The 1880 Train
The original depot for the steam-powered 1880 Train (222 Railroad Ave., 605/574-2222, www.1880train.com, adult $20–22, child $10–12) is located in Hill City. In its earlier days, the train traveled only as far as the town of Oblivion and back—about half the distance it travels today. Oblivion, an abandoned town site, was once the home of Nelson Sawmill, which served lumber operations in the region. The train expanded its route and today it offers a two-hour round-trip rail ride between Hill City and Keystone.
The steam engine locomotive was first brought to the Black Hills in 1879 by the Homestake Mine in Lead. When the first narrow-gauge railroad line was completed in 1881, steam trains carried supplies and people between the mining camps. Most of the standard-gauge track used by the current 1880 Train was built by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad during the gold rush and mining boom of the 1890s.
By the 1940s, diesel engines were rapidly replacing steam engines. William B. Heckman, a local businessman and railroad fan, organized a group that was created for the sole purpose of ensuring that “there should be in operation at least one working steam railroad, for boys of all ages who share America’s fondness for the rapidly vanishing steam locomotive.”
The Hill City train depot was built in 1890 but it wasn’t until 1957 that the first 1880 Train left the station. All of the train cars and engines are historic, with most dating back to the early 1900s; the history of each car is available on the 1880 Train website.
The schedule of departures varies throughout the season. From mid-May through Labor Day, there are at least three daily departures (10 a.m., 1:15 p.m., and 3:45 p.m.). In mid-June, a morning departure at 7:30 a.m. is added to the schedule; late June through July, an evening departure at 6:45 p.m. is added as well. In early May and after Labor Day, it’s best to call the railroad or check the website for the schedule. The train also has a special “Fright Run” around Halloween and has a Holiday Express Christmas trip for a couple of weekends in December.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition