of the Historic Grand Imperial Hotel Restaurant and Saloon. After completing the acquisition of the Grand Imperial, a National Historic Landmark, in early spring of 2015 Jim led the massive restoration efforts earning the highly sought after Colorado Preservation State Honor Award for Historic Preservation. Following this prestigious award the Grand has been featured in a number of publications as one of the "Best Historic Hotels of Colorado". Jim has been with AHR since its formation in 1998, including accounting, operations and representing the organization in governmental affairs. Jim attended Columbia College majoring in History, with a focus on Political Science and minoring in Accounting. Jim currently serves as a Councilman for the Town of Silverton Colorado. In addition, Jim serves his community by holding positions on, and working in conjunction with, the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, San Juan County Planning Commission, Silverton Community Radio Station (KSJC), Animas River Stakeholders Group, Silverton Stakeholders Group and the Silverton / San Juan County Food Bank.

Jarrette Ireland

VP/GM Rail Events Inc. & Rail Events Productions

Jarrette leads Rail Events Incorporated and Rail Events Productions, Inc., subsidiaries of American Heritage Railways that focus on production and licensing of themed Events at different railways and museums throughout North America and the United Kingdom. Hiring out with the Durango& Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad in train operations in 2004, Jarrette has a wide level of experience with the company including, operations, sales, marketing, event logistics, business strategy and product and business development. Jarrette officially joined the Rail Events team in 2016 serving in roles as Brand Manager and Director of Business Management prior to assuming the role of General Manager in 2019. Jarrette is a graduate of Arizona State University with Bachelor degrees in Political Science and Public Relations as well as an associate’s degree in Journalism. Jarrette has also worked in sales, customer support, distribution, and product development of Hobby electronics manufacturing at Throttle Up! Corp. (dba SoundTraxx) and served as President of the Hobby Manufacturers Association Model Railroad Manufacturers board for 3 years.

Mike May

VP/Dir of Production: Rail Events Inc. & Rail Events Productions

Mike is responsible for the artistic and creative elements for both new event development and adapting and reinventing events across North America and the UK. He also serves as the Producer for events produced by Rail Events Productions in cities across the US. Before hiring out with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in 2005 Mike worked in theater, his other career passion, after studying theatrical lighting design at Columbia College Chicago. While at the DSNGRR Mike became qualified in multiple positions including engineer, fireman, conductor, brakeman, and dispatcher.  In 2010, Mike hired out with Amtrak as a Locomotive Engineer, working there 4 years before returning in 2014 to AHR and the little corner of southwest Colorado that he loves. With his combination of experience in the entertainment industry and railroading he joined the Rail Events team leading their production department. As Rail Events began to produce their own events Mike took the lead of the newly formed company Rail Events Productions in 2015. Mike also serves on the Board of Directors for KSUT Public Radio and the Rocky Mountain Region of the National Model Railroad Association.

Kim Albritton

VP/GM: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Kim has been in her position as Vice President and General Manager for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, a division of American Heritage Railways, since 2005. From 2000-2004, Kim served as Marketing Manager GSMR.  During her 31 years there she has served the Company in several capacities since its inception in 1989. GSMR is recognized as one of the top 5 scenic railroads in the country and has set ridership records consecutively for the past four years under Kim's leadership. In addition to her duties at GSMR Kim serves as the Vice President of Railroad Realty of North Carolina, LLC where she manages sixteen business lease properties in Bryson City, NC. Kim recently served as the Vice Chair of the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority; Secretary / Treasurer for the Railway Association of North Carolina, Treasurer for Smoky Mountain Host and Board Member for Southwestern Community College Foundation.

 

Jeff Johnson

VP/GM: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Jeff’s lifelong railroad career began in Durango on the D&SNG in 1981. After years working in train and engine service on vintage narrow gauge equipment in the San Juan Mountains, Jeff’s career eventually took him to work for the SP on the former D&RGW territories. Ultimately Jeff moved into a management role in Denver, Colorado when the Union Pacific merger took over the former SP/D&RGW operations in Colorado. Returning to Durango in 2005, he joined Blackstone Models, a startup division of SoundTraxx, and spent almost ten years in a rewarding and fascinating world of designing and producing scale model railroad products. In 2013, Jeff joined American Heritage Railways subsidiary Rail Events Inc. working with a fresh team to significantly grow and enhance themed and branded railroad events for which the company is well known. Coming full circle, Jeff became VP/General Manager of the D&SNG in early 2019. In his spare time, he enjoys playing music professionally representing and serving another lifelong love and part time vocation.  

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