The Black Hills Central Railroad operates the 1880 Train on the former Keystone Branch of the Burlington Northern Railroad between Hill City and Keystone, SD, from early May to early October. Departure times vary depending on the time of year and day of the week.
The ten mile standard gauge line was built by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad to take advantage of the gold mining boom in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Keystone Branch of the CB&Q’s “High Line” from Edgemont north through Hill City to Deadwood reached Keystone on 20th January 1900.
After years of declining use, in the late 1940s, William B. Heckman, a steam enthusiast, and Robert Freer, a sales engineer at EMD, began to organise what would become the Black Hills Central Railroad. On 18th August 1957, veteran CB&Q engineer Earl Coupens took the first two-car train out of Hill City. The route gained its nickname, the 1880 Train, because Heckman thought it must be what it was like to ride a train in the 1880s. Although hardly an accurate description of either the line or the equipment, the name has stuck.
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Discovery of gold in 1874 opened the Black Hills to mining, and Hill City was first settled by miners in 1876. The city almost turned into a ghost town when the miners moved to the northern Black Hills after discovery of gold there but, in 1883, tin was found near town. As mining grew, the city became known for its wild living and was once referred to as "a town with a church on each end and a mile of Hell in between".
Today, the main economic drivers are timber, telecommunications, tourism and, increasingly, the work of its arts-based community.
This GP9 was built by EMD for the Chesapeake & Ohio as #6178 in 1956. Renumbered #63 when bought by the Indiana & Ohio Railroad, it kept that number after subsequent sales to the Northeast Kansas & Missouri, the Chillicothe-Brunswick and Progressive Rail. Black Hills Central bought #63 from Progressive in 2006. It is used for switching, special excursions and when other locomotives need maintenance.
Power to a GM D12B generator driving four GM D 37 traction motors is provided by a 16 cylinder EMD 567C prime mover. Weighing 240,000 lbs and 56.5' long, #63 delivers continuous tractive effort of 40,000 lbs at 9.3 mph with a top speed of 65 mph.
#1 was built by the Whitcomb Locomotive Works of Rochelle, IL, as #60086 in 1941 for Stone & Webster Co. It subsequently became United States Army #7379 and operated in Washington State during World War II. It was then sold to Black Hills Power & Light Co., to work at its coal-fired electric generating plant near Lead, SD. #1 was bought by the BHC in 1983 and is used for switching duties.
In 1906, Whitcomb built the first successful gasoline locomotive for a large Central Illinois coal mine. The company was bought by Baldwin in 1929. Production shifted to Baldwin's Eddystone, PA, site in 1952 and the last Whitcomb locomotive was built there in 1956.
This Prairie type (2-6-2) locomotive was built by Baldwin in 1919 for the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Company in Prescott, AR, as #2 and named the "George Teat". The Ozan-Graysonia was formed from the merger of the Ozan Lumber Company in Prescott and the Grayson-McLeod Company of Graysonia, AR, in 1915.
#2 was sold to the Caddo & Choctaw in Rosboro, AR, several years later and renumbered #7, then to the Prescott & Northwestern in 1938. The P&NWR ran thirty-one miles north from Prescott to access timber for the Ozan Lumber Company.
The Prescott & Northwestern later sold #7 to the Higgins Shipbuilding Co., in New Orleans, LA. It was bought by Elliott Donnelley and leased to the Black Hills Central in 1961. The BHC acquired outright ownership in 1975.
When the Black Hills Central first started operating, it laid a third rail from Hill City to Oblivion to run narrow gauge trains on the standard gauge CB&Q line. The CB&Q was still operating freight trains over the line at the time, so three foot gauge steam operated alongside standard gauge diesels for several years.
From 1962, #7 pulled a standard gauge tourist train from Keystone to Oblivion, where it met the narrow gauge train. When that became too expensive to operate, #7 pulled the train the entire distance between Hill City and Keystone. It was used in an episode of the Walt Disney TV series "Gunsmoke" in 1970, the funnel stack was added for the Disney movie “Scandalous John” in 1971 and, most recently, it appeared in Steven Spielberg's 2005 TV series "Into the West".
#7 weighs 125,000 lbs, 96,000 lbs on its 46” drivers. With 17” x 24” cylinders, an 18.7 sq ft grate, 101 sq ft firebox and total heating surface of 1,637 sq ft, it operates at a boiler pressure of 180 psi delivering 23,070 lbs tractive effort.
Baldwin built various types of logging mallets, with tanks or tenders, wood, coal or oil burning (although wood and coal burners were rare, as they created sparks that could ignite forest fires). Relatively small, most of these locomotives weighed between 200,000 lbs and 300,00 lbs and nearly all worked in the Pacific Northwest.
They could handle rough track and steep grades as well as any Shay, but were easier to maintain. Their two, short driver wheelbases also meant that curves up to 40° were well within their turning radius.
Above, when I visited the BHC, #110 was being readied to haul the day’s first excursion from Hill City to Keystone.
This 2-6-6-2T (Tank) articulated mallet was built by Baldwin in 1928 for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company to work on its Vail, WA, line. It was the first of Weyerhaeuser's many logging mallets, and one of a total of thirty logging mallets built by Baldwin between 1910 and 1937. Six other articulated single-expansion logging locomotives were also built by Baldwin, but these are not true mallets like #110.
A true mallet, or compound locomotive, uses steam generated by the boiler twice. Steam is fed first to high-pressure cylinders. The exhaust steam from these is then fed to the larger, low-pressure cylinders (the front cylinders on #110).
This process, called compound compression, was first applied commercially by the Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet (1837-1919) in 1876 to a series of small, 2 cylinder compound 0-4-2 tank locomotives for the Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz Railway in France. Mallet also introduced locomotive articulation, in which the rear engine is rigidly attached to the main body and boiler of the locomotive, while the front engine rides on a separate truck attached to the rigid rear frame.
Above, taking on water. #110 is an oil burner weighing 220,000 lbs, 187,264 lbs on its 44” drivers. It has a 23’ 8” engine wheelbase but each driver wheelbase is just 8’. The high pressure cylinders are 17” x 24” and the low pressure cylinders are 26” x 24”. With a 26.2 sq ft grate, 128 sq ft firebox and total heating surface of 2,000 sq ft, including 346 sq ft of superheating, it operates at a boiler pressure of 200 psi delivering 37,545 lbs tractive effort.
After over twenty-five years working at at Vail, #110 was sold to the Rayonier Lumber Company in 1954 where it operated on the Grays Harbor line until 1966. During that time, it was fitted with a tender from Rayonier 2-8-2 #101.
Above, the passengers are boarding and train is almost ready to leave.
Rayonier retired #110 in 1968 and it was sold to the Promontory Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. In 1971, the locomotive was transferred to the Wasatch Railroad Museum and placed on display at Heber City, UT. Then, in 1993, it was sold to the Nevada State Railway Museum and was placed in storage at Boulder City, NV.
Six years later, in 1999, it was sold to the Black Hills Central and trucked from Nevada to South Dakota on four semi-trailers. Work then began to restore the mallet to operating condition. It returned to steam in January 2001.
Left, once the
passengers have all boarded, #110 eases the six car train away from the depot.
that day was 10.15 am, but the train actually left at 10.00. So, if you plan on riding, make sure you get to the depot with enough time.
There is only a small depot building at Keystone, although the town is a bit of a tourist hotspot. Mount Rushmore National Monument, a huge draw, is just outside the city limits.
Some passengers leave the train here, while others board.
At Keystone, #110 is uncoupled to take on water ready for the climb back to Hill City.