The Black Hills Central Railroad, a for profit company, operates The 1880 Train over a 10 mile long route located between Hill City and Keystone South Dakota. Although it markets itself to the thriving family tourist industry in the region, the Black Hills Central is a must-see for any serious railfan.
The history of the Black Hills Central
The original standard gauge line was built during the 1890’s mining boom by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Due to its close proximity to Mount Rushmore, the line was used to haul equipment and supplies used in the carving of the famous monument.
With the decline of mining and rail traffic, the Black Hills Central Railroad’s tourist trains began running here in 1957, with the goal to preserve steam railroading. In 1972 a flood destroyed the last mile between Keystone and Keystone Junction. This portion was not restored until 2001.
Visiting today’s Black Hills Central
Currently, Black Hills Central Railroad has four steam locomotives and two diesels. GP9 number 63 usually handles the first round trip of the day with steam handling the rest of the schedule.
On the day we visited, Baldwin 2-6-6-2T #110 pulled three trips. This unusual engine is articulated to handle tight curves found on logging railroads. It was built in 1928 and, according to the Black Hills Central website, is the last operating locomotive of its type. Its original service was with Weyerhaeuser Timber Company and later with Rayonier Lumber. It was sold to the Black Hills Central in 1999 by the Nevada State Railway Museum. It is the most powerful steam locomotive on the railroad so it is often used during the heavy summer tourist months.
Shortly after leaving the station in Hill City, the train begins to climb the 4-6% grade on Tin Mill Hill. If you are lucky enough to be there when #110 is in charge, you will witness one of the LOUDEST steam locomotives I’ve ever heard as it works its way up the grade!
Once at the top, the line passes through forest and meadow areas, along with some family farms. Some of the land is administered by the National Forest Service. Much of the Black Hills Central follows Battle Creek, once the haunt of gold prospectors in the earlier days of the railroad. At Keystone Junction the engine runs around the train and operates tender first on the return trip. The entire round trip is about two hours fifteen minutes.
Hill City is also the home of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum (SDSRM), a not for profit operation located next door to the Black Hills Central depot.
SDDRM has collections which include memorabilia, rolling stock, and other items relating to various railroads that served South Dakota in the past and present. There’s also an HO railroad layout depicting South Dakota scenes.
You definitely should plan to make a trip to the Black Hills Central and the South Dakota State Railroad Museum!
Video for the Black Hills Central and 110
You can view a short video of #110 here. If you enjoy it, you may be interested in my 27 minute video documentary of 110 and the Black Hills Central, which is one of four chapters found on the Steam in the Mountains Volume 1 DVD from Yard Goat Images.
Steve Mitchell, Yard Goat Images