The other day, while in the Black Hills, I was spending time in one of my favorite pastimes…people watching. Keystone, South Dakota is an interesting mix of people, and somehow everyone gets along and mingles with ease. There is no animosity in Keystone. Everyone is in a relaxed, party mood and even when they are waiting in line to order food, and the line is really long, and things are taking some time, nobody gets upset. They are kind to each other and they are patient. I watched people from all walks of life. There were bikers standing next to what appeared to me to be a doctor and his family, and there were smiles all around. People helped those who needed help, opened doors for each other; and by the way, color made no difference. In the year following a year of riots, unrest, racism, and rudeness, this was Heaven.
Of course, we were in South Dakota…a Republican state that did not close down for Covid. I’m not going to get too deeply into politics here, but it is impossible not to notice the difference in the states. I was in Keystone when President Trump was at Rushmore, and there were protests, but no real violence, no riots, and no vandalism. People were just different there…more polite, more civil, more caring. Even in the midst of a protest, when people were calling out their own views, there was no violence. That means something. It means that people can disagree without being hateful. It also means that certain things were not going to be tolerated, and those who would act out should know they would be arrested. Of course, the police were everywhere, and having a police presence is crucial to keeping order. I am aware that there are good cops and bad cops, but in Keystone, it seemed that the police officers were good and caring, because they wanted the honor that went with being good cops.
There are also good people and bad people, and there are those who are paid to be evil. And those are the worst kind of all. People talk about the naivete of the rural people of our country, but I think they are some of the best people there are. Those good old fashioned values, caring about your neighbors, helping others, and not looking at the color of someone’s skin, those are the kind of people I see in rural America. I wouldn’t want to live in a big city, because I think you lose a lot of that loving, caring lifestyle. That is what we need to work toward getting back in this country…a more caring lifestyle.
Trains 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 wagons 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.
Travel 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.
One of the fun things to do at the fair, and many of the tourist towns, like Keystone or Deadwood, South Dakota is the old time photo. Even if you are not a fan of western movies, somehow when you get to a tourist town, those old time photos look like a lot of fun. And they are a lot of fun. When you look at the goofy poses and the funny faces, as people try to create a possible scenario that might have been common to the Old West, you find yourself laughing instinctively.
I guess it’s a way to move outside yourself, and step into someone else’s shoes for a few minutes. Maybe see what life was like in a different time, and being someone that we would never have been. A little bit of make believe can be a lot of fun, and of course, you need the picture for the memories that go along with all the fun.
These pictures have been around a while…probably as long as cameras have been around. In fact, I have come across some old pictures of staged hold ups that were taken, not by a photographer, but by an individual. The people in the pictures are having such a good time that they are having a hard time not laughing about the picture as it is being taken. I found those to be especially funny.
I used to think that these pictures were more of a modern day phenomena, but after finding these new pictures, I realized that the old time photos has been going on for a long time, and even in the early 1900’s people enjoyed making their own western pictures…creating their own memories of the past as they pictured it…passing on a little humor. We all like a few moments where we can escape reality and pretend we are in a different time and place. Kind of fun, when you think about it.
Even my grandmother and her sisters and brother had an old time photo done. It was one of the more different ones I had ever seen, but it was really cool to see all of them dressed up and putting on an act. I guess it was something I never expected them to do…oddly. I loved the picture. It was like seeing them in a new light, and one I found very interesting…and pretty enlightening. A lot can be learned from the fun of have an old time photo taken, I guess.
My dad always loved trains. As a young boy, whose dad worked for the Great Northern Railway Company, dad had a pass to ride the train where ever he needed to go. I’m sure that his love for trains was fueled by the fact that he got to ride the train daily, a privilege that most people don’t have.
Dad has told us of his days of riding the train, and it always sounded to us like he was hopping the train, not riding with a pass. He never said “hopping a train” or anything, but we always thought that was what he meant. Maybe we thought that because it always sounded like such an amazing adventure. Or maybe he and his brother did “hop the train” on occasion, just to add to the excitement…something I’m sure his mother would have tanned their hides for.
Years later, when traveling to the Black Hills, my parents rode the 1880 Train in Keystone, South Dakota. It had been many years since Dad had been able to ride a train much, so it was very exciting for him, and it brought back those old memories of his days of riding the trains back in Wisconsin. They really enjoyed those train rides through the Black Hills.
When the Amtrak Trains came on the scene, I think my dad’s interest really peaked. He began thinking about taking a trip on the Amtrak. It would be a dream trip for Dad and Mom. They planned to ride the Amtrak Train up the California coast. The trip was to take several days, and they would sleep on the train. That would be a new experience for both of them, as all their other train rides were just day trips or less.
My dad was so excited about this trip. He was like a little kid in a candy store. I think that is how a lot of people feel when riding a train…like being a kid again. The wonder of something so new to them. And while riding a train wasn’t new to my dad, traveling that way was. He had always traveled by car. Mostly because he believed that you couldn’t see the country from a plane. But, this was different. They were able to view the countryside and it went by, and he didn’t have to drive. He felt like he was taking the trip of a lifetime. They were finally taking the ultimate train ride.
They had such a great time riding the Amtrak. It would be a trip that would live in their memories for the rest of their lives. They had taken many vacations, and all of them were filled with great memories, but there are always a few of your trips that live in your memory as the big trip, the best trip…the ultimate trip.
My dad always loved teaching his family about the history of this great country. He and my mom decided early on that they wanted to show us the country we lived in, and they most certainly did. We traveled from one coast to the other, from the north to the south. Dad would stop at every historical marker he could find along the way. We would get tired of stopping at all the markers, but from that we learned about things like the Oregon Trail…a trail that I’m pretty sure I have seen every marker for…but one that I know all about too.
He took us to Gettysburg, and we walked through the battlefield in hushed silence, because you can almost physically feel that this is hallowed ground…that the men who died there…who shed their blood to purchase freedom for all men…changed that place. Once you have been there and walked that place, you can never feel the same about a war that threatened to rip our country apart. And yet we remained, strong and determined.
Dad told us about the old west, and the cost of settling this country. Families that traveled by covered wagon, westward to find a better life for their families, because there was room to grow out in the west. Room to farm and ranch and carve out a living that was unavailable in the east, which was much too crowded. The settlers were people who longed to find out what was over the next mountain top. Adventurers who wanted freedom to make their own rules.
He taught us about the gold rush in the Black Hills, and then showed us how so much history still remains in the Black Hills. It became a place our family loved to go, and to this day Bob and I go over every year. It just has a hold on me…a draw that I can’t totally explain. I am always in awe there. The beauty of the hills, memorials, the 1880 train, and the old west shows in Keystone. I never get tired of being there.
Dad and Mom took us and later our kids to so many places and showed us so many things. It is something we will always be grateful for, and that we can never thank them enough for. They gave us something no teacher or classroom could have taught us…they gave us a little piece of history.
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.