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1880 Train Keeps History Alive in the Black Hills of South Dakota

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HILL CITY, S.D. (5/18/09) – Running between Hill City and Keystone, Black Hills Central Railroad’s 1880 Train offers visitors an entertaining, scenic ride through the pine-covered Black Hills of South Dakota. Besides the entertainment, the 1880 Train also serves as a modern-day reminder that steam-powered trains once played a vital role in the development of the West.

In the early 1950s, William B. Heckman took steps to create an old-fashioned railroad that ran on steam power, not diesel. He also wanted to preserve a piece of American history that deserved to be more than a static display in a museum. He and his partners vowed 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.”

“He wanted people of all ages to enjoy a steam train,” said Meg Warder, general manager of the 1880 Train and Black Hills Central Railroad.

Black Hills Central Railroad began service on Aug. 18, 1957. The trains ran on track originally laid by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad during the mining boom in the 1890s.

A two-hour ride aboard the 1880 Train provides a view of the scenic beauty of the Black Hills between Hill City and Keystone.  Along the old mining route, passengers catch a glimpse of old mining encampments, as well as views of Harney Peak and Elkhorn Mountain -- all while being provided with GPS triggered commentary.

“It is the perfect opportunity for families to sit back, relax and spend time together,” Warder said.

In addition to the regular summer and fall service, the 1880 Train runs special off-season events such as the “Fright Train” where passengers come in costume, watch scary skits and enjoy wine from the Prairie Berry Winery. During the Christmas season, passengers board the Holiday Express and head toward the “North Pole” while enjoying hot chocolate and cookies served by elves. There’s even a visit from Santa Claus.

Meanwhile, Black Hills Central Railroad takes its history seriously. At the Hill City rail yard, crews are continuously restoring rail cars and locomotives. Currently, three operating steam engines and two operating diesels are part of Black Hills Central Railroad’s running stock.

Anyone interested in taking a ride on the 1880 Train and the Black Hills Central Railroad can find information at Tickets can be purchased online with a credit card. Passengers are asked to check in 45 minutes prior at the ticket office at their area of departure in either Hill City or Keystone.