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Black Hills Central Railroad Steam Double Header 10/03/2020

by Chris Guenzler

We woke up at the Alliance Hotel and Suites and after we did our usual stuff in the morning, we left the hotel leaving our bags inside since we were coming back that night. We then went to McDonald's and Elizabeth went inside to get our food. We had to eat it in the car since the dining area is closed due to the virus and I enjoyed my hot cakes and sausage. We then drove north on Nebraska Highway 2 to Highway 385 north to Chadron where we filled up the car with gas. From we drove north on 385 staying on this road to Hot Springs, South Dakota, our first stop of the morning.

The Hot Springs Chicago and North Western and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Station, built in 1891 and now the visitor's center.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad caboose 13675.

Caboose and station. From here we drove to Custer and our next stop.

Burlington Northern caboose 12268. We then continued north to Hill City where we first checked on the train to see what was on it and then went out to photo spot of the three we would shoot at today.

Black Hills Central History

The Black Hills Central Railroad is a heritage railroad that operates in South Dakota, United States. It currently operates the 1880 Train on the former Keystone Branch of the Burlington Northern Railroad between Hill City, South Dakota and Keystone, South Dakota. This railroad line was originally built by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad as a mining railroad for gold in the Black Hills. It reached Keystone on January 20, 1900 and was later used to haul equipment for carving nearby Mount Rushmore.

In 1957, William Heckman and Robert Freer started the Black Hills Central Railroad which began operating a tourist passenger excursion train service on this line. In 1972, the Black Hills flood destroyed the last mile of the Burlington Northern/Black Hills Central line in Keystone, which was later restored in 2001.

The Black Hills Central Railroad restores early twentieth century-era locomotives and train cars and has been featured on television shows such as the Gunsmoke episode "Snow Train", "General Hospital", and the TNT mini-series, "Into the West". It also appeared in the movie "Orphan Train".

Trains operate between early May and early October over the scenic 9.5-mile line.

Preserved equipment

The BHCR operates rare, well-preserved, and operational steam locomotives: Prescott & Northwestern (Caddo & Choctaw) Baldwin 2-6-2 7, built 1919.

PT Baldwin 2-6-2T 103, built 1922.

PT Baldwin 2-6-2T tank locomotive 104, built 1926.

Potlatch Lumber 2-6-6-2T 24, Weyerhaeuser 108 built 1926.

Rayonier (Weyerhaeuser) Baldwin 2-6-6-2T 110, built 1928.

The Black Hills Central Railroad also has a diesel locomotive on its engine roster:

EMD GP9 63 formerly Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O).

Whitcomb Locomotive Works 80DE5 6657, built 1943.

Rayonier 2-6-6-2T 110

This is a 2-6-6-2T articulated Mallet that was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928 for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company of Vail, WA. Its next stop was The Rayonier Lumber Company where It received a tender from Rayonier 101 and was retired in 1968. This engine was later displayed at the Wasatch Mountain Railway in Heber City, Utah, and then sold to the Nevada State Railway Museum. The 110 was sold to The Black Hills Central Railroad in 1999, and was trucked from Nevada to South Dakota on four semi trailers. Restoration on this engine by the mechanical crew of the BHC was completed in the spring of 2001.

Potlatch Lumber 2-6-6-2T 24, Weyerhaeuser 108.

The restoration is welcomed news among steam enthusiasts. Pacific Northwest steam historian Martin Hansen offers this perspective: The 1926 Baldwin 2-6-6-2T spent her entire working career in logging service in the Pacific Northwest. Originally ordered as a coal burner for the Potlach Lumber Co. of Potlach, Idaho where she was No. 24, she later converted to burn oil when she was purchased by Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. for use on that company’s Headquarters Operation out of Longview, Wash., where she became 108. She was one of only three Baldwin logging Mallets to be built with full saddle tanks over her boiler, rather than the more common split side tanks found on other tank Mallets of the day. With the coming of diesels at Longview in the early 1950s, 108 was placed on display at the company headquarters in Longview. After a few years she was donated to what is now the Northwest Railway Museum. Baldwin logging Mallet No. 108 is coming together at Black Hills Central, where similar 2-6-6-2T No. 110 has been the primary power for years. No. 108 locomotive arrived at the tourist railroad in 2016 after 50 years of storage at the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Wash.

