The Black Hills Central Railroad is also known as the 1880 Train and is located in Hill City, South Dakota. Passengers will enjoy the twenty mile, narrated, two-hour round trip from Hill City to Keystone and back. For centuries the Black Hills have attracted cultures of different kinds that value it for it beauty and natural resources as well as it spiritual nature.
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The development of the railroad and the trains that ran on it, is the most significant development in American Frontier history. The railroad traversed the plains, climbed into the mountains and served to bring settlers to the areas that had long been the home to only native tribes. Whether the railroad’s influence and efficiency were positive or negative, it was a manifestation of this country’s journey to prosper and grow.
In 1879 the steam engine was hauled across the Midwest to the Homestake Mining Company. The first railroad in Black Hills was built in 1881 by the mining company. It used this narrow- gauge railroad to haul workers and cargo from Lead to various mining camps.
During the mining boom of the Black Hills in the 1890s, the first standard-gauge railroad was constructed in various portions between Keystone and Hill City. It was part of the Burlington branch of railroads. The rail line was pushed into South Dakota’s southwest corner in 1889 and in 1890, the beginning phase of the “High Line” construction was started.
Late in the 1940s, diesel engines began to replace the earlier steam engines of the railroad. Because of the decline in use of these steam engines, William B Heckman made the decision to construct a railroad that exclusively operated steam engines rather than using them as a static display. Heckman along with Robert Freer formed a group that believed in the idea that at least one steam railroad should be in operation.
The route was given the nickname “the 1880 Train,” as Heckman envisioned it to be similar to riding the steam locomotives of the 1880s. The Black Hills Central Railroad is still living up to Heckman’s vision of providing new generations a way of experiencing the old steam locomotives and honoring the part that these railroads played in America’s development, fifty years later.
The 1880 Train provides passengers with a twenty-mile round trip from Hill City to Keystone and back again that lasts two hours and is narrated. This offers new generations a way of experiencing the old steam locomotives of the early railroads in the 1880s.
Hill City, is a repository of old passenger, maintenance, freight cars and locomotives that were once and still are in use on the railroad. Visitors can explore these cars and their history when visiting the train depot. Some of them are listed below.
· Steam Locomotive #7- Known as the “Seven,” this locomotive was purchased by the Prescott and Northwestern railroad in 1938 and sold to the BHC in 1962.
· Steam Locomotive #104- This locomotive is a 2-6-2 tank engine that was constructed by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1926. It was built for Silver Falls Timber Company in Oregon and the Peninsula Terminal Railroads also in Oregon. The BHC obtained #104 along with its twin #103 in 1965. It has been used continuously on the railroad since its acquisition.
· Steam Locomotive #110- This locomotive is 2-6-6 2T Mallet, constructed in 1928 by Baldwin Locomotive Works. It was built for Weyerhaeuser Timber Company of Vail, WA. It was used by the Rayonier Lumber Company where it retired in 1968. BHC purchased the locomotive in 1999. It was transported to South Dakota all the way from Nevada, using four semis. After it’s restoration was finished in 2001, it was put back into to service for BHC and is the only locomotive of its kind in service in the world.
· Diesel Locomotive #1- This locomotive is a 1940-vintage Whitcomb diesel engine. It was constructed for the Department of Defense and then operated in Washington State during the years of World War II. It was sold to Black Hills Power and Light and used for switching. The BHC obtained the locomotive in 1983 and uses it for switching on the railroad.
· Drovers Waycar #10800 Hillyo- This car was used ahead of the caboose by ranchers and stockowners that were accompanying their cattle on the way to market.
The 1880 Train takes part in several special events a year. See the website for dates and events.
The 1880 Train offers the High-Liner Snack shop for passengers to enjoy while waiting or to take on the train with them. The train itself also offers a variety of snacks and drinks for purchase.
222 Railroad Ave. Hill City, SD 57745, Phone: 605-574-2222