Hill City

Ghost TrainTrains have always fascinated me. I love to ride them, and I love to watch them. I suppose that it could be something that is in my blood, since some of my family members, including my grandpa and my Uncle Bill both worked for the railroad. Or maybe it is just my personal opinion, but I think trains are cool. Whenever Bob and I go somewhere that offers a train ride, we try to plan that into our trip. If you have never taken a ride on a train, you really should consider it sometime. You won’t be disappointed. It is like a time machine, of sorts, taking you back into history.

The history of trains and the railroad itself is a fascinating one. In a very primitive form, trains existed back as far as 600BC, to move goods from ships to where they needed to go. Early miners had a primitive train since about 1500, called a Wagonway. It really was an invention of necessity. It was very difficult to haul ore out of a mine with a horse and wagon…or a wheelbarrow for that matter. By coming up with a way to transport the ore in wagons on a rail system, it got much easier. Of course, this system wasn’t much good if you were going to go very far, because let’s face it, a series of 1880 Train 1wagons going very far is a slow mode of travel, and it wouldn’t be a Wagonway anyway, because that is called a Wagon Train…oddly enough.

The implementation of the rail system in the United States was necessary to our future too. Getting from one side of this country to the other is not an easy task. Even with the benefit of cars these days, driving cross country takes several days. And while the early trains weren’t much faster than our cars are, you could sleep at night, and keep going. At first the trains only carried supplies and such, but it wasn’t to be very long before they carried people. The first fare paying passenger train began operating in 1807 in Swansea, Wales. From that time on, more and more trains would carry passengers, and in many ways the world became a smaller place after that. Soon trains would criss-cross the United States, and train travel became common. It wasn’t common to just everyplace right away, however, but on this day, January 22, 1888, the first passenger train came into Cheyenne, Wyoming. It left the same day, making Wyoming history…two years before we even became a state.

1880 TrainTravel by train would begin to make people feel like they had really come into the modern ages for a while, but with cars and airplanes, it wouldn’t take long for train travel to almost become obsolete. These days, I think that like me, most people ride the train systems because it is a novelty. Bob and I like to ride the 1880 Train from Keystone, South Dakota to Hill City, South Dakota. Basically it is like riding a train to nowhere, because while the two towns are real towns with stores, and people living there, for those riding the train, they are just a quick stop on the journey from one to the other and back again. The whole trip takes an hour one way, and with an hour layover in Hill City, we are back in Keystone in 3 hours…having done nothing more than to relax and enjoy the ride.

1385803_540236469386418_1650768861_nI don’t know how much of the Spencer genes, my cousins Gene, his son Tim, and even his grandson Daniel think that they have, but it’s possible that it’s more than they realize. Gene was a master carpenter, building beautiful furniture that anyone would be proud to own. In fact when I looked at pictures of the furniture Gene made, I wondered if he missed his true calling in life. Oh don’t get me wrong, because he was very successful, but that furniture…well, STUNNING doesn’t say enough!! Gene’s work was beautiful, and he passed that talent down to his son. Tim recently built a desk that is also quite beautiful, and shows that he has his dad’s talent. Daniel, while still a very young man, shows signs if that same talent for building things too.

Their talent is definitely amazing, but where did that talent come from. Well, I don’t know about the Fredrick side if their family, but our grandpa, Allen Luther Spencer had talent in that CCI12032013_0002area too. I have never heard anyone talk about his abilities as a carpenter, and usually when we think of carpentry, we think more on the lines of building a house, but the finer side if carpentry is furniture making. I hadn’t really given much thought to the type of work my grandfather did for the railroad, but when I saw the picture of the table Grandpa built, I was reminded of an dependent card my dad  had that said the his dad was a carpenter for the railroad.

Having been a passenger on the 1880 Train in Hill City, South Dakota, I have seen the work of the railroad carpenters. They have transformed those old train cars from junk to a thing of beauty. The carpenters who work on the 1880 Train have done just that. Still, of all these people, I have to say that the ones who have perfected the art of carpentry the most, would be the Fredrick family…and I’m sure you will agree with me on that one.

Kids, young and old have a fascination with fire trucks. Maybe it is the idea of a real superhero that draws us to them. Or maybe it is the siren that gets our attention. Maybe its the cool truck with all its great equipment. It could be the excitement of the job they do, or the thought of how it must feel to rescue someone from certain death.

No matter what the draw is, it seems to draw us all. When a fire truck goes down the street with lights flashing and sirens blaring, everyone looks and starts wondering what has happened. You scan the sky for smoke and when you see none, you assume it must have been a car accident. Your thoughts wander to the person is serious need of help right now, and inside you say a prayer for their safety.

But for kids, it is the dream of someday being a firefighter…a hero, or super hero. I know of very few little boys who don’t want to be a fireman at sometime in their young life. My grandsons have all talked about ir at one time or another. Girls may not want that so often, but my niece Lindsay went so far as getting a degree in fire science and working for the Forest Service in Hill City, South Dakota for two summers.

The kids get to meet the firefighters at school, and field trips, as well as other events designed to promote safety and awareness, so they get to see how important the job is. In this picture, my grandson Christopher is standing on the seat of the truck. The look on his face shows that he is on cloud nine. He has always likes things mechanical, and the fire truck is the ultimate in gadgetry. Kids today are very used to and comfortable with gadgetry. They thrive on it. The more tech savvy something is, the better. Add that to the whole fireman/firetruck thing and kids are set.

We all look up to the firefighters. They run in to protect and save us when we need them the most. They are our superheroes, and we will always look when they go by, wondering what emergency they are heading to this time. We see them as exciting and brave, courageous and strong. And little kids everywhere looking at them as exactly what they want to be when they grow up.

It has been a tradition of ours for a number of years now, to ride the 1880 Train from Keystone, SD to Hill City, SD and back on the last day of our time in the Black Hills. I suppose it is the kid in both of us that just loves the train rides. Or maybe it is about seeing a part of the Black Hills that you can’t see any other way, even hiking, since there is only one trail that crosses the 1880 Train route and then only once.

There is just something about riding a train. You can sit back and relax. The rocking back and forth, while noisy is soothing somehow. The scenery passes before you and you can both actually see it, because you don’t have to pay attention to the road. You can point out things and be able to enjoy them together. You just can’t do that in a car, because the driver cannot see what you can see.

The 1880 Train takes you back in time, as you travel through old mining towns, now deserted. At the same time, mixed in with the past are homes where people live today, and towns that are thriving on the tourist industry. There are old movie sets in which the 1880 Train took part. And of course, there are the amazing rock formations that have made the Black Hills famous. Trees growing out of the rock as if it were dirt, and yet the rock is largley granite, which is among the hardest rock there is.

The rock formations, if you look closely, hold the faces of Indian chiefs, or so the legend goes, and as we ride along, I look closely and let my imagination show them to me. And the local people help your imagination by putting up statues of fishing children, bears, cougars, or waving train watchers. It is all designed to make your ride more interesting. And everyone, including the tourists driving along the road that the train crosses 9 times over the course of your hour ride, waves at the train. It is simply enchanting.

I suppose many people would think it odd that we ride the train every year, but like many things in the Black Hills, it seems to be in my blood, or maybe it is all just addictive. Maybe, like the hiking bug that I haven’t yet found a cure for, I have a train bug too…and that is ok with me, because like the hiking bug, I’m not really looking for a cure.

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