Our Chase

Our first pictures of the train to Keystone with Black Hills Central 2-6-6-2T 110 at the second crossing of Old Hill City Road. We took this road to our next photo location at Twin Springs Road.

The train came by us at Twin Springs Road. From here we drove east past all the chasers to our next location at Echo Valley Road where my good friend from NRHS conventions, Jim, was also there.

Our final photo location was at Echo Valley Road where I caught the train going both ways. From here, we headed back to Hill City where we picked up our tickets and was told that at 11:00, our goodie bags would be ready. So we walked behind the roundhouse to the other side and a volunteer asked us to go back to the other side, which we did. I did manage to get three pictures.

My first time seeing Black Hills Central 2-6-6-2T 108 under steam. We both remember seeing this engine with daisies growing out from it when it was in Snoqualmie, Washington at the Northwest Railway Museum.

The 108 is waiting for the 110 to return to Hill City. We picked up our goodie bags and lunches which had cheese on it so I could not eat mine. We then walked down to where the blowdown would be and realized that the train had not returned from Keystone yet so we walked over to the Holiday Inn Express hotel and sat down on the grass and waited.

The future turntable pieces were across the tracks from our photo location.

Black Hills Central 110 leading the 11:15 train from Keystone back to Hill City.

Our Trip and Events

This was the first time the Black Hills Central Railroad has done a photo charter for photographers. It was to celebrate the restoration of 108 and we learnt about it from Nate, who told us about this event during our visit in July. We then joined the others with our VIP badges on the other side of the tracks for the blowdown of both engines.

Our tickets and VIP passes for this trip.

Black Hills Central 108 and 110 performing their blowdowns which elicited cheers from the group. We all started walking back to the train.

Our train is ready for boarding passengers.

The two engines for our trip returning from attaching the open cars we would board. They boarded the regular coach passengers first then finally our special group of photographs in the rear three open coaches. The consist of this train was Black Hills Central 2-6-6-2T 108, Black Hills Central 2-6-6-2T 110, coaches Edward Gillette, Bluebird, Oreville, Keystone, Battle Creek, Rochford, Chicago and North Western caboose "Hilyo" 10800 with open cars Harney Canyon, Mystic and Redfern. We had chosen seats in the Mystic. Our special train departed on time and we were the last three cars on the train, making seeing the engines very difficult. If I had been running this trip, it would have been a dedicated train with just the open cars and the caboose for better photography during the trip.

As you can tell, it is hard to see the engines from the back of the train.

Views on the way to Oblivion where we would stop for two photo runbys.

Backup move number one at Oblivion.

Photo runby number one at Oblivion. There are no backup pictures. They allowed people to cross the tracks so they could photograph from the other side. This is something I would never have done since people would be in other people's pictures.

Photo runby number two at Oblivion.

The backup move to collect the photographers. We were then told that they would be dropping the three cars off at Keystone Junction as we were too long to fit onto the platform at Keystone. The engines would then then come back and get our cars and after watering, would take us back to the regular train and we would depart as a complete train back to Hill City.

On the way to Keystone Junction. The rest of the train left for Keystone while we waited here for the engines to return.

The engines returned to Keystone Junction and picked up our cars after the 110 was watered as it had pulled the morning train east to Keystone and there was not enough water in the tank at Keystone to fill it.

The engine being watered. Once watering was done, they coupled onto the three cars and we left for Keystone to pick up the rest of the train.

Views on the way to Keystone.

The engines that brought us back to the train at Keystone.

The train sat in Keystone until departure time of 4:30.

The engines blew down as we left Keystone.

The sounds and images of the double header were incredible all the way back to Hill City. I was asked by Nate if he could do anything different in future special events like this and I said no photo lines on both sides of the tracks and he agreed. I enjoyed a Coca-Cola on the return trip with Elizabeth's blessing and we had an excellent trip back. For a first special train, the Black Hills Central Railroad did an excellent job and will do future trips just as well. It is a learning experience that all railroads encounter the first time they do something different. After the trip, we headed back the way we came and once we got out of the Black Hills, Elizabeth used my camera to capture the sunset that evening.

The wonderful sunset was the perfect way to end a great day of railroad photography. We drove back to Alliance, stopping at Arby's in Chadron for dinner, which we ate in front of the U.S. Forest Service building, the former Chicago and Northwestern office building. Both Elizabeth and I had enjoyed ourselves a lot and thank you to the Black Hills Central Railroad for putting on this event.