Steam trains first came to South Dakota in 1879, brought to the hills by the Homestake Mine in Lead  to transport gold and supplies between the mining communities and their markets. Most of the standard gauge track used by the Hill City–Keystone 1880 Train (103 Winter St., 605/574-2222, www.1880train.com ) was installed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in the 1890s.
By the 1940s, diesel trains were rapidly replacing steam engines, much to the dismay of railroad fans. One such fan, William B. Heckman, a local public relations executive, organized a group, which was created solely to ensure 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 , the original depot for the train, was built in 1890 but it wasn’t until 1957 that the first 1880 Train left the station. Its name was derived from a quote attributed to Heckman that it was like riding a train in the 1880s and the name stuck.
The engine and all the cars of the train are historic; the history of each passenger car and engine is detailed on the 1880 Train website. The train, running between Keystone  and Hill City , follows fairly closely the scenic Old Hill City Road that connects the two communities. The train climbs out of Keystone passing through the narrow canyons and moves quickly into high meadows.
Riding a train is unlike any other transportation. The cars rock from side to side, the wheels clank over the tracks and the engine chugs rhythmically, breathing steam. At one point the train provides a distant view of Harney Peak , the highest point in the Black Hills .
Riding a stream train is an experience that many people never have the opportunity to enjoy. It’s slow paced, it’s relaxing, it’s a good time to sit back, wave at the folks that are waiting at the train crossing for the train to pass on by and to enjoy a peaceful few hours gazing at the scenery with someone else at the wheel.
The 1880 Train is a seasonal attraction; departures from Keystone start in late May and end the first weekend in October. After October, the train shuts down except for Thanksgiving weekend and a few nights in December when the Holiday Express ride is available. Santa Claus is on the train at that time and riders drink hot chocolate and children receive small gifts.
Like many of the attractions in the hills, operating hours—and in this case, number of train departures—vary almost weekly as spring leads into the busy summer season and then back into the quieter schedules of fall. Be sure to verify departure times before you arrive.
Reservations are recommended during the busy summer months and during Sturgis Rally Week , held the first full week in August. Tickets are usually available on a walk-in basis the last week in May, the first week of June, and again in late August as children return to school. The round-trip takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Scheduled departures from the Keystone  terminal are as follows:
• On Memorial Day weekend, two round-trip departures are available, one at 11:15 a.m. and one at 2:30 p.m. A one-way trip to Hill City  is also offered at 5 p.m. You can arrange for a shuttle back to Keystone at the train station if you take a one-way ride.
• Two round-trip departures are available all summer, one at 11:15 a.m. and one at 2:30 p.m.
• During the high summer season beginning the second week in June and continuing through July, an additional round-trip departure is offered Monday–Saturday at 8:45 a.m.
• For most of August, the train returns to two departures daily.
• By September the train provides a round-trip ticket only on the 11:15 a.m. departure, with a one-way ticket available on the 2:30 p.m. trip.
• The train stops picking up passengers at the Keystone terminal by the first weekend in October.